Anna Meli – When your world turns around ceramics and so much more

Anna Meli – When your world turns around ceramics and so much more

It‘s a sunny afternoon, early spring on Ikaria and Anna is busy walking back and forth between her house and her ceramic workshop. Finally, the sun is shining and the temperature is rising. This brings back energy, but it‘s also a reminder that the tourism season will start soon and she has to get ready. Her to-do-list is long today. But priority has to be the packaging of the 100 clay plates for the New Acropolis Museum. This is a new order and she has to make it happen on time. Here they are, drying in the sun on a long table in the yard. Anna examines each and every plate very carefully. She started this collaboration 10 years ago and since then the museum orders regularly.
So yesterday she engraved the three daughters of the mythical King of Athena Kekrops onto these clay plates, exactly as her client wanted. And today she has to pack them into gift boxes, adding brushes and selected colours. All of them will be sold in the children’s section of the museum’s shop of the New Acropolis Museum. They are part of the educational programmeto introduce kids to Greek history through painting.

Anna loves this kind of work. Education is close to her heart and she’s been working with clay since her early childhood. So combining these different areas with one another gives her a chance to reach out to the world and in that way she can participate in different projects and discussions. Not that she‘s in any way bored with her life, not at all. Being a mother of two small children, running a ceramic workshop, organising ceramic classes, building a house, participating in different activities of the local association of Nas, her hometown village on Ikaria, and helping out from time to time at the family owned hotel „Artemis Studio“ – all these tasks are filling her daily agenda to the brim. But projects like this are the „food“ she needs, to fuel her creativity and to follow the path she once started to develop and to walk on.

Whoever you might ask on Ikaria who is Anna Melí, they will tell you: „Well, of course, Anna is the daughter of Sofia and Kostas Melí, who have the ceramic workshop in Nas.“ And „Yes,“ they may add, „she is the sister of Afroditi, who runs the „Artemis Studio“ in Nas.“ But this will not give you a full picture of Anna. Not by far! She is not „just“ the daughter of Sofia and Kostas, and she didn’t just follow in their footsteps by working with ceramics; Anna is an artist by herself. And a good one! And a different one! And yes, Anna is a ceramist. Being the daughter of two dedicated ceramists, who built up the workshop in Nas and who have been working there for decades, it comes quite naturally that you are also working with clay, a clay wheel and different colours. But Anna went further.

Anna grew up in Athens, where her parents had a ceramic workshop. Her father was producing the ceramics and her mother was mainly painting them. But half of the year, her parents left Athens to continue their work on Ikaria, in Nas, the small but beautiful village in the North West of the island. During the school holidays, Anna and her sister Afroditi followed their parents, spending their time at the workshop, in the village or at the beach.

After school Anna entered the Athens School of Fine Arts (ASFA), where the curricula of ceramics, painting, sculpture, graphic design and multimedia opened up new horizons for her. She finished her Bachelor in Fine Arts in painting, but she knew that this was not the end, but just the beginning of a different journey.
During her studies, she was fascinated by the broad possibilities multimedia had offered her: combining photography, ceramics, graphics, animation and virtual reality was the „trigger“ for the fantasy and creativity she was looking for. Subsequently she continued her studies, signing up for a Masters at the same Arts School, but now working on the theme: „Art, virtual reality and multiuser systems of artistic expressions“.
All this may sound very weird to you, but for Anna the virtual space became a fascinating place, a place where new artistic expressions are possible, offering new results for the „real world“. To explore more about these subjects and to gather more know-how, Anna travelled a lot during her university years. She followed university classes in Berlin and in Paris, diving deeper into this new world.
In 2016 she was ready to launch her own research project, which became her PhD-case. Her question? How can a book be developed in a virtual space? Are there new possibilities for writing and making a book? To find an answer, Anna combined the traditional art of printing a book with new media, new forms of narration and interactivity. Her conclusion? In the future a book will no longer ‚just‘ be printed, but it will be a multimedia experience, where writing will benefit from the 3D-dimensions. On her way to this result, Anna not only participated in many conferences about these different subjects, but she also worked intensively with different artists from other fields. It was a highlight when she became the co-author of a multimedia show, combining a theater performance with multimedia art.

These were very enriching and creative years, but Anna never forgot to get back to her roots again. Ikaria and the ceramic shop in Nas were the perfect antithesis to these long discussions among international artists and professors. Being there, working in the workshop with her parents – this work calmed her down, generated some income and gave her the strength to continue her PhD.

Apart from advancing her artistic career in Athens and beyond, Anna also developed her private life. She got married and had two children, but she still followed her projects. Anna did not follow a university career; she opted against it, because she wanted to keep her independence working in different subjects, with different people.

In 2017, when her life was stretched between too many different activities; the PhD and organizing the next stop, where they should live and work, Anna and her husband took a decision: they packed their bags  and  set off to Ikaria. A real adventure! None of them had ever lived there for longer than the holidays, so it was a certain risk. On Ikaria Anna would find herself separated from her art colleagues and the necessary collaboration with them. But this perspective did not set backthe family’s decision. They needed to slow down and Ikaria gave them the perspective to get back to their roots and calm down for a while. Anna’s parents welcomed their plans. Her father was happy to hand over the business to Anna to give her a chance to have an income  And as Sofia, Anna’s mother, wanted to slow down, too, she was happy to continue her work at Anna’s side, but with less hours and less responsibility.

So Anna had new priorities in her life. Instead of „making new books by writing in a 3D-space“, she‘s now planning new performances, this time combining poetry and new media … and of course, she‘s concentrating on the pottery workshop. She broadened its activities, among others she now offers ceramic workshops to locals and tourists. Anna is also approaching the primary schools in the surrounding villages to introduce children to the adventure of working with clay and colours. But she‘s also developing her own style of ceramics as she‘s combining the traditional models that her father was making, with new designs and techniques. And having her mother as a professional painter by her side is pretty reassuring, Anna says.

Even though, it was a challenge to leave the life in the big city behind and to settle down in Nas, a village that is busy during summer time, but very quiet outside the season, Anna and Christos have no regrets. Slowly, slowly they are settling in. For them, living in a remote place doesn‘t mean that they‘re cut off from the world. They are just changing the perspective. Instead of joining artists in the different workshops in Athens, Anna is now inviting them to come to Ikaria. With the initiative „Artists and Residency“, international artists now have a chance to work for a week in Nas and to share their results with Ikarians. That way, art is coming to Ikaria and the locals have a chance to be connected with the global world of art and different discussions.

Anna has more ideas, many of them are still literally „packed“ in the boxes from their move or in her mind ….  because you don’t stop to be an artist, just because you move places or you become a wife and a mother.

So Anna is taking „her“ time for „her“ ideas, when the house calms down at night – when the kids are sleeping and she‘s crossed off the most important things on her to-do-list. She doesn‘t need a lot to start with. Just an empty sheet of paper … and then her mind wanders away.
This is her treasure time, her time to connect again with her knowledge in the different fields of art, multimedia and virtual reality. Many ideas are up in the air – or better, in the virtual space – not yet ready, but for sure Anna will continue her artistic performance.
And perhaps, one day, people will give you a different answer when asked who is Anna Melí. They may answer: „Yes, this is the young woman in Nas, who is a dedicated artist, combining different fields of art, bringing international artists to Ikaria … and yes, by the way: she is a good ceramist. She learnt from her parents and she runs the workshop in Nas, just off the main street.“


@ Birgit_Urban