Contemporary artists question the simple life

Each summer, tired commuters and overworked city dwellers dream of the perfect, relaxing getaway. They long for «the simple life,» a lifestyle that once might have seemed constricting but has now become idealized, a kind of nostalgic refuge back to a more basic but more human way of living. The question is: Does «a simple life» exist other than as a projection of our imagination and longing? A group art exhibition under the name «The Simple Life,» currently being held on Hydra, considers the question through the work of nine international artists. It is curated by artist Dimitris Antonitsis within the context of the annual Hydra Project which Antonitsis initiated six years ago and which now has become an established, recurrent art event. The exhibition does not give any definitive answer to the question it raises – this is not the role of art after all – but does suggest that in the contemporary world reality is either fabricated – therefore not simple in the sense of lived, straightforward experience – or too complicated and layered to fit the description of «simple.» Even those things that appear to be simple are really not. Contemporary life seems like a collage of different experiences (the collage-like, humorous images in the exhibition’s booklet set the tone), a postmodern hodgepodge of unconnected choices and encounters. In fact, the title of the exhibition was taken from an American reality show in which celebrities Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie (depicted on the exhibition’s posters) spent time on a farm in the US Midwest. The simple life that reality shows supposedly project has little in common with the real world, but is rather, only a facade for another constructed reality. Just the fact that it makes supposedly real-life situations a voyeuristic spectacle is a sign of its being fake. Most works address the play between the real and the constructed or manipulate supposedly straightforward images to expose hidden realities. In her DVD video film «The Making of ’89 Seconds at Alcazar,’» American artist Eve Sussman makes an impressively exact replication of the famous «Las Meninas» painting by Velazquez in video form, in which real actors dressed in the exact same costumes as in the original painting move in the setting as one would imagine the royal family would while posing for the the artist. The combination of sound, movement and close-ups creates a psychologically charged and highly atmospheric story and alludes to the underlying tensions – even political – among the members of the royal family. Eve Sussman has animated the painting – even its light and velvety colors – with the precision of a perfectionist. She has carefully deconstructed and reconstructed it to show the realities behind the still, final portrait and to also suggest that art is a constructed aspect of reality. Just like Sussman, most artists in the exhibition work with already existing images which they manipulate and convert to something other than what they are. Again, the idea is to overturn our standard notion of reality and to reveal its multilayered and far from «simple» nature. Erik Schmidt, for example, paints abstract shapes over fashion editorials or kitschy photo-murals. The shapes pick up the colors or shapes of the initial images and obscure the content of the originals, turning them instead into semi-abstract pictures. The focus is on their formal qualities rather than on the subject. In a similar fashion, Alexander Lee disguises the faces of the models illustrated in fashion editorials by placing synthetic fiber (from electrolysis) on top of them. The masked portraits can be seen as metaphors for the constructed reality of fashion. The juxtaposition of different textures, the slickness of photography and the tactile quality of the fiber enhances the play between the real and the invented. Morandi’s stilllife paintings are Michael Bevilacqua’s choice of appropriated images. Bevilacqua combines the hard-edge painting, for which he is so well known, with a more fluid, looser painting style. The juxtaposition of styles creates a collage of opposing «realities» and suggests that life is made up of parallel, different realities. Greta Frau’s photographs show a strange-looking, hermaphrodite-like creature dressed in women’s clothing and shown outdoors in an idyllic, calming rural landscape. The figure is supposed to be the servant of an incapacitated old woman who lives her life vicariously through her servant, whom she intentionally dresses in the clothes she wore in her youth. Frau reverses the notion of rural, simple life into that of a troubled existence. Nedko Solakov makes drawings that allude to the life of a paranoiac and David Casini creates miniature sculptures that juxtapose the natural and the fabricated: an example is a piece of quartz crystal on which he has placed a toy-like black ceramic miniature of a house. There are also drawings by Greek visual arts performance artist Georgia Sagri. The drawings are based on the performance that was presented at the exhibition’s opening. One of the most tender and engaging works in the exhibition consists of a kitchen dining-table set, each painted with different colors and joyful, childlike motifs. The work belongs to Lily van der Stokker, who is known for taking «simple,» naive-like motifs and creating entire tapestries (actual paintings) and installations from them. In one instance, for example, she enveloped the entire building that housed the Hanover Industrial Fair in a huge tapestry (all hand-painted) that depicted an abstract, flower motif against a pink background. Lily van der Stokker blows up a child’s fantasy world into real, enveloping installations. Her works reverse scale and bring fantasy to life. They also reverse the standard notion of painting by making furniture and utilitarian objects out of it. Art and life, the real and the fictional come together. In the end, there is nothing too straightforward or simple. «The Simple Life» is just another construct of contemporary life. «The Simple Life» through September 16 at Hydra’s Sachtourio former secondary school. Open daily except Mondays. Bang & Olufsen is the official sponsor.