Petros Moris and the Shifting Commonality of Commons


Upon entering the darkened space at the House of Cyprus that hosts Greek artist Petros Moris’ solo exhibition Transformation of Commons, you are immersed in a museum-like stillness monopolized by six large digital projections depicting strange yet familiar sculptural forms. Incrementally mutating in shape, texture or perspective at a mesmerizingly slow pace, the full-height, black and white (trans)formations appear like ultrasound images of strange forms that are in a state of both gestation and fossilization, forming a literal tableau vivant where nothing stays the same yet everything seems unchanged.

Text by Eric David
Photos courtesy the artist

Transformation of Commons is a project that Moris has been developing for two years now in collaboration with Point Center of Contemporary Art, where it was first presented in 2016, and the Cyprus Institute in Nicosia. Moris asks a simple yet far from simplistic question: What is common? What constitutes the perceptual ecosystem that we share? And how do its constituent elements transform each other and our perception of them?

Moris’ primal matter in addressing these issues is the material fabric of Cyprus, an island country whose fortuitous geographical containment makes it the perfect petri dish for his project. Faced with a multifaceted trove of historical, cultural, industrial, botanical and geological specificities that have been accumulating in a continuous process of sedimentation and stratification, Moris has approached this terrain in the combined role of archaeologist, paleontologist and geologist, traversing the country for several months to photographically record a selection of fragments, fossils, remains and discards, culled from archeological sites, technological fields, natural habitats and urban wastelands.

From the organic to the inorganic, and from the natural to the man-made, and vice versa—organisms decomposing into nutrients, silicon turned into semiconductors—transformation is an integral dimension of our material world but it’s also a fundamental aspect of the way we perceive it. Moris took it upon himself to explore more dynamically the transformative connections, interdependencies, and correlations between the archival materials he collected by applying a unifying aesthetic and in effect turning them all into digital fossils through a process of digitalization.

Using the computational infrastructure of the Cyprus Institute, he transformed his photographic records into three-dimensional digital models via photogrammetry, a process that is used to plot contour lines on topographic maps. The models were then digitally merged into dynamic configurations that constantly mutate between their constituent forms. The result is a figurative narrative that eschews the linear logic of genealogy and the strict divisions of scientific classifications in favor of an intuitive approach that weaves together the geological, the organic and the technological.

At center of the exhibition’s tableau vivant is a rotating projection entitled Trees instead of Columns where an uprooted, fossilized tree trunk rotates slowly, shape-shifting between a thick stump, a hollowed out, palm-like trunk and a slimmer tree stem with stubby branches organically growing out of it. Looking as if made out of coagulating plaster, the tall form spins sluggishly like some kind of bizarre new product on a rotating display advertising the devastation of nature. Similarly monumental is Memory of Clouds next to it, a jumbled canvas made out of cables, hard discs and other electronics equipment ossified into an oversized “mother board” that is slowly being reconfigured right in front of your eyes. Its title wittingly alludes to both nature and the “cloud”, the online destination where our digitalized lives are increasingly being stored in.

Translating the Sun also focuses on a technological component, namely a solar panel array. Rendered as calcifying plaque what the visitor encounter could very well be an excavated find that depicts some kind of undeciphered writing system belonging to some ancient civilization. Its ambiguity reminds us that our contemporary dependence on solar energy is not unrelated to the solar worship that was commonly practices in early human communities.

Most chilling of the six projected formations is Earthquake House, a depiction of the remains of a family of three who perished during a devastating earthquake that shook Kourio in 356 AC. Now displayed in the archaeological museum of Episkopi village, the embracing skeletons eerily appear before the visitor without context, precariously caught in a transitional state both emerging from and disappearing into oblivion. Even more illusory is Mosaics and Cities, a tessellated textured surface that hauntingly disintegrates only to emerge again, morsel by morsel—or pixel by pixel, the distinction is effaced in this exhibition. It is an intricate morphology that acts as both a footprint of the past and a projection of the future.

Lastly, Face as Interface looks back at the visitors in the form of a series of sculpted masks morphing into each other. Depicting faces of deities or monarchs found in ancient coins or monuments, which in the context of the exhibition shed their archaeological associations, the projection becomes an interface—Moris is keen on word plays— interconnecting the politics of representation and communication. In our age of social media, the shifting faces also become an allegory of the elusive identities we construct online.

The projections are complemented by a series of abstract plaster reliefs titled Clouds (Clusters I, II, III), the only material traces in an exhibition which hinged upon the re-examination of materiality. Tiptoeing between decoration and infrastructure, they are easy to miss as they are hanged not far from the floor on the opposite wall, dimly lit only by reflected light, a reminder perhaps that before all else you have to open your eyes and look around you.

The exhibition Transformation of Commons continues at the House of Cyprus through 04 April 2018. The venue is listed in the und. Athens directory at no.122. For more information on the exhibition please visit the press release entry here. For more information on the artist please visit Petros Moris’s official website.