25
Apr
12

Exhibition: ‘Polixeni Papapetrou: The Dreamkeepers’ at Stills Gallery, Sydney

Exhibition dates: 28th March – 5th May 2012

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I absolutely love these. The colours, the spaces, the ambiguous vistas, the fantastical archetypes, the fables. What springs to mind, with the use of masks to disguise youth positioned within the decorous landscape, is the notion of “passing”. Passing on (as in dying), passing through (as in travelling), in passing (as in an aside) and just “passing” (passing yourself off as someone or something else) to hide your true character or feelings. Gay men did this in the 1950s and 60s all the better to fit into society, for if it was found that you were homosexual you could loose your job, your apartment and even your life. Of course, there is also the passing of time, the longing for misspent youth in these masked ephebes and adolescent women. Age shall not weary them…

Wandering, dreaming, remembering, keeping, collecting, counting. These neophytes on the path of life, both old/wise, young/hidden pass through (into?) our dreams. Papapetrou creates visions that elude the senses, visions that slip between dreaming and waking, between conscious and subconscious realms. As John Berger and Jean Mohr have observed,

“Cameras are boxes for transporting appearances. Are the appearances which a camera transports a construction, a man-made cultural artefact, or are they, like a footprint in the sand, a trace naturally left by something that has passed? The photographer choses the events he photographs. This choice can be thought of as a cultural construction. The space for this construction is, as it were, cleared by his rejection of what he did not choose to photograph.”1

As an artist Papapetrou has the intelligence to leave this nature/nurture question open in her photographs. Her skill as an artist is in choosing the right things to photograph. This enables her creatures to pass through liminal spaces, the space of our consciousness. Through this process a trace will always be left with us, for this is a strong body of work, well realised, in passing.

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Many thankx to Stills Gallery for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

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Polixeni Papapetrou
The Wanderer No. 3
2012
from The Dreamkeepers
Pigment print
105 x 105cm

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Polixeni Papapetrou
The Wave Counter
2011
from The Dreamkeepers
Pigment print
105 x 105cm

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Polixeni Papapetrou
The Lantern Keeper
2012
from The Dreamkeepers
Pigment print
105 x 105cm

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“These transitional places in one’s life are often the most creative, and as we grapple for answers and clarity what is often realized is ambiguity and confusion that reigns supreme. Like fairy stories, Papapetrou uses absurdity to make symbolic sense of world she struggles to understand.”

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Susan Bright. Between Worlds catalogue 2009

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In Polixeni Papapetrou’s work there is identification with the world of children that is rare and remarkable. She sees children themselves as ‘between worlds’, between infancy and adulthood. Yet she does more than identify, creating fantastical worlds that only adults can truly understand and relate to.

A man in blue striped pyjamas stands on a rock by the sea, leaning into the wind. His body seems young yet he supports himself with a walking frame. His face is old, oversized, a little grotesque. He is The Wavecounter. Like the other characters in Polixeni Papapetrou’s series The Dreamkeepers, he is lithe in body yet gnarly of physiognomy, both young and old. Gazing out in contemplation these dream keepers look with anticipation to the future, or is it with nostalgia to the past? The timeless backdrops of shoreline or hilltop reflect this ambiguity, echoing through landscape the collapsing of thresholds and blurring of boundaries.

Papapetrou’s art practice has involved collaboration with her children and their friends for over 10 years. As they have grown and transformed so too have the roles they perform and spaces they inhabit. It is the awkward evolution of adolescence that informs the in-between space of The Dreamkeepers. To parallel the cripplingly self-conscious yet powerfully self-realising period of our lives, Papapetrou engages part reality, part fantasy from which a space of unreality emerges, the space of archetype. Here the anonymity afforded by masks separates her adolescent actors from who they really are, and allows them to stand in for us all. In this way, Papapetrou asks us to consider how masks, whether symbolic or literal, not only conceal identity, but also expand and transform it.

The aged masks do so in The Dreamkeepers by confounding adolescence, as the characters exude a quiet lack of self-consciousness, despite their disturbing appearance. They arouse a gentle pathos, reminding us of our own shapeshifting, of time playing out on our bodies and minds. The abstract meeting of these two ages may indicate the latent wisdom and self-acceptance that only realises with maturity, or the cyclical nature of our life spans that inevitably brings us back to the vulnerability of youth. In either case the work is a powerful testament to the surrendering of childhood.

Also on exhibition is a small selection of works from Papapetrou’s current work in progress. Using ghillie suits, she transforms her actors into animate objects – rocks with life and seaweed with attitude.”

Press release from the Stills Gallery website

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Polixeni Papapetrou
The Holiday Makers
2011
from The Dreamkeepers
Pigment print
105 x 105cm

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Polixeni Papapetrou
The Joy Pedlars
2011
from The Dreamkeepers
Pigment print
105 x 105cm

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Polixeni Papapetrou
The Shell Collectors
2012
from The Dreamkeepers
Pigment print
105 x 105cm

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Polixeni Papapetrou
The Lighthouse Keepers
2011
from The Dreamkeepers
Pigment print
105 x 105cm

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1. Berger, John and Mohr, Jean. Another Way of Telling. New York: Pantheon Books, 1982, pp.92-93.

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Stills Gallery
36 Gosbell Street
Paddington NSW 2021
Australia
T: 61 2 9331 7775

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Saturday 11.00 am – 6.00 pm

Stills Gallery website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes the Art Blart blog which reviews exhibitions in Melbourne, Australia and posts exhibitions from around the world. He has a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne and is currently studying a Master of Art Curatorship at The University of Melbourne.

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