ELENI MYLONAS
www.elenimylonas.com

 


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Essays About the Artist

 

1. Essay from Destroy Athens catalogue: 1st Athens Biennial 2007

2. Essay by Naomi Spector for Quasi Periodic Space catalogue: February 2000

3. Essay by Efi Andreadis for Quasi Periodic Space catalogue: February 2000

4. April Kingsley, New York City, August 1990

 
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Placing the tools of figurative art at the service of complex conceptual constructions, Eleni Mylonas explores the mechanics of memory and repression, knowledge and oblivion, perception and its limits in her multifarious work, which uses photography, video, sculpture painting and installation. Altough Mylona’s modernist reflection on the operation and structure of each medium often proposes a formalist and historically oriented reading on a primary level, her work is in fact deeply anthropocentric: the fragmentation of the figure: (Fragments, 1996), the return to the modernist legacy and the recontextualisation of its forms and themes (Quasi Periodic Space 1997-2000) the juxtaposition of natural and sculptural forms (Brainstorming, 2007) all become supreme tools for capturing the fragmentary experience of the contemporary subject. Similarly, in photographic series such as Journey through Ellis Island (1984), an invocation of the deserted and ruined buildings of the old immigrant reception center in New York and Universal Salvage (1991), photo-essays of abandoned American cars, Mylonas starts from the American photo-documentary tradition of Paul Strand or Edward Weston in order to create succinct images of decay in which the human element is absent. Nevertheless, she captures the traces of human presence, the decay where once there was order, the abandonment where once there was activity. There is a prevalent element of abstraction, the images becoming a comment on the function of memory; whenever a detail and a literal quality emerge—broken mirrors, torn seats, fenders falling apart—the work is recharged with a political dimension.
            The Lamb of God is somehow an objet trouve. On the day of the US invasion of Iraq, Mylonas discovered the dead body of a sheep floating on the sea on a shore of the island of Aegina. Mylonas recorded the image on video and went on to create a study in paint, undermining and at the same time underlining the importance of the historical moment. In the rhythmic, peaceful and macabre movement of the body among the seaweed and the pebbles the emotional charge of the day is intensified, and the found object becomes a sound object.

T.T.

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"As far back as I can remember, I was conscious of scale within scale. But the exploration has already become less of the visual and more of the conceptual and abstract."

Eleni Mylonas

The journey started for real about ten years ago when something about a reproduction of the 1918 Mondrian "Composition with Grid 1 (Lozenge)" caught her eye -- the complete symmetry, purity. But she noticed that although the underlying diagonal grid is regular, the superimposed horizontal and vertical grid has lines that are thicker and thinner in places. Analyzing these sets of symmetrical lines by tracing them on vellum, she discovered rhythmic, asymmetrical patterns that looked precisely like such Mondrian paintings as "Composition A: Composition with Black, Red, Gray, Yellow, and Blue" of 1920 and the familiar Mondrians that followed through the 1920's. A series of deconstructed images based on Mondrian paintings with similarly derived patters followed, and they led to her study of grids of greatly increased mathematical complexity via the discoveries of Sir Rogern Penrose.

