A conversation with Christina Nakou and Anna Pangalou about the Transiens Nostrum project

Transiens Nostrum is a transformative installation that is being realised from 18th to 26th November inside the Greek Pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennale

These are the final days to visit the Venice Architecture Biennale, which is open to the public until Sunday 26th November. In this period, a unique opportunity is being offered by the Greek Pavilion, which is currently hosting Transiens Nostrum: a performance event by the artists Christina Nakou and Anna Pangalou. During the performance, which is open to the public, the two artists gradually “dismantle” the Bodies of Water exhibition which is housed inside the Pavilion and dedicated to dams and artificial reservoirs, to create a new visual and sound installation.

The objective of the two artists is to place a focus on the theme of change, starting from the relationship between man and nature, with particular reference to the Mediterranean. Transiens Nostrum is in fact a project which, before arriving in Venice, travelled to the ports of Rhodes and Syros in Greece, where the artists created installations which focused on the sea as a place of change. It is a highly topical issue, especially in light of the extreme meteorological phenomena that impact upon Venice, such as Storm Daniel, which hit the Balkan peninsula and various countries around the Mediterranean Sea in September.

To find out more, we met the two artists Christina Nakou and Anna Pangalou who explained the background to Transiens Nostrum.

“Transiens Nostrum” is an itinerant project which involves three ports in the Mediterranean: Rhodes, Syros and Venice. Why did you choose these and what do they have in common?

We initiated this project in 2022, being selected by the Greek Ministry of Culture to create a visual and sound installation in memory of the Asia Minor Catastrophe. We presented the installation in the Bastion of St George in the medieval town of Rhodes, focusing on the experience of personal loss seen as an encounter with the sea at night. The architectural space of the Bastion became a major factor of our installation, while visitors started sharing with us family stories related to the refugee crisis of 1922. It is through this interrelation with the visitors that we decided to unfold this project into a circumnavigation aiming to bring people together.
We chose Syros to be the second port, observing its transformations through the embankments which led to an important port in the commercial route of the Middle East to Europe.
In Venice we now observe the vertical axis of the movement of water and the interrelation that bonds the life in the canals with the dynamic move of the sea.
In every stop the architectural space plays a major role in the design of the installation together with the history of the port and the relations of its peoples.

Transiens Nostrum

What is the connection between “Transiens Nostrum” and “Bodies of Water”, the exhibition open until 26th November in the Greek Pavilion at the Architecture Biennale in Venice?

Transiens Nostrum in Venice interacts organically with the Bodies of Water exhibition of the Greek Pavilion curated by Andreas Nikolovgenis and Costis Paniyiris and the audiovisual ambiance by Dimitris Karageorgos. It is intended, at once, as a critical culmination, addressing fundamental, yet latent, aspects of submergence and loss inherent in the exhibition discourse, and as an anticipation of the exhibition’s eventual dissolution, a time-inverted celebration of its final deconstruction. By exploiting the fragility, fluidity and upcycling potential of the exhibition’s materials and soundscapes, the Transiens Nostrum installation points to the dynamic and fragile relationship between the tame, artificial, reserved water of the Pavilion’s theme and its wild, unpredictable, ever-changing nature.” as it is described by both of our teams.

πάντα ῥεῖ (“everything flows”) is an aphorism by the Greek philosopher Heraclitus that explains that everything changes constantly. What do you think about it? Why is the theme of transformation important for you?

The Transiens Nostrum project observes the constant transformations of life, through an encounter with the sea at night. We aim at creating spaces where people can connect with memory, and can observe how history and life unfold through a continuous transformative process.
Next to Heraclitus’ quote that is observing the dynamic condition of a river flow, we circumnavigate the Mediterranean following more than one direction. Like Ulisses, we accept that our voyage may be full of unexpected events which might change our route. Our voyage unfolds through the encounters with the peoples of the ports. Unlike Ulisses though, we aim to remain connected with all the people we have met creating a net that bonds all ports. Our goal is to create spaces that allow people to interact and to collaborate.

How will this performance/installation be in dialogue with the Greek Pavilion?

The architectural space of the Pavilion, together with the Bodies of Water exhibition and its audiovisual ambiance is the starting point of the Transiens Nostrum installation /performance. We want to observe the phenomenon of acqua alta in Venice as the Greek Pavilion stands next to the Venetian channels. The space, its contents and all the human interactions are perceived as 3-D score, visually and auditorily. The uniqueness of the Greek pavilion in the Venice Biennale as a space is defined in its function as a space of transformation on its own.

Transiens Nostrum

“Transiens Nostrum” combines visual and sound parts: could you please describe the interaction between these two elements? How important is the sound in this performance?

For us the visual and the sound parts of the installation are organically connected. We experience space through time and time unfolds within space. In every installation, sound affects the visual experience and it underlines intensively or subtly the visitors.
Sound is fleeting, as it travels through the fluidity of air. The only thing left is the experience of its existence. In the Venice edition, the sound field recordings of the water dams will be muffled changing their form of travel through water in the voice performance which will also include the sonic elements of the creation of the glass floor mosaic. They altogether emphasize the dynamic presence of water.

What other materials will you use during the performance?

The Transiens Nostrum installation aims at transforming the Bodies of Water exhibition. Next to pieces that will be reused, such as the crystals presenting the bathymetric maps of the water dams, we will also use Effetre Murano glass fragments, raw salt, found objects and sounds. The work is a performance and we are open to integrate sounds and to interact with the visitors’ reactions to form the final design of this installation.
The Wave is a drawing made by silver paint on transparent surfaces. It illustrates the spread of a water flow, while interacting with light and creating shadows around the exhibition.
We have been inspired by the people of Venice, in the way they process the Venetian floods, inspired by the colors of the canals and the sea. We aim to structure the final form of the installation only in the last three days of the Biennale, accepting the transformative process of loss and the inspiration we gained in Venice to move on to the next Mediterranean port.

Transiens Nostrum performance

How does “Transiens Nostrum” relate to your previous works?

In our personal works we both focus on water and its multiple transformations, the concept of time, the concept of space, light, materiality and its fragmentation, through different means but still on the same themes. In the Transiens Nostrum project we find ourselves reflecting on each other. This process helps us define our ideas in a more clear and profound way, relying on the connections we can have with each other, and taking into consideration the social and natural environment. The Transiens Nostrum project unfolds as a dialogue based on all the aforementioned focal points of our works inviting people to join us in this voyage.

How long have you been working together?

We have been working very fruitfully and densely for the last two years. Our collaboration emerged through a discussion on our ice projects that haven’t yet been exhibited due to the pandemic.

Transiens Nostrum performance

How do your works mix together?

C.N.: Next to the Transiens Nostrum project, we often invite one another to our personal projects.
For example, Anna invited me to the Breathing Body performance held in the Archaeological Site of Ancient Messini last month. It was a long durational performance based on the experience of time through the fragility of breath and on the connection with the environment, as defined by acoustic ecology. Through this whole day’s performance I created a mosaic as an indication of time.
Next June I am presenting The River project in the Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki. The project ponders on climate change and drought; it unfolds as a mapping of Roman monuments related to the adoration of water next to the Tiber, in Rome. For this project I will research at the American Academy of Rome, as a Visiting Artist. In turn, I have invited Anna to work together on a sonic performance that will accompany the exhibition at the museum.

Do you have any other projects planned together in the future?

Next to our personal projects, we have already started planning the next stop of the Transiens Nostrum circumnavigation, in Alexandria, Egypt.

Francesca De Pra
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