In 1833 the younger poet and dandy Alfred de Musset met the novelist George Sand and both fall passionately in love. On seeing Sand, the nom de plume of Amandine- Aurore-Lucile Dudevant, long after their love affair ended, he writes a fervent poem of loss, longing and yearning, remembering their tumultuous relationship and epistolary liaison. My heart, still full of her is the title of Polixeni Papapetrou’s new series of silkscreen photographs with their glowing halo of gold and silver.
The exhibition title WALL POWER says it all. I could imagine it being a banner in a 1970s’ street photograph. It points literally to the polished and dramatic quality of these exhibited works, and metaphorically to the importance of the gallery wall as a physical experience for viewing and contemplating art.
Flowers are transient and protean forms. Their life cycle is short lived: the bud blooms and its splendor emerges but then it wilts and dies. The beginning is tethered to the end in a graceful arc. There is sorrow but also beauty in this gesture. A petal falling from its stem retains its elegance. Bruised and faded, it is still beautiful. To photograph a ower as it blossoms is to delay and distill the inevitable. Yet the endpoint—the fade—haunts the image.
Melancholia (2014) represents an exploration of a time in my life when sadness and grief were hanging over me and I was searching for a way to express it. Diagnosed with advanced metastatic cancer in November 2012 and already facing organ-failure, the only treatment that could be offered at the time was palliative pain relief. It was a devastating time as I was preparing to farewell my family and coming to terms with letting go of my identity and work as an artist, my friendships, my home and this world. I was preparing for another type of world, that of the unknown.
POLIXENI PAPAPETROU was born in Melbourne in the 1960s to Greek immigrants. Her childhood experience of feeling as an outsider in a then predominantly Anglo Saxon culture led her to question definitions of identity. Her sympathy for otherness remains a key element of her life and work. As a photomedia artist her images explore the relationship between history, contemporary culture and identity. Since 2002 she has photographed children dressing up, performing and wearing masks as a way of exploring the portrayal of childhood identity. Her work includes Elvis Immortal (1987-2002), Curated Bodies (1996), Searching for Marilyn (2002), Phantomwise (2002), Dreamchild (2003), Wonderland (2004), Haunted Country (2006), Games of Consequence (2008), Between Worlds (2009-2012), The Dreamkeepers (2012), The Ghillies (2013) and Lost Psyche (2014). She has two children and lives in Melbourne.
Can you imagine this gutsy, petite Greek woman in her mid 20’s—a lawyer by profession but one seriously considering a life outside the law—turning up to the Miss Alternative World Ball at the San Remo Ballroom in Carlton, Melbourne and asking to photograph the drag queens against the exuberant flocked wallpaper, and returning every year from 1988 to 1995. Or similarly, returning on a regular basis, from 1986 to 1993, to the Melbourne General Cemetery in Carlton to photograph earnest Elvis Presley fans in their annual homage. Polixeni Papapetrou was inspired as much by her love of Diane Arbus’s photography as her outsider status as the child of immigrants with a profound respect for difference, in a period in Australia where being Greek was not considered particularly glamorous. From the outset Papapetrou addressed her subject with respect, rigour, determination and a fine understanding of photography’s history and theory.