Leaving Plato’s cave for his studio (2)

In 2007, Eleni Kalokyri, a wonderful Greek painter, turned her studio outside Athens into an installation that could be called “Plato’s Studio.” She populated it with representative examples from Όστρακα/Potsherds, a project that consisted of some 250 real untitled potsherds illustrated by the artist with shells, birds, fish, animals, plants, fruit, faces (like those haunting the cover of Neni Panourgia’s indispensable study Dangerous Citizens), and other motifs.

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Individually and collectively they combined an inviting familiarity with alluring elusiveness. For example, it was hard to tell whether their images were fading or emerging, drawn stylistically from Bronze-era or Hellenistic art; whether they were fragments or self-contained pieces, representational or decorative; whether they were done as studies or notes for future work. Individually, they defied definition. Collectively, they created a “heterotopia” (Foucault) of antiquity as well as a “plateau” (Deleuze/Guattari) of art making. Neither nostalgic nor anticipatory, they effected an entire “distribution of the sensible” (Rancière) by coordinating classicizing codes. Guests in the studio felt tempted to get involved by rearranging the installation and thus redistributing the sensible and experiencing “another freedom” (Boym).

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In the project “Potsheds” work at Plato’s studio focused on the study of forms through τέχνη/”craft” (Arendt), not thought or art. Like fellow artist Eleanor Rappe, Kalokyri prefers to work on long-term, multi-piece projects, rather than individual works, which give her the opportunity to explore a wide range of combinations and variations on a visual question. Thus each project evolves from form-making to forming to morphing (to allude to the Greek μορφή): it does not give form to something amorphous but it re-cycles and re-functions shape and scheme/σχήμα through modes of allo-morphing and meta-morphing.

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In this particular project Kalokyri worked with artistic codes of “the classical” (Settis), repertoires of modern “Hellenism” (Leontis). It is unfortunate that so far the field of classical reception has dealt so very little with the visual arts, and thus we are conceptually ill-equipped to discuss artwork like this which refers not to the ancients as “truth in painting” (Derrida) but to what moderns perceive as ancient. Everything in it looks/feels Greek but it’s an “aura” (Benjamin), not a quote, a resonance, not a reference. You try to remember where you have seen it before but the truth is, you have not. It is Kalokyri’s virtuosic skill and iconoplastic craft that make you think that you are recollecting what in fact she is presencing.

July 1, 2016

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