Starting with new artworks by artists, that are on exhibition or are ready to exhibit or that are work in progress… we are visiting their studios, interacting with them and we present you this path. With Athanasia Vidali, we met initially for other reasons and ultimately… through my own insistence, this conversation emerged and this, because as I watched her work, one strange feeling gripped with… each section… is different. From lace to sculptures… the caramel… painting… although this pluralism does not attract me particularly, in her own case… creates an interesting visual novel, you want to watch the next and the next … unsaturated. That’s because over her experimentations, Vidali is a new very talented, bold artist, that because she works and explores her subjects thoroughly, documents the use of different media, not as a means to impress, but as a means of communication of concerns, issues, and searches of the contemporary artist.
By Efi Michalarou
Photo: Athanasia’s Vidali Archive
Miss Vidali, by observing your work, from the large scale lace-like paper cut-outs and the caramel installation to the porcelain sculptures and your recent drawings, we first notice an immense variety in terms of materials and media, but there are also some common elements that indicate they are created by the same artist. Would you like to mention them in more detail?
The truth is that despite my obsessions with certain ideas, I love to try new things! I believe it is very important to experiment beyond the safety zone of the already known. It is about a need to see things differently. Every different perspective gives viable space for an alternative perception of the same old questions that bother me. It is also another way to remind myself that nothing should be taken for granted, not even something as simple as your ease in this play with the material. This is a procedure that often generates anxiety. Everything new brings fear… But then, I believe that it is exactly in this realm of fear that one should direct their searches. I feel that somewhere there must lay hidden some kind of truth, even if it is always elusive. My obsessions are my anchoring support. And I am really glad that you can discern something common running through my different projects. I have been told quite often that every time I work like a different person. But in reality, what I am always trying is to utter something of this impure beauty, or rather the close relation between the appalling and ugly with the beautiful and the familiar. This grey zone between the contrasts is what describes us, and it has such an interesting wealth of gradations. Then, I am also interested in the destruction that precedes any reform, or death which is inherent in life, giving the tempo to our temporality. It seems to me that through these dual qualities, I might be able to touch something of the human quality. For humans are abysmal complexities, worlds half-closed and fragile, yet with so multiple coordinates and forces, that one can only pick a guessing. But this is what makes us humans so intriguingly interesting.
Although drawing is your starting point, how did these works in paper start, that resemble laces and tell stories through full and void?
In reality, when I commenced this work with the paper cut-outs, I had anything but laces in my mind! It was rather a need to express some kind of violence, originating from my fear in front of the white paper which was stubbornly resisting my attempts to scribble something. I began to cut, driven by despair. And thus another unexpected way to draw emerged: a drawing based on shadows, through a persistent and painful cutting that started giving birth to something different, something somehow beautiful. Here I have to admit a great influence from the oriental art. After all, I was also intrigued by this “violence” whose result becomes tangible through the rigid insistence of small fixed doses. Back then, I wanted to speak about memory; about my own inadequacy to grasp my ever-changing image of the past. Thus, this process of work, with its laborious removal, became related to what I needed to express, or rather to think. Because you can think through the artwork. By force and with great patience I was making way. In fact, I think that memory might work this way, by employing a process of creative removal. We always have to travel as light as possible. Although, of course, what is casted away is also of importance. Finally, this is how I found another way to tackle with the issue of drawing. By starting from the basics and this white paper that I am always afraid of. This was the first time that I was leaving behind all my equipment of dexterity. But then I retrieved new skills in the process. Nothing is irreplaceable. Or rather, you always come across yourself around the corner. For me, this was the first chapter to open on my artistic work, because this was my first complete project after my school years in the Athens School of Fine Arts.
What does lace means for you, and also this transparency that you create through the voids?
Originally, what came to resemble a lace, began as physical forms; ugly or “difficult” bodily details, which gradually became more abstract, in the course of this creative abstraction of which I spoke before. Along the way, they reached an absolute abstraction, resembling neural junctures or just fragile connective tissues in a “cloud” defined by gravity. When afterwards, I wanted to take some distance from this work, I realized a tremendous affinity with the lace. It was a useful resemblance, since at that period my interest on the remnants of the past had been already rekindled.
About the porcelain sculptures, entitled “Ugly Beauty”, which began in 2011, and where exhibited in the group show “Synthesis” in 2013 in Francoise Heitsch Gallery in Munich: how was this idea started?
