A Western artist captures the Orient through new eyes

For Marcel Proust, a voyage of discovery does not consist of seeing new landscapes but of seeing places through new eyes. Traveling is, after all, a road to self-discovery, the path that opens up new ways of seeing old and unfamiliar places alike. The photographic work that artist Alexandros Georgiou produced from his three-month itinerary on the road to India are images of places seen through new eyes, with a searching vision and a psychological, human-oriented gaze. Presented under the title «Without My Own Vehicle» at the Eleni Koroneou Gallery, they are searching images that go behind surface appearances to what a place feels like, its atmosphere and pace of life. Georgiou had already traveled to India twice – he spent three months at the holy city of Varanasi – yet this time he embarked on a completely different project. Instead of flying to India, he decided to reach the country by land, crossing the borders of Turkey, Iran and Pakistan. He traveled alone yet involved six of his friends (collectors of contemporary art or people involved in the arts) in the project. Each of them (Giorgos Dragonas, Catherine Cafopoulos, Dakis Joannou, Klauss Kertess, Nikolaos Vernicos, Chrysanthos Panas, Constantinos Papageorgiou, Dimitris Passas and Annie Costopoulou) helped sponsor his trip and, in turn, Georgiou made them his vicarious travelers. Throughout his trip he would send each one of them postcards, notes or drawings that he made, or any non-touristy image that he could pick up or paint in the countries he visited. Some of this material grew into the works presented at the exhibition. Most of them are photographs which Georgiou Xeroxed on black-and-white paper while traveling, painted over and printed on paper. There are none of the landmark sightseeing sites in those pictures, just odd details taken from unusual angles and images of people in everyday situations. One photograph, for example, shows the effigy of an Indian goddess thrown in the garbage. It is an unlikely image that alludes to the erosive effect that Western culture has on the traditional practice of Hinduism. Another image shows the Lolita-like portrait of a young girl inside a public bus in Iran. Georgiou was enchanted by the warm gaze of the girl and was surprised to find that in fundamentalist Iran there are images of young girls everywhere. These are the only depiction of females with their heads uncovered. Georgiou captures the contradictions that he finds in each country’s culture and way of living. There is humor but especially a non-intrusive inquisitiveness. Georgiou visits the Orient with the eyes of a sophisticated Westerner. He brings with him a Western perception of the East – the images of Orientalist paintings and postcards which he uses in his photographs reflect that traditional Western perspective – yet tries to gain the understanding of an insider. According to the artist, many of the images include a disguised self-portrait. The white outlines of a bewildered figurine that Georgiou has painted on a photograph that depicts the Imam mosque in Isfahan, Iran, is a visual metaphor of the Westerner in a foreign land. The confrontation of Western and Eastern cultures constantly comes up. Yet the most prevailing aspect of Georgiou’s pictures is time. The pictures do not just capture views of new places but the voyage itself. The stages that go into the making of each work – Xeroxes which are then painted on, images that are collected on the way – are visible in each picture and contribute to that sense of time. Poets have expressed it in the most magical way: It is the voyage that counts, not the destination – the voyage of introspection, the voyage of coming into contact with other people, the discovery of new places and the rediscovery of one’s self and friends, the receptiveness to knowledge. Georgiou’s photographs document traveling as introspection, as an opening of one’s mind and the sharpening of one’s vision. This is what makes them so warm and discerning. «Without My Own Vehicle,» at the Eleni Koroneou Gallery (5-7 Mitseon, tel 210.924.4271) through June 30.