N. Smyrni–N. Kosmos
2011 – Fizz art gallery, Athens, Greece
by Haris Savvopoulos
Αrt Historian & Critic
…”Through dreams and fairytales I envision a world…,” writes Spiridoula Politi, also a child from the lost generation of the post-dictatorship age. I do not know whether she would say the same words around the early 1980s—obviously not, but even she did think like that the dreams and the fairytales would have been different; dragons would be dragons, and heroes would be heroes. One only has to go back to her work from around the late ’80s and early ’90s (painting was preceded by music studies) to see that the cornerstone in her artistic quests is a mixture of sensibility and vision realised through images and visions which are—naturally—oriented towards the language that records and narrates. The unshaped sensitivity and the vagueness of the dream (clear dreams scare us!!) are good pointers in Politi’s case, because they lead her to transcend the sense of measure. This is a strong blow against her ties with the past; besides, you cannot really leave something behind unless it is fully yours. Once liberated from all conventions, which are essentially the products of the presence of measure (a sense of space and time), she opts for a decisive gesture on the painted surface which marks also the crossing of her own Rubicon. In large areas of her images, Spiridoula Politi decides to replace colour with tangible objects—dolls, in this case—which serve as identity objects, as fingerprints of gender and of the social conventions of our training. Their material also comes from the old days: bed sheets from her dowry(!), an old T-shirt, needles and threads. I do not think it is important to overemphasise this finding, because this is certainly not what it’s all about. Or, rather, everything suggests that it was not the artist’s aim to add tangible objects to the painted surface, because this would mean to stop at their opaqueness and their decorative function.
These objects are laid out in a theatrical fashion like crowded Renaissance compositions, but this looks like an invasion more than a structural arrangement. It is not like the case of the signs and symbols in the images of Faith Ringgold, for instance, because the African-American artist’s allusions to women’s tasks like sewing, embroidery, decoration, etc. were meant to achieve two things. One is that she chose the language of female pursuits in a traditional, closed social group in order to narrate her childhood memories in Harlem through a kind of soft sculpture; the other is that she calls upon the audience to share into her favourite moments, people and situations or to clash with the inhibitions and social discriminations that oppress women within and outside the African-American community. Spiridoula Politi, by contrast, makes effigies/dolls which she sews with ‘traumatic’, i.e. red, rough and harsh stitches, and then places them on the surface of the painting as objects. It is almost like a folk fair, a wedding feast, with painful stitches that penetrate like a troupe of itinerant actors into a surface with a paroxysm of lines—angry, nostalgic, narrative lines, aesthetically far removed from her previous palette of colours. It is also far from any literal, explicit views on women’s art or aesthetic. She just listens to her identity and allows it to function in a sensory, aesthetic and artistic way. This is probably the main visual-artistic issue she puts forward.
Her morphological treatment of the subject sets the conditions for a direct reading of the work. The colours are light and well executed. We know the difficulty with watercolours; they require sure-handed, quick motions/decisions. It is simpler when you are painting a landscape, and incredibly hard when you need to depict the demons that rise from within yourself, to tame and organise them into a structured image. The same is true of her drawing: it is images written in space (on white), often accompanied by verbal improvisations—cries, statements and references. the human body is ethereal, almost translucent, identified with space. In an age when the human body competes with space, the artist opts for the simultaneous, almost dialectic existence of both.
The motifs of women’s handiwork in her recent series of works are painted, and thus take her visual idiom into a higher state of maturity. The sewing or the embroidery are visible without being there; she renders them through painting. The rendering of those Botticelli motifs, for instance, is more of a drawing/embroidery than a narration of visual phrases as they emerge from the memory of Primavera and the Birth of Venus. painting turns into a simulation of embroidery to frame the theme of man and woman, the theme of the couple. Man and woman, Adam and Eve in Art History, the male and the female at the dawn of the third millennium is aninteresting subject for every artist. How female can this be? Of course it is not. It is not so much the simulation (women often did not embroidered motifs, they imprinted them using decoupage) but the subjects and their morphological processing which point to a woman’s personal identity. The figures of Spiridoula Politi may appear to the viewer to be like instinctive, direct and highly emotive renderings. Yet the positioning of the female figures in relation to the male ones and their slanted gazes towards them (the figures seem to be repeated), point not so much to instinct but to intuition; female intuition.
The artist herself describes this in another way in the Ta Nea tis Technis newspaper, where she says: “…my work is a product of expression and has a raison d’être. It is has feeling rather than a critical attitude”.
Indeed, these are images/statements, images that emerge from within and do not emphasise conflicts or differences. They rise to the surface as prismatic identities of Spiridoula Politi. And, of course, as prismatic identities they aspire neither to deconstruct the woman artist nor to point to emblematic behaviours. They are simply proposed as attempts at defining the woman artist.