Before Penrose's work in the mathematical field of tiling, five-fold symmetry had been considered impossible. Through his study of crystals, he arrived at the momentous discovery of the two rhombuses which tile the plane to make aperiodic patterns that conform to the golden rule and continue to infinity -- yet do not repeat. Through a study of Penrose's tiles and through investigations of her own, she arrived at, in her own words, "a complex irregular matrix composed of five sets of lines and their parallels dissecting the plane at different angles. This lattice or web became my base camp . . . The series of works titled Quasi Periodic Space is the journal of this particular journey." This arena of operations -- her "quasi periodic web" -- is undeniably stimulating mentally and visually. But to base an appreciation of the new photographic collages solely on the fascinations of their mathematical sources would be inadequate. Our aesthetic interest is engaged by the ways these mathematical matrixes function as sources and structures within the context of her sensitive interactions with and reformations of her actual visual surroundings. Her approach as an artist has always been through the world. She is a searcher -- sure and bold in her often surprising choices and tough enough to confront and wrestle with the most implacable subjects. Yet she has a quick eye for humor and is susceptible to an almost rapturous tenderness. Importantly, she is among a number of contemporary artists, from Roy Lichtenstein to Chuck Close, whose module-based work is deeply engaged with the questions, How do we see? How do we know? How do we see what we know? How do we know what we see? and How can seeing and knowing jibe in ways that expand consciousness? Like Lichtenstein's incredibly extensive, often teasing, use of ben day dots -- and like Close's increasingly daring small units that still resolve themselves into singular images -- her complex patterns of photographic snippets engage us on several levels at once. It is very much to the point that Lichtenstein's witty riffs spring from the properties of cyphers of mechanical reproduction (and their limitations) and that Close's units are based on split-second photographic specificity. Similarly, behind the Quasi Periodic Space work is a brilliant 30-year history in photography that since the late 1980's has evolved in digital, gridded permutations in macro and micro scales. Although her modules are recognizable images (or pieces of them), like Lichtenstein's and Close's paintings, her work is increasingly abstract in its operations. The persistent presence of photography here, however conceptually manipulated, has a more objective directness. It addresses our minds first, then our feelings. It feels more like presentation than representation. On the purely formal level, the work elicits multi-layered attention. To begin with, there is challenge and brio simply in the absence of the nearly universal horizontal/vertical orientation. Then, there is the excitement of seeing the pieces and the whole simultaneously -- a duality that applies to both the structures and the images. Further, the various configurations are anything but static: the eye and the mind are set in quick motion -- taking in, relating, comparing, analyzing the complexities. Her formidable powers of formal organization enhance the work's aesthetic pleasures without removing the challenge of de-coding. Through this dynamic engagement, the work's multivalent meanings emerge. Partly through analysis and partly through a kind of instinctive, taut imagination (image-forming), we begin to develop an understanding of the inseparable pluralities of perception and insight -- and of the ways in which we gain and use this understanding. Our processes of seeing and understanding are stirred into an awareness of the ways in which human concerns may intersect with processes of abstract spatial relations. To a considerable extent, it is the artist's sensitivity to pivot-points of scale that enables us to see in both directions at once. Her masterful manipulations seem to collapse vast fields into comprehensibility and simultaneously expand minute fragments up into graspable focus. And this elasticity of space may encourage a kind of moral stretch as well. In the quotidien subjects themselves and in the context of reversable scales, we may find new hierarchies of attention and respect for underappreciated moments. Whether we react with concern or amusement, the engagement that initially gripped the intellect then spreads to our feelings. The multiplicities of viewpoint within which her subjects are presented suggests a broad, humane, and moral vision. The balance between the work's conceptual and visual reach and its affective powers in indicative of both an eager intellect and a receptive sensibility. Rigorous within her systems, she is alert to other paths of discovery and to other kinds of knowledge. Describing the process of the current work, she said, "I had the impression that I was exploring into deep, mysterious, mathematical, cosmic realms that possibly hold universal secrets and rules that govern the very fabric of the universe and therefore of myself."

Naomi Spector
February 2000

Footnotes:
(1) Eleni Mylonas, "Notes on life and work, NY," typed manuscript, December 14, 1999 (all quotes are from this source)
(2) Malcolm Browne, "Impossible Matter Takes Spotlight: The Building Blocks of Normal Crystals and Quasi-crystals," The New York Times, September 3, 1989


