Objects of Desire
The focal point of Angelika Vaxevanidou’s recent drawings is the internal, and internalized, feminine self-image. Isolated against vacant backgrounds, her mature female figures regress into infantile postures and activities that evoke the nascent emergence of culturally gendered role-playing, as well as a lack of awareness of social taboos and the vulnerability of a body without fully developed mechanisms of self-censorship and defence. At first this girlishness appears as innocent insouciance, yet the playful postures portend pain and peril, and the threat of subjugation, as the languid body instinctively anticipates becoming the object of a voyeuristic gaze.
The artist often embeds stick figures in her portraits as narrative elements related to the subject. These childlike scribbles either mingle or interfere with the fully rendered female body, intensifying the abject sense of danger. Ghosts rising up; glitches that keep a memory alive; aspects of the psychological drives; these stick figures are reflections on the act of painting and the matter of femininity alike. Equally the woman being portrayed sometimes struggles against this presymbolic unconscious self and at other times embraces it. The absence of a background heightens an aura of deterritorialisation of the woman in the sense that Deleuze and Guattari ascribe to the term: the female subject is out of time, out of context, out of milieu, fluid, diffuse, and schizophrenic.
The bodies depicted by Vaxevanidou are sensuous and aware of their functions, limits, and gratifications. Female materiality, be it biological (when menstrual blood is invoked) or cultural (when distinctly gendered activities are rendered), forms a stand that knits together childhood memories and adult reality, the coarse scribbles and the finish of the female body, the murky drives of the unconscious and the disciplined ego.
Vaxevanidou’s new series “Objects of Desire” consists of crocheted sculptures portraying male and female body parts closely linked with desire and pleasure. Produced in a medium typically associated with feminine domestic handicraft, “Objects of Desire” belong to a tradition which blends together a surrealist hybridization of the object and the feminist reappropriation of gendered activities, a tradition that seeks to reclaim the female body and its power over the poetics of desire. In this tradition, stretching from Meret Oppenheim to Louise Bourgeois to Rosemarie Trockel, the erotic body is remolded in soft handcrafted forms that are uncanny and soothing, just as soft hand-woven toys are soothingly reminiscent of early childhood. What used to be the object of Vaxevanidou’s drawings – the body and its materiality, its gratifications and sufferings – is now transmitted through the sensation of manual craft, its sensibility transformed from declaration to synaesthesia. Thus “Objects of desire” can be said to have two meanings; they are objects of the body that desire aims for and they are objects of art that desire gives birth to.
Theophilos Tramboulis is an author, editor and independent art curator. He served as Artistic Director of Action Field Kodra, an arts festival in the Municipality of Kalamaria, and has curated a number of contemporary art exhibitions, including Hypnos Project at The Onassis Cultural Centre. Important exhibition catalogues he has edited include Outlook, for the 1st Athens Biennale 2007 Destroy Athens, and Agrimika – Why Look at Animals?, the official Greek participation in the 56th Venice Biennial. He was a founding member of the Unfollow magazine editorial team and served as its Culture Editor until 2014. His essays have been widely published in domestic and international journals.