“Decay – Reminiscences”, 20/01/2000 – 19/02/ 2001
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20 January 2000
The art of crating artefacts
ARTIST Voula Massoura has come a log way from her graphic arts advertising days. She has dedicated the past few decades to exploration, moving with ease from one phase of creativity to the next. And it’s fitting that her first exhibition for the year 2000, entitled Decay – Reminiscences, to open at the Medusa Art Gallery tonight, is a multifaceted game with time.
Her latest gamut of work resembles freshly salvaged artifacts covered with earth. Her newest works stretch far back into the past. The visitor encountering these creations feels the archaeologist’s joy of uncovering o rare find hidden hidden and preserved by dirt. One can barely make out the hieroglyphics on the buried manuscripts and papyri. With this guessing game, an interaction between the viewer and the work begins.
It’s hard to believe that not long ago the canvases were untouched, white and clean. After creating her works, Massoura speeds up the decaying process so that she too becomes a viewer of her art – which now bear the effects of what appears to be centuries of ageing.
Achieving “quick” decay is no easy matter and requires the intervention of nature. Massoura buries her painting and watches over them zealously for several weeks while wetting the earth. She unearths the creations, interferes with various materials and then buries them again. And the tedious process continues until the stains, wrinkles and cracks fall into place to conjure images of bygone times. The final artworks seem to have their own tale to tell, made barely discernible beneath the slits and shadows.
Yellowed documents scorched by the sand’s heat or carbonised by lava become the remains of long-vanished people. At same stage, they stop being Massoura’s creations and become nature’s. Massoura stops being an artist and becomes time itself.
The Decay – Reminiscences display opens at 8 tonight and runs through to February 19.
text by Voula Tsouna - Professor of Philosophy, University of California at Santa Barbara.
Artist personal technique / Decay - Reminiscences
I first saw Voula Massouras' work in her own atelier, against the background of artcrafts belonging to earlier periods of her activity. I am somewhat familiar with the rhythms and patterns that emerge as she moves from one phase of creativity to the next, and one thing I have always found admirable and rare about her work is the fact that it preserves its coherence and continuity throughout its many different stages. Her sources of inspiration change, as do her artistic techniques and the materials of her craft. Nonetheless, one can tell that these shifts are never random, but represent carefully designed steps towards the fulfillment of goals set by Massouras' vision.
This unity of inspiration and thought is carried over to her new series of works, which constitute the collection 'Decay - Reminiscences'. And yet there is here something strikingly different from anything that the artist has achieved ever before, namely a sense that these works of art stretch far back into the past, that they are new as well as very old and their beauty is that of ancient ruins. The surface of some of these pieces looks like parchment turned yellow with the passage of time. Others ressemble papyri sheets long preserved somewhere deep in the sand. Yet others are darker, brown, grey or almost black, evoking ancient papyri carbonised during the volcanic eruption of Vesuvius almost two millenia ago. The association of these canvases with buried manuscripts is not accidental. For they have undergone a process comparable to the natural decay of the records of human civilisation. When the artist begins to work on each canvas, it is no more new and white and clean. Its surface has been altered with paints, acrylic wax and other materials depending on the theme of the work, before being buried into the earth. There the process of decay begins. The artist has wanted it to begin and watches over it zealously for several weeks. She wets the earth, the canvas ages. She unearths it, inferferes again with the various materials and puts it back in. Then, at some point, the canvas is ready: stains and wrinkles and cracks mar its surface, in some places it is torn, in others the cloth is gone and strange shapes emerge as one looks at it. It has now a story to tell, the story of its own reminiscences, much in the way of old documents scorched by the heat of the sand or carbonised by the lava of the volcano.
Ancient papyri carry memories only because they have survived, but they have survived only at the price of their own decay. Whole layers of scrolls are missing, destroyed by time or by our efforts to unroll them. To reach the heart of the papyri burnt by Vesuvius and add their contents to the store of human memories, we have sliced them and peeled them off layer by layer. Pieces turned into ashes in our hands, while parts of them lay open, fragmented and fragile, to our curiosity. Their characters, in capitals or in cursive, are neatly set next to one another forming lines and columns of text, yet we cannot read them all. Some letters are mutilated and all that is left of them are dark traces of ink or of soot. Others are completely gone and we can only guess what they were from the lacunas left in their place. It is as if their authors, long dead and often anonymous, ask us to rescue them from oblivion, to reconstruct the texts that time, fire, water and the human hand have taken apart in centuries past. This is what Massouras' works ask us to do as well. Our imagination and sensitivity are summoned to retrieve memories hidden behind the slits and shadows of the canvases, to reinterpret the signs and shapes and characters inscribed on them. Through the corrupted cloth, we discern checked patterns of squares, irregular shapes sometimes resembling prehistoric animals, black patches edged with shreds, cracks showing the pressure under the surface, dark brown areas that look like scorched earth or burnt wood, traces of writing belonging to undeciphered laguages of people long dead. Pictures of decay, these works activate a kind of memory which is not confined to individuals. It is perhaps a primordial memory, a memory of the cells, urging us to open an ongoing dialogue with ourselves and with our collective past.