Back in 2011, I happened to make an interesting discovery in the vintage sellers in Monastiraki. I was vaguely looking for stuff to enrich my collection of photographs and materials belonging to strangers of the past. This was a habit I acquired long before, during my first stay in Lisbon. At that time, it was a way to compare my own presence with the foreign past of a new city, whose new language was drastically changing me. So I started collecting photos freely relating to my own steps inside the city. I was composing my own imaginary past using the traces of people who became silent long before me. During 2011, for some reason, I felt a corresponding need, related this time to the much more familiar city of Athens. It was then that I happened to discover a collection of photography negatives, probably previously belonging to some deceased reporter (or even unknown artist, although the fact that no one will ever know his identity, gives it some extra interest). It was a collection of hundreds of negatives, whose majority depicts the formalities of the Greek social life during the 1950’s or so. But somewhere there, among these photos, you could get some minor glimpses of another, more interesting version of life, more decadent or even secretive. And this is where one could perhaps start to reform a person. I had found a starting vehicle to move my own thought. I was personally interested in this very petit bourgeois view, where appearance, unforgiving of human imperfections, coexists with secret desires and human failures. This was when I started to break the bibelot I was collecting (and which I always found repulsively interesting). At first I was breaking neutral ones; statuettes I had bought, belongings of strangers. But gradually I continued with some belonging to my own grandmother. It was a breaking of the past in order to make something anew, although uncanny and obviously fractured. Nevertheless, with the titles given to the works, I was always trying to denote another playful dimension: it was always a critique involving some compassion, much more than a cynicism.
It is a work in progress… Does it continue? Is it evolving?
Always. I never work on one thing alone. I do focus on one idea at a time, but all the rest are incubating, creating a supportive net of ideas. I presently work on some drawings that constitute a chapter of work, but in parallel I am also working with some new techniques on porcelain, which I would like to give new forms soon. There are no clean boundaries in art. But there are pauses you need to respect. There are times when you need to listen to yourself and the others around you. Talking all the time and telling more or less the same thing is meaningless.
Why do you use sexual innuendos when connecting the figures?
There are many reasons that constitute the answer. However, it is mainly because of my idea that it is in the field of secrets (or the taboos) that one can find something of the animal that makes us real humans. It is also because of love that, like another destructive force, reforms us through osmosis. And then, it is also this constraint to talk openly of any weakness affecting the mask of the proper self; a practice which I believe is not only a thing of the past, and is still affecting our present, creating knots and sick formations. Besides, the curios themselves predispose such a view. Within the cleanliness of the porcelain, forecasted for the living-room’s showcase, one can see some dominant roles: male-female, blue-pink, boy-girl; childhood scenes reflecting deviating adult inquietudes, as if they draw form from all those thoughts, forbidden to be said openly, and which may be the juice of life.
In your new work, which is clearly painting, you are dealing with skin. What does transparency mean for you and why does it interest you as a field of artistic research?
It is a work that dates back to 2012. I am always interested in the body. The human is first of all a body. Besides, the skin is a contact surface, human threshold, the field of touch. Yet, it also functions like an image. Every painted picture originates from its material basis, while it is also characterized by a transparency, an “opening” to new significations of its content. As French theory has so nicely expressed it, image is by nature an ambiguity. I think that the skin, signifying as it may be, remains silent just like the image; the ambiguity of its signs leaves space for speculation. It is just like a human being. In reverse, the surface of the painting functions just like a skin. I am greatly influenced by the writings of J.-L. Nancy about the image. His return to the supportive material, confers a new multiplicity of meanings for the image itself. This is what I tried to achieve, through this translucency produced by a successive erasing of the my drawing signs, so that only a trace of paint is left, having penetrated into the paper fibers. It is a time-consuming palimpsest, although this quality might not be noticeable at first sight: it rather makes some people wondering; others believe it is just a printed surface. Yet it takes the artist to the limits of endurance. Therefore, for once again we return to the issue of (bodily) time.
Installations-Sculpture-Painting… Which are the boundaries, where do they meet in your work and which is the threshold line?
I don’t have any threshold line. Sometimes you need to work in two dimensions, others in three; it is the work itself that shows the material. Besides, you cannot talk about limits, unless you are willing to play with them. Still, I believe I am a sculptress more out of chance. I think I am a better painter. For the time being, I feel that the painter still asks the questions, even in sculpture. Unless if this is just another certainty to be demolished, one never knows! Perhaps, in the end, these are just name.
*Athanasia Vidali (b.1986 – full name Athanasia Vidali-Soula) is a Greek visual artist, currently based in Athens. Studies: 2013-onwards, PhD student at the Dept. of Audio and Visual Technologies, Ionian University. 2010-2012, 2-year Master in Fine Arts (with honours), Athens School of Fine Arts. 2004-2010, 5-year Diploma in Painting (with honours), Athens School of Fine Arts. Teaching: 2013-2014, Ionian University, Department of Audio and Visual Arts. 2012-2013, Invited lecturer for a series of talks at the Athens School of Fine Arts undergraduate program (3rd Painting Studio). 2011-2012, 6 months teaching practice at the Athens School of Fine Arts undegraduate program (3rd Painting Studio). She is member of the Interactive Arts Research Lab of the Ionian University, while during 2014, she was a visiting researcher at the Center of Philosophy of Science of the University of Lisbon, with a fellowship from the State Scholarships Foundation. She has participated in exhibitions in Greece and abroad, while her research work has been presented at international conferences. Her work revolves around issues concerning the human quality (sometimes perverse or animalistic), and an approach of the embodied subjectivity, that touches the borders joining art with philosophical thought.