Sofia Papadopoulou recently graduated from The Athens School of Fine Arts (ASFA).
The collection of her works for her thesis entitled «Without…» which she presented in June was exceptional, exemplary, and like a breath of life in the visual arts, in the pretentious part of Documenta 14 at ASFA that was dominated by exurberance.
She belongs to a group of new blood in the fine art scene in our country and is a person with energy and deep concerns who not only follows but participates actively in the art scene with persistence, consciousness, and a spirit of cooperation which sets her apart. She has presented her work in solo and group exhibitions in Greece and abroad.
Sofia Papadopoulou spoke with Eleni Zymaraki Tzortzi.
Firstly, would you like to speak to us about the art work which constitutes your thesis entitled «Without…»
The title of the collection of art work and the text accompanying it reveal that both the subject, as well as the creative process, contain elements of my personal life and experiences which are evidence of my desire for introspection and soul-searching.
«Without…» resulted from the appropriation of the title of the book of the same name by Samuel Becket which-in almost one mechanical movement-deals with his struggle with being and non-being within the sociopolitical circumstances of his era. It is a dialogue, the route on a quest for the depths of human consciousness, and how to face the ego.
The collection consists of sixteen works of art which explore interpersonal relationships, bonds formed with others and our emotions, as well as the experiences and relationships of childhood which greatly influence the development of the individual for their entire life. Also considered are positive moral values and parental emotional detachment. The works delve into hidden trauma stemming from childhood.
Through this narration, I found myself searching for my own identity while recognizing emotions such as fear, abandonment, rejection, loss, loneliness, desire and self-esteem.
Families unfailingly attempt to make children subject to their own ideals and then to social stereotypes.
Societies are organized into family units which can be domineering, and this same dominating stereotype extends into the structure of the state,
I use the technique of collage. I cut up photographs that touch me emotionally and put them together, reconstructing them. This whole process contributes to my redemption and mental equilibrium.
The images of the microcosm and macrocosm expressed through the materials used and my techniques allow me to escape and wander in a fantasy world… I create compositions which act as narratives in a world without time or space and from where escape is impossible.
I create new narrations connected to memories, analyse my personal life and how it appertains to the collective. Zoomorphic forms, metaphors, allegories, and demons surface from a timeless, inept narrative. These are monsters born of my own social identity. The heroes are transformed, recreated, and turn into personas deconstructed which are revealed before the viewer and exposed. The body suffers and becomes the canvas which embodies all nightmares as a suffering wounded body becoming holy and profane, familiar and unknown.
Form, past, present, one penetrates the other.
Simultaneously, I want the art work to be open to interpretation so I can communicate with the viewer with the aim of sensitization, provoking thought and concern.
Why did you choose the visual arts as a means of creative expression?
I think in images. I create in images. I interpret the world revolving around birth and death. I pose questions, explore relationships, search for my identity, express emotions, and use my art work as a means of therapy.
It is the way I express myself and approach life.
What is the role of art today?
The artist and this era have a two-way relationship.
Modern art changes constantly, coexisting with society. It has an intense social and political dimension, not only aesthetic. It is not focused on the ego but on “the other.”
It is a means of communication and social criticism. It desensitizes, investigates, and awakens our conscience. Art is a channel used to get through to society with its questioning.
To what extent does the artist have the freedom to choose the content and means of artistic expression? Do they have to follow the tendencies which are displayed, dominate and are imposed on us by various sectors of the art world like large museums, private collections, curators, collectors, and by internationally renowned and commercially successfully artists?
Undoubtedly, artists are influenced by the trends of their era—an era which aims at originality and to differentiate as an end in itself.
Nowadays, we are reworking the innovations of the previous century, adding our own influence, creating something new.
The materials and the content do not play as important of a role as the way that the artist describes and perceives the world, then shares it with others. The dialectical relationship between artist and viewer is the reason for the exchanging of viewpoints.
What do you wish to pursue, now that you have completed your studies at the Athens School of Fine Arts?
At university I obtained invaluable knowledge leading to self-awareness. I have learned to be genuine, work hard, investigate, and to better myself. Most importantly, I want to develop and progress, both personally and in my career.
I plan to obtain a master’s degree and continue on with various projects I began at ASFA.
