By Deligina Prifti
If you were to name five contemporary Greek women artists whose work has a worldwide impact, one of them will surely be Lydia Venieri. Her biography is an impressive account of several group and solo shows hosted globally in some of the most prominent museums and galleries: from Palais de Tokyo and Grand Palais in Paris to the Public Library in New York and the Art Stage in Singapore. Her work, although is spanning in a wide range of media (painting, photography, videography, sculpture, set design and Internet art), is equally astonishing and refreshingly narrative and coherent through a span of three decades.
Her latest work called “Byronic Heroes”, is a unique revival of the romantic mythos and values focusing on life, youth, vivacity, colour, love and sentiment through a series of tableaux vivants depicting intimate portraits of people whose posture extends beyond time and transcends our sense of stagnation. Her colours are so vibrant that juxtapose the blurry edges she creates in each scene, focusing on the facial expressions of her subjects.
Although her protagonists wear costumes, the overall aesthetic vibe appears to be one of contemporary correlation with the almost natural intensity of young emotion. Pictures so posed and expressive that ironically bring a sense of innocence and naivety – almost resembling the “perfect” teenager selfies, who are struggling to communicate their emotions as clearly as possible to the world.
Meeting Lydia Venieri was an unforgettable experience not only as an encounter of the famous artist, but as an individual per se. Through thorough studies of her career, one reaches to the conclusion that she is a really a proto feminist of our time, channeling the multiple natures of the female. The mother and the professional, the nurturer and the fighter, the historian and the artist who is part of her time, and most of all the thinking female whose spirituality coexists with her vibrant and extrovert nature.
In our discussion we mostly talked about her latest show, “Byronic Heroes” and we delved into her interests in Lord Byron and some other of her most evident and vital influences in general.
DP: We know you have a vivid interest in mythology and history. Is your current exhibition “Byronic Heroes” a continuation of this long research?
LV: Well, as I have now realised I am a platonist, a “byronist” and a “sophoclian” at heart, if I do say so myself. These figures marked me in a way, as a being, thus my way of thinking is very close to theirs. It is more than simply a self-description, I feel like that my work channels in a way very similar values to Plato and Byron. I have just admitted my very own “theogony”. I do not believe in superficial coincidences, I believe in natural attractions that pull you and form you. These are the main poles of my life.
DP: But why Byron now?
LV: One can say a lot of thoughts about the timing, the truth is that my research begun almost 11 years ago, as a genuine interest to Byron and the historical figure who we all know and who most Greek love and admire. Out of curiosity, I read a lot of biographies-most of them disappointing — not in depicting the undoubted genius of his poetry but his mark on the world as a person. Who can doubt his writings? Writings admired by the whole of Europe and became proses, operas and a literary branch of original intellectual thought.
Byron was the starter, but also the product of a very interesting time, a time of questioning, thinking and revolt against social and political regimes.
This was simply the start of what now became almost an obsession. Influenced by him, I have made more than 600 pages and I am now in a place where I feel that this body of work is ready for public display. There were times when I was kept awake in bed wondering of myths surrounding him. So, it is not actual Byron now, it is Byron in the making for what I think it is a never ending personal quest for the truth which I find fascinating
PD: Tell us about your Byronic figures.
LV: My figures bear a strong resemblance to Byron protagonists: they are happy, persistent, angry, playful, brave youths who seize the day to the fullest. A lot of our today’s idols are part of a chain that trace back to Byron. He was what we now call an adventurer whose travels, loves, poems, fights and scribblings reflect his fiery need to encapsulate the beating and the aching of the heart. I function in very similar way and I feel very connected to his personality and vigor. This vigor, I hope, is reflected in my tableaux vivants. Also, he had a very theatrical nature, like me. I remember myself from childhood dressing up my sister and my friends and taking them pictures. A third common element is our fascination with youth: my oldest figures age no more than 30. Byron died at 36, and he considered himself to be an old man.
These fearless youngsters fight as they dance. His extrovert and innocent characters speak to me and hold a true momentum.
I want my heroes to caption a floating and passing spirit, ever so shallow, ever so intense. Immaturity, early beauty and enthusiasm: those are the characteristics that I struggle to bring out of every work and take the viewer on a wild ride of forgotten or well hidden emotions.
