The British School at Athens

Annabel Dover – BSA Resident Artist 2015-16

Blog 

Arriving from the airport and emerging out of Evangelismoss metro with my huge, heavy case I guess which way the school might be and pushing my case full of paper up the hill past still open shops see a woman having CPR by on a stretcher. I realise this is Evangelissmos hospital where one of the people injured in the 1973 Athens Polytechnic Uprising later died. I push the case on passed and up a cool, dark street with a homeless person’s empty bed and packet of biscuits.

Opposite a vast building that looks like a Palladian mansion I finally find the American school entrance and the guards let me in. They take me case until I explain I’m looking for the British not the American school. They drop my bags instantly and point at a neo-classical house.

A tall thin scholar called Hugh lets me into the house and I empty my case on the marble floor of the hallway next to a dinner party hosted by I later discover the director and his wife of the BSA. The director comes out and offers to help. A magenta coloured pencil rolls out of my bag and towards the skirting board and my knickers are strewn on the floor. It’s an art performance piece I say and he laughs.


My first walk to Syntagma Square is at night and along a busy road. I see the Evzones parading with their heavy leather clogs, clip clopping past the florists. 

 


I missed the message from Gian Piero, Lucy and Tom that told me they had climbed Lycettabus hill to see the fireworks. And that Gian Piero had bought me a pink candle.

I put on sandals and walked fast out onto the streets. Everyone I saw seemed to be walking towards me with children and candles.

People said Happy Easter in the way people say happy Christmas on a Boxing Day walk in Hampstead Heath.

I bought a funicular ticket from the pregnant woman in the shop and got in the silent ski lift with a German family. At the top there was a chi chi restaurant and the crowd was hot and close. An immaculate man dressed in Ralph Lauren with a cashmere sweater knotted over his shoulders came so close to me I could smell his cigar breath. I was breathing in the Elnett hairspray of the woman in front and a Louis Vuitton bag stabbed me in the breasts. I’d reached the top and felt huge acrylic heat all around me and knew I might faint. The view was amazing and reminded me of the twinkly lights you see from the Eiffel Tower. I knew I must get down as I had tears of sweat on my cheeks and palms and my dress was wet and sealed to my back.

I nudged my hands through the people down and a blind man behind me put his hand on my shoulder. Entaxi I said one of my few Greek words and he laughed.

Later I ran down the hill on my own stopping when a car approached so I didn’t look odd or desperate.

I saw a dog in under a tree and realised he was with a couple having sex standing up by a cypress.

I got to the bottom and asked a group of Americans on their spring break for directions. They asked me to guess their star signs. Scorpio I said ‘oh yes! You guessed it! The evil, sexy sign’ I thought of my ex-boyfriend; a Scorpio. I thanked them ‘you’re welcome’ they said in an upbeat chorus.

I found a huge 1930s warehouse and a quiet street of small Art Deco flats. I saw a woman breast feeding by the tv in a darkened room and a dog like a bottle brush wedged in the gutter.

 


I heard on the radio that Chaffinches stick to their own kind and have quite distinct neighborhoods; the jocks and the nerds. Everyone at the BSA is a nerd, which is nice. Occasionally on Sundays the students from the American school live up to stereotype ad play vigorous tennis. They even did it the day we were advised to stay inside because all of the trees were being sprayed with insecticide. I could hear the shouts and the racket thwacks.


As dusk approaches a liquid sound can be heard from the attic. The sound of a pebble being dropped into a well. It fades only at dawn. Many archeological finds are found in wells and tombs.


Listening to Radio 4 again I heard that there is a dusk chorus as well as a dawn chorus and this has led researchers to believe that it is a sign of strength to sing on an empty stomach after just waking up. This reminded me of an ex boyfriend’s morning press ups. The pebble dropping into a well sound started again at dusk. Emailing my sister I call it the Doorbell Booby. I imagine an Edward Lear gangly stork type bird, with a mournful expression.


I discover what makes the sound and it isn’t a Doorbell Booby. Lots of people had their own ideas as to what it was: a car alarm, a distant sonar, children making a sound with a toy, something to do with the nearby hospital. It’s a Scops Owl. I saw a group of these once in Suffolk at an owl sanctuary. They elongate their faces when scared and look like cartoon ghosts. I had picked up a Tawny Owl which had hit a car and driven it 30 miles. It was put in a warm box and then as I was talking to the woman in charge who had a lit Berkley menthol in her mouth, she put her hands into the box and rung its neck. “Never would have survived” she said.

The Scops Owl is back again. According to the RSPB reference recordings it’s a male, looking for a female.

John Geradus Keulemans, Scops Owl, Late 19th Century, Watercolour


I went to a fascinating talk today about the he Festival of Arkteia at the site of Vravrona

It posited the idea that there was a festival where girls approaching the menarche gathered together naked and wore bear masks.


The lovely paintings in the Drawing room are revealed to be by Edward Lear. Several of Crete hang in steps above the wall. Stephen talks about living in Crete with his wife, now gone, and how they walked home over a hill that looked very like the one in the painting. “He hasn’t captured Crete at all in that one” “It’s Egypt that one” says the Director’s wife.

Poor Edward Lear what a very hidden life he must have lead. Epileptic and he never told anyone and homosexual. He thought the two were linked and that he harboured inner demonic forces.


 

The British School at Athens
Arts Bursary and Residency for Camberwell, Chelsea, Wimbledon PhD Students

The British School at Athens (BSA) and Camberwell, Chelsea, Wimbledon Graduate School embarked on a new joint initiative in 2015/16.  An arts residency in Greece, supported by a bursary and with studio and accommodation provided, is offered to practice-based PhD students at Camberwell, Chelsea and Wimbledon annually in each of the next three years.

The first BSA Residency has been awarded to Annabel Dover (http://www.annabeldover.com), who will look at Athens through the prism of her own personal narrative. Annabel will engage with the BSA research theme of building the archive and will focus on the question of how to define what should constitute archival material and consider ways of presenting an alternative taxonomy.  She will offer an introductory lecture at the School at the start of her residency and host an open studio event while resident.  She will also offer a lecture at UAL on returning from the residency.

The offer of a residency to practice-based PhD students furthers the BSA’s mission to support UK-based researchers within its broad arts, humanities, and social sciences remit. Research into archives, cultural memory, and landscape and transnational contexts for cultural transmission being carried out at Camberwell, Chelsea and Wimbledon, engages well with similar themes identified in the BSA’s strategic plan for research.

The BSA, founded in 1886, maintains facilities in Athens which include the Director’s house (with meeting rooms and a recently-created artist’s studio in the roof space); the Hostel, housing a specialist library, archive, museum, accommodation, a common room, kitchen, dining room, and administration; a Hostel Annexe; the Assistant Director’s apartment; and the Marc and Ismene Fitch Laboratory for science-based archaeology. The BSA has a relaxed atmosphere enabling researchers to cross-fertilize among their own different fields of interest, as well as to develop links with local practitioners and researchers.