CULTURE

Sweets and addiction inspire art

The addiction to sweets is a subject that offers itself to a complex, psychological analysis rich in issues related to dependence, childhood, sexuality and repressed desires. For artist Poka-Yio, an addiction to sweets is what sparks his imaginative streak. It is the artist’s persistent fascination with sweets that prevails in his work, giving it psychological content as well as an olfactory and sensual experience.  «Bittersweet,» the title of Poka-Yio’s solo exhibition at the Kalfayan Gallery in Thessaloniki, presents 30 same-sized «portraits» (50×50 centimeters) of cakes. There are creature- or ghost-like cakes (as, for example, a white three-tiered cake wearing a mask), phallic-shaped cakes or nonfigurative images that are abstract compositions based on a play of shape and color. Painted frontally, each against a background of usually monochromatic layers of paint, they have this naive, childhood feeling but also contain the ominous. Humor and playfulness are also strong. Poka-Yio (a pseudonym for artist Polidoros Kariofillis) investigates the border between the sweet and the bitter, enjoyment and self-destruction, the mid-point between attraction and repulsion. The analogy between chocolate and human excrement is sometimes alluded to in his work, thus bringing to mind the Freudian psychosexual stages of development and their repercussions in adulthood. The work of Poka-Yio plays with polarities. Enticing and delicious, sweets can be seen as offerings of affection. But sweets can also be addictive. They can be traps leading to overindulgence and dependence. The works suggest that the positive and negative aspects, the bitter and the sweet, are the two sides of the same coin. What we crave and what we fear are interconnected. According to Poka-Yio, excess desire leads to hate.  Through his work, he invites the viewer to delve into one’s fears and desires without inhibitions. In «Eat Cake,» a three-hour performance held at the Gazon Rouge gallery in Athens a few months ago, Poka-Yio prepared chocolate cakes and set up a feast. (The artist, who is also an excellent cook, once opened a restaurant called Lalari.) As in his other works, the performance hinted at instinct and desire, thus exploring the human psyche but also had a political and social subtext. Two possible interpretations are that it explored the notion of offering and of the feast as a communal, shared activity but also hinted at binging as self-indulgent consumption. In the current economic crisis, both notions seem particularly pertinent.  Poka-Yio professes that excessive behavior – as expressed through overeating – is a symbolic act of fighting convention, reacting against prudence and authority-imposed constraints.  The performance «Eat Cake» and «Bittersweet» are in some ways connected. The former was a physical act, the latter is a painting exhibition – the first exhibition by Poka-Yio to exclusively focus on painting. Yet even here the idea is not just to motivate the visual senses but to offer the more involved experience of a performance. (An example that works toward this effect is the sweet scent that infuses the exhibition space, designed by the Airlia signature scent company.)  Painting is the medium that Poka-Yio holds in greatest respect. However, his work is certainly not limited to painting but ranges across a broad spectrum of expression, including performance, installation as well as varied artistic activities beyond the visual arts. Among other projects, Poka-Yio has written and staged a play (a sarcastic play on the art world), is involved in experimental music (a former member of the group Ilios) and was the founder of the Political Body visual arts group (1994-96). He is also the co-founder of the Athens Biennale (along with Xenia Kalpaktsoglou and Avgoustinos Zenakos). A multitalented artistic personality, Poka-Yio invites controversy and raises theoretical issues on art. His work makes an immediate impact but also contains conceptual nuances. Multilayered in meaning, it brings together life and art and has a distinctive character of its own.  Poka-Yio, «Bittersweet» at the Kalfayan Gallery (45 Proxenou Koromila, 2310.225.523) through February 28.