The un-staged poetry of Anastasia Voutyropoulou
Commercial galleries show an artist's work in a way that they can sell it. Museums and public galleries tend to represent an artist’s work in an established, or ‘neutral’ way, often on white walls so the work can be seen ‘in its own right’. Both dare not to interpret it. Somehow the interpretation is safely hidden in the viewer’s mind/memory from where it rarely escapes. In the makeshift approach of the Museum of Openness, things are a little different. Everything here is very direct, and Moo lacks the space of ambiguity that normal museums offer so generously today. Instead, what happens at Moo, aims to be a visual conversation with the art and the artist and is thus an interpretation. Or, to say it the other way round: without my interpretation, the artist’s work would look magnificent but very similar to how you can see it in any other white cube gallery. Like that, Moo would make little sense to me.
My challenge with showing Anastasia Voutyropoulou’s work at the Moo was how I could actively bring across her attitude to making art. If I would place her photographs carefully on white walls, in a conceivably purist and canonical way, this would not create the conversation that I wanted to engage in. How then could I stage this work in a way that would take into account and worked with its consciously un-staged nature?
I contemplate these thoughts as I sit among Anastasia Voutyropoulou’s photographs. What are the messages of her often simple but also mysterious, well-composed observations? They transport me into a poetic world, made possible because the artist is brave enough to show her vulnerability, which is at the centre of her work rather than aiming for skilfully crafted observations. But is it really another, more poetic world she is referring to? There is nothing more common in Athens than a mosquito or a moth and yet Anastasia Voutyropoulou’s observations are interpretations, which, despite their modesty, or maybe just because of their modesty, become revelations.
Poetry, unlike prose, often has an underlying and overarching purpose that goes beyond the literal. Anastasia Voutyropoulou’s images are evocative. In her photographs, she pays close attention to transient and delicate everyday moments. The lifespan of a flower, a weed or an insect is short, the clouds are here one minute and have changed the next.
Anastasia photographs things that go largely unseen. She deliberately avoids any superlative inflation. There is no ‘the biggest’, no ‘the best’, no awesome and definitely no OMG. The tree stump is not even particularly delicate or visually attactive, but it has a strong earthiness, a different kind of beauty. The buildings left and right of another photograph just stage what opens up behind them: an ephemeral space of evening sky with all its nuances of colour. What initially may appear like an unimportant snapshot becomes, when we pause to look, a manifestation of a beautifully captured presence.
Voutyropoulou likes using reflections and looking through windows, a metaphor which automatically evokes invisible thoughts, layer upon layer. We see how she enjoys the colours, textures and delicacy of flowers or insects. In terms of photography, her work is reportage and not studio based. Her skill is that of seeing and not that of arranging and even though the basic instincts of composition cannot be avoided (and why should they), the beauty that comes together is always of modesty and vulnerability. Her approach of looking at the world and deciding what to transform into a more permanent existence, is her conscious choice and with it she manages to do what no superlative can do anymore, she lifts the everyday out of its everydayness.
How important Anastasia Voutyropoulou’s work is, becomes evident when we look at the present-day environmental crisis. Can we really learn to live with nature instead of against it if our attitude is still to see the sensational? Would our cause not advance better if we would look at the vulnerability of nature and see that vulnerability is not a sign of weakness but can be your greatest strength?
Life is not about winning or losing, but about having the courage to show up and be seen even when we have no control over the outcome. As such, being vulnerable might well be our greatest measure of courage. Voutyropoulou’s photographs project a shift in awareness in order to strengthen the viewer’s emotional seeing. Her work reminds me of what the Persian poet Rumi said: “Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”
Coming back to how to present the delicate images of Anastasia Voutyropoulou, I realised that the roughness of the untreated improvisation of my makeshift ‘Moo’ seems to go well with her temporary ‘unseen’ moments. While still a stage, like any other museum, the unpolished rawness of the museum’s walls allowed for a playful exchange with Voutyropoulou’s work. It seems that both Anastasia and I share a strong wish for a new conversation about art.