The Era of Images- a conversation with Katerina Zacharopoulou

The Era of Images- a conversation with Katerina Zacharopoulou

On the 3rd Program of ERT FM

[ERT ECHO “I epoxi ton eikonon me tin Katerina Zaxaropoulou”  13 04 2024 ]

Dimitris Dimitriadis on sound engineering
Marioanna Louka on translation

  • KZ: Good evening. I have a gorgeous woman sitting across from me, who is also an exceptional artist. Her storyline will surprise and impress you. I, for one, follow her work as much as I can over the past years and I am impressed by the way in which a beautiful woman who has worked in modelling, fashion and on the catwalk, found her path through art. She dealt with art in an extremely honest manner, connected also with her previous involvement with the body and in an era of extreme narcissism, of social media, of Facebook, selfies, beauty, of all this procedure of intervening on one’s body, I have the great joy of opening a discussion with her, that will shed some light in a unique manner on the relationship that we have with our body, with femininity, with WOMANIFESTO which is one of her latest projects which is an extremely interesting experiment and project. Good evening my dear Efi!
  • ES: Good evening.
  • KZ: Efi Spyrou. Born in Cyprus, let’s start with the basics, as this has played a role in your life
  • ES: Exactly
  • KZ: You grew up in the 80s, you started understanding things, you are coming out of an environment which possibly urged you towards a certain direction, even if you were opposing it, tell us about it…
  • ES: Yes, in the 90s I was in high school and felt like something was choking me. I had this intense feeling of travel, through my readings, movies, music. Still, I was in a closed environment, I was like a wild bird that was trapped and had to free itself. However, my Cypriot roots gave me a lot of material. The trauma of the history of Cyprus and all the events that took place before I was born – I was actually born at the aftermath of the war – all this came to me as raw material, but without me having had that experience. So, I gradually started to process this information in the 90s, when I felt like it was time for me to find a way to manage this material and not knowing how…You know, it was kind of pre-determined, given my family’s financial situation. I grew up in a little village close to Nicosia. We did not have many means, at least we were not given this prospect. The path was ready: one should finish school, study on the island and then get married and have a family. So, in the late 90s I was given the opportunity to leave the island.
  • KZ: You had a proposal? You were in an environment that created this tendency?
  • ES: Yes, this was a wish because a photographer saw me on a fashion show I did when studying graphic design, as it was the only subject close enough to art that I could study in Cyprus. There, on my first fashion show, a photographer discovered me and said ‘Efi, I think we must go to Africa’.
  • KZ: So far away!
  • ES: Yes, and it’s like something exploded within me, as soon as I started creating these pictures in my head, that I would go elsewhere, see another world, et cetera. I clearly did not understand what he meant, because he applied on my behalf for the Cyprus beauty contest, in 1995.
  • KZ: You won the title of “Star Cyprus”. Right?
  • ES: Yes, I did.
  • KZ: When at my introduction I said that I have a beautiful woman before me, and because these things can sound a bit strange these days, I would like to mention that beauty, which could be a passport towards other paths and directions, if not utilized spiritually and physically, can become void. You know, you can have a career, that career ends, you look for different things, you stay in the same direction, maybe you get married – these are goals from previous generations, we must say that things have somewhat changed. I would like us to talk a bit about that experiential journey, when you found yourself in that world of success, of rewarding your natural beauty. That world had not yet understood who you were, maybe you yourself hadn’t understood it yet, is that so?
  • ES: Definitely… It took me many years to understand what had happened to me. It had also something to do with the first part I was referring to… it was like I rode, a huge wave for me…form my village to Miss Universe Pageant in Las Vegas where I was competing for Cyprus with 80 more women from 80 other countries. I was confronted with a vast world with no boundaries, no boundaries for anything. From then, my career started from Athens, and took me all over the world, in all fashion metropolises, from Paris to Milan to New York. All this opened huge prospects to me. I felt so young and yet so free, to be able to live, to absorb, to taste everything. This all happened in a condensed time, in a crazy rhythm. This did not leave you time to think, you just absorbed all the time. And I dare say – and we will laugh about it – that after a career of 10 years all over the world I felt like a blowfish!
  • KZ: Like your zodiac sign, Pisces! Let’s hear John Lee Hooker ‘Tupelo Blues’ from that same period!

