Chloé Wolifson, Everything in the Studio, and in the Eye, exhibition essay, PhotoAccess, Manuka Arts Centre, 2017
Slivers and Shard, 2017. Gelatin silver photograph, 118 x 83 cm, edition of 4 + 2AP
A material designed to hide and be hidden connects the works in Quanta. The spak-filler that joins the vertical sections of wall that lines Ioulia Panoutsopoulos’ studio, originally intended to be sanded, painted over and forgotten, have taken on an integral role in these images. They slice across each work, anchoring parts of the image in a flat surface. However there is something of a false sense of security in the compositions, whose elements advance and recede in space in spite of what our logical brains and eyes tell us.
Panoutsopoulos studied psychology before art, and her interest in perception runs through her practice. Its power lies in the impossible tactility of these flat images – one can see where the artist has sliced, scrubbed, arranged, scratched, brushed and scribbled, forging a permanent picture plane from a temporary sculptural assemblage. This frustration of space means we could be looking at a monumental structure, the corner of a room, or an atom.
An assortment of objects lies in piles on the floor of Panoutsopoulos’ studio. Modest in scale and function, they include pearlescent tinsel, shards of Perspex, shiny foil, and torn photographs. Through the manipulation of light, Panoutsopoulos transforms these humble elements into dimension-shifters. Harnessing their translucency and opacity, their shimmer and flatness, she gathers these objects into compositions designed to frustrate our spatial awareness as we assess the picture plane. Like the colourless light that illuminates the house as we wander about in the pre-dawn, Panoutsopoulos’ images confuse our sense of the familiar.
For millennia, scientists have used light in order to learn about the universe. For Panoutsopoulos, light forms the core of her investigation, enabling her to synthesise form and immateriality, to create new universes within the picture plane. Her work brings together that earliest, most humble and yet magical of photographic devices, the camera obscura, with a contemporary approach to the camera focused not on documentation but on photography as an internal process. Everything Panoutsopoulos requires is in the studio, and in the eye. Even old, rejected works are torn up and reincorporated, creating layers of visual truth within an image.
The artist sees the works in Quanta as rooted in drawing, sculpture and assemblage, with light crucial to her application of all these processes. Inspired by the experimentation of the first decades of the last century, Panoutsopoulos embraces the Constructivists’ interest in science and engineering. Russian Constructivist Alexander Rodchenko (1891-1956) shone light on his sculptures’ reflective surfaces to enhance their dematerialisation, a dimensional nexus that Panoutsopoulos continues to play in. Bauhaus artist László Moholy-Nagy (1895-1946) created photograms, photomontages and other works exploring the physical properties of light and of industrial materials. It is the legacies of these practices that Panoutsopoulos finds herself exploring in Quanta, using basic materials and processes to mesmerising effect.
Through the window of Panoutsopoulos’ studio is the artist’s garden, from which she has gathered seeds and soil to incorporate into her works. This simple act affirms a relationship to the earth and recalls the artist’s father’s life on the land as part of a farming family in Greece. Panoutsopoulos notes that in certain states in the US it is now illegal to collect seeds from one’s own plants, so this simple act of incorporating such organic matter into her work is a nod to declining possibilities of lives like her father’s. While photography and industrial materials were a source of inspiration and experimentation for artists a century ago, the earth and the seeds were old news, and still a given. Now, they take their place alongside foil and Perspex in Panoutsopoulos' studio as she continues to forge new ways of seeing from these humble materials.