This is the essence of art and romanticism: though the inevitability of tragedy in human’s life, Art is there to transcend the ugliness and portray the psyche of beauty and awe.
DP: The titles of your tableaux vivants are....
LV: Well, I have a notion that this exhibition is a massive diary, and every work is separated from the other because it narrates its own story. I built a historical background with the use of Athenian monuments and in them I placed my figures. It is not the first time that my work is being displayed in a space of historical value: I have shown work in Yeni Tzami in Thessaloniki and also in the Bath of the Winds in Athens; both of them were magical moments in my career. Some things happened organically and surprisingly- just as my meeting with Robert McCabe. Who would have thought that our mutual adoration for Byron would bring us together? You see what I meant before in my disbelief in coincidences?
DP: You are multidisciplinary artist.
LV: I come from a family of architects, a family with a strong sense of minimalism and utilititariasm and, ironically, I was born with an animistic spirit that I kept on exploring from as long as I can recall. I spoke to nature, and saw the life of the things around me. I do not have barriers in expressing my work just so that I can feel that I fit or belong somewhere. I want my soul and my mind to wander free and without anchors. I express myself, my interests and my obsessions through means which I find suitable every time. I resent perfectionism and false structuralism.
DP: Let’s go back to Byron, to your Byron.
LV: My discovery for this man is this: he is frustratingly kind hearted, gentle, boringly virtuous and disciplined. He was an Orphic figure, adored by all and lusted by more than all, even though few admitted it. I do want to set the record straight for him, his charm and his unknown virtue. Did you note that I refer to him in present time?
DP: Mysticism. What does it mean for you?
LV: Well, as I said before, it was since my very early years when I was drawn to the Spirit of things and of the world around me in general. When it comes to the metaphysical, for me every cell has its own brain, memory and life.
The metaphysical does not contradict logic, but rather walks beside it in a cosmos of complete opposites that cohabit in and around us.
If I do not have the premonition to follow a certain line of work, I choose to not do it. My world is not one clear beginnings and endings, but rather of recycling patterns. To me this the definition of Nature. That is why none of my works are finished, I simply hold distance from them otherwise I would never let them go.
DP: Since you hold such an avid passion for objects, I could help but ask whether you are a collector yourself.
LV: Of course I am! I bet you mind went in art, but I am a passionate collector of many things. My most prized collection are my toys. I find them fascinating, a kind of fetish if you like. I once were in Tokyo, in the middle of nowhere and I found myself lost, opening a door to a dolls’ workshop! You understand now why I reject shallow coincidences? I don’t know, everything about toys is deliciously odd: their size, their variety, their function. Waking up to those weird, huge eyes staring at you is a mystical experience which I find helpful for my work ( I have placed all of my dolls in my bedroom). I also collect books and comics. One of my worst traits is my inability to throw away things.
DP: “Historically” speaking the term contemporary artist is a massive umbrella that seems to define a vast range of different artists and opposing practices. If I ask you to limit this broad term, how would you describe yourself? Where do you find yourself belonging?
LV: In one word, New Age. That’s two words, eh? (She laughs). Besides kidding, I work in multidisciplinary practices, so narrowing three decades of various works to a single sentence would be of extreme difficulty for me. I am drawn to Physics, to Poetry, to History and I place myself very easily in Chaos. I find it far more comforting that a seeming rotten order.
DP: Woman, womanhood and you...
LV: Our current destructive, patriarchal civilisation does not concern me. In fact, it saddens me. Despite being drawn to the bewitching element of the female nature, I do not fully accept it because of the ongoing suppression that women are still bearing. I am happy to be oppositional. For me it is a political choice, to be an artist, to marry and to choose to have kids. You know Byron idolises women. To him women are courageous and dangerous.
For me the Woman encapsulates everything: She is my muse, She is Nature, She is Mother, She is the whole.
The male is still the child that craves protection and affection.
We would like to deeply thanks Ms. Lydia Venieri for this talk.
Her solo show “Byronic Heroes” is hosted in Tzisdarakis Mosque until the 31 of May and the second part of the show called the “Byronic Code” is expected to be on view at the following autumn at EMST Museum.
Byronic Heroes | An exhibition by Lydia Venieri
Opening hours: 8:30-16:00, every day except Tuesdays
INFO: 210 3242066, 210 3249698 and www.mnep.gr