A more reflective, closer look at public spaces and structures

In general, public spaces are intended to address society’s collective need. They are usually meant to attract people, to enhance interaction, as well as acting as a sort of catalyst between the private and the public realms. They function both as social mechanisms and regulators of order but also as safety valves, therefore acting both as means of oppression and vehicles of social support. This double quality behind the function, not only of public spaces but also of public buildings and institutions, is one of the points on which the photographs of Manolis Baboussis cause the viewer to speculate. A large number of photographs shown at a retrospective exhibition of his works at the Macedonian Museum of Contemporary Art in Thessaloniki capture the ambiguous side of various spaces, usually urban spaces or public institutions. An auditorium, boats in dry dock, the interiors of banks, the archives of what one presumes is a public building, a cemetery, a psychiatric ward or Parliament are just a few of the subjects that Baboussis has recorded. Most of those spaces are shown empty of people but a human presence – traces or the anticipation of human life – is strongly implied. The photographs focus on how space is structured, on the shapes, forms and even textures that, as part of our everyday environment, we take for granted and never critically examine. These are usually nondescript, ordinary spaces, even unattractive at times. But in Baboussis’s photographs, they acquire an unexpected richness of meaning. The smallest details seem to come to life, opening up possibilities for multiple interpretation. The arrangement of the works also enhances this effect. Baboussis has imagined the display as a sort of visual montage in which each picture is a unit, building up, as if in a cinematographic sequence, to a whole. From his extensive archives, Baboussis has chosen selections of his work from the early 1970s – when, as a student of architecture, he took his first pictures – up to the present and placed them in a mix-and-match fashion. The display seems random but in fact is carefully orchestrated to produce associations in terms of form or content and to highlight how we are conditioned to record and assimilate information. The idea is to create visual and mental tensions or juxtapositions and, by extension, to challenge the viewer to examine the optical reality behind the subject’s surface appearance. To emphasize the complexity and depth of reality, Baboussis plays with ambiguity. He leaves the meaning of what he depicts open and subject to the viewer’s imagination. He also creates an ambiguous visual impression by making pictures that can either be interpreted as objective documentations or fictional and artificial settings. Baboussis prefers to imply rather than state the meaning of his pictures. This is partly because much of what he addresses is the non-palpable, non-material side of life: mechanisms of control, the ramifications of globalization and financial transactions via credit card are all current and favorite topics in his work. All of this is expressed through space and structure – a reflection of the artist’s background as an architect – leaving the rest to the use of light, framing and composition in an also imaginative display. «Manolis Baboussis: Photographic Works 1973-2003» is on show at the Macedonian Museum of Contemporary Art (154 Egnatias, 2310.240.002) through Sunday.