Exhibition dates: May 12th - June 26th
The retrospective exhibition Hotel Splendid brings together 40 photographs by Yiannis Theodoropoulos, dating from 2002 to the present. Similarly to his book Topheth (2018), Hotel Splendid is about loss and absence, and recounts an arduous search for a coherent subjectivity. Theodoropoulos’ lens is magical: It transforms everyday objects that often go unnoticed, producing images of ‘experiential sculpture.’
Hotel Splendid provides a glimpse into the inner world of a photographer who could be a sculptor and would rather be a comedian. In Theodoropoulos’ photographs, the metaphysical rubs shoulders with the comic, weight with weightlessness, poetry with self-sarcasm. This explosive proximity under the influence of Saturn, the planet of sorrow, has many surprises in store – and not always pleasant ones.
Theodoropoulos’ house in Magoufana – today better known as Pefki – is a museum of personal memories and shattered collective dreams. This house, where most of his photos were taken, is a crypt, a hideout, a laboratory of uncomfortable emotions. The metascapes emerging from evocations of objects and spaces in this house celebrate the mournful charm of bedding and drapery folds, the sculptural qualities of chandeliers.
For Theodoropoulos, Hotel Splendid is a descent into his psyche. ‘It’s been my home for the last 20 years,’ the artist says, clarifying: ‘I was a guest in this house to a very old age, until I was 43. Not that I ever left; it’s just that the others died. I was a guest in a “hotel” that provided me with sleep, food, laundry, care. At the same time, however, splendid is tinged with irony: One pays a dear price for enjoying all these comforts. Hotel Splendid represents the comforts I enjoyed in this house, but also what this house took away from me. While generously providing everything you need, doesn’t this “hotel” take away a part of your freedom, your will?’
Obviously, there is something dark about Hotel Splendid. It may not be as scary as the haunted hotel in Kubrick’s The Shining; yet Hotel Splendid reflects a serious pathology involving the functioning of the family in Greece and other southern European countries. In this respect, every Greek house is also a Hotel Splendid. ‘It is a Western hotel, with all that this implies,’ the artist explains. ‘In other words, there is a political element in choosing this title for the exhibition. It ranges from specific to universal – my home, my homeland, the world. It’s rich in symbolism.’
From the year 2000 on, Theodoropoulos’ house gradually turned into a kind of construction site. ‘I use all these objects inside this “construction site” to produce my photos. There is an element of neglect, of disarray. There’s everything everywhere in my house. And I like to see things; if something is out of sight in a cupboard, I feel like it didn’t exist. I have gone through extreme psychological situations in this house. Walking around in there, I sometimes feel like a flaneur – a flâneur in my own home. And these objects, the house itself, often seem unfamiliar to this flâneur. They are most familiar and unfamiliar at the same time, as in fact this is not my own house – I came into it; I did not buy it.’
Theodoropoulos discovers landscapes of the outside world inside his home. Many of his photographs of the last two years involve a white table. ‘This reflects a shift in my work, similar to the snow project. Because I am now leaving behind the objects of the “construction site,” which are everywhere, or the interiors of clothes where I actually seek a hiding place, or the greenhouses, which are wombs, protective domes – symbolic and literal – evoking a sanctuary, church and temple. The greenhouses herald a personal psychological state conveyed through the interiors of clothes.’
The snow photographs succeed Divine Wind (from the Japanese kamikaze), which is the title given by the artist to his solo show at Elika art gallery. ‘The function of both – snow and divine wind – is to cover. The divine wind blew, and the Chinese fleet was destroyed. The divine wind protects objects; yet in protecting them, it delivers them to oblivion. It’s no coincidence that, when we plan to leave home for a while, we often cover objects and furniture. Personally, that makes me think of death – Lazarus or a wrapped body. And so we come back to Hotel Splendid, to family and protection. Snow, to me, means transformation. I consider the transformation of the landscape as an important part of my work and in art: How to transform the cliché, how to see reality through fresh eyes. This is often the purpose of a spiritual quest, that is, to see the world anew. Snow transforms and covers: Once again there is oblivion – transformation and oblivion. Snow also signifies transience. The snowed traffic police helmet reflects my ambivalent relationship with authority and the father. It is not an object of experiential sculpture, because it came from the outside. It’s not a lived object that I brought to the “construction site” to set up and photograph. On the other hand, psychologically and politically, this helmet does in fact represent lived experience: It represents childhood and the 1960s.’
Well-versed in psychology, psychoanalysis, mysticism, religion and philosophy, Theodoropoulos always takes seriously the role of the unconscious, which for him is closely linked to art. He seems to be well aware of the fact that objects are often more enigmatic than stories. Consequently, he can show us fear in a handful of dust, to cite the famous line from T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land. Similarly, in a photograph of a slice of feta cheese, he conveys the transcendental serenity of a still life and the enigmatic silence of objects; elsewhere, he introduces his faithful ‘companions’ – an array of medicines, both homeopathic and conventional.
Yiannis Theodoropoulos’ work encapsulates Hölderlin’s verse from his poem ‘Patmos’ (‘Where there is danger, The rescue grows as well’) and Kafka’s reply, in a manner of speaking, in his Blue Octavo Notebooks (‘There are countless hiding-places, but only one salvation; but then again, there are as many paths to salvation as there are hiding places’). The photos featured in Hotel Splendid are hiding places for both the artist and viewers who are receptive to the peculiarity of these images.
‘Photography, Theodoropoulos concludes, is a reflection of the real, a passing glance at a unique moment of light never to be repeated. It is more akin to poetry, where, through brief, fleeting fragments we can look back upon the world again and read it from the beginning – and that is a kind of inner purification that enables us to go on living. Like a breath drawn after long apnoea; like a snow-capped Mount Parnassus.’
OPANDA curator of exhibitions and events
Visiting hours: Tuesday-Friday 11:00 - 19:00, Saturday-Sunday 10:00 - 15:00, Monday closed.
Municipal Gallery of Athens: Leonidou & Millerou, Avdi Square