At the launch of the new [STUDIOCRIT] event series we explored concepts of displacement, home and belonging with Maria Christoforatou.
Maria prepared a detailed presentation with images of her work including drawings, painting, sculpture, installation. She also presented her research with mind maps and a collection of archival images.
In her work, Maria explores the relationship between the emotional and physical dimensions of belonging via the concept of “home”. This sense of belonging is tied up with “place” and characteristic of her approach is the association of the distinct concepts of “house” and “home” – both contained within the Greek word οἶκος. Maria identifies the figure of the home in her work with the self or the body. Referencing Alison Blunt, she suggests that ideas of home are nostalgically associated with imagined authenticity rather than lived experience. It is therefore a concern with identity that lies at the root of her project.
Focusing on the relationship between the structure of a dwelling and the body/self that occupies it, my mixed-media work, works on paper, sculptures, paintings, and installations bring to light paths to awareness and articulation of one’s own subjectivity.
Maria related her own experiences of trauma and displacement in relation to her childhood memories of home and its destruction in two house fires. She showed a haunting image of her grandmother’s family home in Cephalonia after it was destroyed by the 1953 Ionian earthquake, “leaving the stone facade intact, which is there to this day, resulting in her displacement and eventual move to Athens”.
In her research, Maria engages with narratives of home and displacement in contemporary art. Referencing the work of Doris Salcedo and Mona Hatoum, she explores the ways that art practice can “mediate the emotional connection of the self with one’s surrounding[s]”. This concern is also evident in her practice, where she engages with the question of how objects can convey a sense of displacement, becoming “agents of experience for the viewer”. She uses diverse materials in surprising ways to confound and displace the viewer. Collapsed (2009) is a small black metal sculpture that appears to be fragile and lightweight, as though it were made of paper or ribbons. At times, the house/home in Maria’s work has been stripped down to its structural elements. Here just the frame remains, as though it has been gutted by fire, crushed by an irresistible force or more often as a placeholder or token of home. In this incarnation the house is exposed on all sides, blending with its environment. It cannot provide shelter and functions either as a monument to the past or a diagram for something to build in the future.
More often the house appears to be a self-contained unit – a paradoxically closed system – cut off from its environment. At times it is a hollow shell, such as There’s no home for you here (2012), a small walnut wood house sealed on all sides, which emits intermittent sighs. At other times it is solid, such as Untitled (2013), which is made from a single piece of blue polystyrene. This sculpture is both monolithic and portable due to its small size.
A sculpture from the Constructing Spaces series (2014) breaks with this binary opposition between the hermetically sealed closed system and the gutted, emptied-out frame. It is a small wooden house, hollow inside and sealed throughout but for a plastic drain pipe sticking out of the bottom. The pipe is ravaged and convoluted as it doubles back on itself. The end of the pipe is flared, suggesting a mouth or an exploratory appendage of some sort. This house does not hide its fundamental dependency on the urban infrastructure of water supply and waste-water pipes. Was it part of an extended underground network of pipes connected to other semi-autonomous dwellings overground? Is the appendage searching for a break in the network to latch onto and become part of the network once again?
A process of destroying and recreating over and over again is at the core of my practice, which often salvages and reworks remnants, fragments and debris. Images of, or motifs relating to, the physical construction of houses are arranged, and then rearranged; it is almost as an act of incessant reminder that one’s home is as fragile and transient…
Maria is a prolific artist and her recent work is a substantial collection of collages which feature the familiar house trope in all kinds of configurations and juxtapositions. She subjects the images to a process of degradation as she repeatedly photocopies the same image to “remove its history”, thereby producing highly contrasted generic images that everyone can relate to.
Maria’s studio crit highlighted a common interest in the concepts of home, (dis)location, identity and urbanity. We’re on the lookout for a venue to organise an exhibition or other event on these themes. If you’re interested in collaborating as an artist, writer, curator or editor please get in touch.
If you would like to show your work at a Studio Crit from June 2016 onwards please visit the page to read the guidelines and get in touch with a preferred date. The Studio Crit is a good opportunity to set some goals for your work. The purpose of a studio crit is to visit an artist’s studio for a structured viewing and discussion of the work.
[STUDIOCRIT]#01 Maria Christoforatou: Displacement took place on 20 March 2016 at The Field, New Cross. For more info please visit the event page.