"Praxis - Escape - Writings & Sequences"
Participation and the interpretation of life, which are transparent in artworks, had so far led Maria Vlandi to comprehensive classic solutions with perfect structure, plot and cohesion. Her current works follow suit, retaining the rule of uniform composition and still placing the emphasis on structure. Yet they also indicate another starting point, another intention which produces equally dynamic and solid but different outcomes.
Thus her major work, revolutionary in conception as well as in the choice of main elements —irregular masses reminiscent of destruction, an earthquake or something of the kind— is wisely put together so as to structure, with these or despite all these, a composition which is imposing, solemn, fascinating and grandiose.
Her other works have their own meaning and character, but I shall stop at one in particular for its great difference, or perhaps because it builds on a previous idea. It features two white pillars, rectangular and totally plain. Yet for the first time in Vlandi’s work, in the space between them and along their entire height there appear some forms: black forms, shaped into intense vague figures that rise one above the other as if gasping for air and resisting the claw. It is a new composition, with contrasting elements and a crystal-clear meaning.
The Arrays of Maria Vlandi
Plastic art is the reverse process of sculpture, just as abstraction is the antipode of representation. Using these two pairs of opposites in her new series of sculptures, Maria Vlandi introduces us into her own discourse on form and space, on the character of the forms through their continuity, their interruption or their juxtaposition, on the dynamism of their size and density in horizontal or vertical direction, on the layering of their matter.
Seven years ago (Medusa, 2002), a deep vertical slash on the surface of the abstract terracotta forms she called ‘Morphotypes’ enabled the viewer’s gaze to penetrate the dark field and allowed the imagination to form the impression of a severe deity of the void. As she continued her study of terracotta volumes and tried to find solutions in terms of the texture and colour of the material, in the ‘Aspects’ series (Medusa, 2006) she multiplied the thin or thick slashes on its rough or smooth surface. It was as if she struggled with the bareness of the form itself and tried to ‘dress’ it, just as the Sumerian sculptors of five and a half thousand years earlier in southern Iraq used lacerated the soft clay to cover the bell-shaped or cylindrical deities they placed on worshiping altars in their sanctuaries.
To Maria Vlandi, carving became the tool for inscribing her poetry on the surface of the three-part ceramic form from the moment she decided to adopt another way to make the effect of those lines more fruitful. A deep incision which tears the form apart and leaves what could be identified as a void leads to an enigmatic animistic theology of Lucio Fontana type, which, however, cannot be justified at the present historical juncture. On the other hand, a single notch or several superficial scores on the surface of the clay would carry the risk of trapping the form in an external decorativeness and thus jeopardising the autonomy of the ceramic form in space and undermining its content. The carving is produced by the tool which is held by the hand over the surface. The combinations of carvings led to the first script in the history of human civilisation, which was ideographic at first and later evolved into cuneiform. Therefore the carvings should be treated as part of the visual content of the work. Having arrived at the conclusion that the carving should not end up fragmenting or decorating the surface, Maria Vlandi went on to a ‘subcutaneous’ study of the material. Thus she developed a ‘peeling’ of the surface which soon spread all over the surface and went deeper into the ceramic sculpture. As her study of the ‘peeled’ material advanced, the artist created a new series of original works governed by order and precision. As her vertical sculptures comprise three or even five sections stacked one on top of the other so as to fit perfectly and reach heights of up to two metres, the systematic vertical or horizontal carvings which are rhythmically repeated on the concave or convex surface generate associations of continuity and flow of the form from the part to the whole.
The latest work of Maria Vlandi is a gradual revelation and exploration of the overlapping concepts contained in a form of abstract art in an age dominated by a neo-pop electronic imagery. The solid shell –rough or smooth, in light or darker tones– alternates with the inner lines, and a dialogue is established between the surface and the line field which keeps the aesthetic of the whole intact, unaltered. The viewer who attempts to analyse the meaning of her forms comes to realise that the form itself remains ruthlessly exposed to the vague and the ambivalent – the main elements of the beauty of abstract art. As we stand before the abstract ceramic forms of Maria Vlandi, our perception of the three-dimensional representation of the world attempts to fill in the gaps until we arrive at something familiar and accessible. The pairs, placed perpendicularly in correspondence or in juxtaposition to each other, allow us to assume that they refer to the relation between male and female, surface and depth. In the lateral compositions the interconnection between the fragmented pieces underscores the relation between void and empty, surface and space. In both cases, size and density generate an inevitable sensation of dynamism, while their vertical or horizontal positioning helps us to understand their common intention to invade man’s familiar physical space and create a new space so that the abstract forms can survive and at the same time fill it with energy.
