Rallou Panagiotou’s Pocket Microclimate: A Response

Rallou Panagiotou, Pocket Microclimate, Installation view [Photo: Paris Tavitian]

The ordinary conventions lapse, for in ordinary life one does not, after shaking hands with an unknown man, at once open one’s mouth and show him a broken tooth.  

— Virginia Woolf, Gas

Isn’t it rather embarrassing anyway, somewhat forbidden, to say what you’re really thinking in the art world, that country club of manners?  

— Amy Sillman, Why Amelie von Wulffen Is Funny 

The first sign of what’s to come is delivered on the exhibition invitation: a portrait of the artist at a young age wearing her Halloween costume; looking back toward the camera, the flash of her smile half-obscured by uneven teeth, she beams next to an image of a convenience store plastic bag, bearing no insignia. Portrait and plastic bag are the same size. 

The bag looks puffed up, yet empty, but slide a hand in and fingertips will find the familiar feel of a jeans back pocket, some stitching gone half loose; pull the seam and it unravels. Unlike the idealized beauty of antiquity’s perfectly carved marble derrières, this one, at a three-quarter angle and concealed in contemporary uniform, speaks of something more complex, more fragile, and tougher to discern, enwrapped as it is in the quotidian.  

A sculpture by the artist Rallou Panagiotou featuring marble and a Kandinsky print.

Rallou Panagiotou, Papyri & Moralia (Wassily Kandinsky, Burda, and Sea-shells), 2021, marble, lacquer on wood, glass, and prints on paper. [photo: Paris Tavitian; courtesy of the artist, and Bernier / Eliades gallery. ]

The space—white walls, white marble floor, white light—is a wide corridor that leads nowhere. The artist, acknowledging life as waiting room, hides the main event by setting the stage. Whatever is being negotiated here will play out in this lifetime, even if what we have walked into is perhaps a single moment in a person’s life, stretched to a state of perpetuity, refracted inexhaustibly as it is examined through a perfectly cut diamond.  

Looking at Developed in privacy (all works 2021), an enlarged, low-resolution image of a car’s rear-view mirror, I remember the first of very few visitation dreams: I’m in the back seat of a car, my parents are driving, and it’s pouring rain outside. While looking through the rear window and into the car behind, attuned to the hypnotic rhythm of wipers sloshing rain away, my long-gone grandfather appears, smiling. Looking into each other’s eyes, we speak without talking: “What are you doing here?” I ask. 

“I came to say all will be fine.” 

Upon waking, pain has been lifted, downpour no more. Drive ahead but watch your proverbial posterior—the past, perhaps, that is. 

The piece, Developed in Privacy by the artist Rallou Panagiotou featuring the photgraph of a rearview car mirror.

Rallou Panagiotou, Developed in privacy, 2021, print on Baryta paper, and aluminium frame, ed. 1 + 1AP [photo: Paris Tavitia; courtesy of the artist and Bernier / Eliades gallery]

A screen-printed piece from the Greek artist Rallou Panagiotou featuring Athenian street names.

Rallou Panagiotou, It’s you and me Daddy (Ι), 2021, silkscreen on car cover [Photo by Paris Tavitian; courtesy of the artist, and Bernier/Eliades gallery]

On the opposite gallery wall hang four panels of stretched car-cover textile. The names of Athenian streets—around which the artist came of age and still lives—are silkscreened, arranged (or scattered) as if in order of (dis)appearance. Their placement is episodic, almost filmic, evocative of the vertiginous sensation that occurs when trying to isolate something specific from the mesh of impressions of indistinguishable days. The works are called It’s you and me Daddy (I, II, III, IV). 

It’s you and me Daddy, and we are learning to read by reading the signs. 

Through this mute enunciation of street names, we are thrown back to a state of joyful vulnerability, surrendered to the warm guidance of a beloved’s voice, slowly learning to navigate this black hole of a city while adjusting to the fact that, soon enough, we are going to have to navigate our lives alone. 

A sound continues, similar to a downpour heard from within the safety of a car, though it is perhaps the white noise of a running faucet. Toward the other end of the corridor, Companion piece (basic silver), a pained, hard-won smile in marble, braces itself, hovering near Balzac triomphe holder. This aluminum structure, both cradle and hospital bed, carries an oblong piece of green marble, a nubbin of universe rich in intricate routes of milky veins, made smooth as if by persistent handling. The artist, summoning specificity through bold abstraction, turns this piece of marble into a point of immense intensity. This is where the negotiation is taking place, and (maybe due to this viewer’s particular psychic load at the time of encounter) what’s alluded to are aspects of loss and transition. Like some cross-generational relay race residue, this marble object acts as portal, to counter finality. 

As to the meaning of the title, it remains unclear. Perhaps what triumphs, as an inverted narrative arc, is the minutiae of everyday life. Details, be they physical or metaphysical, are used as a type of significance registry, a means by which things get trapped in our minds forever. To bring them to the fore is an act of love, of tender restoration, a will to at least set some terms in the face of the banality of loss, by declaring particulars unique and untransferable. 

To employ humor when dead serious is a sign of incredible skill. At a time when I seem to have misplaced my own, to look up at a set of marble teeth in braces brings about a chuckle, but far be it from me to explain a joke. 

An installation view from Artist Rallou Panagiotou's Pocket Microclimate show at the City of Athens Arts Centre

Rallou Panagiotou, Pocket Microclimate, Installation view [photo: Paris Tavitian]