March 2016 Skopje, Macedonia. A grey and cold sunset. Wrapped in black coats, Maty G. and I walk arm in arm, which is how I like to stroll with him, engagé, European style, because that's how I have freedom of movement, but my entire body is closer to his, and the warmth of his body flows toward me. We are on our way to the hotel. We have finished setting up the exhibit – "Haunted Memory/ Eyes on the Future" at the Holocaust Memorial Museum. Tomorrow is the opening. Maty's light blue eyes sparkle, alert. I am enveloped in my heavy coat, immersed in "all this Holocaust business". Walking in the cool air is good for me. Suddenly Maty stops, "I think there's a gallery here". I peek in – there is a narrow, old door, an unclear sign in Cyrillic script, and further ahead a narrow, long and dim hallway. Heavy fatigue falls upon me. "Do me a favor, Maty, what can there be in this place?" His arm already disentangled from mine, and his back is at the end of the obscure corridor. Obstinate, I stay behind; donning red gloves, I stick my hands deep in the pockets of my coat, entrenching my resistance to an additional adventure. I stomp my feet to keep warm, waiting for him to come out and admit that he was wrong, that there's nothing here, and then I’d be able to crawl back into the warm bed in our room.
But Maty G. doesn't come back.
I decide to go in and seize him by the "non-existent hair" of his head, from that "nowhere place" in which he submerged. With a determined gait, I cross the gloomy passageway, push the glass door and enter a …."gallery". Maty G. is already hugging Mice Jankulovski, as if they were two long lost brothers who discovered each other, and Kornelija Koneska is gazing at them, smiling with joy. Mice is the owner of the gallery and an artist in his own right, a man of tall stature, white-haired, elegant, mature (and as it turns out, oops, he is younger than I). Kornelija, whose red curly hair frame her beautiful face, is the manager of the gallery, and for some reason, her name, Kornelija, is like the music of pinkish coral reefs to my ears. A painting by Damien Hurst peers at me from the wall, as do other paintings from a collection of British painters of the OSTEN Gallery of Modern Art.
Okay, so, Artists have a language of their own. Kornelija and Mice immediately understand what "hit them", and so it happens that instead of lying in bed in a haze of "Holocaust", we are sitting at a restaurant, filling our hearts with stories, drink and food. I embrace my defeat, which never looked better. To console myself for the "loss of my bed" I drink a bit too much, my head disconnects from my body, floating in wonder above the table, and the stories pour forth like Rakija (The Macedonian alcoholic beverage) and wine. And I realize, once again, that even though Maty G. has not been engaging in meditation for years and does not get a more flexible body in weird yoga positions (as I do ) he lives in the "Here and Now". Not in the Holocaust, not in the bed awaiting us in the hotel, not in the evening of the opening scheduled for tomorrow, but rather in the street, in Skopje, and what it offers him at this very moment, including a gallery of modern art, and two new and wonderful friends. That evening ends in a close and exceptional friendship that is formed between us and Kornelija and Mice. Maty G. is invited to take part in the OSTEN BIENNIAL of DRAWING 2016. He submits an artist's book that he has created: "Jerusalem: The Tulip and the Thorn, Black & White" and receives a Special Recognition Award. At the same time, the OSTEN Gallery receives an international award of excellence for management which is presented at a distinguished ceremony in Paris – BID & BID Group One – World Quality Commitment Award.
Honoring the Gallery artists upon the receiving the important award - Osten Gallery invites all the artists who received it's 2016 Biennial awards to Skopje.
Two years ago, OSTEN Gallery presented a Lifetime Achievement Award to the installation artist, Marina Abramovic, who originates from the neighboring country, Montenegro. This year (2016), the recipient of the GRAND-PRIX for LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT award was British artist – Tony Cragg, who lives and works in Germany.