[John Lee Hooker ‘’Tupelo Blues’’]

  • KZ: We are talking with Efi Spyrou, who is a very interesting case in the art scene and ever since her first emergence in the fashion world, when she was crowned Star Cyprus in 1995 and then, when she worked with amazing brands such as Christian Dior, Moschino, Versace, Kenzo, and so much more. But then came an event that changed your course completely. What was that event?
  • ES: It was the terrorist attack on 9/11 in New York. I was staying literally two streets away from the spot. It was June and I felt the need to take a holiday in Greece and think about my next steps. So I went back to Athens, the terrorist attack takes place and I do not go back to the U.S.A. ever since. A great divide took place at that moment, not only globally, but also internally, personally. I felt a deep, personal need to go back to my roots, where I started from. It was like I suddenly woke up, as if I were sleeping for all these years of travel and constant spotlight. I need to go backstage and think about where I was before I embarked on this wonderful journey.
  • KZ: The Sleeping Beauty awakens, so to speak. Tell me, this awakening makes you go back to your roots but also to painting, which of course is common to everybody, like all children who paint at some point. So you find this again as a primordial root?
  • ES: Yes, these were my roots. It was not going back to my homeland; I haven’t returned there yet. I wanted to go back to my deep need to express myself, to create, to visualize. I remember myself during my childhood and later in my teenage years, painting and transferring on paper, in my own style, the objects that I saw around me. That was my need during that period. So, in the summer of 2001 in Athens, I realized that this was the course I had to take – painting. It is what made me more balanced, it was my safe zone, most times, as well as my way out. It was many things during my childhood. But what could I do with it and with my previous self during all those years in fashion? They were two different worlds, two words apart, like two autonomous entities. And I decided to give it a go and take the exams for the Fine Art School in Athens. I prepared myself and was admitted in 2005, ten years after my first journey, after the first change in my life. A second change took place then. It was an important change for me because I re-entered darkness. I used to feel I was in the shadows, unseen. Then I entered the spotlight, I was over-exposed, almost wore myself out, and then I felt the need to return backstage. And I entered as a student, eager to learn everything. I left everything around me behind and focused on that. I truly felt like this was my ultimate home, my ultimate refuge.
  • KZ: In the Fine Art School of Athens you started being acquainted with different materials, with their use, thinking what would be their use and which ones you would choose? And another question: the body, as an identity, is that something that preoccupied you, or were you still delving into different materials, or methods, to find which ones would suit you best?
  • ES: Look, from the first year in the Fine Art School I kind of left painting aside, I immediately started dealing with three-dimensional materials and objects. But I did not conceive myself as an “object” at that phase. I started thinking about how to convey the message of the world through my sculptures, my installations. At this point I would like to make a small digression. I grew up in my father’s carpentry shop and there I witnessed a magical transfer: from the two-dimensional models on paper, then into wood, and then to the three-dimensional object. So, this path, this thought mechanism was transferred in my work. And until 2009, when I left for London, I would create from two to three dimensions and from three to two dimensions. That was a vibrating journey for me. I had the need to transfer some things regarding the body – not beauty, that was set aside for the moment, not the beauty that I had experienced- it was within the two and three-dimensions relationship.
  • KZ: Regina Spector, ‘Back of a Truck’. What does this song mean to you?
  • ES: It is a sociopolitical commentary on the commercialization of human experience.

[Regina Spector, ‘’Back of a Truck’’]

