27
Sep
16

Review: ‘Polixeni Papapetrou: Eden’ at Stills Gallery, Sydney

Exhibition dates: 3rd September – 1st October 2016

 

This end of (life) cycle is the last body of work that Polixeni Papapetrou will make. It is the completion of an imaginative, bold and strong body of work that stretches from the late 1980s through to this series, Eden. Papapetrou has remained true to her vision as an artist, one that documents performative identities within constructed landscapes.

In this series Papapetrou again cleverly stitches together space and time: flowers stitched together in wreaths; prints of period dresses; and further prints in the backdrop made from postwar backcloth. This “fabrication” of the picture plane has been a constant throughout the artistic life of Papapetrou. If we look at the formal construction of an early work, Drag queen wearing cut out dress (1993, below), we can still see the same concerns for flattened perspective in this new series. The wrapping up of space (fabric, dress, flowers, body) in an intricately overlapping, planar field of view with no vanishing point.

The work desires to celebrate the beauty of nature and honour its transience through the symbology of beauty and death associated with flowers. But for me, the use of facsimiles or simulacra – prints of flowers on dresses and repeated patterns of flowers on cloth – diminishes the relationship between the sitters and the flowers, thus undermining the conceptualisation of the series. The sitter is no longer embedded in the cycles of life and, on this level, the work fails to engage with how we are nature. The sitters exist in a masked reality (like the wreaths in front of the girls faces), which is a masquerade or act, a disguise which takes us away from our true being. As in much of Papapetrou’s work, camouflage – to hide or disguise the presence of (a person, animal, or object) – is to the fore, but this time these photographs fail to transcend their origins as studio set pieces.

Further, I have never been a great fan of “dead pan” photography and what I find curious here is the closed nature of the girls. They are stiff, focused inwards, looking off into nowhere. They don’t feel that they are in a state of reflection. For a series that seeks to show “the condition of becoming from childhood to adolescence to adulthood”, the photographs seem to lack the energy vital for such a journey. The exuberance of nature doesn’t seem to extend beyond the prints and flowers. As I said of her work in an earlier posting, “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.” Like a bower bird collecting colourful things for its nest, there are bits of all of that and more in this new series.

This is not my favourite body of Papapetrou’s work. No matter. What we should do is honour this talented and determined artist for creating memorable images over the years, for following her passion and her heart with courage and conviction. For the rest of my life I will always remember the spaces, the ambiguous vistas, the fantastical archetypes, the fables of her work. Images of drag queens and Dreamkeepers, Ghillies and goblins are etched in my memory. I will always remember them. You can’t ask much more from the work of an artist than that.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for Art Blart

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

 

 

“If I do live again I would like it to be as a flower – no soul but perfectly beautiful. Perhaps for my sins I shall be made a red geranium!”

.
Oscar Wilde

 

The loss of Eden is
personally experienced by
every one of us as we leave
the wonder and magic and
also the pain and terrors
of childhood.

.
Dennis Potter

 

 

Polixeni Papapetrou. 'Drag queen wearing cut out dress' 1993

 

Polixeni Papapetrou
Drag queen wearing cut out dress
1993
Gelatin silver photograph
28.5 x 28.5 cm
Courtesy the artist and Nellie Castan Gallery, Melbourne and Stills Gallery, Sydney

 

 

Polixeni stitches space together in the same way that flowers are stitched together in a wreath – the one wand entwined within the space of the other – or vines or branches are woven on a trellis. The very word bower derives from a knot, a bow (as Shakespeare acknowledges with his ‘pleached bower’),[1] a tying together around an armature, where strands are interwoven, locked in, both strengthened and encumbered with their unity. They are ‘Together intertwin’d and trammel’d fresh’,[2] as the romantic poet Keats expressed it in his Endymion, a heady poem itself enmeshed with flowers and vine. In Polixeni’s photographs, however, the trammelled armature is the human herself…

In Eden, Polixeni weaves together much more than space but metaphor, metaphors of growth, nature, life-cycles, the sacred, the ideal; and even the all-over aesthetic field constitutes a kind of metaphor, the rhapsodic, the imaginary, the connected. The space that she has created is almost nothing but a metaphor, ‘her close and consecrated bower’;[13]…

Polixeni’s bower is fantastic in old and new ways: old, because it has forms of painting and sculpture within it where blooms and other plant-matter are brought together; and new because they gesture to a place so far beyond the studio…

This exclusivity along gender lines, like the image of the unicorn in the garden of a virgin, is also metaphoric: it stands for the preserve of the individual, the quintessentially safe place that is the interior, the inner realm of thought, the preserve of an unaffected psyche, an emotional haven, a bower of immanence. It has love in it, but deferred, otherworldly, imaginary and eternal.

Extract from Robert Nelson “Rhapsodies from the bower: Polixeni Papapetrou’s ‘Eden'” 2016

 

Polixeni Papapetrou. 'Blinded' from 'Eden', 2016

 

Polixeni Papapetrou
Blinded
2016
From the series Eden
Pigment print
127.3 x 85 cm
Courtesy of the artist and STILLS Gallery, Sydney

 

Polixeni Papapetrou. 'Delphi' 2016

 

Polixeni Papapetrou
Delphi
2016
From the series Eden
Pigment print
127.3 x 85 cm
Courtesy of the artist and STILLS Gallery, Sydney

 

The name Delphoi comes from the same root as δελφύς delphys, “womb” and may indicate archaic veneration of Gaia… In Greek mythology, Gaia (/ˈɡ.ə/ or /ˈɡ.ə/ from Ancient Greek Γαῖα, a poetical form of Γῆ , “land” or “earth”) also spelled Gaea, is the personification of the Earth and one of the Greek primordial deities. Gaia is the ancestral mother of all life: the primal Mother Earthgoddess.