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Ever since the early heroic years of photography, a century and a half ago, many of those captivated by this mechanical way of recording the surrounding world and everyday reality, have been experimenting with and developing different methods of broadening their visual perception and expressing a more complex perspective. So what was originally an exact description underwent so many manipulations and alterations that it became ultimately antagonistic to the idea of an existing permanent and definite view of reality. With the passage of time, and with technological progress, photographers continued to experiment with odd exposures, unusual lighting, intentional blurring of detail or background, cuts, collages and blow-ups, within and beyond the limits of the frame. From its very beginnings the art of photography coincided with parallel movements in the other visual arts. Several of the leading figures of Post-Impressionism, and later of Surrealism, Dadaist and Abstraction, were themselves photographers. Throughout its history, photography has not ceased to transcend mere reflection and explore new perceptions of the outside world. Eleni Mylonas, as we have come to know her through her work, functions as a sensitive receiver and skilful manipulator of images. She moves acts and creates within this difficult and often perilous region where reality is revealed, defined and at the same time cancelled. Her mastery of the medium has never led her to facile solutions or dazzling effects that would betray her dedication to understanding and broadening the visual possibilities and the intellectual extensions of photography. Beginning with her unique thematic choices culminating in a group of integrated images in the Ellis Island series, continuing with the imaginatively focused details of Universal Salvage, and the increasingly decisive interventions of Fragments, she arrives at the monumental three-dimensional compositions of Space Odyssey and, finally, her recent series of works titled Quasi Periodic Space. What all her work has in common is an end product, whether it is a single image, a fragmented composite, or a three-dimensional construction, that is always structured, autonomous and deliberate. Through her image-making choices and up until their conclusive accession within a conceptual cycle, Mylonas does not cease to explore and dissect her personal relationship with the aspect and the meaning of the world around her. The ìexploitationî of this world has always stemmed from her inner need to reclassify its existing order, and, transcending the impulsive participation of the actual exposure, to focus on the flow which separates, connects and constantly alters the structures of shapes projected through the image. After her obvious references to abstraction, to surrealistic intensity, to conceptual insights and monumental compositions, she is now, in the series Quasi Periodic Space, attempting through the rational grid she imposes on her material not only to fragment the inner order of the image but to suggest an infinite number of visual solutions which, however, follow a basically simple strategy and lead to an ultimately gratifying reading. Here the fragmentation and the reordering of the image do not alter the character and the texture of the original visual nucleus. Though moving within the confines of the contemporary Post-Modern world, Mylonas is proposing a final image, which despite its ambiguous nature is recognizable. She achieves this through a procedure dictated by a totally structured will, a precision of perception and a wise sense of scale elements that ensure the presence of the work in space. I can anticipate that space, once inhabited by her works, will alter in significance.

Efi Andreadis
Art Critic, A.I.C.A.
Athens, February 2000

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In her photographs Eleni Mylonas makes rubble-covered rags look like the draperies on the Nike of Samothrace. The back of a nude torso becomes a Greek sculpture, a series of doorways is transformed into a tomb at Mycenae. Her eye finds the formal beauty of ancient Greece at its most glorious in the least of the modern world's visual material--graffiti, the rubble of abandoned buildings and empty lots, and, recently wrecked automobiles. She was trained in photo-journalism and thus her eye is naturally drawn to the "story" behind the appearance. Her series of pictures of Ellis Island is an essay about emigrating to America, minus the immigrants. Every broken window sash, empty chair, and dust covered cot and mattress speaks eloquently of the anxious days spent in confinement there while the immigrant's desperately desired freedom remained unobtainable. The crunched fenders and shattered mirrors of automobiles are equally voluble about the lives and deaths of their former owners. Complicating the surface of her huge CC-Prints with the application of oil paint, she adds layers of meaning to already loaded subject matter. In one picture a giant grinning mouth of red upholstery filled with glittering "teeth" of broken glass is like the smile of the Gorgon's head. In others, broken glass and mirror fragments reflect a brilliant blue sky no longer visible to the crash victim or the glow of flesh that will never feel the sun's warmth again. Besides adding paint, she has begun to incorporate her photographs into three-dimensional installations. "Working with a variety of mediums," she says, "I feel no longer earth-bound. By allowing the concrete and the abstract, the visible and the invisible, the impermanent and the permanent, this and THAT to coexist, I attempt to create a mirror of my own perception."

April Kingsley, New York City, August 1990

 

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