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…
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.
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).
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.