Art, Music, Books & Film

Walking on Art

The Cycladic Museum of Art is now showing work by the six artists who have been shortlisted for the 2011 DESTE prize. By coincidence two of the artists have created installations that alter the exhibition space itself and invite the visitor, if at times obliquely, to literally walk on art.

Eftihis Patsourakis has pieced dozens of used sisal welcome mats into a tight-fitting interlocking mosaic and laid them on the gallery floor, leaving only a narrow pathway along the three sides of the exhibition space. In the warm glow of the overhead spotlights the worn mats take on a subdued sheen. They look like pelts, beaver perhaps, the cull of a methodical trapper, but if so, one that hunts not prey but memory, the traces of those who once stepped on and over these mats and into the homes of people much like ourselves.

These patches of interstitial space between the public and private sphere are a place of ritual cleansing, where we literally shake off the debris we have accumulated from our day in the unpredictable, anonymous, and profane city. What we leave behind in the fiber of the mat is, in a way, nothing less than traces of our lives.

The matrix of Patsourakis’s mats, most of which seem to have been salvaged from flea markets, demolition sites, dumpsters and friends’ attics, reminds me of a patchwork quilt, where the individual  blocks are collected over time out of scrap materials and only later sewn together. An emblem of community perhaps, a piecing together of fragments of disparate stories.

The interconnected mats on the floor are echoed on one wall in a series of four amateur seascapes in oil, perhaps salvaged from the same flea markets and hung here in a row in a way that aligns their horizon lines. The alignment looks forced and awkward—in contrast to the almost harmonic arrangement of the mats on the floor—and suggests a strained effort to compose a narrative where none exists.

Or perhaps it’s the artist having fun (and at our expense). If you linger you soon notice that most visitors fall into two groups: those who don’t realize that the mats are a work of art and stride their way across the room over the mats in search for the next object in the exhibition and those who do and, for the most part, carefully edge their way along the narrow walkway around the perimeter of mats, which were and, despite the reverence shown it by most visitors, still are meant to be walked on.

There’s no way you can avoid walking on Theodoros Stamatogiannis’s installation. He has built a floor on top of the floor in the room that hosts his work, a shiny plane of slats of polished blond wood, set in a neat zigzag pattern. Unlike the mats these slats are more or less unblemished; they only marks they bear are the few that the spiked heels of visitors may have left. It’s beautiful, this pond of wood, and soothing. Towards the back there’s a depression of sorts, which upon closer inspection reveals itself to be an elaborate door. It so perfectly continues the pattern of the slats that at first one thinks this is a trompe l’œil. It resembles the doors to behind-the-walls passageways that detectives would discover in the intricate wood panelling of Victorian homes. “Hullo, Watson, what’s this? A secret door!” A door to what, though? A crypt, perhaps? But if it’s a passageway to a secret corridor, even it leads only to the behind-the-scenes back rooms of the museum, we can’t open it.

There’s a feeling of solemnity and mystery to the space. I approached the door slowly, as if treading on hallowed ground, as if nearing an altar. Or better a rood screen, the bridge to the holy sanctuary from the nave where the congregation has gathered. But the screen has been stripped of its icons, the guides to paradise, and the door to heaven remains sealed. It’s just us here.

I looked up. “Witty, don’t you think?” the woman standing on the other side of the door said to me. I don’t know if it was the huit clos of the installation or the emptiness of the space but Stamatogiannis’s work invites us congregants to conversation.

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Image: Detail of work by Eftihis Patsourakis, Cycladic Museum of Art

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