Achilleas, you are the founder of Artos House, an organisation that brings together art and science, innovation and social engagement. Artos House is a platform for artists, scientists, creatives and researchers, you support cross-disciplinary projects. What is the vision of Artos?
Our vision is to function as a catalyst for the thinkers and doers in Cyprus and to promote European identity and solidarity for all citizens via a cross disciplinary approach. We are very selective with our collaborations because we wish to have an impact. Our collaboration with the Goethe-Institut Cyprus started over a decade ago and it has proven to be a long and reliable collaboration. We share the same vision and we have clarity and excellent communication for all the projects we do. At this stage I would like to express my gratitude, because during the 4 years when the creative industry and society in Cyprus were in a financial crisis, the Goethe-Institut Cyprus remained a reliable pillar of support for ideas and projects, but also initiated projects that linked Germany and Cyprus in a very fruitful way.
Moving Silence, Oberhausen on Tour, Freiraum. These are just a few projects we did together during my time here in Nicosia. Do you still remember your first meeting, your first project with the Goethe-Institut? What was it about back then?
Oh yes, there are so many other projects we did in addition to the ones mentioned in your question. I remember our first meeting very well, where we were examining each other’s vision, trying to see if they are compatible. I was relieved that after the first 15 minutes it was clear and we focused on the work. I also realized that we are both workaholics. Though the conditions were never perfect, we always found ways to execute each of our projects with great success. If I had to point one out, this would be the Freiraum project. It was a "high-risk" project and there were participations from all Goethe-Instituts in Europe. We both faced different challenges, but it went great nonetheless. It was recognized that the participation of the Goethe-Institut in Cyprus, even though it is one of the smallest in size, offered one of the most diverse and multi-level actions. These actions included the development of advanced augmented reality applications, graffiti, concerts, exhibitions, social research at social housing in Nicosia, as well as actions in Rome within this framework. It seemed like an impossible mission, but dare I say that we now feel proud of the results. It would have been impossible if both our teams were not as attuned or did not have a clear concept of what synergy means.
Achilleas, you are often in Germany and have gained insights into the culture there. What surprised you or what still surprises you when you are in Germany, beyond all the clichés?
This is a very complex but excellent question. Global and local challenges in democratic systems where free expression and human rights are secured, create social shifts that take the form of a multi-identity society. The pandemic and the climate crisis, for example, created a dichotomy of opinions on what should be done. This results a change of what we call “traditional or national clichés”, which is especially felt in cities. I have the impression that the rate at which these clichés change in Germany is the same as in Cyprus or other European countries. I am constantly surprised when I experience social behaviors in Germany which 20 years ago, I would not consider possible to experience. I hope this rate of change will lead to a more concrete European identity and solidarity, so we can face existing and future global challenges.
The Goethe-Institut has been in Cyprus for 60 years. It feels like we are currently at a turning point, not only because of the pandemic, but also because of other global problems such as climate change, rising populism and much more. What contribution can an institution like the Goethe-Institut make in the future? What do you wish for us?
Another deep question. First and foremost it is necessary to fight populism, which gets a lot of media attention and confuses societies. Then, it is my belief that an institution like the Goethe-Institut, should continue to initiate more projects that deal with local and global challenges in a bilateral manner. Having people from both Germany and Cyprus working on the same challenge creates relationships that can grow in the future. In the western world, the relations of people can alter opinions and create a healthier environment to the economy, education, travel, and better understanding between countries. This can be achieved through culture, if there is social awareness and willingness to maintain European values for all. After all, the history of Europe gave us many examples, which ought to make us wiser and more aligned. I wish the best for Ms. Karin Varga at her new post. She is leaving behind an amazing Goethe-Institut team and her own personal touch. She showed us, if I may say such a thing, a Mediterranean aspect of Germany which flourished here in Cyprus. I am sure we will meet again…