Brigitte Polemis. Just a Number
13 June - 29 June 2013 at Albemarle Gallery, London.
Urban spaces inhabited by faceless men in suits arranged in rows, circular formations, spirals, or overlapping layers as repeated motifs: these are the key features in the new group of works presented by Brigitte Polemis under the title “Just a Number”. Yet, although specified by their general title as works commenting on the dehumanisation of man in western industrialised societies, they seem however to strangely defy their ‘inhuman’ message, engaging the viewer in what one increasingly understands to be the imagery of the poetics of a world where man and machine have long been reconciled.
The works are carefully planned and assimilated constructions. Preliminary photographs worked-on digitally, resulting in high quality printouts, are placed in composite layers where blocked spaces alternate with openings and unending picture planes. Seen through diaphanous perspex ‘windows’, they engage the viewer in multiple optical illusions which play with 3-dimensionality and theatrical space, allowing changing view-points to generate the sense of movement, enhanced by rhythmic shadow and light effects.
The idea of assimilation is a defining aspect of the works. Being an inherent part of the creative process entailed in each construction, it is moreover addressed by the wide-ranging, multi-leveled associations the imagery of the work establishes in both form and content. Via association the works may thus be simultaneously interpreted as the fulfilment of the hopes raised in the early 20th century by standardisation and the ‘democratisation’ of mass-production lines, but with a sense of nostalgia, since they also seem somehow reminiscent of scenes from black and white television or romantic films of the Sixties. Equally, although the monotonously repeated faceless figurines in “Just a Number” may recall Magritte’s men with umbrellas or perhaps the Greek Gaitis’ men in suits, they are now displaced in Op art-like settings.
Expanding on the interpretative dynamics of appropriation - this all too familiar characteristic in the work of the generation of artists who grew up in the post-modern era, long liberated today from the “burden of history” - the artist also proposes a list of quotations on the theme of life-perception. Drawn from various sources, and proposed as complementary to her works and/or as a possible or probable choice of suitable titles for them, the list contains references to as disparate sources as Woody Allen, William Blake, or Amy Winehouse, combined with the same ease with which her imagery was just seen as uniting Magritte and Busby Berkeley, to Op art and computer generated graphics.
Yet, in the assimilated world of Brigitte Polemis’ seemingly untroubled utopia, the narrative unfolded is neither one of a-historical innocence, nor one devoid of historical judgment: Floating in timeless digitalised environments her repeated motif of men in suits who hold on to their emblematic objects, may momentarily deceive their mesmerised viewer by their rhythmic lyricism. Soon however, one becomes aware that the works were intended from the very start as a sharp contemporary socio-political commentary.
Born in Syria, Brigitte Polemis grew up in a war-torn Lebanon, then under a totalitarian communist regime in Poland and a military dictatorship in North Cyprus. Having lived and studied in the USA and UK, and today living in troubled Greece experiencing the effects of depression and the severe social changes brought about by the economic crisis, her work may thus be interpreted as a commentary on present-day societies living in illusory euphorias, while man is increasingly reduced to “just a number”. But, rendered poetically and with an air of nostalgia, her imagery also seems to belong to foregone topoi of the past, thereby ultimately proposing “Just a Number” as a lyrical comment on an already bygone age.
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