Dafni Barbageorgopoulou and Anthea Behm work in sculpture and photography, respectively. This show brings together their recent work in these media. Barbageorgopoulou presents several sculptural works that depict an intertwining of elements from nature and the human body in an unbound, dreamlike condition. Behm presents a series of photograms that combine fragmented designs with appropriated photographic images of female nudes. Working through questions of dissolution, healing, and recovery, these two female artists navigate the visual history and political present of how we represent and imagine the humans and other living beings with whom we share this planet.
Barbageorgopoulou’s sculptural works Barbary Feng and Fig Shui depict three Barbary figs (spineless cactuses), which are carved out of polystyrene. They include reduced-size human body parts, which are made of aluminum and pinned at different spots on the sculptures. The parts are cutouts from ritual tamata that were kindly donated from the Marian Shrine of Tinos Island specially for this project. The works operate across two related axes. First, there is the human body and its growth as represented by the organic form and formalism of the sculptures. Second, there is the imaginative undoing and remaking of that growth as seen in the relationship between shamanism and religion through the logic of protection. Here the cactus plant is a symbol of the visionary and illusionary, especially as accessed through the shamanic trip. The deconstruction of the human recalls the dream-like experience in the process of becoming a shaman. This undoing, while it can be painful, is part of the process of growth and transformation in both the sculptural and psychic imagination. Rather than viewing shamanism as an archaic form overcome by organized religion, these sculptures depict their intertwining and mutual dependency. Thus the body elements, taken from the tamata, refer to the notion of prayer for which the metal plaques are offered in the Greek Orthodox tradition.
Anthea Behm’s photograms depict female figures appropriated from the work of Man Ray. They interact on a single plane of silver gelatin photographic paper with shapes derived from the work of Moholy-Nagy. They are made by using a set of unique processes that combine conventional, pictorial photography (made from negatives) with concrete processes. The images are made on black and white paper in the darkroom, with the color generated by harnessing what is conventionally thought of as an “error” in the darkroom process. By combining these two images on a single plane, Behm brings forth the historical (patriarchal) impulse to turn the female figure into an object for formal investigation. Reactivating this history, she shows how this impulse is one that persists today and continues to inform our vision and social systems. But the images do not simply reproduce the female subject as object of formal fascination. Fragmenting the male gaze through the patterns, they show the gaps in the historical record in which these women’s lives found their own meaning and logic beyond the structures that sought to contain them.
Bringing the works together, we begin to see the complex ways in which our visual histories are saturated with ideas about bodies, forms, and fragments that can work to both oppress and liberate. Barbageorgopoulou and Behm push us to both see and live differently, and to understand the need of rupturing present forms. But they do so with great care, suggesting that what matters is not change as such, but a conscientious movement to new forms of embodied life and planetary cohabitation. In the classic myth of Odysseus, Penelope puts off her suitors by secretly unweaving a shawl that she says must be completed before she chooses a new husband. In the work of these two artists, Penelope does not weave by day and unweave in the night. She is unbound to the very demand of having to rely on such subterfuge. No one has freed her. She has made herself free.