This is the intention behind the three-dimensional forms in the ceramic sculpture of Maria Vlandi. Although the term ‘ceramic sculpture’ sounds contradictory and paradoxical in technical terms –since in sculpture you remove a hard material and in plastic art you mould the soft clay– the artist blends in a unique way the two dissimilar techniques into a desirable, original version of methodical abstract art and provides the pleasure of ambivalent interpretation.
Asst. Professor of Art History
University of Thrace
Dept of Architectural Engineering
The aesthetic quest which determines the character of these works focuses exclusively on the form. They are the sequel to and the evolution of the initial idea of making sculptural volumes in an abstract form.
The original forms gradually led to these new articulated structures which seem to have been looking for one another in order to regroup into a whole.
The ‘Appearances’ may be bringing to life for each individual a world which is either familiar or recognisable. It may be that, through the ‘unconscious freedom’ of art, they reveal my own reality.
catalogue text, 2006
The Ceramic Morphotypes of Maria Vlandi
What impressions would the visitor to the Museum of Cycladic Art have, were he to catch a glimpse of Maria Vlandi’s austere ceramic forms in the adjacent hall? Could he imagine them to be clay Cycladic statuettes, enlarged to life size but with less angular features, standing motionless before him on bell-shaped or broadened pedestals, silent and imposing?
Maria Vlandi may not have posed this question when she set out to try new forms; it may, rather, spring from an overview of the works displayed as a whole, but the viewer will perceive that in highlighting a chapter from our cultural legacy, the artist is testing her power of imagination and translating history into the images of modern man.
As familiar as we may have become with the configurations of both static sculpture and mobile constructions, there still remains within us - particularly those of us who are artists - the primary concept of sculpture, which starts from abstractly formed figurines and goes all the way to integrally structured works. When Maria Vlandi succeeded in extending her quest from small three-dimensional ceramic shapes to large clay forms standing free in space, she discovered the hieratic stateliness inherent in the strict precision of the prehistoric xoana and Cycladic statuettes unearthed by archaeologists. Xoana, ritual wooden effigies in human form that represented the deity in the inner sanctum and to which the Cretan, Cycladic and Mycenean peoples offered the stylised figurines, sanctifying their existence, cast a spell with their detachment from reality. This element of magic imbues the contemporary forms rendered by Maria Vlandi. The artist does not invite us to view them as free copies or as an intellectual transcription of the Bronze Age statuettes, but rather to wonder at the power that pervades their abstractive moulding, conveying emotions and intervening in the individual viewer’s psyche in any era.
The new work presented at Maria Dimitriadi’s Medusa Gallery includes abstractive clay forms, the static shaping of which must be stressed over their meaning. Contemplating each of them separately, we find an eloquent response to the question of how an artist of today can create new forms that allude to the history of art, while remaining constantly open to information and personal experience. From this point of view, I could maintain that it is a harsh answer with an intriguing subconscious philosophical aspect and a structured aesthetic position in the fleeting imagery of the contemporary world. The extremely rapid flow of things mixes the images of works of art with those of advertising. The eyes may thus be enriched by experience, but human consciousness is impoverished in relation to both the quality of the aesthetics and the quantity of knowledge, leading us to conclude that everything is interesting, some things more and others less. In this blend, works lose part of their solid, compact structure, and advertising images acquire something of the nature of works of art.
In 1976, the Czech artist Jiri Kolar (b. 1914) fashioned his own variation with three Cycladic Heads displayed on a single stepped base. Each head constituted a commentary on the features of contemporary civilisation. He placed a large spot on the forehead of one and a black blotch for the mouth, on the second he painted the Milky Way and on the third he stuck a round piece of cardboard bearing microchips. The work belongs to the Albright-Knox Art Gallery collection to which it was donated by the Evelyn Ramsey Cary Foundation. In my view it constitutes an “advertising” version of an important cultural product, in which spirituality and history are replaced by irony and metaphor. I refer to this specific example of the Czech artist’s work in order to support the view that if cultural memory is not imitated, but instead new morphotypes that comprise elements of cultural memory containing timeless elements are constructed and moulded, we may consider Maria Vlandi’s fresh aesthetic offering to be both original and thought-provoking.