  • KZ: Efi Spyrou, let us continue on this very enlightening conversation and let us talk about the transitions that have helped you grow as an artist and of course about the material, about the relationship with the body, with what is objective and subjective, so that we can talk about more distinct points. I really want to talk about measurements, about the body, about those weavings that you would be doing later on.
  • ES: Let me take you back in 2009. I was given the opportunity to take a Master’s course in an experimental project in Central St. Martin’s, in UCL and the Master’s degree on Performance and Design, through the Erasmus student exchange program. That’s where I learned about this interdisciplinary hub which was being run by Pete Brooks, the program director. He had invited artists from all fields, from all around the world and I was the only Erasmus student. All the other participants had put in a great deal of effort to be in the program and I was very lucky. Along with my tutor, my supervising professor, that is, Trish Lyon, we were discussing my work. She began with some hesitation. Although at first she said ‘What great work this is’, ‘What consistency, what clearness’, which are features that I continue to have in my work, at some point she asked: ‘I would like to know where you came from’. I asked her what did she mean. ‘What is your personal story? You came from your School to us? Where were you before?’. And I began telling my story like I am doing it today. At which point she froze and asked me ‘What do you mean? This is your raw material’. She meant that I should glue together, unite, reconcile all my facets. So then I began to process everything I had learned, in Cyprus, in fashion – which was over ten years – and in art and in my artistic practice. I started examining the notion of the body, the way in which I was an object and I finally became a subject as an artist and as someone outside the body’s commercialization and how I could turn this again into an object in an artistic manner.
“Bed-line”; video (in loop)
  • KZ: So, this measuring gave you the exact item in your hands, the measuring tape, the one we know from fashion couture.
  • ES: Exactly.
  • KZ: So, these strips – I call them strips although they then became something else – are a type of simultaneous investment, garment, occultation and revelation of a course having to do with the body and its exposure. But now it also had to do with a metaphor, with the way something is measured. What is measurement beyond the commercial sphere, where it is linked to success and money, with gradings that go constantly up, but your measurements bring totally different things. It becomes more human, more personal to all of us. It does not only have to do with you. When shared with its spectators, it adds an element. At that point, I became really intrigued by what you are doing, that first move. And I would like you to describe to me this transfer of measurement into the material because it becomes many different things. Before reaching WOMANIFESTO, there is still a lot that happened. For those that do not know, WOMANIFESTO I and II is a series of films – I don’t know if you will do a III and IV – where the notion of the female element is highlighted with unique tenderness.
  • ES: Let’s talk first about the element of measurement. Please allow me to take you a step back, to my first solo exhibition, where the body and the manifesto, and my need to combine object and subject created a body – land – manifesto. I make my body a land where there are manifesto phrases that are “inscribed”, projected, highlighted. This is an indirect, secret way of measuring a body’s worth, I make it a land of protest. I had this need, to bring my descent experience and my fashion experience into the present day and talk about the value of the body, of the body and mind, of the body as one’s self. So, I started using the measuring tapes, with which they would measure me every day in the haute couture houses, and I created sculptures or photo-performances, with me inside these sculptures to comment on that relationship, that boundary, that skin, that dialogue if you will, between art, spectacle and the market.
  • KZ: And their photo shooting is also really interesting. Because the way in which it is ‘sold’ – maybe not the right word, but still – creates a reversal, a unique way in which the body is being presented. It is borderline a couturier’s whim. But the way in which you evolve it constantly gives meaning to your first move and it is very interesting. It is the development that confirms the previous steps. So, you should be saying “I’m so grateful” – let’s hear it from Fontella and Martha Bass.

[Fontella and Martha Bass “I’m so grateful”]

My Finest Fabulous and Amazing Math Book
  • KZ: Let’s move on. We were talking about these very special measuring tapes. You depart from them towards something that did not have to do with the body, or with measurements. But still, because of their harmony and the geometric nature of weaving, there is a certain element of measuring, of delimitation. Can you tell us a bit more about this? We saw one of these works in the large exhibition in the old factory of PPC S.A. at Faliron, 2 years ago, in 2022, and it was very impressively placed. I must say, that the way your work was placed among machines, like a totem, bearing witness to work, to light, it had very strong energy. Can you tell us more about this period in your work?
  • ES: It was also created during a dark period, for personal reasons. Many events brought me before my existential agonies. My relationship with light and darkness was an organic one, ever since my first installations in 2007. I would either use light directly, or indirectly, like the work that we are talking about now. It is called ‘The Music of the Burning Star’. For those who do not know my personal history, the title would definitely allude to the stars and to the night. But I also like to make slightly fun of it, as I was a Star, and then I was a star losing its strength. You know, there was this minimal horizon of events before the black hole. Through this work I speak metaphorically of that point, the point when people lose hope, when gravity is much stronger than our tolerance and we are almost – almost is important here – condemned to fall in this misery of our time and the sociopolitical conditions. Still, it is at that moment that you see the light, because you need to move in order to see it. The reflective tapes are on the road and you discover them. They come to you, they light your path and they create a safety route for your destination, your direction, your speed.
  • KZ: It is a rare moment, to hear a woman who has passed through this system of fashion and stars to be talking in such a language, describing how you move from one point to another, from light to darkness. It is also a rare moment that should be heard by young women who are mesmerized by fashion, lights, glamour, by all these issues that are overly stressed during our era. As denotes the titled of our show, the Era of Images strives today to show through you, another way to shed light on your darkness, although you have passed through the world of glamorous lights. This is very important, also from an ethical point of view – and I do not mean in a self-righteous way – but it has to do with the values that an artist has to show his or her work. This is no easy feat. You say this with an amazing smile and with an incredible mental calmness. I feel that you earned this calm through a difficult path. Let us talk a bit more about these bright points of reference in the night. At some point, they leave their geometric character and become patterns, like primordial designs on a black background with yellow colors, red colors. They are really impressive, but if one sees them detached from all that we have discussed here, they lose half the pleasure. Can you tell me more?
The Music of a Burning Star
  • ES: You know, all the moments, all the turning points I have reached in my life were revelatory points. And the point of me finding my own monsters, these bright monsters, these elaborate monsters, was another revelatory point. It was as if I was going back and then thrusted forward in the future, at lightning speed. I didn’t know where this would take me, but I was being creative at the same time. I cannot explain it. This path that goes against time and creates a new idea, while having time and experience within, is your transformation, it is the great transformative moment for the artist. So, for me it was important that I reconciled with my own monsters, which were almost weavings on a grid, that also emanated from my own research, thought, experiences, lust for life, but this is what took me a step further. It took me beyond myself, beyond time, beyond experience. And this is my goal, to go beyond.
  • KZ: After our next song, we will talk about RUNONART and WOMANIFESTO that you have created. I would like to make a small point here: we are in a year where women in art are visible, well-established, with exhibitions, discussions… Women, as beings, as mothers, as bearers of the older traditional structures. For now, let’s hear James Brown and Luciano Pavarotti, “It’s a man’s world”. How did Pavarotti get involved in this scene?
  • ES: His foundation, Luciano Pavarotti and Friends, organize this amazing concert to help Angola and they invited famous artists, like James Brown. This concert took place with the Italian Philharmonic Orchestra.

