Athena Papadopoulos: Belladonna's Muse
Belladonna’s Muse proposes an exhibition in three parts, an aggressively lyrical and personal environment that hosts a number of important characters in Athena’s work and life. As the title suggests we are invited into a space where beautiful and elegant women might convene, spend time together and spark inspiration.
Belladonna’s Muse infuses a somewhat oxymoronic state, since the English use of the word already suggests a degree of adoration from one person to another. But ‘Belladonna’ is also a deadly nightshade plant, used as a sedative and which, when taken in large quantities, can be poisonous. It received its name via its homeopathic application by women in high society, many years ago, since the cherry extract, once swallowed, widens the pupils, a desirable effect for many. The exhibition at BASEMENT ROMA leads through three different stages in the life of a woman, incorporating a room of leg sculptures, an abstract portrait of the artist’s grandmother, and objects ranging from disembodied, sexy legs to amputated, gangrenous ones. The room is stuffed with limbs, where one is giving birth to another, new legs making paths and connecting to a series of grapevine pieces which, like a wall of hunting trophies, or a kind of obsessive wall in a teenager’s bedroom, suggest a modern day shrine, or an analogue version of our FB feed.
These objects, animated snake-like organs, trickle from one room to another and with their creepy-crawly surfaces dissolve as a painting over a sculptural landscape. Old and new objects are added to and recreated via a string of lose guidelines by a group of elderly, Italian women, literally transforming the third room at the gallery into a sewing circle, a club of like-minded women who pretend to run a gift-shop, where souvenirs, small necklace-like trinkets and objects are hung as mobiles, made and displayed for each visitor to purchase. The grandmother’s matriarchal role in any Italian family becomes Athena’s substitute of her own Greek family, her mother and grandmothers, a symbol for life, for death, for beauty and decay, a journey and portrait of the different life-stages where self-admiration turns into self-indulgence (versus self-despising moments of doubt and fear). The hands and legs in this exhibition become a mirror of Papadopoulos’ own studio practice, an extension of her own hands, the hands of these ‘belladonna’ women, turning showroom into living room, a more appropriate, domestic setting which creates a center stage for talking and gossiping. It’s the place where our elders give advice and dish out judgment for us younger fellows.
The artist’s oeuvre of painterly and sculptural works use as their point of departure autobiographical sources such as the lusciously ferocious high-life her father has lived or the trauma of her grandmother losing her leg to gangrene that she then exaggerates and transforms using literary, historical and pop cultural references that relate to her vision of her life as an artist living and working today in London. Athena Papadopoulos’ works are densely layered surfaces featuring imagery that are at once of a seductive and repulsive nature; they use photographic and hand drawn elements, t-shirt transfers and textile elements and other materials to create collages that are made using performative gestures such as spitting medicines and wine, scratching, splashing and staining the surface. Papadopoulos creates environments that could be home to a dream-like, hedonistic cast of characters who are celebrating being alive every second but who cannot help but relish in the larger, darker and more complex meanings of life. (SL)