On danger and temptation

An adolescent is kicking a ball against the walls of a whitewashed Catholic chapel: This image that is repeated in a loop in Maria Marshall’s «Playground» – one of the 35mm film projections shown in «Sirens,» the London-based artist’s solo exhibition at the Potnia Thiron gallery – contains a paradox and puts across a feeling of ambiguity and tension. The sound of the ball bouncing off the ground is heard clearly and loudly yet the image does not show a ball but its shadow. Absurdity is coupled with tension. Kicking the ball appears both as the young boy’s pastime but also as a metaphor for aggression, an attack by man against the oppression of religion but also the assault of religion on man. The depiction of a church as a towering, ominous-looking edifice underlines that element of aggression and danger. The image contains various layers of meaning. There is the attack on religion as a power structure but also the underlying idea that sport and religion are different yet equally strong forms of domination and control. Moreover, the fact that the boy is kicking a shadow and not an actual object can be taken as a metaphor of man trapped in his delusions and solitary existence. The strong sound of the boy’s breathing enhances the feeling of an inner state of mind. In all of Marshall’s work, man’s psychology and emotional vulnerability are presented as if threatened by external factors – social conventions, institutions and different forms of authority. The tension is never quite vented, although the feeling that something is going to erupt at any moment is always present. As the title «Sirens» suggests, her work is about lurking dangers, desire, seduction and temptation. Childhood innocence, a recurring theme in Marshall’s work, is intruded upon in «When I grow up, I Want to Be a Cooker» in which a 2-year-old boy is seen smoking a cigarette. It is threatened in «I Should be Older Than All of You,» a work that shows a young boy peacefully laying among coiling snakes. Is the boy unperturbed because he is unaware of the snakes? Or is his lack of agitation meant to suggest that childhood innocence is more noble and stronger than vice? As with many of her works, Marshall creates an ambiguity and sense of paradox. Also on view is «Sofikon-Epidaurus,» a film that the artist made in Greece and for this particular exhibition. In the work, a woman rides a horse seven times around a Byzantine church encircling it with a red rope (the Three Taxiarchs Church in Sofikon). (A similar act is recounted in «Farmakolitra,» written by the late 19th century novelist Alexandros Papadiamantis. Marshall was unaware of story.) The artist’s intention is a statement about the dangers of religious intolerance and bigotry. Marshall’s work is noteworthy for its visual elegance and rhythm. The use of sound is carefully thought out and part of the visual effect but there are also works where the absence of sound is equally powerful. Her work, which is included in museum collections such as that of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Guggenheim Museum or the Centre Pompidou, is a pleasant break from the average video art work (Marshall employs film yet a comparison with video art can be made) which is usually unattractive and tiring to watch. «Sirens,» Potnia Thiron gallery (7 Zaimi, Exarchia, 210.330.7380) to November 8. Daily: 10 a.m. – 10 p.m. and Saturdays 11 a.m – 3 p.m.