[James Brown and Luciano Pavarotti, “It’s a man’s world”]

  • KZ: Wonderful. Now, let us turn to RUNONART. You are entering production, you direct, hold the camera…? a different kind of orchestra!
  • ES: It was 2019. Within this darkness that we talked about before, in the very heart of the pandemic, I feel threatened from the things that touch us all: deaths, violence within the family…
  • KZ: One feels threatened in their own body.
  • ES: I started thinking about values, as we said before, about why one person was more valuable than another, why one body was more valuable than another and these questions gave rise to my first solo exhibition, the one we discussed before, with the Manifesto phrases and a poem with numbers. But this was also the moment when I felt I needed to communicate with the others around me, with other artists, with women artists from my time, with these women having the same anxieties as myself. Almost immediately, I started conducting a large research and seeing works, looking for like-minded individuals. I came to the conclusion that I should create an open social and artistic entity, enabling all those needing to say something within a collective spirit, with freedom but protected with love and care. This is how RUNONART was created, as well as our first film. While WOMANIFESTO was an idea born during the same time, I had put it on hold, as it was not ripe yet. So we created our first film which was ‘Identity Between’. It examined how identities are formed today, not only female identities but any kind of identity, seen however through the eyes of women artists. I was thus able to collaborate with five exceptional women artists: Marianna Kavalieratou, Tzeny Argyriou, Virginia Mastrogiannaki, Maria Sideri and Eliza Soronga, to film our first work in the old Hellenic airport – a place also in an in-between stage. And this created WOMANIFESTO, which in my direction and production and in collaboration with 15 women artists, we made our first opening.
  • KZ: For those who do not know and wish to understand further, WOMANIFESTO is a mosaic film, to quote you. It has two main colors and environments that interact: green, from nature and greenhouse in the Agricultural University of Athens, and the women who participate are wearing red. They are made up in red colors. And there is another element that I find very interesting: it’s that it is not very long, one can watch it in a brief amount of time and take it all in and enjoy it. It has no imposing elements, no teaching attitude, and no trace of one person’s success. It is a collaborative project with wonderfully harmonious side elements.
  • ES: Thank you so much for your kind words!
  • KZ: No, I am the one thanking you, because you gave me the opportunity to come into contact with this work. I was late in seeing it – it was also the pandemic, when you could not easily see these things or come into contact with them, or highlight them. Still, I was able to come into contact with it at the Alex Mylonas Museum, where you showed your work sometime ago, within the context of an art exhibition. Can you tell us a bit more about WOMANIFESTO? You were giving the participants a text, right?
  • ES: We were engaging in dialogue, although each manifesto presented was their text.
  • KZ: You were setting some conditions and some parameters.
  • ES: We were entering a dialogue. I was giving them some keywords, some references, my own thoughts behind all this, which was to create this polyphonic condition, invitation…I felt like I needed to create a mosaic of voices. Each one would only see a side of the other, perhaps touching each other slightly, but keeping their autonomy. So, these texts ended up being personal, personal manifestos. This was the goal. Because the project is born between them…
  • KZ: But each of these women appears on her own, like on a one-woman play.
  • ES: Yes, that is correct.
  • KZ: And they decided how to move among the ferns, the plants, etc.
  • ES: This was a discussion, a coexistence between us. Through dialogue, we would decide on their moves within the space of the Greenhouse. It was very important to use the greenhouse in all its dimensions and all its forms – either close to the ground, high up in the sky, or close to the young plants. It was the narration that I was creating like an orchestra conductor. This connecting substance that I mentioned earlier was important for the whole project to come together.
  • KZ: How long does each performance last?
  • ES: One minute.
  • KZ: I’m telling you, it was very concise. It felt more than a minute, so it’s good that you are letting us know. Another interpretation that I felt was as if this was a salutation, like it lasted for a moment, without becoming an actual scenario. It was great! And Bob Dylan’s ‘Blowin’ in the wind’ comes at the best moment.

