Polixeni Papapetrou - Mystical Places

Exhibition: 26 May to 26 June, 2004

Polixeni Papapetrou

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Out of play between mother and daughter emerge these startling images, each one a window, or looking glass into the imagination

Vivienne Webb, 2004

Polixeni Papapetrou's new body of work, Mystical Places, takes its cue from the nineteenth century photographic and literary works of Lewis Carroll, author of Alice in Wonderland. Papapetrou was attracted to Carroll's representation of the child as 'Other'. The performance of identities is a theme she has been pursuing in her work for over 10 years with earlier works depicting Elvis impersonators, transvestites and body builders.

On first encountering Carroll's photographs of young girls, Papapetrou became fascinated not only with their otherworldliness, but also with their underlying subversive and radical content. Using performance, theatricality and the simple childish game of dress-ups, Carroll created photographs of young Victorian girls who transcended categories of identity, such as ethnicity, gender and class. He overturned the established visual conventions of his time and presented a new vision of childhood identity, self and self-hood.

In her elaborate and richly detailed photographs Papapetrou reworks the theatricality and vivid tableaux style of Carroll's images of Alice Liddell, the inspiration for Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Papapetrou's daughter Olympia plays the role of the inquisitive, challenging, courageous and decisive Alice. She also performs as other child subjects such as Xie Kitchin and Irene McDonald.

What emerges from these works is that Olympia is encountering a challenge with identities and roles, within which she negotiates how she wants to be seen in the photographic image. The result is a contemporary vision of childhood that not only portrays Olympia's child-like psychological and physical individuality, but also allows her to act in outlandish roles.

In 2003, Papapetrou's Dream Child was shown at Photographic Gallery in New York, and at Bendigo Art Gallery. Her work is held in major public and private collections. Images from Phantomwise (shown at Stills Gallery in 2003) were exhibited in Photographica Australis as part of ARCO 2002 in Madrid, the Singapore Art Museum in 2003 and in the 11th Asian Art Biennale, Bangladesh, 2004. Papapetrou was recently listed by Australian Art Collector Magazine as one of Australia's 50 most collectable artists.