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Series "Pink Milk"

Series “Pink Milk”

Text by Andrea Constantinou

In search of the Self

 “When Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from troubled dreams, he found himself changed into a monstrous cockroach in his bed. He lay on his tough, armoured back, and, rising his head a little, managed to see – sectioned off by little crescent-shaped ridges into segments – the expanse of his arched, brown belly, atop which the coverlet perched, forever on the point of slipping off entirely.”(1) Realizing that his existence had long been captive of the demands of family and society Kafka’s character was led to view himself as a being definitively estranged, not only from his milieu, but also from his own humanity. Unable to manage his newly found self-consciousness Gregor Samsa is freed from it only through death.

In Efi Spyrou’s Do you want to play the game? a similar unbearable self-consciousness is externalized. The work obviously resembles a foosball table, a game practiced vigorously by men of all ages, emblematic of the male-dominated environment of billiard halls. Upon closer inspection of the work certain of its particularities in regard to the prototype are revealed: the numerous rows of male figure-players have been replaced by only two rows of female ones while each figure bears a miniature caricature of Spyrou. The white and the black row of female players – the alter ego of one another, and both of them together of Spyrou – are aligned so as to solely face the spectator, never each other, never the person maneuvering the axis on which they are doomed to rotate perpetually. With their being shattered, alien to themselves the figures are merely pawns in an endgame staged by men for their own amusement. Attributing to the figures a satirical depiction of her face Efi Spyrou, as a former model, criticizes the obedient instrument par excellence of the male-dominated as much as sexist arena of fashion and media; foremost however she proves that she is not afraid of looking at herself sarcastically, the ultimate manifestation of self-awareness.

An object identified in the collective conscience with the memories of childhood stars in Swings. Four swings, each made of a different material (wax, marble, silicon, plexiglass), hang immobilized on the wall, unable to hover; the various materials correspond to the successive stages of the human life circle while the swings’ “impediment” is related to man’s incapacity to escape the “all-taming time”. The photographs of the installation depict the artist engaging in a tormenting and pointless performance-game with the dismantled marble swing, the esthetics and execution of which are reminiscent of Pina Bausch’s performance in Café Müller (1978). The search for her child-self by Spyrou’s persona proves to be futile; what was once an amusing pastime has now turned into a burden, and the irreversibility of time and of the degeneration process is definitively sealed.

To create the installation Even such is time Efi Spyrou has employed the element of the web in the way that it was first used by Mona Hatoum in Webbed (2002), that is as an integral part of a broader object. She has invented a variation of the trampoline; the elastic surface off of which the body bounces upwards has been replaced by a net-web that reversely entraps it. The video shows bird’s eye views of the web-trampoline succeeding each other in a steadily increasing speed; as the stills advance the web constantly shrivels and shifts as if to escape, but without ever breaking out of its claustrophobic frame. The equally accelerating rhythm of beats that are heard in the video alludes to a tachycardic pulse inciting feelings of panic. The work deals with the existential agonies of modern man whose degree of personal freedom is in reality extremely limited within the western – and nowadays globalized – social, political and economical framework. Besides, the current global crisis of the fundamental structures of this framework has demonstrated that the cohesive ties preventing it from totally collapsing are as tight but fragile as the trivial rubber bands used to make Spyrou’s little trampoline-like objects.

Mortality: our shared destiny

Efi Spyrou’s installation 3x4x2.64 bears a formalist and conceptual affinity to Mona Hatoum’s Light sentence (1992) and Incommunicado (1993), as well as to Robert Gober’s series Playpens (1986-1987). The installation balances on the cutting edge of the tragic life-death dyad that lies in the very core of the human existence. The immaculate whiteness of the space and the hovering construction allude respectively to the room of innocent childhood years and the sterilized environment of a sanatorium, to the nursery crib and the hospital bed. Light bulbs are cabled to the metal bars of the cage-bed that holds the body captive to the human condition of natural deterioration; their light flickers tormentingly until it goes out completely submerging the spectator into the darkness of oblivion:

“Days to come stand in front of us like a row of lighted candles– golden, warm, and vivid candles. Days gone by fall behind us, a gloomy line of snuffed-out candles; the nearest are smoking still, cold, melted, and bent”(2)

Unexpectations, Untitled and Untitled also belong to the family of works drawing their visual means from the technical equipment of the hospital environment. The hybrid between bed and heater contraption Unexpectations keeps itself warm according to the standard of the self-satisfying machine set by Marcel Duchamp’s Le Grand Verre (1915-1923), raising the issue of man’s existential loneliness in life and mostly death.

Untitled on the other hand resembles a distorted incubator and is more reminiscent of a torture chamber than an intensive care device for newborns. Eight latex tentacle-gloves painted blood red invade its interior capable of giving care and just as easily of inflicting pain, thus stressing the natural and emotional vulnerability of the individual in the hands of loved ones, the mother especially.

Four biomorphic in shape and material cocoons are added to an out-of-the-hospital metal construction in Untitled. Although their form strongly alludes to the hanging phallic sculpture La Fillette (1968) by Louise Bourgeois, Spyrou’s cocoons are undoubtedly female-gendered as their womblike membrane is pregnant with a living being. Observing them one realizes the uncertainty of their transitional condition: will they hatch bringing a new life into the world or will they strangle the creature that they are bearing? – Mother as a potential life giver or executor.

Detached from hospital esthetics but nevertheless related to both of the previously mentioned untitled works, the assemblage of objects entitled Pink Milk also explores the delicate balance of the mother-child relationship. Through the almost mystical ritual of breastfeeding the newborn receives all the nutrients and antibodies that are essential to his survival while the unbreakable bond between mother and child is forged. In this work the sanctity of breastfeeding and of the bond itself is undermined as the milk, bottled and pink, seems industrially processed and altered. The empty glass, eager to receive the content of the bottle, warns of the potential dangers of nurturing-poisoning children – girls especially – with the set of values of the western family and society.

Modern-day remains

Drawing from the tradition of partially rendering the human body as was established by modernist sculpture, Untitled appropriates the human spine in order to manufacture a product of hybridism between a paleontological remain and a piece of furniture. The stool where insubordinate pupils would sit and the emphasized disfigurement of this modern-day archaeological remain testify to an extreme form of punishment or self-punishment – the torture and execution device of Kafka’s In the Penal Colony comes to mind – which aims to reform the deviant individual according to the rigorous criteria of family and society. As a subsequent evolution in Untitled the spine assumes the rigid shape of a monumental cross on a cement base thus commenting on the Greek Orthodox doctrine and denouncing any fundamentalist beliefs, religious or not.

Since antiquity anklebones of animals were used by children for playing a game called “kotsia”. In the work Up there the anklebones are magnified and placed on a shelf in a prominent place; so glorified, the anklebones denude the adults’ world of the rational law of “cause and effect” that supposedly governs it, underline the importance of chance and of the unexpected in life and ridicule man’s delusion of control over his destiny exposing him as a victim of circumstances. Reversely, Avax organizes the tools of the children’s game of chance in mathematical order while, assembled, the oversized anklebones emit a sense of morbidity, trauma and loss.

Andrea Constantinou
Art Historian

1. Franz Kafka, “Metamorphosis” (first edition 1915), Metamorphosis and Other Stories, Translated by Michael Hofmann, Modern Classics, Penguin Books, Great Britain, 2007, p. 87.
2. C.P. Cavafy, “Candles” (first publication 1900), Collected Poems, Translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard, Edited by George Savidis, Princeton University Press, 1992.