 

Polixeni Papapetrou. 'Heart' 2016

 

Polixeni Papapetrou
Heart
2016
From the series Eden
Pigment print
127.3 x 85 cm
Courtesy of the artist and STILLS Gallery, Sydney

 

Polixeni Papapetrou. 'Flora' 2016

 

Polixeni Papapetrou
Flora
2016
From the series Eden
Pigment print
127.3 x 85 cm
Courtesy of the artist and STILLS Gallery, Sydney

 

In Roman mythology, Flora (Latin: Flōra) was a Sabine-derived goddess of flowers and of the season of spring – a symbol for nature and flowers (especially the may-flower). While she was otherwise a relatively minor figure in Roman mythology, being one among several fertility goddesses, her association with the spring gave her particular importance at the coming of springtime, as did her role as goddess of youth. Her name is derived from the Latin word “flos” which means “flower”. In modern English, “Flora” also means the plants of a particular region or period.

 

Polixeni Papapetrou. 'Psyche' 2016

 

Polixeni Papapetrou
Psyche
2016
From the series Eden
Pigment print
127.3 x 85 cm
Courtesy of the artist and STILLS Gallery, Sydney

 

Psyche (/ˈsk/, Greek: Ψυχή, “Soul” or “Breath of Life”). The basic meaning of the Greek word ψυχή (psūkhē) was “life” in the sense of “breath”, formed from the verb ψύχω (psukhō, “to blow”). Derived meanings included “spirit”, “soul”, “ghost”, and ultimately “self” in the sense of “conscious personality” or “psyche”… Portrayals of Psyche alone are often not confined to illustrating a scene from Apuleius, but may draw on the broader Platonic tradition in which Love was a force that shaped the self.

 

 

Colourful, abundant and compelling, Polixeni Papapetrou’s new series Eden arose out of a commission by the Centre for Contemporary Photography (CCP) in Melbourne to create works in response to the Melbourne General Cemetery. Papapetrou, photographed flowers obtained from the cemetery against a black backdrop to invoke ideas about mourning and remembrance. For Papapetrou, whose own plot is in the cemetery, and who, through illness, has faced her own mortality, it was a challenging and thought provoking assignment.

The commission led Papapetrou to delve into the language of flowers. The history of art is replete with images of flowers and they have a rich metaphorical resonance. In true Papapetrou spirit, what she has created in Eden, following on from the CCP work, is positive, philosophical and beautiful. Eden invites us to celebrate the beauty of nature and honour its transience. We, like flowers, are subject to seasons of growth, blossoming, and wilting. The young women in the photographs, in the Springtime of their lives, are surrounded by flowers; on backdrops, on dresses; held or worn, they adorn and overrun them. The lush colours and patterns are interrupted only by the faces and arms of the sitters, their expressions solemn and thoughtful, in contrast to the extravagance of the blooms.

Papapetrou has returned to photograph these subjects, including her daughter Olympia, at different stages of their lives. Eden uses the language of flowers to explore life itself, reflecting on the young womens’ metamorphosis from child to adolescent and adolescent to adult, and a oneness with the world, fertility and the cycles of life. They are enclosed in a floral embrace that symbolises their unity and acceptance of this miraculous thing we call life.

In addition to Eden, we will also exhibit a small selection of Papapetrou’s early Phantomwise works. These large-scale black and white photographs feature her young daughter Olympia between the ages of four and six wearing Victorian masks and performing various identities. As with Eden, these early works consider the potential for metamorphosis and the ambiguity between the ‘real’ and the ‘imaginary’, an ambiguity inherent in photography itself.

Press release from Stills Gallery

 

Polixeni Papapetrou. 'Amaranthine' 2016

 

Polixeni Papapetrou
Amaranthine
2016
From the series Eden
Pigment print
127.3 x 85 cm
Courtesy of the artist and STILLS Gallery, Sydney

 

The word is taken from ancient Greek and means everlasting or immortal (the same as the amaranth flower)

 

Polixeni Papapetrou. 'Amaryllus' 2016

 

Polixeni Papapetrou
Amaryllus
2016
From the series Eden
Pigment print
127.3 x 85 cm
Courtesy of the artist and STILLS Gallery, Sydney

 

Polixeni Papapetrou. 'Eden' 2016

 

Polixeni Papapetrou
Eden
2016
From the series Eden
Pigment print
127.3 x 85 cm
Courtesy of the artist and STILLS Gallery, Sydney

 

Traditionally, the favored derivation of the name “Eden” was from the Akkadian edinnu, derived from a Sumerian word meaning “plain” or “steppe”. Eden is now believed to be more closely related to an Aramaic root word meaning “fruitful, well-watered.” The Hebrew term is translated as “pleasure” in Sarah’s secret saying in Genesis 18:12

 

Polixeni Papapetrou. 'Rhodora' 2016

 

Polixeni Papapetrou
Rhodora
2016
From the series Eden
Pigment print
127.3 x 85 cm
Courtesy of the artist and STILLS Gallery, Sydney

 

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) "The Rhodora" from 'Poems' 1847

 

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)
“The Rhodora” from Poems
1847

 

Polixeni Papapetrou. 'Spring' 2016

 

Polixeni Papapetrou
Spring
2016
From the series Eden
Pigment print
127.3 x 85 cm
Courtesy of the artist and STILLS Gallery, Sydney

 

 

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

Opening hours:
Wed to Sat 11am – 5pm

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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