[Bob Dylan ‘Blowin’ in the wind’]

  • KZ: Efi Spyrou was with me today. During the last minutes of our conversation, we were talking about WOMANIFESTO, this exceptional presentation of women through a film directed by herself – and you are actually the producer as well. There are women artists participating, it definitely has to do with femininity, as does the venue, which is the greenhouse in the Agriculture University, it has to do with green and red. I loved it when you said that you are also inspired by Hopper and by some interior spaces which are also exteriors. Your work is also like this. It has received awards in art festivals, so people consider it as particularly interesting. It differs from other elements of our time. It is softer, and more caring. It is not aggressive; it does not state things. Although it is a WOMANIFESTO, it does not state that this is a value and that is not a value. Do tell us… what are your next steps?
  • ES: Indeed…WOMANIFESTO does allow for space. I am currently in the process of finding support and sponsors to continue growing this project. I really want to make WOMANIFESTO III. This large group of people and organizations who have embraced WOMANIFESTO I and II, and you today – I want to thank you all. None of this would have happened without teamwork. Let me make a small invitation for those who do not know us. If they want to support the next WOMANIFESTO, to strengthen our range and our voice, for care, freedom, democracy, polyphony, for all that which we want to cultivate so as us to live in peace.
  • KZ: Is there a platform available where one can watch a few minutes of WOMANIFESTO?
  • ES: Yes, you can see our teasers – they are small advertising spots on RUNONART channels in YouTube here and Vimeo here or you can address me personally and we can talk some more.
  • KZ: You also have a great website, where one can see a lot of your work. Radio does come in handy! We may not have visual, but there are these websites, where one can get to know the artists. I would like us to comment now on the broader issue having to do with women in art. Do you agree with all this story about silencing female creativity? Do you believe it exists? If it existed for many years, what was it that brought things to the spotlight?
  • ES: There is definitely evidence that we have been wronged. But at this stage, I would emphasize more the voice of the ‘other’, not the voice of women, that is kept silent. Homogeneity and excess information have really toasted our brain and it is not easy to see what we actually need. We need the voice that we are worthy of having and cultivating. It must exist, it must be there. Should it be feminine? It could be. But it could also be anything else. And that someone should be able to say ‘This is what is important to me’.
  • KZ: If we take for example your own story, as you have narrated it to us at the beginning, it is not so much a matter of male or female, of sex definition. It is the struggle between light and darkness, the refueling of one by the other, independently of sex, age, social class, nationality – after all, you are coming from Cyprus, right?
  • ES: Right. And there, light and darkness often attack each other, if I can say so in poetic terms, and not in political or military terms.
  • KZ: The last song that you have brought us is by Michalis Kouloumis.
  • ES: His record spoke to my heart. I met him recently as I started studying music with my beloved teacher Alekos Roubas. The record is called ‘Music for Shepherds and Sultans’. To me, this piece is everything that I have experienced. It is my roots, my expression, freedom. I don’t know how to express it, it is as if I am in harmony with my cosmic self.
  • KZ: Efi, you are a very touching case of an artist, a person, a woman. Thank you for our talk, for your generosity, and honesty. Efi Spyrou was here with us. We salute you with what I think will be a wonderful song.
  • ES: Thank you, thanks for everything.

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