I USED TO BE FUNNY BUT NOW I AM DEAD
 
Alix MARIE | Celia DASKOPOULOU | Irini KARAYANNOPOULOU | 

Leda PAPACONSTANTINOU | Chryssa ROMANOS | Nana SACHINI

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Duration: 23.11.17 - 13.01.18
 

The exhibition I USED TO BE FUNNY BUT NOW I AM DEAD brings together the work of 3 emerging and 3 historic women artists from Greece and France. This collection of works looks at the history of women's art assessing where it is today and attempts to trace where it is going.

Art history clearly shows that the image of woman is a man’s image of woman. This iconography, was handed down for centuries and has only been fundamentally deconstructed for the first time by the Feminist art movement in the 1970s.

Some of the most important works by Daskopoulou, Romanos and Papaconstantinou which are displayed here, belong to this critical decade and the one that followed. Works which are multi-layered and sharp, they deal with constructions of identity and gender in a humorous, poetic and often ironic way.

Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?” asks the legendary feminist Linda Nochlin in her famous 1971 essay for ARTnews magazine. Nochlin suggests at this point that feminists will get hooked and try to dig up examples of worthy or insufficiently appreciated women artists throughout history. Nevertheless – I will personally add – that even the great majority of the ones that were at some point recognized, that only happened to a great degree after their death. That begs the question of what value does such a recognition really offer? One would argue it feels almost like a joke that went cold.

Alix Marie (b.1989) graduated from Central Saint Martins College in 2011 and from the Royal College of Art where she received a distinction for her dissertation work on photography and fetishism. Her work explores our relationship to bodies and their representation through processes of objectification, fragmentation, magnification and accumulation. In 2017 her work was selected for the 11th edition of FOAM Talent, organized by the Photographic Museum of Amsterdam. Her work Les Gatiantes presented in this exhibition discusses the place of women in photography’s indexicality and relationship to fetishism and, more specifically, Gaetan Gatian de Clerambault’s study of women’s erotic passion for fabric. Clerambault studied cases of kleptomaniac women who would repeatedly steal pieces of fabric in order to masturbate with it, fabric thus becoming a fetish. The piece is made of pornographic images of women printed onto silky fabric and relates to photography’s history with fabric, such as the miracle of Jesus’ face printed onto Veronica’s veil (the first photograph supposedly ever made); as much as photography’s history with fetishism and the objectification of women in contemporary image making.

Celia Daskopoulou (1936-2006) is a truly unique case in Greek art history. She studied painting at the Athens School of Fine Art on a greek state scholarship under Yannis Moralis, she graduated with distinction in 1960 and then left for Paris in order to pursue free studies in painting. In her first solo show in 1962 in Nees Morfes gallery her subjects were landscapes, mainly house facades, with extremely vivid colors in an expressionist style. When she returned to Greece from Paris in 1970, her painting had shifted dramatically and had become anthropocentric with an emphasis on female figures which are presented as portraits, reflecting either their conventional social roles or their emotional state. Daskopoulou's image is gradually shaped and the facial expressions are overstated, thanks to a deliberately crude and anti-naturalist mask-like style. She often uses ironic titles in her works such as Baby Girl, Shy Woman Looking Down, Sex Pussies, The Rivals, etc.

“I was making fun of women that wore make up and took too much care of themselves" she will characteristically say in 1982. "These works had a feminist style but at the same time they were comical." [...] "I started painting these female portraits without having a fixed idea of ​​what I wanted to portray. It was something that came out of my subconscious.” “The woman that is beautiful, not the one who is beautiful by nature, but the woman as society formed her in order to assume the role of the beautiful gender: Full of make-up, dressed, perfumed, with false eyelashes, wigs, etc., sexual, sweet, fatal, inaccessible. The woman who is hungry, suffers, pretends, undergoes painful surgeries in order to be desired. And I know it all too well, cause I tried desperately since the age of twenty and until about I was thirty-five to get into this mold that they have brainwashed us with. Since I was a young child I was envious of the pretty little girls because I realized that they were treated specially” Daskopoulou says in another interview in Pantheon magazine in 1978.

