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“Imagine a country without fear”

janvier 22, 2018

How I discovered a tender new ‘theater of cruelty’ in the work of Greek artist Maro Michalakakos and what it showed me about fear and freedom…

Discovering a good artist is always a thrill. With Greek artist Maro Michalakakos, it was also a revelation. Her works enthrall me, as if someone else has given shape to my dreams, my deepest fears, or my most cherished longings.

The feeling is very similar to finding a new writer who jolts you and reverses all your expectations. It happened to me recently when I started reading Mikhail Shishkin, for example. All my reading habits were shattered in a moment. With Maro, too, I experienced a sea-change, she revealed me to myself. My hidden longings crept up on me from all sides. The drama was striking.

The kind of drama I encountered in Maro’s work is almost baroque in its blood-clot intensity. A brand-new theater of cruelty has come visiting, is the only way I can describe it. Later, I realized that I had wished for something like this, perhaps we all have, all of us, personally or globally, desired some uplifting, soul-shaking emotional experience to match the cruel deceptions of our present world, the traumas we suffer or witness daily, the sadness we need to process. Maro Michalakakos stages all these emotions with aplomb and great skill.

It is the theatrical aspect of her vision, the performative drive in many of her installations, that give her works so much emotional power. They resonate with deep existential anxiety, sometimes with a quirky humor, and always with exquisite beauty.

It must be partly due to the allure of the red velvet which she frequently uses in her works. She truly is a scarlet woman. The red cloth highlights the drama she seeks in the hidden folds of life –the drama of abandonment for one, not only the mundane kind that happens in love, but something deeper, at times even social, like being forsaken, almost. There are also intimations of incarceration and the kind of implicit, as well as outright violence with which male dominated society constantly keeps women at bay. She simulates that violence in unexpected ways.

This is an artist who shaves velvet with a scalpel. She makes pictures by scraping the fabric. Thus icon-like portraits appear on the cloth, of wretched, emaciated women, like shadows, with sunken eyes and skeletal hands. These are images of heartbreaking sadness and solitude.

You feel as if archaic imprints on a cave wall are revealed for the first time to you, the viewer. You are ravished. Or again, it could be the Madonna in a sunken church in some forgotten place, or yet again, an Etruscan face in a long-lost tomb chamber, never seen before. You just don’t know. It is like an archeology of deep human suffering and compassion, as these sorrowful shadows gaze across time, onto infinity perhaps. The time in which they are sequestered may be infinite or from yesterday. They are like lost souls in purgatory. They remind me of the faces and postures of women who have suffered in war, caught in catastrophe, or sometimes shut away in some peculiar solitary confinement or depression.

She does other clever things, mysterious things with the red velvet. You might find a long-chair, perhaps a psychoanalyst’s couch, again upholstered in red velvet, from which many large eyes stare at you, etched (or shaved in this instance) with a nagging decorative insistence.

You might encounter a gilt-framed, blank oval mirror, in opaque red velvet, with only a dark pubic triangle scratched below, triggering fearful fantasies. (I could have almost said “guilt-framed.”) In the normal everyday interiors and their trappings, curtains, or sofas and fabrics, Maro Michalakakos goes in search of the uncanny.

In another, wide red velvet panel, the white spots look like ordinary prints from afar, but drawing close, you find dozens of regimented skulls staring at you. Shavings of red cloth rise in huge mounds, with an ironic gesture towards Samuel Beckett’s Happy Days.

Two adjacent chairs are almost intertwined, and on the upholstery of the back-rests are again shaven the faces of two lovers, desperately trying to reach each other, but forever captive in their respective fabrics. The seats of two other chairs, now facing each other, are etched with more skeletal hands; the title reads “fortune- teller.” A large ordinary looking dining table with plush chairs is over-hung with a chandelier of gnarled branches that could easily double as viscera. A red velvet ribbon goes through the eye of a giant needle and loops with no open end in sight, like blood circulating. It is also a snake chasing its tail.

This is the artist wandering in a wonderland we all seem to share, and in it she can be quite playful at times.

But the interplay of body parts and furniture, the shadowy women in velvet weren’t the first works of Maro Michalakakos that I saw. My initial encounter with her art was through her fascinating birds.

Trailing a seductive cruelty

It was November 2016, I was wandering through İstanbul Contemporary Art Fair, enjoying the various art works, when I suddenly turned a corner and came to face a magnificent pink flamingo painted in luminous water-colors, tangled with a scorpion. Another flamingo was clearly in much deeper trouble, it had twisted and knotted its neck around its own leg. Perhaps it is because I was in trouble too, at the time, that the gesture appealed to me.

To read the rest of the article by NİLÜFER KUYAŞ, please click here

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