Artist Patricia Garcia-Gomez Captures the Essence of Naxos in an Experiential Exhibit at the Bazeos Tower

Patricia Garcia-Gomez in her Listening Room, a sound installation at Bazeos Tower

In Naxos, the Bazeos Tower becomes a fertile space for art, land, and history to commingle

When one calls the Greek islands to mind, they likely have freddo espressos, beaches, and tavernas on the brain. These classic elements of Greek summer are, of course, a joy. But there’s more to the islands, especially for the curious. Many host art exhibits and residencies throughout the summer. Hydra, Anafi, and a rather popular island that will not be named have all garnered international recognition for their summer installations. It’s time to add Naxos to the list. The island abounds with local artisans and provides fertile ground for creation. We found the ongoing project at the Bazeos Tower, a former monastery turned residence turned cultural space, especially fascinating. The historic building and surrounding land lend themselves to the ongoing exhibits and performances curated by Mario Vazaios throughout the summer months.

We had the honor of speaking with Patricia Garcia-Gomez, one of the international artists selected for the 2018 residency, about her artwork, collaborations with Naxians, and the verdant land that inspired her creations.

Patricia created four installations for the Bazeos Tower’s annual summer exhibition. Encompassing three floors of the tower, the works integrated sound design, photography, video, and found elements from the land of Naxos. Heavily inspired by the island’s nature and rhythms, the art weaves together elements of Naxos’ rich history and current cultural landscape.

The viewer best experiences Patricia’s work in its intended setting: the Bazeos Tower. Surrounded by the very land that not only influenced the work but in some cases was directly incorporated into the art, the Tower became part of Patricia’s experiential, sensory exhibition.

Patricia worked on three pieces during her residency at the Bazeos Tower. Perhaps the most striking is Earth is a she. This 8-minute piece, described by Patricia as “a moving portrait installation” is dedicated to a Naxian shepherdess named Maria. Patricia got to know her intimately through their interactions and eventually, through filming and photographing her. As someone who’s worked close to the land since she was a young woman, Maria embodies a timeless spirit that feels both at odds with the digital era and lost in the Western world.  Of her relationship with the land of Naxos, Patricia explains, “She rises with it, knows its rhythms and moods, and is, in essence, a keeper of its spirit.” The viewer can sense Patricia’s deep connection to Maria via the work, in which Maria poses effortlessly. Her piercing gaze holds multitudes. In a sense, she is a channel for the spirit of the land and for lost ways of life.

While that more mainstream Greek summer feeling also factored into Patricia’s experience on the island, her work is a portal to an experience most tourists will miss. “It’s exciting to me that through this work people can experience a part of the island’s spirit that is not obvious,” she explains.

As it’s unlikely you’re reading this from the Greek countryside of Naxos (if you are, I am jealous), Delphi Reclaimed gathered a selection of Patricia’s work for digital presentation. While you can’t behold the scale of the original setting, it’s striking nonetheless. Read on for our interview with Patricia… and, of course, to view a selection of her stunning pieces.

Tell me about your experience creating on Naxos. What has stuck out the most about the natural and historic space?

I first came to Naxos last year. It was the beginning of a self-appointed sabbatical after a decade of running a branding agency in New York. My goals were simple – swim every day, eat well, slow everything down, write, and create space for what would be next.

I had just completed a Sound Practitioner training at MNDFL with Sara Auster, so I also brought my bowls and tuning forks with me. It was a call to nature, away from the urban.

Naxos unfolded organically. Early in my visit, I met other artists, mainly through the Bazeos Tower*, a creative space located in the heart of the island. When I visited it for the first time, I was captivated by the art and its sensory appeal. I stayed for three hours.

Each year the curator, Mario Vazaios, invites a select number of international artists to participate in an artist residency and create a summer exhibition. Fast forward to a year later, and I am one of the artists. I am so grateful.

So many things influenced me while there. A few things on the top of the list:

Bazeos Tower There are only a few places where landscapes seem to connect to the soul of the universe. The land around the Bazeos Tower is like this. Secret rhythms, shifting timeframes, a call to observe. I love this about Bazeos Tower. The curator, Mario Vazaios, cares deeply for Naxos and its culture. 

The passion of its young people I am in awe of how much the people I’ve met love their island and want to share it. As an example, last year I met Petros and Maria, a husband and wife team who run Mitos Arternative Bar in Chalki village. When they found out that I was interested in exploring the traditions of the island, they brought out a mountain of books and even original manuscripts about the island’s history, mythology, and stories. There is an entire bookshelf dedicated to Naxos.

A place where curiosity is rewarded Whether I’m meeting people spontaneously in the course of my work or visiting specific places such as marble factories, art studios, or people’s homes,

I am always greeted warmly and openly. This has made me excited about getting to know the people and the land more.

The presence of the ancient Much of the island remains untouched. In pockets, people live the way they did hundreds of years ago. It is not obvious though. You have to be curious.

Natural beauty From gorgeous pebble beaches to lush landscapes of pomegranates, lemons, and jasmine, to its tiny villages nestled into the hills and white churches sprinkled about like petite gateaux, it is exquisite.

Patricia collaborating with Prassanna Vishwanathan

You work with sound. How has Naxos distinctly affected your work, if at all?

