Polixeni Papapetrou - The Dreamkeepers

Exhibition: 28 March to 5 May, 2012

Polixeni Papapetrou

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These transitional places in one’s life are often the most creative, and as we grapple for answers and clarity what is often realized is ambiguity and confusion that reigns supreme. Like fairy stories, Papapetrou uses absurdity to make symbolic sense of world she struggles to understand.

Susan Bright - Between Worlds catalogue 2009

A man in blue striped pyjamas stands on a rock by the sea, leaning into the wind. His body seems young yet he supports himself with a walking frame. His face is old, oversized, a little grotesque. He is The Wavecounter. Like the other characters in Polixeni Papapetrou’s series The Dreamkeepers, he is lithe in body yet gnarly of physiognomy, both young and old. Gazing out in contemplation these dream keepers look with anticipation to the future, or is it with nostalgia to the past? The timeless backdrops of shoreline or hilltop reflect this ambiguity, echoing through landscape the collapsing of thresholds and blurring of boundaries.

Papapetrou’s art practice has involved collaboration with her children and their friends for over 10 years. As they have grown and transformed so too have the roles they perform and spaces they inhabit. It is the awkward evolution of adolescence that informs the in-between space of The Dreamkeepers. To parallel the cripplingly self-conscious yet powerfully self-realising period of our lives, Papapetrou engages part reality, part fantasy from which a space of unreality emerges, the space of archetype. Here the anonymity afforded by masks separates her adolescent actors from who they really are, and allows them to stand in for us all. In this way, Papapetrou asks us to consider how masks, whether symbolic or literal, not only conceal identity, but also expand and transform it.

The aged masks do so in The Dreamkeepers by confounding adolescence, as the characters exude a quiet lack of self-consciousness, despite their disturbing appearance. They arouse a gentle pathos, reminding us of our own shapeshifting, of time playing out on our bodies and minds. The abstract meeting of these two ages may indicate the latent wisdom and self-acceptance that only realises with maturity, or the cyclical nature of our life spans that inevitably brings us back to the vulnerability of youth. In either case the work is a powerful testament to the surrendering of childhood.

Also on exhibition is a small selection of works from Papapetrou’s current work in progress. Using ghillie suits, she transforms her actors into animate objects - rocks with life and seaweed with attitude.

Polixeni Papapetrou has held over 40 solo exhibitions and participated in over 70 group exhibitions in Australia and internationally. Her work is held in private and institutional collections including the National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Victoria, Museum of Contemporary Art and the Museum of Fine Arts, Florida USA. Throughout 2011 her work featured in numerous exhibitions including the ‘3rd Biennale Photoquai’, Paris, ‘New Worlds’, Seoul, ‘My Australia’, Taipei, and the touring exhibition ‘Highjacked 2: Australia and Germany’.