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"Ideas of transformation, identity pain, societal tribalistic manifestations & female monstrous archetypes...behavioural patterns that lie on the verge of traumatic occurrences..." - An Interview with Irene Pouliassi

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Artist
"Ideas of transformation, identity pain, societal tribalistic manifestations & female monstrous archetypes...behavioural patterns that lie on the verge of traumatic occurrences..." - An Interview with Irene Pouliassi
Irene Pouliassi

Irene Pouliassi

Date
Jun 22, 2023
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Irene Pouliassi is a sculptor and interdisciplinary artist whose practice explores themes of transformation, subjugation, identity pain, intersectionality. She is based in London, holds a Master’s Integrated in Painting (2016) from the Fine Arts School of Greece and in 2018 she continued her studies at Chelsea College of Arts, University of the Arts London, graduating with a Master’s in Fine Arts. 

She has exhibited work and participated in projects internationally including Athens, New York, London, Taipei, Seoul and Milan, as well as institutionally at Tate Modern (London, UK), Sejong Museum of Art (Seoul, South Korea), Jing Lu Gallery (Taipei, Taiwan), Cica Museum (Incheon, South Korea) and more. Her work has been acquired by many museum and private collections and she is a Member of the Royal Society of Sculptors.

ARTCOLLECTORNEWS: Please tell us a bit about yourself and your artwork?

I consider myself a social taxidermist however I believe the right term is sculptor- or in a more generic sense I guess an ‘interdisciplinary artist’?!

After studying at the Fine Art Academy of Greece, I visited London for an exhibition, fell in love with the city, and abandoned my plans to go to Paris the following month to pursue my master's degree in London, where I have remained since then, calling myself an adopted Londoner. I am a resident at Bomb Factory Foundation and from there I am working on projects, exhibiting internationally.

I am working with found items, putting together objects and garments I collect, to create fetish-like compositions and installations that reflect the crossings and divergences of social phenomena as well as analyse behaviours that exist on the margins of common perception. In a nutshell, I am interested in how individuals and societies respond to trauma-personal or societal.

ARTCOLLECTORNEWS: How has your background shaped your artistic practice?

I do work from myself, to myself. My experiences and life experiences have shaped who I am, and what follows reflects that. Even if it wasn't on purpose, they have influenced my work. 

Having a macroscopic view, growing up in a rural area in the mountains of northern Corfu, moving to Athens, then London, as well as traversing during the peak of the socio-economic turmoil – massive demonstrations and a social unconscious despair which is still occurring to this day, I can see how an essence of unease is sprouting, and why it is situated aesthetically between riot and punk tribalism.

I thought my suburban upbringing was fairly uninteresting and bleak. And if not totally deliberately, I edited that out of my work trying to reflect on wider ideas that in the end was a reflection to my personal experiences.

And they all played a significant role in my work, as I became more ballsy and transparent about my art rather than hiding behind those generic larger ideas.

ARTCOLLECTORNEWS: How do you select your themes? And what themes do you explore in your work?

I firmly believe that the subject matter of one's work is deeply intertwined with personal experiences, emotions, and beliefs. This is something you cannot choose, rather it finds you and is something you have to reflect upon and analyse.  It is a mirror that reflects your world and essence, an odd relationship that must be treated with honesty to reflect your work accurately. 

As my life & work goes on my ideas shift to encompass broader themes of degeneration and decline.

I began to explore the decay and deterioration of physical structures, the erosion of societal values, and the disintegration of relationships. This exploration reflected my observations of the world around me and the sense of disillusionment that can arise from witnessing the breakdown of various systems. Changing environments, countries travelling, researching my work kept the general subject but I saw the ideas getting more precise, maturing.

 

I am interested in ideas of transformation, identity pain, intersectionality and societal tribalistic manifestations as well as female monstrous archetypes. In general behavioural patterns that lie on the verge of traumatic occurrences and are not meant to be resolved but rather give rise to contingencies of being outside logic and morals.

ARTCOLLECTORNEWS: How has your creative process changed over the years?

I can see a change in my approach to creative decisions. They are more confident now. In addition to sculpture installations, expanding and experimenting with multimedia mediums such as video art, performance videos, sound art provided me with different modes of expression that allowed me to expand my artistic vocabulary, and articulate my  ideas and concepts more effectively. 

Moreover, I am always gravitating towards painting as a comforting outlet grounding force.

ARTCOLLECTORNEWS: How has your artwork evolved since you first started making art?