A few years later her work will take another unexpected turn. Her works depicting women with the unnatural mask of beauty that the male-dominated society has enforced through the various role-models are replaced by a series of increasingly dark portraits, that have a dramatic undertone and express her mood as a result of her personal experiences and her mental fluctuations. Until the end of her life in 2006 she had produced over 100 such portraits. Works organized in an atmosphere between cult and decadence, portraits that look as Nikos Karouzos called them like “still lifes" make Celia Daskopoulou one of the leading painters of "psychogenic vertigo". This heartbreaking sincerity is extremely rare in painting. A look both tough and full of compassion. Her works according to Beatrice Spiliades "remain engraved in your soul forever. And something more: They scrape any enveloped or inherited resistance there in you and leave you exposed, forced to be honest as she is.” Her career progressed at a low profile. She did not present many solo exhibitions and participated only in selected group ones. Public and critics appreciated her work, establishing her, as one of the most authentic female presences of Greek painting. In 2000, a retrospective exhibition of her work was held at Nees Morfes Gallery.

Irini Karayannopoulou (1973) was born in Thessaloniki. She studied at the School of Fine Arts of Saint Étienne in France and continued her research as an artist in residence in Karlsruhe, Germany. She then lived for six months in New York and returning to Greece she started experimenting in a variety of media; painting, drawing, video, performance, collage, sound and sculpture. She describes her approach to art as a large tree with many different branches. "Each branch grows alongside the others and at the same time alone. A two-fruit flower may vary from branch to branch.” In he work The Artist (from the YOU AM I series) presented in this exhibition, Irini Karayannopoulou appropriates, repaints and transforms images of magazines from the 1930s onwards, drawing her gaze on the faces of models, politicians, celebrities, or on images known from the history of art. These new portraits discuss issues around gender, sexuality, identity, the very construction of the image while they also offer a short review of the history of art and the way a message is communicated in contemporary iconography. In a media-saturated era, overdosed by selfie-culture, with images streaming from all sorts of social networks, Karayannopoulou attacks the authorship and the role of originality, the condition of the photographic image, and our increasing ease to produce and consume new pictures. In one of the portraits she paints herself as a feminine Salvador Dali, and in another she revisits one of the famous portraits by Cindy Sherman re-appropriating, Sherman’s appropriation of a movie character and by presenting herself on both sides of the lens destabilizing the traditional opposition between artist and model, object and subject - a relationship that has been theorized by many critics in terms of spectatorship and its gendered codes of looking.

Leda Papaconstantinou (b.1945) is historically perhaps the most important artist in Greece who has systematically and for almost 50 years worked with performanc. After studying graphic arts at the Doxiadis School, she attended a preparatory year at the Athens School of Fine Arts and then settled in England where she studied Fine Arts at the Loughton College of Art and at Maidstone College of Art (Kent Institute of Art & Design). Since 1969, she moved away from traditional art media and began to exhibit spatial and action works in the spirit of the avant-garde trends of the time. She is one of the first artists to introduce art forms such as installation, happenings and performances to the Greek art scene. In the current show Papaconstantinou presents a male and female portrait from her two most iconic performances titled The Model - Tribute to Jean Genet (1970) and Deaf and Dumb (1971). In terms of subject matter, her works allude to the human body and gender identity from the outset, with a tendency to register sensory and mental stimuli associated with memory and time. Characteristic of her work is her own presence in most of her works -being her oeuvre’s hallmark-, their ceremonial character and autobiographical allusions that enhance a multilevel reading. She has presented over 20 solo exhibitions in Greece and abroad and has participated in more than 60 group exhibitions. In 2005, her monograph Leda Papaconstantinou: Performance, Film, Video 1969-2004 was published by Cube editions. In 2006, the Macedonian Museum of Contemporary Art and the 47th International Thessaloniki Film Festival organized presentations of her oeuvre under the same title, at the Benaki Museum in Athens and the (Pascha) Bay Hamam in Thessaloniki. In 2007, she was artist guest of honour at the 1st Thessaloniki Biennial of Contemporary Art. In 2010, she created a large composition entitled Time In My Hands as one of the permanently installed works that decorate the Athenian Metro at Monastiraki station.

