Maria Efstathiou and the World that Repeats Itself
Greek visual artist Maria Efstathiou studied sculpture at the Athens School of Fine Arts, and later at Slade School of Fine Art in London. Her practice has shifted through different media over the past few years, moving from installations and projections to sculptural interventions, drawing, paper works and experimental printing techniques. What all of her work has in common is her particular fascination with the minuscule and the overlooked: her works often have to do with things and patterns found at a tiny scale, like dust, mould, or even the trajectories of particles inside a particle accelerator. Maria participated in und. Athens’s pop-up space last month with a projection using dust from the floor, which was also exhibited during our launching party. Her most recent work takes the form of two artist books, presented at the aptly named exhibition “The Library Show” at Eleftheria Tseliou Gallery. The following transcript is of a discussion over coffee one rainy afternoon in Pagrati, while the artist was showing me her work on her laptop.
The first images Maria showed me were of a very early project she did for her master’s in London, which involved projecting tiny little doors and windows on walls in interior spaces. She placed the projector very close to the wall, and sometimes even hid the work inside a nook to make it harder to find.
Maria Efstathiou: So these are projections of slides at a very small scale. At first I was looking for a way to hide the projector. But then I realised I didn’t really want that, I wasn’t interested in creating an illusion; anyway, the image is so powerful that you forget that you have the device in front of you. So the projector is part of the work in a way.
Kiriakos Spirou: But do you mask the light that bleeds from around the image?
ME: Yes, and that’s actually a lot of work. All the doors I’m showing here are photographed. I can show you more photos, but these works are too hard to photograph.
KS: And do you install these in galleries, or in public spaces?
ME: At exhibitions, yes. And because they’re so tiny, I want them to be a bit hidden. That they’re not the first thing you see when you walk into a room.
KS: And how did this idea of the tiny doors came about?
ME: In a very general sense, I was working a lot with scale. Let me show you more works to understand what I mean. Here’s another one. These projectors have a very strong light, so they don’t need a very dark space to be visible. The projector is so close to the wall that you don’t need special conditions to show it. Generally speaking, I like the space to be unclean, to have dust, because then you can compare the scale between the projection and the dust next to it.
Maria then shows me another series of works, which involve tiny staircases stuck on walls.
ME: This is another series I did, with additions to walls.
KS: So you’ve played a lot with this very small architectural scale.
ME: Yes. I was trying to insert architectural details into an architectural space, but these details had to be small, hidden. This has to do a lot with a kind of “what if this was real” or “where does it lead to” kind of approach. Especially this series with the staircases.
She shows me another example.
Here’s a space with very strong architectural elements and a lot of pipework. So I hid several staircases there. This is a whole series of staircases that lead from nowhere to nowhere; which is the same as the little door projections I did.
KS: It’s like those medieval churches, where after all the years and all the additions, you sometimes find doors and staircases that lead to nowhere.
ME: All that I find very interesting. Because a staircase or a door must lead somewhere from somewhere else. If it doesn’t then it’s not a door.
KS: And you also had windows in this series?
ME: Yes, that’s what I wanted to show you now.
Maria shows me a series of photos with doors projected on a human body.
KS: What made you use the body as a surface?
ME: This whole series I call Emergency Exit. So it had to do in a way with the relationship between a door that belongs to a building and leads out, and a door that leads inside the body. These particular projections are called Emergency Exit In.
Then Maria showed me a series of plaster sculptures. They are casts of plates with food in them, all white, presented as an installation.
KS: Are these readymade plates or did you make them?
ME: I made them, together with the food remains on them. They’re casts. This is a collaboration I did with Maria Georgoula, and they were made at a time when I worked a lot with plaster.
Now I’ll show you more recent things. This is the original pattern of the work I did for Dio Horia Contemporary Art Platform in 2016. It’s a broken spider web that has been photocopied again and again until only a few lines are visible. In general, I don’t use Photoshop at all. All this might seem unconnected to the rest of my work, but what always interested me is basically that which remains, and how the passing of time destroys certain things. So what I found interesting in this particular work is that I used a web that was destroyed by the elements.
KS: One can also find spider webs in the corners of houses, abandoned houses... So it’s still related.
ME: At first glance they’re perhaps very different in terms of aesthetic, but I’ll try to explain the concept because it’s a bit complicated. So this work was first made for an exhibition I did at Remap festival, which was called Binary. What I did was basically take the original photo of the spider web, destroy it, turn it into black and white and cut it in pieces. The I used the black and white images to write something in binary code on the wall.
KS: Zeros and ones you mean.
ME: Yes, but I don’t remember if the blacks are the zeroes or the other way round.
KS: And what does it say?
ME: Well, I tried to write the work “degradation”. Which is a word that describes this whole process. But while placing them on the wall I did a mistake somewhere and it didn’t write that exactly...
KS: So the overall composition has nothing to do with how it looks.
ME: No, not at all.
KS: It’s strictly based on this code. You just write a word and this is just the visual result of that writing.
