Image #18622

NEW DIGS: A conversation with René Habermacher

2 JUN 2024

René Habermacher and Antoine Asseraf, have a long-standing relationship with ZEUS+DIONE. From the performance film I WANT to directing videos, digital campaigns and visuals for milestone projects like the 10-year anniversary show and Aegean Airlines Neo-Era Uniforms, or even offering insider tips on experiencing Athens like true locals, their multi-disciplinary creative input has always been impactful.

Now, we present their latest endeavor: "NEW DIGS," a fascinating exhibition show opening on Friday, June 14th, at Space52.

"NEW DIGS" is René's first solo show, moving beyond photography and illustration into a mix of media including sculpture, drawing, sound, and text. Inspired by unexpected discoveries in his balcony's inflatable pool, the exhibition navigates the complexities of memory, desire, and the cultural constructs of whiteness and racialization. René explains that "NEW DIGS" is a platform for voices from various backgrounds—academics, activists, and fiction writers—reflecting contemporary gender discourse, ancient Greek culture, and beyond. At its core, it's an invitation to ponder the spaces in-between.

In anticipation of the show, we caught up with René for a sneak peek. His insights shed light on "NEW DIGS," a visionary space where boundaries blur and new conversations begin.

Digpic I, René Habermacher
Digpic I, René Habermacher
Digpic II, René Habermacher
Digpic II, René Habermacher
Digpic III, René Habermacher
Digpic III, René Habermacher
Digpic IV, René Habermacher
Digpic IV, René Habermacher
Digpic V, René Habermacher
Digpic V, René Habermacher
Digpic VI, René Habermacher
Digpic VI, René Habermacher
Digpic VII, René Habermacher
Digpic VII, René Habermacher

René, this is your first solo show moving beyond photography and illustration. How did you decide to move beyond photography and illustration to include sculptures, sound, and text in NEW DIGS?
New DIGS truly represents the culmination of the various disciplines I have dabbled in. It all began with a visit to my friend Charalambos 'Babis' Goumas, whom I affectionately call 'the Hemingway of clay.' We were in the mythical atelier where he grew up, one of a dozen children from a Sifnian terracotta maker dynasty. Babis slammed a lump of clay on the workbench and asked, “Don’t you want to do something?” So, I did.
The Trans-Herma statues featured in NEW DIGS could have only developed under his mentorship. Learning the secrets of terracotta making from him was a magical experience. I became the apprentice of a master who embodies the Golden Era of Greek culture. Babis has collaborated with artists like Yannis Tsarouchis and befriended Irene Papas and Aliki Vougiouklaki. His atelier remains a gathering place for important figures, where they share drinks and sing old songs.
So, the idea for NEW DIGS grew over time from meeting Babis and through the cultural connections he provided. He is a living witness to the classical understanding of sculpture, the craft of terracotta handed down through generations from archaic times, and the wisdom of life that has seeped into the soil from which the clay comes.

Trans Herma I, 2022, René Habermacher
Trans Herma I, 2022, René Habermacher
Trans Herma II, 2022, René Habermacher
Trans Herma II, 2022, René Habermacher
Trans Herma III, 2022, René Habermacher
Trans Herma III, 2022, René Habermacher
Trans Herma IV, 2022, René Habermacher
Trans Herma IV, 2022, René Habermacher
Trans Herma V, 2022, René Habermacher
Trans Herma V, 2022, René Habermacher
Trans Herma V, 2022, René Habermacher
Trans Herma V, 2022, René Habermacher
Trans Herma VI, 2022, René Habermacher
Trans Herma VI, 2022, René Habermacher
Trans Herma VI, 2022, René Habermacher
Trans Herma VI, 2022, René Habermacher
Trans Herma VIII, 2022, René Habermacher
Trans Herma VIII, 2022, René Habermacher
Trans Herma IX, 2022, René Habermacher
Trans Herma IX, 2022, René Habermacher

How does the concept of "digs" as both a home and an excavation site play into the themes of NEW DIGS?
The title originates from the photographs depicting the fake, reconstituted archaeological excavations I arranged in boxes, featuring the Trans-Herma statues. NEW DIGS refers not only to this but also to its original 19th-century meaning, describing a new home for someone who couldn't live in their previous one. The term is now used to describe a new opportunity. So, that's what NEW DIGS is: a change of perspective, a reassessment, a new look at something seemingly familiar.