Chryssa Romanos (1931-2006) studied at the Athens School of Fine Arts under A. GeorgIadis and Y. Moralis. She presented her first solo show in Athens in 1960 at Zygos Gallery and in 1961 she left Greece to continue her studies with a scholarship in Paris, where she remained until 1981. Her early turn to abstraction revealed her tendency to disengage from the traditional forms, seeking a personal artistic idiom. At first she explored automatic writing and gesture. While living in Paris she had the opportunity to familiarize herself with different avant-garde expressive media, in the same line with the artists of the 60’s. Soon she began to use techniques such as photomontage and collage, using mass culture images or print media photos, often modified or fragmented, along with manuscripts, printed texts and symbols. The content of her works is intensely critical, but her expressive style is rather poetic than rational. She further developed this style with decollage on plexiglass technique, that she systematically used from 1980 onwards. Welding pieces of magazines, copies of works of art and other materials to the back of large plexiglass pieces and letting them dry, she then rubbed them with a wet sponge until their imprint was left on the surface. This series, which she called Pictures and Maps-Labyrinths is perhaps her most important and most iconic series. Rhythmic mazes of forms and color create dynamic patterns that look abstract from a distance. When close however, one is flooded with dozens of details of pictures that intervene with each other and with the traces of her free gestures. In the work presented here, personal memories are fused with color and translucent bodies by Pieter Brueghel's work, thus combining references from art history with elements and symbols recognizable by mass culture. She presented her work in a limited number of solo exhibitions in Greece but participated in several major group exhibitions and international events. Although she has produced a significant number of works throughout her life and her talent has been recognized by art historians and the public, one would dare to say that to a great extent she lived under the shadow of her husband -and also a great artist- Nikos Kessanlis.

Nana Sachini (c.1975) studied at the Chelsea College of Art and Design in London (MA) and at the School of Fine Arts in Thessaloniki. Her work consists of sculptures and installations that often evolve freely in space. In her works she uses a wide range of heterogeneous materials combining molded forms of clay, expanding foam, fabric, etc. with commercially available materials or ready-mades which she perceives as containers of meaning or with which she is associated through history or memory. In this exhibition at CAN Gallery, Sachini presents Amalthea, a sculpture that represents a body-shaped form with breasts like petals and a head with no features other than a screaming. The title of the work derives from Zeus’ wet nurse, a symbol of abundance, generosity and tenderness - which is demonstrated by the etymology of her name. Sachini's Amalthea, however, seems to be exhausted by this constant giving. Her skin looks cracked, full of scratches like a dry land. Her body is an subtraction. She has only kept what is absolutely necessary. The second sculpture is called on the show is titled One Who Bathes In Moonlight and represents an intersex body that resembles a phallus -both erotic and grotesque. This bizarre being combines feminine and masculine features, a headless face and excessive hair that look like thorns. Although the position suggests movement, the legs seem embedded on the ground. The aluminum that is made of acts as a deforming mirror that blurredly reflects the surroundings light and colors. The base is covered with animal  skins which act as a carnivalistic/pagan scene that references the animalesque and the tragicomic. Sachini's work deals with issues of gender and sexual fluidity, without necessarily presenting an inquiry on the socio-political issues and complexities of transgenderism but rather studies them from a spiritual perspective that has the capacity to frame and narrate more clearly the current human conditions. Gender complexities -which forever challenge the binary mode of societal organization- should not be narrated as problems but rather as a wild range of human possibilities.