Coexistence in interstices

Eleni Kamma (guest artist at Villa Romana 2010/2011) in conversation with the curator Paolo Emilio Antognoli Viti.

Eleni, you were born in Cyprus and after your studies in Athens you’ve been living mostly in Northern Europe, for instance Holland, Belgium and Sweden. You stayed at Villa Romana already last summer as a guest artist. Could you tell more about the background of your new Italian project? How did you come across the dialogues from the early 19h century at the "Cabinetto Viesseux" about the cultivation of land, which is at the centre of your Florentine work, or the idea to let singers sing in octaves (Ottava Rima)?

My last year’s visits to La Specola— the Observatory — and my interest in the Intermedi-spectacle of the Renaissance, led me to the etymological ancestor of the words spectacle and speculation, which is the verb specere ‘to look.’ I became intrigued by this evolution of the act of looking in two very discreet ways. I am currently looking at the notion of spectacle in contemporary Florence, through the gesture of folding or unfolding in the very sites of a spectacle’s public production; the carousel at Piazza Repubblica, the Piazzale Michelangelo but also the surrounding Tuscan landscape. If the idea of folding and unfolding depends on the structure and expectations a city arouses or suppresses, what images may be produced by the coexistence of sound and space, the space between lived experience and a simultaneous reflection of it? While looking at the way speculation, spectacle and labour intersect in contemporary Tuscany, I am working with interviews, books, transcriptions and recordings of local literary and musical ethnographic traditions. The collected and produced material will then be edited and transformed into drawings, objects and short filmic collages whose narrative will reflect the inherent characteristics of the fold.

How do your works develop? Is there a relationship between the topics of horticulture, architecture and the drawings or the design?

My drawings are collages that recycle found visual material. The making of these drawings relates to gardening in the sense that both processes are detailed, repetitive and time-consuming. The organization of my pictorial spaces follows my broken “Greek” roots. They are the result of a continuous, obsessive, compulsive craftwork compositional process of edit, copy and paste. My copying sources inhabit printed matter and focus on the blurred borders between nature and culture. I collect books, manuals, texts and illustrations, photocopies and instructions, which I use as information archives. The way(s) several fragments of this collection relate is the trigger for a new work. Displacement, repetition and change of scale are often employed as methods. My structures encircle the space between repetition and the sense of belonging. Sometimes I work with markers on tracing paper. Sometimes I use a dirty wall as the background of a drawing. The lines of the drawing are then produced by scratching the wall, revealing the layers underneath. Layers and lines narrate contradictions and paradoxes within architectural systems, such as the architectural transparency and its impossibility to be realized, turning either to reflexivity or to obscurity. They narrate stories about Athenian architectural misinterpretations of Modernism and question Architecture’s function as the negotiator between culture and nature.

Your book “Enlever et Entretenir” seems to investigate the combination of words and images, definitions and illustrations, including pictures and dictionaries, synonyms, and etymologies. What does that mean? Does it perhaps show that words can not exactly identify an object, but only the image and vice-versa?

“Enlever et Entretenir” develops the idea of an in-between space through the format of a book. It follows the format of a 1950s photo collection book titled “Entre Escaut et Meuse” (“Between Scheldt and Meuse”), in which images and textual descriptions of plants, animals and human activities coexist. In “Enlever et Entretenir”, the coexistence occurs between gaps, empty spaces and various cultural descriptions and representations of nature, both historical and newly invented. The book examines how words and images can coexist and create meaning by disrupting it; how they make sense by seemingly letting meaning collapse. There is no suggestion of any hierarchical order between images and words.

After the book you presented an exhibition project with the same title. How would you describe the relationship between the exhibition and the book?

The format of this serial exhibition is based on the material in the book, which acts as a kind of generator. The work presented in each exhibition is in other words, not made up of only fragments and re-interpretations but rather the new narratives evoked each time by the specific context.

In your studio gardens, carpets, fabrics and photocopies seem to be in a growing process, like a garden that constantly changes. It seems that you want to build a sort of third architecture in the interstices and voids of conventional knowledge and different disciplines. Yorgos Tzirtzilakis talked about collapse regarding your compositions. Do you want to provoke this sort of collapse or direct the observer’s view in another direction?

Through my work I persistently explore the inherent gaps and contradictions within existing cultural narratives and classification strategies. By disrupting the canonical production of meaning within and via the synchronous appearance of words and images, I research the relation of the cliché, the banal and the stereotype to the formation of history and the fabrication of identities. In this respect, disorientation can be a very powerful tool. Lately I am increasingly concerned with the possibilities for two systems of thought to co-exist and produce new meaning(s) without the one system being subordinated to the other. Whenever such a co-existence takes place, it is unavoidable that simultaneously a partial or total collapse of each system’s individualistic logic will occur.