Art, Music, Books & Film

Serial Cinderella

There are good reasons to visit the group exhibition in-scribe, now at the Hellenic American Union until March 9th, not the least of which is the chance to see Nanos Valaoritis’s beguiling set of 27 surrealist collages The Alphabet of the Deaf-Mute, which the artist made in the early 70s.  Another is the absorbing diversity of approaches the artists take to the motif of the show: the incorporation of writing in the work of art. Some deal with the act of writing, as Katerina Apostilidou does in her video installation This Might Look Suicidal… And Some Have Quite a Reputation, which juxtaposes an unsettling video of the artist writing simultaneously (and boustrophedonically) with her left and right hands with a video of a cleaner wrasse darting in and out of the menacing jaws of a predator fish.

Others experiment with the product of writing, the inclusion or inscription of texts into the work of art, best witnessed here in Irini Gonou’s intriguing collection of talismanic and reliquary objects, which she has fashioned out of reeds and eucalyptus leaves and clay and then inscribed with her own private script, indecipherable yet suggestive of incantations, curses, and prayer. Still others experiment with the character of what is written (which curiously is the same word in Greek as the act of writing itself): the individuality of the writing, the aesthetic impression made by the markings on paper, the austerity or extravagance of the script, the density or lightness of the text. (Chryssa’s dancing Chinese ideograph comes to mind here)

And then there are works which focus on the compositional elements of writing, the letters themselves, as in Giannis Papadopoulos’s beautiful piece Paper Writing. The artist has suspended from the ceiling an oblong metallic frame that is traversed horizontally by a series of evenly spaced rods in which the sorts of spindly white pictograms reminiscent of Linear B script snugly sit.  The whole construction looks like an oversized, upended typesetter’s forme stripped of the bottom casing; the light from the spotlights above shines through the interstitial space, casting shadows of the letters onto the wall behind it. Typesetting seems apropos: one can see that the individual elements of the syllabary have not only been carefully placed on the rod, they are actually kerned. The distance between the case and the shadows of the letter seemed to me a visual metaphor for the space between the acts of composition, whether it be writing or typesetting, and the act of reading.

What I liked most of all, however, was Dimitris Skourogiannis’s Cinderalla—in her own words.  In this relatively large (1,70 x 1,34) piece we see the figure of a girl dressed in a floral-patterned dress and seated on the floor. The room is empty, save for the figure of a doll at her side, and the few wooden frames and scattered doll shoes on the upholstered wall behind her.  The girl sits slightly reclined, resting on her outstretched arms, daydreaming, a state of reverie deepened by the use of textiles and the dreamy palette of soft ochre, browns and pale pink.

The construction is actually a superimposition of three planes of pictorial elements. At the back of the work is an upholstered frame that depicts the wall of a room. Stretched across and in front of this frame is a fine-mesh screen on which the figure of the girl has been painted. Over this screen is set another looser mesh screen in which thread has been passed to outline the shape of the girl’s figure and to write parts of a poem.

Don’t cry my doll
Don’t cry
I hold you and rock you to sleep
Hush hush I’m pretending now
I’m not your mother who died.

The use of these planes lends considerable depth to the work but also demarcates a “room for daydreaming” between the fabric canvas of the room and the threaded screen of poetry and figure: an intermediary space between the domestic and the public, between the private space of everyday life and the presentation and expression of the self to the outside world.

The doll’s shoes are all plastic and all one of a pair: a tiny pink high-heeled shoe, a knee-high beige boot, a sensible walking shoe. It’s as if this Cinderella was caught in a never-ending round of one-night stands with an assortment of would-be prince-saviors.

I was telling my friend Natalie about the exhibition and this odd collection of Cinderella shoes. Natalie, who’s a poet and teaches Literature at the university, said “Did you know that in an old Swedish variation of the Cinderella myth, she’s called Cinder-slut? Which I think is not too off the mark. I mean, the woman goes out, meets a man, who knows what happens next but then we see her on her way home and she’s lost a shoe? I mean, a shoe?! I can understand forgetting about a cigarette lighter or losing a small earring in the bed, but a shoe?” I had thought the point of the story was Cinderella wanting to be taken care of because she’s afraid of independence, but I had to admit Natalie also had a point. Serial Cinderella. Which I suppose is why the poem in question is so apt. It’s by Marilyn Monroe.


Image: Dimitris Skourogiannis, Cinderella in Her Own Words


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