The sound of Naxos is spellbinding.

First, the cicadas. They are an ever-present soundtrack that moves with you no matter where you are on the island. Even when you are swimming. One of my favorite sounds ever is that of driving through the mountains here, as you move through the landscape the volume of the cicadas rolls up and down in rhythmic cycles. Fast and loud, softer and slower, total hush, back to loud.

“My goal is to use sound to activate the imagination, encourage people to listen deeply to the world around them, and extend the edges of place and time.”

Then, there is the sound of roaming goat bells. Bells that sound like waterfalls, both near and far in the distance. It’s mesmerizing. The sound becomes a part of you. I would sit outside every evening just listening, my meditation.

But back to your question (!)…

The art residency has given me an opportunity to work more deeply with sound. My goal is to use sound to activate the imagination, encourage people to listen deeply to the world around them, and extend the edges of place and time.

Regarding Earth is a She: For this installation, I combined ambient sound recordings (taken while walking in the fields with Maria, a local shepherdess) with vocals rendered by Prassanna Vishwanathan, an amazingly talented artist and friend who I met while studying in India. We collaborated via WhatsApp, internet, and psychic space between India, NY, and Greece. The result is a sound that seems born of the earth here and a tribute to her.

I also created a “Listening Room” (Sound installation)

This installation is a spontaneous response to and interaction with place and surroundings. It is an invitation to listen. I built the room from found items while moving around and about the island – stones, fossils, bones, fabrics, ancient weavings–the surroundings brought inside. Each day I added new items until it felt complete.  For the sound, I recorded in the Tower early in the mornings, before any of the artists were awake. 

The vocal meditation comes from the Indian Drhupad tradition. It is meant to evoke the experience of the “unstruck sound,” which we understand as “silence.” 

a still from Earth is a she. this face holds multitudes.

Tell me more about the shepherdess who became the subject of Earth is a she.  How did you choose her as a subject and eventually come to work with her?

I am passionate about photographing women and their work.

I met Maria, the subject of Earth is a she, literally by running up to her in the field where she was working.

She was a big inspiration for coming back to Naxos, and working with her will remain part of me for a long time. At first, I was interested in documenting her life as a shepherdess. But once I started working with her, I also became drawn to her stillness, and the strength and knowing she exudes. It’s as if she embodies the energy of the land itself.

She trusted me entirely in the creative process, even though we didn’t have a common language to help us communicate.

Her story is unique. Traditionally, women in Greek culture are considered to be in charge of the spiritual aspects of the family and house, while the farms and animals are the realms of the male. Maria stepped outside of this tradition. She chose to be a shepherdess because she likes to be outside, she likes being close nature, and the land is something she understands. She, by the way, still takes care of all the other things Greek women (of her generation) are traditionally in charge of. This means cooking, keeping house, managing the finances, etc.

“Once I started working with her, I also became drawn to her stillness, and the strength and knowing she exudes. It’s as if she embodies the energy of the land itself.”

You spent time with women artisans on the island as well. What struck you most about their technique?

One of the villages here upholds a long tradition of weaving. Nearly 90% of the women have looms in their homes. Walking along the stone streets, you can hear the rhythm of the looms, marching, like a secret cadence. 

What struck me is that weaving is not only their art form, it is their yoga. There are about 1628 individual threads in a loom, and each pattern needs to be remembered to the exact stitch count. Each pattern has its sound–the clicking foot pedal, the toss of the spool of thread, the lockdown of the stitch. The sound keeps the order. Like a repeating mantra. I am developing a potential new project with them, but it is too early to share. That will be next year’s story!

Greece itself is in economic turmoil and its villages maintain some unfortunate “old world” values. And yet, it is also strikingly beautiful and natural. Do you find this dichotomy inspiring?

I find the creative force of Greece inspiring. An idea shared with me (by locals) is that Greece has only a past and not a future. In the context of art, this is expressed as there not being a huge context for modern art, mostly ancient art. I met so many passionate creators that I feel this is changing rapidly. There is a vibrant creative culture, despite or perhaps even because of, economic turmoil– writers, painters, sculptors, potters, scientists, herbalists, jewelry designers, photographers. Part of the mission of the Bazeos Tower is to help foster a new, contemporary context for considering art. A modern one, that perhaps is in dialogue with the past but is about the world and our senses today.

In the footsteps of Pina Bausch…

Before the Tower was restored, Mario Vazaios brought his dear friend Pina Bausch to the tower for a visit. He left her on her own for a few minutes while he went to get or do something, and when he came back Pina was dancing, moving in lyrical circles with her arms extended as if she were plugged into a hidden pulse. When she finished she told him: “You must do something here. This place is meant for creating.”

It gives me huge inspiration to know that we are creating in the (literal) footsteps of Pina Bausch.  There is an energy here, it is very charged.

Click here to see Patricia’s work.  

* The Bazeos Tower is a creative space located in the heart of Naxos, Greece. Each year, a select number of international artists are invited to participate in an art residency and fill the space with site-specific works. Each artist establishes an individual dialogue with the environment, using materials and inspirations from the surroundings.

Curator: Mario Vazaios, Assistant curator: Klaus Pfeiffer, Technical curator: Katerina Zourari.

If you enjoyed reading this interview, you may also love reading about a photography art house on Milos!

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