Friday, December 13, 2019

Encounters With The Past: A Fall Internship

As a recent graduate it is at times overwhelming to feel at a crossroads in terms of what the next step in the future will be. For me, the decisions have oscillated between graduate school, travel and work. In a sense, my time at the CIG has been a crossover of these three elements. I have had time to think about academia, gained work experience and managed to explore a bit of Greece. It is hard to believe that my internship at the CIG is coming to a close. The past few months have been a great experience and I am so glad that I decided to come to Athens. I have met some lovely people and feel like I was able to see quite a bit of the country considering the amount of time I have had here. I will miss being able to visit the museums and sites after a day at the office as well as the beautiful landscape and weather (and perhaps the freddo espressos as well).

There have been several memorable moments over the past few months. Having access to such excellent artistic spaces in the city has been a real luxury. I particularly liked the Museum of Cycladic Art and the Acropolis Museum (I also enjoyed the Museum of Islamic Art, the Benaki Museum and the National Archaeological Museum). Being free from the academic institution for this internship, I have  allowed myself time to think about the role of art in society, the problems that arise when dealing with historical works in the present and the potential of art to bring about social change. Within the city I also visited the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center (SNFCC) several times to see a Sun Ra concert as well as a performance of Beethoven’s 6th and 7th symphonies. The SNFCC is an amazing space because it strives to make art accessible to the public. Renzo Piano’s design is especially interesting because of the interaction of exterior and interior spaces (the gardens on the sloped roof are one of my favourite places to walk around)

Outside of Athens, I was able to visit Mycenae, Epidaurus, Delphi, Hydra, Sounion and Nafplio. Seeing the archaeological sites in person is a special experience which overruns any attempt at grasping a place from a textbook or lecture.  It is always a bit disorienting to return to Athens after spending time at an ancient site; there is definitely a period of readjustment to the ebbs and flows of the contemporary city. Henry Miller said something interesting about visiting ancient ruins, where he reversed the historical narrative of the ruin being crumbling and dilapidated, and instead saw it as a whole and viewed our cultural epoch as the fragment. The West’s trinity of scientism, secularism and capitalism are challenged by sites such as Mycenae, where you are confronted with a worldview that is so different from ours today that it is a very liberating site to experience. Visiting archaeological sites in Greece has confirmed my view that engaging with the past is integral to our ability to re-imagine the present.

Within the institute, I have been working on updating the library catalogues and helping with social media and other research based tasks. I have learned a lot and am thankful for being given the opportunity to work at the CIG. My time in Greece has instilled a sense of curiosity with looking at the past and I look forward to figuring out what my next steps will be after the internship.

Hilary Jay
McGill University intern, autumn 2019

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