You are the kind of artist who consistently follows important art organisations and art fairs in Greece as well as abroad? Which art works made an impression on you of the many important ones that you saw recently in Athens, Kassel, and Venice?
For me, the national pavilion of South Korea was a distinguished presence at the Biennale in Venice 2017 which I visited at the beginning of August.
The exhibition entitled ‘Counterbalance: the stone and the mountain’ focuses on the meaning of national identity, through the works of Cody Choi and Lee Wan.
On the façade of the installation Choi created the visual atmosphere of a Las Vegas casino using the borrowed idea of neon lights and signs in order to reflect the spectacle of global captitalism. The artist himself, exploring cultural identity, created a parody of the famous Rodin statue «The Thinker» In this repeat interpretation he constructed the work with 2,500 rolls of toilet paper and painted them pink with 20,000 bottles of the pink American stomach medicine, Pepto-Bismol, depicting his uncertainty while trying to “digest” western philosophy.
Lee Wan created the installation «Proper Time» using 668 clocks which stated the name, birthdate and nationality of the different individuals he met and interviewed. Each clock moves at a different rate, just like our lives, and id determined by the amount of time each person needs to work for a meal. He uses key words such as world, individual, food, time and work to explore the very different financial circumstances of workers all over the world. He doubts the value of life within a capitalist system. The result is a surreal collection of abstract portraits which function in a sensorial way, and give an explicit picture of global inequality nowadays.
Another installation by Lee Wan poses the question: “What is individual existence within the realm of history?” He refers to the history and identity of Korea within the collection of photographs by the reporter Kim Ki-moon (1936-2011), which came into his possession, as well as objects from his private collections.
He speaks about decisive periods of turbulent twentieth century Korea: the dominance of Japanese colonialism, the Korean war, the division of the Korean peninsula, the dictatorship in the decades of the sixties and seventies, democracy as well as economic development. The artist is interested in images of propaganda of the past, through which, the authorities controlled people.
The Korean government, at that time promoted propagandist slogans which promised that hard work and would result in a bright future. This is the American way of life which the country saw in the politics of the era following colonialism and became an example in Korea.
Time passed and now they are living that future.
It is a short analysis of art works which poses questions… national stories which are related to the rest of the world and the displacement of the identity of nation states and people of the modern world.
I would still like to stand before an imaginary video installation of the pavilion of South Korea.
Two contemporary artists, Candice Breitz and Mohau Modisakeng represented South Africa at this year’s Biennale in Venice. Their main theme was the meaning of free will within the framework of global marginalization. What does it mean to be a person born and raised in a particular place?
The exhibition was based on the troubling issues of exclusion, displacement, immigration, and xenophobia which afflict a part of the global population.
Modisakeng’s work, a video installation with three channels started in the dark, just like life. Consequently, we see light from three different screens placed in a u-shape. Three characters, each one in a small white wooden row boat, holds an important symbolic object: a whip, an umbrella, and a scepter.
They are moving in the boat, gesturing in a heroic fight against invisible forces. None of them are wearing shoes.
The nakedness of their feet reminds us that the slaves in the colony of the Cape did not have shoes in order to differentiate them from the «free» population. Even though they are in row boats they do not have paddles to steer their boats, neither do we conjecture about their lives.
The passage (2017) is a work about a business which brought labourers to work in the plantations on the Cape. Within this historical relationship, he comments on the present movement of people caused by political and economic turbulence.
We see the characters as individuals: Two men who wear hats and coats and a woman dressed in a white dress and black coat.
The boat fills with water and finally sinks.
Although they struggle, they don’t try to swim far. It seems that the boundaries of the small boat encompass the bounds of their existence.
It is obvious that they realize that the water is overwhelming stronger and their acts of resistance are, to a great extent, for the preservation of their own dignity. From this point on the video is filmed in the water. The spot in which each character is floating is lit up, while the rest is in darkness. We see the silhouettes of each individual, sinking, losing their hats, at the same time, holding on to their symbols.
If the work of Modisakeng connects worldwide colonialism, conjuring up unconscious memories of violent subjection, transoceanic metaphors, and hard labour, the installation with seven channels by Candice Breitz places contemporary South Africa in a revolving web of trends worldwide involving people who have been displaced due to violence and war, and the environmental chaos in certain regions on the global map.
Interview translation: Linda Carol