 

Can you share more about your personal experience of being "in-between cultures, countries, and nations"?
I've lived in various places and still lead a somewhat nomadic lifestyle. Though born in Switzerland, for the longest time, I knew little about my paternal heritage, spanning both my father's and grandfather's lines. It left a gap in my identity, a sense of ‘longing to belong’. Only recently did I learn about my biological father, who has since passed away. This reshaping of my personal story, this shift in perspective, has also influenced my show.

 

Trans-herma

 

Trans Herma Group, 2022, René Habermacher

New digs, behind the scenes, René Habermacher
New digs, behind the scenes, René Habermacher
New digs, behind the scenes, René Habermacher
New digs, behind the scenes, René Habermacher
New digs, behind the scenes, René Habermacher
New digs, behind the scenes, René Habermacher
New digs, behind the scenes, René Habermacher
New digs, behind the scenes, René Habermacher
New digs, behind the scenes, René Habermacher
New digs, behind the scenes, René Habermacher
New digs, behind the scenes, René Habermacher
New digs, behind the scenes, René Habermacher
New digs, behind the scenes, René Habermacher
New digs, behind the scenes, René Habermacher
New digs, behind the scenes, René Habermacher
New digs, behind the scenes, René Habermacher
New digs, behind the scenes, René Habermacher
New digs, behind the scenes, René Habermacher

Do you feel that the idea of a "new kind of human," which prompts a reevaluation of the intersections between gender, colour, and racialization, has started to gain momentum in contemporary society? And if so, do you believe there's more that can be done to further this discourse?
We're living in turbulent times that are tearing people apart, amidst radicalization. Yet, we also have the opportunity to bridge cultural barriers of national doctrines and ideologies. The Trans-Herma embodies conversations around the idea of a boundary marker existing in-between boundaries. It resembles the familiar form of an ancient Greek "herm" but goes beyond its heritage and gender norms. This is how they contribute to current conversations. However, they also represent archaic ideas from mythologies and diverse cultural practices, including those that embraced the concept of Hermaphrodites or acknowledged not just two but five genders. So, what we perceive as radical and new may have actually existed for a long time. In a way, the Trans-Herma also marks a moment in time.

 

Who's your top inspiration for your work in this exhibition, considering the profound influences from the setting of Athens, the enduring legacy of ancient Greek culture, and photographers like Herbert List?
The list would be quite lengthy, with many notable names for various reasons, such as Yannis Tsarouchis, Dimitris Pikionis, Elias Petropoulos, or the African American James Williams, who arrived in Greece in 1823 to fight and ultimately perished for Greek independence. While we may not know much about him, he left a mark in history. Personally, I am most drawn to witnessing the individual's personal imprint, akin to an artisan's fingerprint left on an ancient clay piece in a museum. This touches me emotionally and sparks speculation, inspiring me to weave stories in my mind.

 

What do you hope viewers will get from NEW DIGS?
The aim of NEW DIGS is to foster dialogue. From the exchange I had with Babis, which sparked the creation of the first figures, NEW DIGS has always been about conversations: between various media—photography, sculptures, drawing, sound, text, paper, terracotta, styrofoam; between cultures—contemporary gender discourse, ancient Greek culture, and non-European traditions; and between people. To expand on this further, I also published a book designed by Vassilis Georgiou, featuring contributions from Dimitris Papanikolaou, Professor of Modern Greek and Comparative Cultural Studies at the University of Oxford, Yale scholar Savannah Sather Marquardt, and Tzef Montana, author of “Από την Κόρινθο στο Non-Binary”—just to name a few.