THE WAR ZONE OF THE SUBCONSCIOUS
Marina Fokidis 2010
When the subject of an artistic series is the Self, things are always more “difficult”. The slightest detail in the form, the medium or the composition acquires special gravity and assumes greater dimensions! In such cases we are not talking about a study on the “body” and the way it is depicted but more about an attempt by the subconscious to communicate, a deposition of the soul that cannot be achieved or described in “simple words”. If in the Renaissance, for instance, artists greatly advanced the rendering of the human body on paper by splitting it into geometric shapes and creating a classic, “ideal” figure which is still taught to art students, the same could never be done when it came to depicting or decoding the soul! Yet closer contact with one’s inner world has been for centuries the main motive power and the dominant quest for artists, and at the same time a “refuge” for viewers who may find relief through identification.
In her first major solo exhibition under the coded title QT1L3SDNK, an alphanumerical code of great importance in the artist’s personal life, Katerina Vafia presents a series of photographs that examine the main existential quests of the human being — the concepts of the “beginning” and the “end”, gender and sexuality, day-to-day survival, love! Influenced by artists like Vanessa Beecroft or Matthew Barney, among others, who served as references in her “artistic coming of age”, Vafia deals with the limits of human endurance through stereotypical symbols such as the female body, blood, the weapon, the wild animal, the uncontrollable nature. With the aid of live “models” she stages a narrative which may be exaggerated but touches upon such everyday subjects as those of relationships, human fragility, violence, self-absorption and narcissism or personal stamina. Her models may be referencing the classic Renaissance figures in the sense of the Golden Ratio, but they come mostly from her everyday environment (since the artist takes professional dance classes), and this reinforces the autobiographical nature of the series. The “plot” may be unfolding through other persons and assuming a fictional dimension as imagination expands the representation of events and situations but, as it is often the case with parables, the captures snapshots are taken from a reality — from the artist’s own personal life!
Vafia “recruits” a group of dancers and models to penetrate into the untouched areas of her self and depict them. The various human figures that feature in her work are not described but are simply used as avatars she adopts in order to visit a world which one rarely feels the urge to visit: the “war zone” of the subconscious!
Yet unlike videogames this world is not virtual in the sense of a fictional setting one can escape by switching off the computer. What we have here is reality in its purest form, and should you happen to rouse it the doors that are opened to you can never close. A reality which seems to concern both personal growth and a more universal evolution! In this case the concept of the Golden Ratio with its perfect proportions is clearly manipulated: on the one hand the artist resorts to a human figure that heeds this rule in order to invest it with “perfection”, but on the other hand it is also used in the interests of “homogeneity”. Each figure in her works is a “unit”, one more version of the same person — herself.
Half-nude women, at once provocative and stylish in tune with the latest trends in fashion, appear in military formation or in combat where the main adversary is themselves or in classic portrait postures which, however, always exude something subversively “foreign”. Katerina Vafia seems to recall and reproduce the ¨sensual” image of women as one would find it in the pages of Playboy, Penthouse or some fashion magazine, but set within a framework of feminist discourse. Clothes, makeup, postures and the staging of each photo are initially based on the codes of fashion, industry, girlie magazines or advertising, but the stories they tell have less to do with the fantasy world of the media or with the “signifiers” of advertising. The interesting thing in Vafia’s work is that the language of “consumption” is used in a way that reveals the more fragile, vul¬nerable, “pained” side of human nature and thus manages to “condemn” a decayed system and a set of stereotypes that bear no relation to the reality they promise. The female figures in her work become symbols of feminist power, even though they borrow the “uniform” of sex symbols. This reversal helps make a piercing comment on our contemporary culture’s obsession with the body and the “inhumanly perfect looks” as well as the obsession with consumerism and fashion as the ultimate attributes of “belonging”.
At the same time the artist introduces elements of shock and surprise to elicit the audience’s immediate response, capturing the viewers’ gaze and enticing them deeper into the paths of her quest. The “magic flute” in these photos assumes various guises: a “bad eye” in the portrait of an otherwise attractive woman; a stereotypical, white-clad bride as the incongruous element amidst a group of women in sadomasochistic attire; the excessive quantity of bright-red blood gushing out as a result of a fight; or a roaring tiger as the alternative “ego” of a beautiful woman who stares calmly at the lens. All these extreme elements become part of the narrative of an “inner everyday reality” which describes the complexity of human existence and encompasses the unending and violent struggle with the different aspects of the Ego!
Aside from all the extraneous loans from the codes of the media, Vafia’s photographs constitute a stark confession that seems to begin with the artist’s personal adoption of the “rules” of contemporary society so that she can remain an active player in it. The fascination of the game —along with its opposite, the effort to conform to what is an “unnatural” system for human existence— is depicted with “metaphysical” clarity in these topographies, at once strange and familiar, in which the artist choreographs her heroes. Success and failure coexist just as they do in life, creating “multicolour” explosions. The series is complemented by a number of abstract photographic compositions as the vehicle to take us “deeper into the soul” and leave it open to multiple interpretations and identifications by the viewer. As the artist herself says, the abstract photos refer to a place where she can let herself float freely among ambiguous concepts without the need to declare her stand. The challenge is whether we can follow her into this more evolved stage of life — into this heavenly world...