In spite of staying within the same principles of sculpture and installation, I changed the materials and ways in which I conveyed my ideas. Following graduation, I was interested in decomposition, whether bodily or societal. I sought to push the boundaries by experimenting and was researching ambivalent spaces to complete my narrative and complement my installation ideas. I was captivated by the idea of spaces that embodied conflicting emotions and ambiguous meanings, and I sought to bring these elements to life in my work. It was during this time that I stumbled upon an abandoned internment camp from the 1997 Kosovo conflict in northern Greece. The camp, now repurposed as a storage facility, held an eerie atmosphere that resonated with my ideas.

24 vertebrae were placed in reorganised positions, creating uncanny bone compositions.  Then I stayed in northern Greece and the Balkans in general to research on ambivalent spaces as such and working on shows based on this research. This led me to London- which was more challenging to find spaces as such. Yet, the inherent contrast and complexity of the city also presented opportunities for new perspectives and artistic expression, thinking outside the box and adapting my artistic approach. 

By the time I was finishing my Masters degree, I started to rethink my material choices. Up until that point, I had been working primarily with more traditional sculpture mediums such as plaster, clay, metal and rust to create replicas of symbols. I needed a more direct and honest approach and using the actual materials instead of replicas felt the right move. I also became increasingly curious about organic materials and found objects and clothes. Items possess their own inherent properties and characteristics, conveying a more solid identity. And this is where I am now. I use Garments, hair and teeth to create small fetish like compositions!

ARTCOLLECTORNEWS: What inspired you to become an artist

I will say the classic that always had a, let's say ‘creative flair’!  And it was during my teenage years  when I was taking lessons to study architecture and right next to the architectural drawing classes were the fine art classes. I decided to see and attend a few of them, and I ended up staying-forever! I was lucky enough to have amazing but honest tutors that were speaking of both the good and bad (or challenging) aspects of the ‘Job’. It felt that this is the world I want to live in and express myself through.

ARTCOLLECTORNEWS: Are there any particular artists or movements that have greatly influenced your work? In what way?

I am generally inspired by social phenomena and behaviours that exist on the margins of common perception, especially how societies respond to societal trauma. Subcultural aesthetics and values, nonconformism, underdog characters and what build their identities. 

Folkloric customs as well as symbols, cult carnival costumes of Northern Greece, where people often dress in hides and furs, changing their forms to resemble bestial creatures in order to scare away evil spirits.

Furthermore, I draw a lot of inspiration from abject art, especially Julia Kristeva's writings on the grotesque, the repulsive, and the taboo in her book 'The Powers of Horror’. Her ideas on confronting societal norms and expectations by exploring uncomfortable aspects of human experience. Also Mario Psaras’ the Queer Greek Weird Wave, my personal bible that argues that the Weird Wave cinema, disrupts conventional narratives and societal norms, offering alternative perspectives on sexuality, desire, and power dynamics. How dark humour, absurdity, and subversive storytelling techniques to address complex societal and personal issues.

Regarding artists I have always considered Louise Bourgeois and Sarah Lucas to be my artistic grandmother and mother, respectively. I don't think it's just about the works and the material/subject adjacency, but rather about subverting traditional notions of femininity and embracing the raw and grotesque aspects of the body. And last but not least David Altmejd and his surreal taxidermy-like compositions.

ARTCOLLECTORNEWS: Can you tell us a bit about a few specific pieces you have created that you are particularly proud of?

That's a difficult one! I have favourites and least favourites but if I had to pick that would be 2!

The first one is Silicon Valley. It may be a small piece but I have always been proud of it. A small sculpture that consists of just two elements: a silicone breast implant and a braid of real hair. The process of finding and acquiring these materials can be quite challenging and I am always excited when I have good finds!

Then Episode Null: Remembering Dad. My first series of found object assemblages within a sound installation. It was a profoundly challenging and deeply personal piece that ended up becoming a pivotal moment in my artistic practice. Drawing inspiration from reality TV cultures and the way difficult moments are often desensitised for publicity, I wanted to create a project that explored the process of narrating traumatic experiences and filtering them through a series of actions. Script them, narrate them-with gossip like mannerism- and record the story. This approach aimed to examine the impact of storytelling techniques on our sense of self and personal identification. 

ARTCOLLECTORNEWS: Tell me about your latest body of work

Hung drawn and quartered. For the last months I've been working on a new installation which is slightly different from what I've been working on so far. Keeping the same ideas I wanted to visually dissect my sculptures. Like engaging in a kind of reverse engineering. Create an abattoir and hang my dissected ‘sublime’ entities. 

It is no longer just social taxidermy but rather a self imposed autopsy.

Weaved guns, military insignia and initials create a narrative while alluding to my inner thoughts of violence and nonconformism.

