Artist Interview: Maria Mavropoulou
You studied Fine Arts at the Athens School of Fine Arts. How did your MFA courses help shape your work?
During my art school years, now that I look back at them, it was like I lived through my personal art history. Before applying to the art school and the first years of my studies I was obsessed with achieving an “accurate” representation of what I was about to represent, I would practice my drawing and painting giving little attention to the subject of my study. I felt that I had to first perfect my ability in painting, to be able to represent my subject “as it is” in order to be concerned about the conceptual part of the work. At the point that I had achieved a photorealistic painting style I got involved with photography and that changed all my mindset about art. After spending so many years practicing in the “construction” of an image when I got into photography – where a representative image of the photographed subject is a given by the medium itself- I started right away looking for ways to manipulate it and mess with it. I treat images like a found material, notions of truthfulness or authenticity don’t bother me, I use images taken from the world around me and I use them to visualize the ideas that I already have in my mind. During my MFA years I went a step further, using -not so new anymore- technologies to construct an experience through photography.
How do you describe your art practice? What ideas or concepts do you seek for in your photography? Is there any recurring theme/question in your work?
For every series that I have created I had a different photographic approach so I can’t say that there is a specific way that I create my work. It always depends on the subject and how I came to it. My work is also very diverse even visually, each series is pretty different from the others. Although, I feel like there are some underlying ideas that can be found in all of them, like concepts of perception and understanding of images. My latest series, “Family Portraits”, “Image Eaters” and “Tears Spit & Cum” as well as some other recent works focus on our relationship with technology. This is a field that I’d like to research deeper for the time being.
Can you talk a bit about your works in the series ‘Family Portraits’? What ideas did you intend to explore in this work? How does it relate with our relationship to each other and the world around us?
‘Family Portraits’ was a series that evolved during my MFA years. It started as a purely photographic work but I felt that a 360 virtual tour, an immersive installation with videos and sound could be a more suitable medium to convey the questions I wanted the work to pose.
In my mind this series work in two layers, the first – and obvious one- is about how we relate with the devices that we access the internet, and the second one is about the current state of photography itself. First of all the blank screens of the devices, in my mind, point to the endless time we spend looking at them, all those streams of images that pass in front of our eyes and disappear. Moreover, the whole VR experience is created out of photographs, thus photography is no longer a two dimensional object or even a 2d projection on a screen, but it has become a building block of an experience that seems nearly as real as reality, raising even more questions about the role and power of it in the era we live in
Does architecture have an impact on your work?
I appreciate clean structure and it had an important impact on my painting as well as the way I photograph my subjects. I would say that my photos are neatly structured as well.
You’re contributing photographer for New York Times. How did you start collaborating with NYT? What do you enjoy most about it the most?
My collaboration with NYT started a while ago and it was a big surprise for me when I received a very simple email from my editor. It was the first time that I had such artistic freedom in a commissioned work and I totally enjoy it. Having your images published in such a widely distributed media makes you also think about your responsibility as an image creator. I am really intrigued how an image can affect the way that a text is perceived. Images tend to be “read” in less time than a text so they can definitely set the mood and import subconscious meanings in the article and I’m very interested in that correlation between images and text.
You’re also the member of the collective of artists named ‘Depression Era’. How did the project emerge?
‘Depression Era’ is a collective that brings together artists, photographers, writers, curators, designers and researchers. It was founded in 2011, by a group of artists as a collective experiment. It seeks to understand the social, economical and historical transformation that was taking place in Greece during the era of the so-called “Greek crisis” and create a document of this period that stands out of the narrative of the mainstream media. I was invited to be a member in 2014, just having graduated from Athens School of Fine Arts so it was a big honor and a privilege to be able to get to know and collaborate with the other members, which were at that point already established artists. In my point of view, apart from the importance of the work that was created by the collective, an equally important fact was the attempt of collaboration of so many (36) individuals, with all the problems that occurred, the discussions and the solutions. Being a member of this collective is an experience I value a lot, for the things I learned and the people I met there.
Which cities have you lived in before? In your practice, how do you relate to your environment, the geography you live in?
Inevitably, the environment that we live in sneaks in our work, consciously or subconsciously. I’ve been living all my life in Athens and definitely that has informed my practice in ways that I may not fully acknowledge. “Inner State” is a series where the landscapes of my home country become the protagonists of the images. In “Family Portraits” the whole concept of the series was inspired by the environments I would constantly find myself into. Even my latest body of work (“Image Eaters, Tears Spit & Cum”) although it is not related with some physical space it is informed by the digital environments that I inhabit. It’s funny how I find more screenshots than actual photos in my camera gallery!