Each separate three-dimensional clay form has three parts: a long and narrow compact conical or oval trunk standing on a pedestal or on the ground, a hint of a neck expressed as a small ceramic mass of irregular shape, and a third widened, cylindrical or irregular part for the head. These are absolutely unique forms of normal dimensions. Their singularity is manifested in the strong patterns used by the artist in the place of facial features. A deep, vertical cut allows the gaze to enter a field of darkness and the imagination to form the impression of a deity that expresses the void. The opposite, a circle penetrated by the gaze suggests a deity of plenitude. Fullness and emptiness are the two principles - male and female - that are always expressed together in the universe, as we are told by the initiates of esoteric philosophy. An inverted triangle filled with small slanted broken straight lines in relief suggest the pubic area, giving the impression of a goddess of love. Demarcated small and larger elongated parallelograms filled with broken straight lines in relief also refer to fertility. A stellar symbol in relief (the sun?) with both large and smaller rays that spread over the broad, curved surface of the head refers to a symbolic deity of light, truth, power and superior authority.
It is clear that in Maria Vlandi’s work, the law of inner unconscious association has been at play, for we must accept her view that she had no intention of imitating or reflecting on Cycladic sculpture. This law allowed her to impart life, constructing, firing and assembling irregular ceramic shapes, as opposed to the methods of Cycladic sculptors who removed pieces from the marble. If the resulting form of the statuette was determined through the process of chiselling, in Vlandi’s work the factor of chance co-exists with the moulding of the clay and its firing to reach the desired result. The asymmetry of the work succeeds in conveying the impression of continuity and immediacy. Through their natural dimensions, her forms give rise to a new sense of grandeur, appearing to be so filled with fresh concepts and meanings that we may speak of a continuation of intellectual seeking distanced from the laxity of industrial and advertising ideology. Nikolas Kalas has written that “communication through perception and insight means highlighting what is hidden.”1 Without superfluous embellishment, Maria Vlandi sends us her messages symbolically, so that viewers may relate to the new symbols and signs of their own time and space.
Asst. Professor of Art History,
University of Thrace
Dept of Architectural Engineering
From Neolithic Greece to Easter Island
“In these abstract ceramic forms which emphasise their schematic immobility more than their meaning, a deep vertical slash allows the gaze to penetrate the dark field and the imagination”. This is true. And the imagination flies from Xenokratous Street and the Medusa Gallery to Easter Island, seeking to discover the timelessness of such works, their secret agreement, their invisible relationship, their common traits and their differences which set them apart in terms of form, material, spirit, space and method. And also in terms of apparent intentions. Apparent, because the hidden ones and the subconscious may be common to all; to leave a Signal on Earth, a Body/Signal in the ancients’ sense of the word. A vertical mark along the trace of our existence; a totem. It is true that we often describe artists as creators, yet this time I believe I was able to hear the silence of creation as only the mind can hear and see, as Maria Vlanti described their Beginning.
“I had moulded these forms lying on their side”, she said, “and I was looking for a way to make them stand on their feet”.
The rest of the story we know. Her hands gave birth to the form, and the form assumed the air and the posture of a figure standing upright on Earth.
We are already among expressive figures with their own personal characteristics, with a right to converse among themselves and with the viewer but above all with painting, since their matiére is special, and with sculpture, since their texture calls out to be touched and caressed.
“And how can they stand like that?” I asked. It is thanks to the weight of timelessness, to their specific gravity and to a metal rod inside them – their own rigid spine which seems to stand firm against time and definitions.
We are now going through a phase in which the Cultural Olympics provides shining examples, at least in the area of spectacles, while the culture of cultures keeps us revising and redefining our views on it, and not only as far as major projects are concerned. I would claim with certainty that the works of Vlanti contribute in their own way to this culture of cultures, from Neolithic Greece and today’s united Europe to the remote island we mentioned at the beginning.
Ependytis, May 2002