ARTCOLLECTORNEWS: Do you have any upcoming exhibitions or projects that you are excited about?

Yes! I will present the aforementioned installation at my solo show named after the work itself ‘Hung, Drawn and Quartered’ which opens on the 22nd June at Coups Contemporary curated by Will Coups. The exhibition will be my first solo presentation with the gallery after a longstanding curatorial partnership having curated the majority of my solo exhibitions both in London and Internationally and I am very excited to work together and bring this project to his new gallery.

And after a crazy year working on 3 solo exhibitions I believe I need some holidays so I can return on September and work  further on my new body of work

ARTCOLLECTORNEWS: What themes or topics are you exploring in your current artwork?

In my latest body of work titled ‘Hung drawn and quartered’ I am dissecting my work, but  keeping the archetypal symbolism of weaved guns, military insignia and initials. Butchering my sublime made-up character focusing on the relationship between the body, architecture, and historical discourses. Through a process of expansion and fragmentation, working on the body as a politicised landscape that can be divided or partitioned. 

I am still employing concepts of monstrosity, animality, as symbolic representations or ciphers of the body, historical narratives, and socio-political structures. 

ARTCOLLECTORNEWS: Describe your process of creating a new artwork from concept to completion.

I am Kitbashing!

My studio is filled to the brim with garments, shoes, trinkets, antlers, and teeth! I enjoy spending my time immersed in this world, carefully observing forms, textures, and imagining the endless possibilities of combining them- it's like a form of meditation.

Once I have a solid grasp of the composition I want to achieve in each artwork, I dive into the practical aspects, especially if I'm working on a large sculpture. I consider the armature, material engineering, and material compatibility.

I then create the base/armature, start organising the forms and textures, dressing up the sculpture. It's like putting together a complex puzzle, finding the perfect place for each element. I take my time, ensuring that every part contributes to the overall vision and aesthetic.

As the main body of the work takes shape, I then focus on adding the finer details. Meticulously working on the hair, combing, dyeing, and work on the tone so everything is aligned, striving for perfect alignment and cohesion.

ARTCOLLECTORNEWS: What is your favourite medium to work with?  How the medium influences or supports the ideas behind your work

Found Objects, textures, used items, items with past and history, pieces that contributed, or are someone's identity. Alter them and combine with other materials to create new Identities and associations. I am looking for a balance between romantic and grotesque. Objects ever transforming, in flux with themselves as beings. 

In general I love how found object can elevate mundane objects into the realm of art. Disrupting conventional perceptions and provoking thoughts about aesthetics, and the role of the artist. 

Using parallels of the clothing as a social flesh, creating characters, social fetishes, totems that speak on my personal narratives and allude to my inner thoughts of violence and nonconformism. As Garments outlive their owner, their presence alludes to irrevocable absence, an insignia beyond mortal flesh, signalling  our jobs, our tastes, the ways we want to be perceived by the world. Mementos of previous selves, standing as emblems.

ARTCOLLECTORNEWS: Are there any particular techniques or materials you would like to learn how to use in the future?

YES! After taking a much needed break I want to continue my research and evolve my series ‘Pleiades’ The main body of the sculpture is made with cement/ acrylic plaster/ Jesmonite and I want to expand on creating my busts from metal, combine metals, cast them in different metals or even create them through the technique of Scagliola.

ARTCOLLECTORNEWS: What do you think is the most important aspect of creating successful artwork?

Intuition, trust what comes out of your mind, get rid of musts and try to break the rules when and where possible. Challenge yourself- Take your art seriously but never yourself. 

ARTCOLLECTORNEWS: What do you think is the most important skill a studio artist should have?

Perseverance. There is no failure or setbacks, only experiences. It can be frustrating, rejections can be painful, heart-breaking even but they are part of the greater plan and can give you more opportunities that you can imagine.

ARTCOLLECTORNEWS: What do you think has been the biggest challenge in your creative career?

Taking decisions that will develop my practice. Exposing myself to wider audiences and keeping up with the demand. It is easy to get carried away and burn out. Keeping myself on the right pace, evolving and avoiding stagnation while you are out there, speaking up, raising your voice on subjects you care about.

ARTCOLLECTORNEWS: What advice would you give to aspiring studio artists?

It is not a race, it is a journey. The creative journey is often a process of self-discovery and growth. Surround yourself with people that propel you forward and inspire you. Be open to feedback and understand that not everyone will enjoy bad criticism, only then  you can navigate the art world with a greater sense of resilience and confidence. Ultimately, it's about finding your own voice and creating art that resonates with you and connects with others.

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