Can you give us an overview of the development of your art practice over the years. Is there any memorable project/exhibition(s) that you regard as a milestone in you artistic journey?
The shift from painting to photography was what I consider to be the first big turn in my practice (2012). After that followed the invitation to become a member of Depression Era collective (2014), then my MFA (2016) where I got into research about the relation we have with mobile devices, that is still my topic of interest. In 2019, I’ve started my collaboration with NYT, I participated in the exhibition “ Forever more Images?” at Onassis Cultural Center (Stegi) and I had my work “Family Portraits Vr Tour” awarded in 60TH Thessaloniki International Film Festival so it was an important year for me!
What role does collective memory play in your practice? Can you tell us about the series ‘Inner State’?
I started taking photos for that series in 2013, while Greece was deep into a social, economical and political crisis. There was a very specific way that this situation was broadcasted by the media, with images of violent and destructive riots, homeless people and the constant, loud discussions between representatives of the major political parties blaming each other for the state the country was into. Fed up with all this I felt like I needed to tell my own story and document the situation I was living in. In my point of view that feeling of uncertainty about what’s yet to come was the most frustrating aspect. I turned to the landscape and the structures in it to tell the story. Some images are more poetical, as the one with the rotting watermelons in the field or the un-rooted olive trees gathered in a pile, while others are more literal as the one from an abandoned stadium build for the 2004 Olympic games. Collective memory is something difficult for me to define but since it is constructed out of a multitude of personal narratives I wish I have contributed to that in a way.
Can you name the books that had an impact on your art practice?
There are books that definitely shaped my way of thinking but nowadays I find myself more frequently reading various articles and essays. Texts by artists like Hito Steyerl, Trevor Paglen, James Bridle, Oliver Laric , Constant Dullaart and theoriticians and curators like Lev Manovich, Omar Kolheit and Charlotte Cotton have been quite influential for me.
Are you inspired by the work of your peers or anyone else in particular?
Yes, indeed! I’m very inspired by the work created by fellow artists that I know in person. Having the chance to see and discus the evolution of a project from the early thoughts and ideas, through the research and the creative process to the final outcome for me is the most interesting aspect of art creation. I always feel privileged having access to the “backstage” cause for me, that’s where the most important part takes place.
Can you tell us about your ongoing projects and specifically ‘Image Eaters’? What ideas or concepts do you question in this series?
As I mentioned before the two new series, “Image Eaters” and “Tears, Spit & Cum” along with some more recent works explore from various angles how we relate to the digital world we tend to inhabit more and more. I started working on both series simultaneously, I created images intuitively without having clear intent in my mind but I definitely had a framework. The main idea came from the realization of a correlation between images and (!) food. Food is a basic need of every living creature, it is critical for its growth and survival, while images on the contrary are far from critical for our survival. I started noticing the vocabulary that is used for images, for example, on social media we call our endless image scroll “feed”, or we say “an Artificial Intelligence system has to be fed with images in order to be trained”. It became clear to me that there are a new kind of “creatures”, A.I.s and algorithms that do rely on images in order to evolve and thus survive. And since those intelligent systems and machines are in charge of more and more aspects of our lives, we too, depend on images as well in ways that we haven’t yet realized.
In what ways do the materials you choose to use, such as nails, in ‘Geometry of Chaos’, relate to the ideas you’re exploring in this work?
‘Geometry of Chaos’ was the first series I presented and it was also my BA graduation thesis. I have to mention that for me it is a very intimate series, cause it evolved out of thoughts I had at that time about the relationships I have with the people closest to me. I was thinking about the tension, the magnetism, the repulsive forces that occur in physics, the same laws of nature are present in the relationships we have with our parents and our family, our friends, our partners.
Even though the use of nail was an instinctive choice I was drawn to it because of its form and its function. The force that one applies to the one end of the nail, the nail applies equal force to the surface it is tangent to, as well, we – people- are also products of our experiences, usually what we get is what we give. In that way the nail felt like the right object to use. I started constructing some pattern with it, then I would photograph it and multiply and edit the photos to get the final result. Even though I used the same nails to construct every image, just by changing the way they were arranged resulted in different pictures and that’s something that I found very interesting and maybe this aspect can allow the interpretation of the project by various points of view.
Do you have any exciting projects coming up? What’s next for you?
I’m participating in an exhibition in October, curated by Katerina Gregos titled “Modern Love” in Museum für Neue Kunst in Freiburg, Germany which I’m really excited about and I have many ideas I’m already working on. 2020 was definitely not the best year we ever had but fortunately it’s been a very creative time for me and a good period for introspection and reevaluation, coincided with me turning 30, this year is full of changes and surprises so I don’t dare making plans for the time!