December 2016. Maty and I land in Skopje along with Gen Morimoto, who arrived from Japan with his wife Chino and their two children. Gen is a brilliant sketcher, he won first prize of the BIENNIAL. From Serbia, there arrives Joskin Shilijan, a strong Serbian who would start the day with several glasses of Rakija, from Lithuania, there is Giedrė Riškutė, Giedrė with the blueish eyes who gets lost as soon as she disappears from our sight, from Greece, there is the youngest of the bunch (27), Alexandra Mantzari, from France comes the Drama Queen, Camelia Otero. Skinny Camelia, walking elegantly in stiletto heels, dressed in a red shirt poking out from under her Issey Miyake suit, black tights adorned with red skulls stretched over her legs (and that’s how she wins my heart immediately), her lips dipped in hot red, and in her mouth is a long black e-cigarette mouthpiece, smoking nicotine free vapor. Camelia stands out everywhere, but against the backdrop of a pile of black sweaters which we all wear she is brilliant ….
Maty G. He is the oldest winner. In fact, he is outside the competition, and receives the honor of kings and great love. There is an advantage to age and talent… During the three- day Biennial, we conduct ourselves as a group led by Maty G., event hopping, eating together at the Pellister restaurant, which has become our home base restaurant ever since our first visit. We all speak English, finding it difficult to understand one another, but we all have cellphones and we look at the photos of works of the various artists with great interest, asking questions and exchanging stories and advices.
From the television studio, we relocate to the British Council, where a small part of the collection of works of British artists of Osten Gallery is being on exhibit.
Maty G. is giving a short talk, sharing his experience spending a day with Henry Moore as his guest in his estate located at Much Hadham, in the year 1977.
The next day we are guests at the French library, where Camelia Otero’s artist portfolio is launched, in the presence of the French Ambassador who is excited to hear that Rafi Keiser, a close friend of his, is an old acquaintance of Maty G’s. On a different afternoon, an exhibit of a collection of works of Polish artists opens at the gallery, in the presence of the Polish Ambassador. The Biennial receives wide coverage in the local press. Maty G.’s story, “the Baby of Macedonia”, gathers new listeners and intensifies the aura around Maty, who is very satisfied with the interest that he arouses.
Three days later, we arrive at the big evening event – the opening of the Biennial exhibit, in which over 200 artists from across the globe are participating. The Biennial is on display in a huge, ancient Ottoman building, the old Turkish bath house (Hamam), large halls, small rooms, high arched ceilings, and arched openings as well. Joshkin is wrong to think that he knows the location of the building called "Čifte Amam" | Чифте Амам, and so the entire group departs from the hotel toward "Čifte Amam". Chino, the little Japanese woman, is dressed in a very beautiful grey kimono, wearing white socks on her feet which are stuck in Japanese flip-flops, Camelia in high heeled boots, Giedrė in light shoes, all of us wrapped in coats and scarves. Joshkin promises that it's a short walk. It's terribly cold. The way takes longer than anticipated. We reach the Old City of Skopje, an area called "The Turkish Bazaar". Before us is a huge building - the National Gallery of Macedonia. Its empty and dark, there is nobody here. Wrong location. We start looking around. A bunch of artists, black silhouettes, looking for their exhibit. A cold wind blows in the dark and empty alleyways of the Turkish bazaar. The alleyways are paved with smooth stones which make it difficult to walk. From time to time, Joshkin, who is more than likely bolstered by a few shots of Rakija, leaves us at the junction and goes on a short excursion in an estimated direction and returns empty-handed. We go around in circles within a Fellini movie. We have no idea where we are and where we should go. I am in heavy work shoes, giggling, the others cursing under their breath, each person in his or her own native language, our heads tucked in scarves.
But at long last, we reach our destination! The opening, like every other opening, featured – wine, water, the media, background music, women, men, here in coats, so there's no fashion show, huge amount of works of art, microphones, speeches, awarding of prizes, hugs, kisses, thank you, thank you, cameras clicking, cellphones flashing. At Mice's request, Maty G. closes the evening of the opening with an off-the-cuff speech. He speaks about Art as an element of sanity that balances our insane world. He bemoans the fact that had he invented a sophisticated weapon, he would have received generous grants, but art does not receive such funding. Thunderous applause from the audience filling the hall.
The next day we remove the leftover glamour sparkling on our evening attire of the night that was, packing it into a small suitcase, we add the thick OSTEN 2016 catalogue, and disperse, each individual heading to his or her own country to welcome 2017, which is upon us – let us begin it with a blessing.
seen through eyes of the photographer Alexandros Stamatiou.