ME: I’m interested in this pattern but I try to find ways so that it’s not aesthetic or random.
KS: To have a logic behind it. A method.
ME: Yes. Now, about this failed writing, I liked the fact that the information is gradually lost during the process, and that I didn’t manage to write what I wanted to on the wall after all. So I didn’t correct the mistake.
KS: When you look at it it looks like marble.
ME: Yes, and when you see it live it has that effect even more.
KS: I think it’s interesting that the spider web, which is an architectural structure in itself, is transformed into something that resembles marble, which is an architectural material. Now, is this something you did one-off, or do you like to repeat it with different words?
ME: Yes, I do that. I mean, these black and white images can be placed in any configuration, it’s something that can change.
KS: You could write a sentence for example. It could be kilometers long.
ME: What I like in this is that you are trying to write something but you don’t have control over the final result. You just get a randomised pattern, that at the same time it’s not quite random. This whole thing started when I was trying to put these on the wall randomly, but I realised that you can’t do something randomly really, there’s always something at the back of your head that makes you take decisions, like “you’ve put too many blacks here, so let’s add some white”... So I wanted to bypass that process. Which it’s not random per se but the visual result is one of randomness.
KS: It’s the same what John Cage did with his dices.
ME: Exactly! That’s what I tried to do here. I mean, the sequence these images are placed in, as well as the overall composition are completely random. There’s no thought involved, I just have two piles of paper, one for black and one for white, and I follow the code.
KS: But doesn’t that cancel your agency as a creator? This kind of detachment from your work I mean?
ME: I’m already involved, because I can’t be detached even if I wanted to. Because it was me who decided where to cut the paper, which image to use... I mean this randomness doesn’t have to do with the creative process per se, it’s more about the pattern, which I wanted to be as random as possible. And that allows it to change every time, to be something else depending on how long the phrase I want to write is, how many blocks it’s made of, which images I will take from the pile...
Maria shows me another image, a closeup of what looks like plankton or debris.
KS: Hair, sand, dandelions... All of these are remains in a way.
ME: Basically all of these are, to put it simply, dust from the floor. It’s just dust I brushed off the floor. And depending on what I found on the floor, I’ve used it for the works, and then I scanned it.
KS: Does it matter whose floor it was, and when it was picked up?
ME: What interests me is that in a way there’s a whole world in the dust, which we simply throw away. It’s a world full of the remains of our lives, the traces that are left behind... By removing the person from the room, you are left with all these traces of the life that was lived there, but the person is absent.
She then shows me two vertical works, which coincidentally she showed at Art Athina this year.
These two are in the same principle. The one is with mould from a ceiling, the other is scratches from my working table. The one is like stellar nebula seen from a telescope, the other is like the particle lines seen in graphs from a particle accelerator.
KS: But what makes these so interesting is that these are domestic images, they’re on a human scale. You just isolate them.
ME: Look, while working on these I realised that the same pattern occurs on different scales. I mean. it’s like some very basic things that repeat across nature. And usually they boil down to lines, curves and spots. I like that these come from a human context, that you don’t have to look far to find these images. They’re next to you. And it’s all of these things that we sometimes find annoying: we don’t want mould in our house, neither dust or spiders. But all of these occur because the house is inhabited in the first place.
KS: How do you see this body of work in relation to sculpture? Because these are very flat and two-dimensional.
ME: That’s a good question. I don’t know if I should separate the two. Well, I wouldn’t say that this work has anything particularly sculptural in it, but on the other hand, because it has this idea of the pattern, and because it has to do with rhythm — especially in the way they are fragmented, in parts — I find that it’s something they share with my sculptural work. But I’m not sure if they’re related to sculpture in any other way, at least not yet.
KS: Tell me more about this rhythm, how do you understand that and in what way does it relate to these works?
ME: Well, it’s maybe easier to explain in these black and white ones, which are all in squares and there’s a repetition, but then there’s a line here and a dot there... And you have an image that is interrupted and then continues. That’s what I mean by rhythm. And that’s also something I try not to do consciously, I try to keep this randomness. Perhaps that’s why I’m fascinated by ASCII Code patterns or Morse Code patterns. There’s a rhythm in how these images were selected from the thousands that are in my archive, and how they are selected to be put in a sequence. It also has to do with time, as if they were taken one after the other in time. I like to see them as strange diagrams that describe a situation, but I don’t know what the situation is.
Maria Efstathiou participates in the exhibition The Library Show at Eleftheria Tseliou Gallery (Iraklitou 3, Athens 10673), open through June 3. Eleftheria Tseliou Gallery is listed in und. Athens at No.82, and is also part of our recommended Route 6.
- Maria Efstathiou, Collisions.
- Maria Efstathiou, Cloud Chamber, 2016. Courtesy Dio Horia Contemporary Art Platfrom, Mykonos.
- Two works by Maria Efstathiou. Courtesy Eleftheria Tseliou Gallery, Athens.
- Maria Efstathiou, Cloud Chamber (detail), 2016. Courtesy Dio Horia Contemporary Art Platfrom, Mykonos.