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What: How We Know That The Dead Return
Where: Gertrude contemporary art spaces
Who: Harutyun Khachatryan (Armenia), Els Opsomer (Belgium), Christodoulos Panayiotou (Cyprus), Nikos Pantazopoulos (Australia), Debra Porch (Australia), Eugenia Raskopoulos (Australia). Curated By José Da Silva.
When: Until 30 September

When I walked into the the front gallery of Gertrude contemporary art spaces, two monitors showing the work of Eugenia Raskopoulos titled re-ma(r)king (2010), immediately caught my attention. In the video on the left, a woman wearing a brown dress was wrapping cotton around her fingers and rolling it into a small ball…

Courtesy the artist, Arc One Gallery, Melbourne and WW Artist Projects.

In the video on the right, the same woman was on her knees on a concrete floor, using a rolling pin to methodically spread a shiny liquid across the ground. The liquid was dribbling from a place off-screen, and looked like it could have been coming from the woman’s mouth. There was so much of it though. It couldn’t have been possible. Someone else, not in the picture, must have been pouring the liquid for this woman to spread, as both her hands were on the rolling pin. Still, it was quite disturbing to watch.The illusion of the liquid coming from the woman’s mouth was very convincing, especially as the liquid created a reflective surface in which we could see the figure of the woman; alone.

Courtesy the artist, and Gertrude Contemporary.

How We Know That The Dead Return focuses on the role of the dead in the lives of the living, and the way objects and images have the ability to evoke past (or otherwise absent) experiences or events.

The exhibition catalogue explained that Raskopoulos was seeking to arouse memories of her grandmother. The deliberate actions performed by the woman in the film definitely made me think of a time past. I never need to do chores involving kneeling, sewing, and can’t remember the last time I used a rolling pin. The objects were actually used by Raskopoulos’ grandmother; the rolling pin for making tiropita (a Greek pastry), only in this work the objects are used both for creation, and destruction. The cotton was actually a doily that was first unraveled. The shiny liquid  spread across the concrete is olive oil, which obscures the floor’s surface, but also acts as a reflective space. Perhaps this process of creation and destruction is symbolic of life.

All works in the exhibition refer to the neighboring countries of Greece, Cyprus, Turkey and Armenia, and the artists are engaged in a conversation about how the history of these areas is difficult to decode as they have been involved in so much conflict over identity and territory.

In Wonder Land, by Christodoulos Panayiotou, 80 colour slides were projected with an old-school carousel-style projector, showing images of Limassol, Cyprus’ annual carnival parade, and highlighting the obsession of the people with dressing as Disney characters.

Image courtesy of the artist

After searching through the archives of the City of Limassol, the artist’s suspicion, that since the 1970s Limassolian’s had been including Disney characters in their floats and costumes, was confirmed. It seemed like such a strange form of cultural expression. However, in a country which, since 1974 had been governed two thirds by Greek Cypriots and one third by the Turkish government, it presents questions about cultural identity and the aspirations of its people. In Panayiotou’s words, “The parade is a kind of revelation of everything we would like to be, of everything we know we cannot be, and of everything we cannot afford to accept that we are”.

Another really interesting piece was that of Els Opsomer, a Belgian artist, titled 10 November (2008).

Courtesy the artist, and Gertrude Contemporary.

The work captures two minutes of silence, and complete stillness, observed each year to mark the anniversary of the death of the first president of the Turkish Republic. This was filmed at a busy intersection in Istanbul. When Georgina and I first saw the projection we weren’t sure if there was anything happening, but the noise of the 16mm film spinning quickly alerted us to the fact that this was a film rather than a still image. It was seriously eerie to watch after realising that the pedestrians, cars and everyone in sight was just standing deadly still. This stillness, in what would usually be such a chaotic environment, forced us to look at the city, its buildings and think about the social constructs. It clearly illustrated the political significance of this moment and the value the people placed on their modern secular republic.

Death is a complex topic. In How We Know That The Dead Return, the artists have taken on the very ambitious task of exploring the way that the past impacts each of us, how memories of the dead manifest in our every day lives, the relationships between the living and the dead, and truths of the past both political and historical. I left feeling almost overwhelmed. There were many other, equally fascinating works to be seen there as well. This exhibition was  certainly thought provoking.

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3 thoughts on “How We Know That The Dead Return

  1. Fascinated by the film footage from Istanbul. I was at Bangkok train station a couple of years ago and everyone was running around super bustley, then this announcement came over the loud speaker and then everyone just froze and was still for about a minute. Of course we didn’t know what had been said, but the whole station went from being loud & crazy to still & serene. I tried to be really still too but couldn’t help peering around slightly, it was amazing..
    Loving the blog! x

    • Wow, do you think it was some kind of commemoration like the two minutes in Turkey? I was at this annual inner-city camping arts project in Rotterdam where they had an announcement over a speaker that everyone had to stay still. As far as I could tell it wasn’t for any particular reason that anyone was aware of, but everyone participated. It was so strange/surreal to look around and see people frozen like statues in the middle of playing tennis, setting up their campsites or ordering a beer at the bar. It was very difficult not to look around there too (totally worth it though). I think it only lasted for about 30 seconds but it was still incredible to see.
      Hey, thanks for the amazing comments and feedback!

      • Yeah I thought something was going on but had no idea what. Funnily enough though, it didn’t really matter, I was still able to contribute in the same way and I really appreciated the moment with everyone. Not knowing what was going on felt like a secret! Then, just like that, everyone snapped back to reality and the bustle resumed.
        From the footage in Turkey though; two minutes – that time would go so slowly.. that’s quite a long time to be still. I just love the picture and do hope to check out the gallery, I am sure it is as beautiful as it comes across here x

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