Text by Lorina Speder
Unlike most cities in Germany, Athens is full of privately-owned shops and boutiques. Especially the concept of the Greek kiosk, called periptero in Greek, is ingrained in everyday life.  Here, one can get basic things like ice cream, newspapers, cookies, sponges, and sunglasses all under one roof. But it's not only the sidewalk kiosks that offer a wide variety of things: Athens makes it seem like there is a place for every need in every part of the city. May it be shoestrings, keychains, or water taps, everything has its own shop in the Greek capital. These independent stores make up a big part of the city’s charm and are at the other end of the Western system of sterile malls with their identical brand shops. It is ever so refreshing that COMOTIRIO, an art project by Eriphyli Veneri and Naira Stergiou, is constantly searching for exactly those special spaces around the city and uses them for their artistic interventions and pop-up exhibitions. “We want to activate spaces,” says Stergiou and refers to places that are often overlooked, as well as spaces that are usually off-limits to the public.
The two have exhibited their art in shops like the historical Syntagma flower shops that are part of the building complex of the Hellenic Parliament,  a hair salon, and a pet shop, and turned those spaces into colourful installations that play with kitsch, glitter, and the aesthetics of fairy tales. COMOTIRIO’s art installations are a direct reaction to the location. “Architecture is always relevant to what we do. We design and set up in situ and in accordance with the spot, so it inherently affects what we do,” the two explain. For the exhibition The Love Boat at the Athens Municipal Garbage Truck Depot close to the Eleonas metro station, COMOTIRIO arranged the garbage trucks, decorated them, and exhibited amongst their own work a group of artists that they invited. Additionally, they arranged for the City of Athens’ Marching Band to accompany the opening night.
That organising all of this took a lot of time, communication with the Municipality of Athens, and energy is obvious. “Our exhibitions are, with rare exceptions, no-budget exhibitions,” says Veneri. “Everything is DIY. When we have an idea, we sit together and decide how we can realise it.” That involves finding the right person to talk to and convincing them to collaborate. “We never paid rent,” she says, which only speaks for COMOTIRIO’s concepts and motivation to convince their collaborators of their ideas.
But not everything always works out. Their last intervention in a flag-printing shop at Plateia Vathis that also sells decorative things like vases, trophies, and souvenirs started from a cancellation. “Last year we received a call from an artist to do an exhibition in the Peloponnese,” Stergiou explains. “We made a concept and a video performance for it, but the exhibition never happened.” The video performance became part of their intervention at Platia Vathis. Showing it in the shop led the two artists to think about the work even further. They merged it into its new environment of flags and trophies and referenced it in an improvised performance in the shop.
With these unusual environments as their working canvas, the two admit that it’s now difficult to work in a white cube space. “We started this series of nomadic art exhibitions and we cannot go back anymore,” Veneri says. “We need the challenge,” Stergiou agrees and laughs. It’s been five years since their first exhibition and a few years more since they met while working at documenta14 in Athens. “In COMOTIRIO we follow our ideas and visions,” Veneri says. Apart from their busy lives as lecturers at the University of Peloponnese and the Athens School of Fine Arts, as well as having families and other jobs to pay the bills, this friendship project remains their artistic freedom.
COMOTIRIO's next event, an art installation and performance called PEKTRIES at Stoa 42, (Panepistimiou 42, Athens 106 79), is coming up on Saturday 15 July, at 21:00.