CELIA PERRIN SIDAROUS
Apr. 13 - May 19, 2018
By JAMES D. CAMPBELL, April 2018
“Greece is like a mirror. It makes you suffer. Then you learn.'To live alone?' To live. With what you are.”
― John Fowles, The Magus
This exhibition of recent works by Celia Perrin Sidarous includes sundry photographs, a film, and a number of ceramic objects, occupying both of the exhibition spaces on the ground floor of the gallery building and in the grotto-like ‘Bunker’ space below stairs.
Some of the black-and-white and colour photographs are paired up and some are not. Those that are presented as pairs (even though they are in fact stand-alone works) point to the phenomenal interconnectedness that obtains between all aspects of Sidarous’s work. The spider web-like interconnections have a subliminal cartography that is ethereal but always self-present.
The photographic works demonstrate a considerable genius for juxtaposition that is uniquely this artist’s own. Bivalvia (2018) and Abalone (2018) offer complementary views of seashells as mirrors/icons of alterity/natural history specimens/mystical receptacles.
The delicate palette of opalescent pinkish white of the interiors of the shells somehow evokes the scrying objects related to Pythia, high priestess of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi. That this evocation is also an invocation is corroborated by many of the other works exhibited, as though the artist was reaching impossibly far back in time in order to sacramentalize Delphi within the horizon of the present tense, somehow redeeming nature from temporal jeopardy and jaded attrition by pointing towards the omphalos, the proverbial navel of the world, where the Delphic oracle once answered pilgrims’ questions about what the future held in store for them.
A long white plinth bisects the exhibition space on a diagonal. It unites the sculptural and the photographic. It is covered with dozens of the artist’s ceramics, laid out in a pattern of exquisite placement. Many of those are receptacles, beautifully crafted and with painted surfaces that speak of sky and sea. Others are cryptic and yet overwhelmingly tactual, as though inviting the viewer to let them rest in the palm of one’s hand, or nestle in the cradle of one’s thought.
The theme of scrying and female sorcery was felt throughout the show, and to haunting effect. We may ask ourselves about the origins of the objects in her photographs – is that fluorite, calcite, fragment of leaf of rank ailanthus, mineral or pearl? -- until we slowly come to understand that it is rather less the objects themselves (aside from their gnomic beauty) than the ecosystem as a whole in which they settle that generates persuasive aura and invites us inside. A myriad of intricate associations and mnemonic threads draw in the viewer who is caught up therein and complicit in weaving, alongside the artist, a complex web of ambiguous meanings that is mutable and yet specifically modulated to the exigencies of one’s own psychology. You could visit this exhibition a hundred times and still find new content and experience a new frisson.
In the film Slip (2018, 16mm colour, looped, 12 min. 19 sec.) shown in the darkened below ground space, Sidarous offers telling segments of scenes filmed while in Greece, with images of ancient ruins and spectacular views of the natural world. The artist’s own hands appear in several frames, as she turns the pages of a huge book of reproductions of similar ancient sites or when she places objects in juxtaposition and then removes them from juxtaposition (as though testing the aesthetic limits of their relationships, calibrating their joinery, and thus adjusting her universe accordingly) in a hierarchical manner. This reminds me of Maya Deren’s Meshes of the Afternoon (1943), although there is no quoting whatsoever at work here. Say rather that both artists are pointing towards sublimated truths about our psychic engagement with lived reality. Sidarous embraces both the supraliminal and subliminal and her uncanny precision of placement -- almost preternatural in its mien – is like a finger pointing to something instinctually cathected and perhaps mystically true.
Sidarous’s specific sorcery lies in seeing the relationships between objects where others might only see the objects. Now, we can marvel at those objects in and of themselves, so alluring in their facture, chosen with such perspicuity, presented with such clarity, because Sidarous has imbued the tradition of still life photography with something altogether strange and new. No small achievement in itself, this. But the whole show is, beyond that, about “attunement” at a deeper, higher and more extreme level. She is adept at generating unforeseen connections between inside and outside, above and below, living and dead.
Mention should be made of the poet Iliana Antonova’s superb accompanying text for the exhibition that reads, in part: “Beyond the olive tree groves, within proximity to the salty mist spewed by the sea, under the intense heat of the summer sun, upon a hill littered of chalky marble rubble, there remain the ruins of an ancient stage.”
Antonova effortlessly summons up in words the liminal and mnemonic nature of Sidarous’s hands-on enterprise (in making pottery, in arranging and inciting otherwise mute objects to speak, in filming sequences of purely intuitive logic, in channelling ancestral voices). Would that other artists of relatable gifts had as worthy a commentator as she has here in Antonova.
The exhibition reads as acutely reductive in spite of being a proverbial cornucopia of objects and images. It is not one wit overcrowded, a testament to this artist’s editing skills. There is space for everything to breath right, well, and with serene understatement under an environmental umbrella held up by profound interconnectedness and chiasmic dialogue. If the artist’s specific genius is with placement and summoning noumenon, she is also adept at building expressive networks of objects that lure in her views with consummately subtle and even enthralling means. Both the studio-based photographs like the magisterial Purple Heart (2018) with its stark clarity and beguiling mien, and those documenting objects in museum collections such as Bronze Mirror with Ivory Handle with Rosette Decoration, Tholos Tomb 2, Myrsinochori, Messenia.15th Century B.C. (2018), possess a formal beauty that transcends time and place. The ghostlike tendrils that snake out, in and around and through the other works and then into our consciousness make for a sublime haunting. Coiling around our thoughts like lithe enigmas, they are perhaps destined to remain enticing yet finally unfathomable.
Lovingly dovetailed at all levels, the entire exhibition works as an environmental installation, a tripartite tiering of the sculpted, intuited, sensed and seen. The resultant web, like sleep and dreams, is purely noumenal, seductive -- and genuinely gratifying. WM
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James D. Campbell is a curator and writer on art based in Montreal. The author of over 150 books and catalogues on art, he contributes essays and reviews to Frieze, Border Crossings and other publications.