By Margarita Pournara
Whenever I find myself face to face with the panoramic photographs of Yiorgis Yerolymbos, I always find myself asking the same question: Could I imagine myself in the frame? What would it be like to walk inside an abandoned soccer stadium in Prespes that has been allowed to go to seed? What if I found myself in a tyre dump in Atalanti? Or on the Thessaloniki seafront on a misty day, or even in Thebes, next to a burning vehicle?
Yerolymbos’s images are not frozen moments in a longer narrative. Rather, they seem to possess a bizarre self-sufficiency, a peculiar existential depth that is squeezed into that click of a button.
His latest exhibition, currently on display at the A.Antonopoulou Art gallery in the central Athens neighborhood of Psyrri, features a series of eight new images under the title “Default Landscapes.” Nature, of course, does not default. It always recovers, even from the ashes. So what does the title of the exhibition suggest?
Some answers can be gleaned from the artist’s own introduction: “Way before we were told that ‘selective default’ stands for ‘financial bankruptcy,’ we were familiar with the term ‘return to default settings.’ When something ceased to function, the only thing to do was to go back to basics, to return to what was essential. The landscapes presented in the exhibition are portraits of a country under constant stress, faced with both financial and moral collapse. At the same time, they represent a return to the basic qualities that make this country what it is. They are my day and night, the reality I experience and the dream I hope for. These landscapes are the country I too helped to bring to its knees -- and the country I too need to rebuild from the beginning,” he writes.
Yerolymbos avoids generalizations about the country’s economic meltdown or banal conclusions about the escalation of the crisis. Rather, he remains focused on resisting the crisis. He talks about his generation, people around 40 years old, who have suddenly found themselves floating between a spoiled past and unknown future. How can we reboot our lives? How should we live? How can we survive?
Yerolymbos steers clear of a big trap. He does not dramatize, he does not exaggerate, he does not lament what is lost. Rather, he is looking for a lifeline in something more solid: our connections to this land -- the land with all its charms and ugliness, its decay and regeneration, the natural environment and urban construction. Like his fellow photographers Nikos Markou or Panos Kokkinias, Yerolymbos fixes his gaze on the environment in his own special way, without trying to impress or stir up easy emotions.
But what happens now that the crisis has invaded our lives? How has it changed his work? It’s no coincidence that, for the first time, his pictures include figures of people seen from a distance; discreetly placed in the background. Still, he remains true to his style while adding something new. He would never make a photograph with too obvious a narration of what we are going through. He likes to keep a distance, like a sniper who chooses to speak about politics or society with that delicate sense of humor, innuendos, with silence, with dignity, with wisely selected images taken across the country. Like his image of a Constantine Karamanlis statue in front of piles of excavated dirt.
Behind the distancing, there is a decision: “This is my country. I intend to stay,” he says in the text. Is it a manifesto? It’s definitely a personal commitment.
“Default Landscapes” is on display at the A.Antonopoulou Art gallery (20 Aristophanous, Psyrri, tel 210.321.4994, www.aaart.gr; open Wednesdays to Fridays 2 to 8 p.m. and Saturdays from noon to 4 p.m.) through November 7.