In Search of the Inhabitants of a Lost Paradise

Marina Olympios is a multi-faceted artist, who has linked her artistic concerns and quests to some of the most experimental and innovative expressions of modern art. At the same time, while engaged in various fields of artistic expression, such as painting, video, photography and installation, she grafts in them her interest in geology and the study of rocks, thus introducing to her artistic language a kind of cultural history of the earth, which gives her the opportunity to communicate and converse with distant or forgotten civilizations, bringing to light unknown aspects of their history, and simultaneously highlighting the importance of their position in the whole of world history.

The artistic journey of Marina Olympios begins with a strongly subversive mood, transformed into a rich activity, which includes tableaux vivants, multimedia and video installations, exactly at the peak of her artistic activity, which is dated around 1992-1998, to attempt, then, an impressive return to painting and its values. She retains, however, the central themes of her artistic concerns, articulated around the fundamental contradiction between the light of the Mediterranean, symbolizing the vitality and strength of a physical and metaphysical fullness, and the dark notion of death and destruction. Olympios, either dealing with experimental video and performances or with painting of the canvas and photography, deconstructs things in all their levels and dimensions, to reveal hidden aspects that amaze, from human relationships to the rocks of the earth, which she collects with so much passion. Whether she expresses herself with an aggressive demystification of the conventional situations of the surrounding reality, or she explores the secrets of matter and existence, she renders the totality by simple and direct images, a characteristic that distinguishes both her photographic and audio-visual work, as well as her sculptural achievements. The ultimate goal of her work is the destabilization and questioning of the phenomenon, in order to highlight its deeper substrata and its invisible aspects.

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Roger Balboni, in his speech at the inauguration of «Europe a Çistory of Árt» (1996) in Troyes in France, says: «Nothing can penetrate calmly, if it is not ready to share this new vision of images, objects, actions, revealing the sliding of the senses, as they are formed under the influence of entangled juxtapositions and gestural scenography. The renunciation and asceticism of a gaze guide the visitor beyond the threshold, allowing time to stop in order to break the conformism acquired in the act of appropriation and consumption of goods. This is exactly what sterilizes their subversive part, buried by society. This reversal has been driven to its extreme point ... in the exhibition «Philosophers to Eat» («Öéëüóïöïé ðñïò Âñþóéí»), where the destruction-consumption of a work, like the death of art, frees the artist and the public with a simulation game, mimetic and revelation in front of a hidden camera. ... Life and Death, Nature and Society, Love and Solitude. With their actions, they are self-appointed messengers of the «SPEAK» for art against the death of civilization, against the death of the gaze of a work of art and the dictatorship of images that trivialize perception».

In the work of Olympios, one of the main characteristics emphasized by the researcher is the variation and the ease in the use of her means, as well as the multiple folds of meaning. Sculpture, photography, painting, video and installation acquire in her hands a rare freedom, through a genuine passion and a drive for the exploration of the deepest human instincts. From the beginning of her itinerary, the role of the emergence of the irrational and subversive element is assigned to technology and the tableau vivant, contrary to the tenderness, with which she handles stone, nature and other primary materials. The installations, videos and events she creates in the period ’92 –’98 present a Dionysian, almost orgiastically incomprehensible power. They are hard, they refer to death, to the limit between implied dangers and an unlimited love for life and light. They are works that she created in France and the United States, that are also distinguished by experimentation and social challenge. The controversy, the pain, the mockery of the human condition and an underlying, primordial and hieratic dimension constitute the marrow of this first period of her work, contrary to the spiritually and physically more collected and sober quality of her work of painting and photography. It is painting that will render her work more experiential and personal, while the films and performances she has made abroad mix myth and reality through autobiography, in a more indirect and underground way, in order to speak more universally and innovatively. This indirect narrative also characterizes realistic photography, which she applies systematically, in order to visualize distant cultures, as is the series «One drop travels around the world» (2006), as well as the present publication. These photographs are the «synaxarion» of a personal photo diary «of a woman who describes the world as she feels it», as she says herself.

