Once we find ourselves gathered up in a joined-up place again, released from fear, I believe that we’ll enthusiastically rediscover the value of collective experience.

Dimitris Polychroniadis

The charm of transience

Text: Chryssa Nanou | Photographs: Dimitris Polychroniadis' archive
Δημήτρης Πολυχρονιάδης

How can a professional of the theatre and the visual arts cope with cancelled premieres, projects put on ice, and productions delayed for months? Thessaloniki-born architect, set designer and visual artist, Dimitris Polychroniadis, opted to focus on his personal projects, which serve as “a creative and therapeutic getaway,” as he points out.

The worst part is that very few projects seem to be in the works,” he says. “The theatre world has been put on the freezer. I sincerely have a hard time noticing even the slightest positive shift. The pandemic has hit theatre to the core of its existence: it has forbidden us to breathe along with others in the same room, without succumbing to fear. At the same time, it has triggered, and will continue to do so, a huge financial damage that deepens day by day. I fear it will take really long for this wound to heal. Let us note that the 30% capacity cap, as prescribed by the law, sends half of the theatres in Athens down the drain, the ones with a maximum capacity of 200 or less. Theatre has have never been spoiled money-wise, but it could certainly use a little more state support, which has been meagre so far, during this unprecedented crisis.”

As a set designer, he has a lot of collaborations with prestigious institutions, such as the National Theatre of Greece, the Greek National Opera, the National Theatre of Northern Greece and the Greek Art Theatre Karolos Koun, under his belt. Among them one that certainly stands out is Luigi Pirandello’s play Tonight We Improvise, staged by the National Theatre of Greece and directed by Dimitris Mavrikios for two consecutive seasons (2018-2019). Dimitris Polychroniadies is sceptical and on a wait-and-see mode concerning the solution of online performances that many artists turned to all over the world due to the Covid-19 pandemic. “I hope it’s a temporary adjustment, but a more permanent status cannot be ruled out. Theatre has proved time and time again its lack of fear for technology, coming up with ways to integrate into its universe. New hybrid performances may easily come out, destined to be showcased online due to their structure and conception,” he points out. Nevertheless, in his view, nothing can substitute the in-person theatre experience. “Once we find ourselves gathered up in a joined-up place again, released from fear, I believe that we’ll enthusiastically rediscover the value of collective experience. Enjoying, in person, a performance, a movie or a concert.”

His multifaceted work brings him time and time again faced with the notion of time. As an architect, he is confronted with the need to create works that’ll last, whereas as a set designer he comes up against the feeling of a predetermined end. “I never succeeded in orienting myself around important, long-term “life goals”. In that sense, maybe I’m more into the transient nature of set designing than architecture. The two of them are alike as to the process, but very different in terms of time. Another striking difference is that architecture crafts the real world, whereas set designing builds a bedrock for a “fairy tale” to unfold, as an immersive mirror of the soul. Albert Einstein once wrote in a letter of his: “To us physicists, the distinction between past, present, and future is nothing more than a persistent illusion.”

In his projects, Dimitris Polychroniadis often adopts a subversive approach on the idea of sizes, juxtaposing something small against a huge backdrop. “The big scale against a lonely human figure implies the fragility of human nature. There are phenomena we cannot comprehend or deal with, such as the untamed elements of nature, the frenzied technology growth, or even our own feelings,” he says.

Thessaloniki, his native city, from which he left years ago to live and work in Athens is “a place of comfort,” as he puts it. “The memories of childhood, adolescence and youth. Like a cozy armchair by a fireplace. You cannot stay there forever but it’s always in your dreams, you keep coming back to it.”

Who is Who

Dimitris Polychroniadis was born in Thessaloniki, in 1975. He lives and works in Athens. He graduated from the Architecture School of Greenwich (BA Honours & Diploma in Architecture), and went on to have his Master’s Degree on Urban Planning. He has worked in engineering consultancy companies and technical companies, taking part on the designing and supervision of private projects. During the academic year 2001-02 he attended the G. Ziakas’ workshop on set designing, at the Athens School of Fine Arts

Among others, he has designed sets for performances hosted by the National Theatre of Greece, the Greek National Opera, the Athens-Epidaurus Festival, Michael Cacoyannis Foundation, the Greek Art Theatre Karolos Koun, Performance Art Theatre Thission, having collaborated with renowned Greek directors. He has been awarded by Athinorama magazine for his set designing in the performance Six Characters in Search of An Author (National Theater of Greece, 2003). He has also been awarded the Koun Award by the Hellenic Association of Theatre and Performing Arts Critics for The Monstrous Masterpiece (Epidaurus Festival, 2009). Since 2011, he crafts sculptures using mixed technique, which draw inspiration from his experience in architecture and set designing. His first solo exhibition was held at “Eirmos” art gallery in Thessaloniki.