© Nikolas Ventourakis from the series 'Leaving Utopia'
Nikolas Ventourakis’s photographic journey began when he started studying in the Technical Institute of Athens. He became so infatuated with the medium that he completed his studies there and moved on to making two MAs in London Universities (London College of Fashion and Fine Arts in St Martin’s). After a passage in fashion photography, Nikolas decided that he needed to focus on his artistic work, because as he tells me, he found that he could no longer express himself through fashion photography. Since then a lot of water has gone under the bridge and Nikolas’s work has been exhibited in major artistic events over the globe. He has been a Fulbright Fellow and an Artist in residence of California Institute of the Arts (CalArts).
The artist wanted to work in Athens, however he found there was a certain difficulty due to the fact that Nikolas found his birth city rather familiar. Through a personal journey of re-connection with the Athenian cityscape the artist discovered the trees of the city. He had come to the realisation that he had never looked at the trees. So his series 'Athens II' was born.
© Nikolas Ventourakis from the series 'Athens 2'
While working on the 'Athens II' project, Nikolas conceived his idea for 'Leaving Utopia'. This series also has Athens in the main focus and concentrates on the ongoing economical crisis. Through a complex realisation Nikolas decided to turn the focus on billboards. «At the beginning I thought that they were empty due to the economical crisis. But then it occurred to me that the crisis is for the people not multinational companies. The companies have the needed money for advertising. I did some research and found out that due to a series of problematic situations all billboards were currently considered illegal and thus there were no posters on them!»
© Nikolas Ventourakis from the series 'Leaving Utopia'
It was through this whole research that Nikolas started asking questions such as: How do we project ideas on situations? How does this narrative work with the image? How do we create misconceptions, assumptions? How can a photographer function while concentrating on the narrative part? «I wanted to create a project that resembled a musical piece. A piece we all know very well but someone who is performing it does not play the end... causing a certain frustration of what we want to hear. I wanted to create this feeling and invite the spectator to think how they could finish it. I wanted to invite them to look carefully. That is the reason for which my work is not created with a book form in mind. I think of my work in installations form for exhibitions. They function in a certain way and are complementary on a visual level.»
'Defining Lines' was Nikolas’s following project. The series explores a rather particular situation: The Sovereign Base Area of Akrotiri in Cyprus is a military basis which has remained under British control due to its important geographical position within the Mediterranean area.With the help of modern technology one can achieve exact localisation on earth, thus while walking on the island you can find yourself between these two different countries.«Cyprus is a place where I believe everything going on in Europe is being compressed for decades. Borders, identity, history, everything! What happened with defining lines is that due to technology I could visualise borders like an augmented reality. I focused on this new idea and I began working on it. Along with a friend of mine, Vassilis Peteinaris, who is from there and with whom I have worked on several projects in Cyprus, we started visiting those spots, realising a whole new dimension.» On an imaginary line the one side was Cyprus and the other side was British.
© Nikolas Ventourakis installation view 'Defining Lines' at Mac International, Belfast
© Nikolas Ventourakis from the series 'Defining Lines'
Nikolas’s latest body of work 'Systematic portraits' was exhibited in Rome, in the Matèria Gallery. «My work was part of a group exhibition. It is about my personal relationship with the country where I live and the country from where I come. The series expresses a reflection on how we Europeans perceive the idea of who we are. It is a reflection on how we perceive the concept of the immigrant, or the refugee, words we use for all those “other” groups of people from different continents basically, whilewe preserve for us, Europeans/Westerns, the word “ex-pat”; a fact which immediately evokes the possibility of a choice; a choice offered to us, but not to other moving groups of people. After the Brexit situation we, as Europeans, are facing the idea of a shift in the political perception of a group of people, who will be now forced to move back to their country of origin. This is the first time in decades that we started considering another western European group of people as immigrants.»
© Nikolas Ventourakis installation view 'Systematic Portraits' at Matèeria Gallery, Rome, 2016
© Nikolas Ventourakis from the series 'Systematic Portraits'
«'Systematic Portraits' is a project about identity and who we are. I would sum it up as follows: It is rather us that should resemble our passport, our papers and not the other way around! For example when going through the scans in UK borders, if I am wearing glasses I have to remove them in order for the machine to make a positive match of my face to my ID/passport photo. Slowly the whole meaning of papers, legality, image, and identitystarted coming together in my head. The image created is a digital process. I tried to concentrate on the relationship we as citizens have with the state, our identity, how we see ourselves, how does the state sees us, what kind of power exists on the portrait of the state to us, of us to ourselves and so on. As far influences go I would have to say that I always kept in mind the portraits of Thomas Ruff. 'Systematic Portraits' is a work in progress. I have a certain idea on how the series should be presented. When I reach the number of images which contents me I will stop.»