Athena Tacha is based in Oberlin, Ohio. Born in Greece in 1936, she came to the United States in 1960 and since then has steadily produced public art works around the country as well as exhibited internationally. The amount of merits she has earned, both artistically and academically, makes summarizing her life a daunting endeavor for both of us. When I approached Athena to conduct an interview through e-mail, she was quick to suggest we talk on the phone instead. After writing a beautiful introduction to her life, she explained that she likes to talk a lot, and fast. I was lucky enough to speak to Athena on the phone a few weeks ago and managed to gain a considered understanding of a varied and accomplished life.
Athena lived through both WWII and the Greek Civil War, spending her childhood with cousins, an adopted sister, and her loving parents. Even as a young girl Athena demonstrated exemplary talent. She was admitted to the Athens Academy of Fine Art, where she studied classical sculpture. Since then, Athena has earned 7 higher education degrees (including a Ph.D. from the Sorbonne), a Fulbright Grant, an individual artists’ NEA grant, national commissions, and an honorary doctorate.
Aside from traveling the world with her husband (she cites Pre-Colombian cities as a great source of inspiration for her public sculpture), Athena is also an art historian, writer, curator, and professor. My initial interest in contacting Athena was to learn more about her self published work, most notably her “Pocket Booklets,” of which there are over 20. One of the first artists to be carried by Printed Matter Inc., Athena has also published books and fold-out posters like “Expressions 1,” pictured above. But it is impossible to discuss Athena’s printed matter without delving deeper in to her greater body of work.
When researching Athena early on, I found that the only real source of information on her was her own website. On this site, Athena meticulously documents her own work and keeps track of her accomplished biography. There are images, essays, powerpoint presentations, and bibliographies. This autobiographical website recalls Adrian Piper’s two volume book, Out of Order, Out of Sight. Piper, like Tacha, is adamant about being her own critical voice, and creating a space for herself in history when no one else will. I asked Athena if she felt any connection to Piper. She explained that she had briefly met her contemporary, and felt that because she was not part of a “fashionable circle”, and also not based in New York, she was inclined to be responsible for her own memory as an artist and academic.
Athena believes that an artist knows her work better than anyone, and while the opinion and thoughtfulness of other artists and critics can be helpful, it is from the artist herself that you can learn the most. Because of this, I chose not to transcribe any of our phone conversation, and instead have included small portions of it below. Like Athena, I too like to talk a lot, and fast, but I found myself forgetting my prepared questions, and instead just listened as she told me about her inclination to write, her connection to Conceptual and Public Art, and her thoughts on aging. What I learned was something I probably already knew, but had just forgotten. You don’t have to be in New York or any other “fashionable” city to be connected and contribute to contemporary art.
Over a year ago, I saw Athena in Printed Matter. I knew it was her because I own one of her “Expressions 1” posters and could recognize her face in any crowd. I was too shy to introduce myself and explain that I owned things she had created, and that I enjoyed them. Similarly, this time around, I was shy in asking her to exchange emails with me. By giving me her phone number, a privilege usually reserved for close friends and family, Athena surprised me with her approachability. I feel lucky to have gotten to know her even if just a little bit better.
(Click on the links to hear pieces of the interview)