At a time when art, knowledge, communication, information, the free movement of ideas, even our own dreams (through virtual environments) are being created, developed and diffused in society through modern technology, Marina Olympios abandons her field and returns to painting and stone carving.

The interpretation of this turn to traditional painting becomes even more remarkable and interesting given that Olympios, unlike other artists, who have encountered technology in the process of their work and they incorporated it into their visual system rather empirically, has, on the one hand, a broad academic background in the use of new technologies, and, on the other hand, she uses video, multimedia installations and digital photography from the early stages of her work. This shift towards the traditional means of visual expression occurs, finally, at the same time as her return and settling in Cyprus, which expresses and reflects, according to the artist herself, an inner need for «catharsis» and «silence», in an attempt to find another way of artistic expression, beyond the «buzz» of the metropolises of modern art.

However, this mood of conflict with established trends, points of view and styles is a fundamental and permanent ingredient of her artistic practice in both form and content. It corresponds to her ideological approach to art, which, as she says, is «the means by which one can express uncomfortable and unpleasant things, at any price». Let’s remember, for example, works like «Day 5» and «Day 6», which were presented in 1998 in the gallery «Lehmann Maupin» in New York (a combination of projections, photos, sounds, music, recitations, sculptural installations and pictorial and theatrical events), through which Olympios has managed to create an atmosphere of absurdity and irony, in order to challenge the respectability and commercialization of art (among others), in a strongly deconstructive way to the limit of dionysiasm, revealing aspects of the unconscious and of the uncontrolled power of nature through the experience of the body in relation to Space and Time.

The year 1974 and the experience of her birthplace, enclosed by the sea as well as by other sorts of “boundaries” will work on the psyche of Olympios as a centrifugal force of terrifying intensity that will direct her to the edges of continents and civilizations, where with her video and photo camera she attempts to rescue images and snapshots of the life of endangered cultures.

Thus, we would say that her second period of artistic creation continues to reveal an artist who rebels against complacency and comfort, and who, with a strict, detached and mature view of things, seeks to identify and highlight through her art, the possibilities of a different organization of man’s relationship with himself, with nature and with the world. At the same time, either through the material itself (stone, gem, sand, salt) or through its deepest motivation, her work transforms the sense of the locality into an experience of constant regeneration, where the natural element functions as the source of a personal remodelling. These are testified by the stone she carves, by the primordial momentum of her dramatic performances, by the need to overcome conventions and ideologically imposed limits, by the way she penetrates with her camera in the presence of «forgotten» women, earth and its rocks.

Lastly, we would dare say that Marina Olympios’ photographic and other work and its multiplicity in general, represent an allegorical tour in the Cypriot cemetery of ideals, as if the beauty she presents would be a non-place, a matter that exists independently and detached from human existence. The land of a people who has lost the right to live in it, since it has concentrated on the insipid and the ephemeral. All the living space of Cyprus has become a dead time, which exists only in photographic memory. And the memory is the story that has already taken place, and not the story that is going to happen. Each photo is also a piece of a self-exiled story, which tries to return to its place. It is the nostalgia for lost continuity. And each one of her photos «screams» the tragedy of feeling like a discontinuous being, like a person who has cut herself off from the totality that she previously belonged to. It reminds us that nostalgia for a lost paradise is nothing more than the expression of the will to unite with the unique and indivisible whole, from which we have cut ourselves off. Thus the work of Marina Olympios is unifying, because it reminds us exactly that the whole always has priority over the part and that the part cannot be understood outside and beyond the whole. Plato will place the demand for unity in the space of unifying ideas, and he will define love as the most convenient means of reintegration in the whole. That is exactly what the artist’s expression suggests: «The wind on the stones, the wear, the wind on my face, the stone is Me, a little child who is born with a new face, now, on the stone, in the work, and afterwards it recasts in the sun and the light».

Elena Christodoulidou
Art Historian, Senior Educational Officer, Chairman of the Film Advisory Committee, Ministry of Education and Culture of Cyprus


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