Maria Polyzoidou’s remarkable paintings, now on exhibit at the Alpha Delta Gallery until May 7th, are a narrative of aftermath. Something has happened, something sinister. Or so we think.
The asylum bed, bathed in a ghostly moonlight, is empty, but it is made, as only hospital and army beds are made, the sheets pulled exactingly tight and the pillow creaseless. The white-painted cast-iron chair, set alongside a garden path and illuminated by the same spectral light, is also unoccupied. We see a deserted city street. A country road in winter ringed by the bare limbs of trees and the forlorn crosses of utility poles. Empty rooftops with wash-lines devoid of laundry. They are forbidding yet fascinating places, with an almost palpable stillness broken only by the occasional appareance of what seem to be military planes and paratroopers.
There is something doleful and ominous in this netherworld of shadows. I could not look at the bed without thinking of the hospital beds in Bernburg, Schloss Hartheim and Grafeneck Castle. Or the garden chair without imaging an abduction.
We have arrived at the scene of a crime, but we are inspectors with only the most ambiguous, the flimsiest pieces of evidence. The images are so faint, so mist-enshrouded that it is difficult to make out the objects depicted in these paintings. They are like the faded family photographs found in a grandparent’s attic or frames from a strip of archival film. One needs to squint or move back from the canvas to actually discern the objects. It as if we see the images through a shroud. (Several of the works are in fact executed on linen and one can discern the weft and warp of the fabric under the paint).
The indistinctness of the images reminds one of the grainy photographs of the long craning necks of sea monsters, the glowing white blip of a UFO, an enemy convoy in the desert night. They are anti-documents that obfuscate rather than clarify. Suggestively ambiguous, they are rich in interpretative potential. In one painting we see a tiny figure hunched over in a hillside field. There’s a single swatch of white in canvas of soupy greys. The hat of a peasant farmer wandering through a smoky battlefield or the chute of a paratrooper who’s just landed?
Polyzoidou’s paintings seem to me to be as much about the dynamics of perception and interpretation as they are an exploration of the creative process of making images. The eye strains to see and the mind to construct a narrative. It is part of what makes us human, this drive to generate form and meaning out of incomplete stimuli, to generate closure even when the eye perceives none.
If you look very closely at the paintings, you can see how the superimposition of the fine layers of paint that Polyzoidou has laid on the canvas has created a surface pockmarked by a multitude of tiny furrows. It’s as if the painting itself bears the corrosive marks of time. Granted, it is not time but the artist herself who has stripped the image of its detail to expose its ambiguity. For some of the paintings she has taken images drawn from war documentary material found on youtube and reduced them to their most iconic elements. Or rather she has rendered them “an obscure possibility, a shadow”, to borrow a phrase from Maurice Blanchot’s discussion of the cadaver in his essay on The Two Versions of the Imaginary, an excerpt of which accompanies the exhibition handout and was apparently a source of inspiration for Polyzoidou.
After a while I stopped trying to weave a narrative of events that could have led to the faint images I saw half-concealed in the mist. Instead I let myself wander freely through the gloom of deserted cities and empty rooftops. I lost myself in a garden veiled in the eerie yet nonetheless magical opalescent light of the summer moon. I had thought at first the world of these paintings was no place to tarry. I was wrong.
Image: Maria Polyzoidou, Untitled