The Doors of Perception

Maro Michalakakos opens wide “The Doors of Perception”
by Barbara Polla

Maro Michalakakos spent her childhood in her father’s shop – a shop where antiques were bought, restored, repainted, refurbished, exhibited, sold, talked about, loved. She was the queen of her own childhood’s palace and found in that garden of delights many of the inspirations that still animate her creations. It is no coincidence that she works with furniture, with wood, with velvets, needles, and dust, and that cutting is a constant in her “manner.” Nor is it a coincidence that most of her inspirations come from Greek poets, from myths that all somehow relate to the Mediterranean Sea, and from ancient Central European stories that mothers used to tell their children, such as Allerleirauh. Michalakakos actively remembers: for her remembering is an essential psychic activity, as is dreaming. Dreaming and remembering are, for this artist, as much a vivid source of images to use in her works as drug-induced visions are for others: “I personally have visions before falling asleep or just before awakening,” she states. I only just found out that this is not the case for all of us. My very personal goal with my art is to open the doors of perception for myself and others, those who take the time to look at my art, and hopefully this will work for a least some of them, in a similar way as mescaline does.” Mescaline usually changes our perception of time and space – and indeed, Michalakakos’ works offer viewers another space-time linking past and present, childhood and adulthood, in a constant back and forth.

In an artist’s statement, Maro Michalakakos wrote: “As a little girl I liked to spend time in my parents’ antique shop where I felt like I was in Ali Baba’s cavern. I was inventing stories about the people who lived with the furniture, the precious objects and the paintings we had in the shop. It was inevitable that I would use all this furniture and all these stories in my work. I ‘draw’ with a scalpel ‘prints’ of the people who sat on theses chairs, fell in love, had secrets to hide, spent time with themselves… lived their lives.”

Gaze, Identity and Femininity in the works of Maro Michalakakos

Gaze, Identity and Femininity in the works of Maro Michalakakos
by Pınar Arslantürk

“The look is blind”
Jacques Lacan

Maro Michalakakos has developed a special technique that we can see in some of her works exhibited in Galeri Nev İstanbul. She carves the velvet with surgical instruments like the scalpel and creates an image on the fabric. She installs her works by taking the architecture and the history of the exhibition space into consideration. Therefore, when we enter the exhibition hall, we encounter a different or an unexpected version of the space.

For instance, in her Prison dorée de la beauté et du désir (The Golden Prison of Beauty and Desire), her velvet works cover the large windows of the building, and in the middle of the room lies the bed of Sleeping Beauty. Since the fabric works stand in front of the windows, the light filters in through their carved parts and images become visible in daylight. What can enter through the windows of a house, other than mere light and fresh air, is the look of neighbors across, the look of outsiders. That is why, it is not a coincidence that children draw doors as mouths, and windows as eyes! Unlike walls, windows are see-through and they make a house vulnerable and open to the gaze. In this context, when we enter the room in which the artist places the eyes and the looks of the figures, the position of the gaze is highlighted and reconstructed through the works. The emotional state of the room seems to be charged with intimidation.

In a different installation work titled Tapis rouge (Red Carpet), the artist depicts a pair of hands that seem to carve out the floor beneath. The work hangs down from inside the fireplace of Château de Pierrefonds. When observed from a distance, the fireplace resembles a mouth, and the carpet resembles a tongue. It is as if the mouth and the tongue placed in this historical castle give voice to history of the place.

Just like in her work titled Happy Days exhibited at Illena Tounta Gallery (Athens), in a solo show titled “I would prefer not to” the artist sometimes uses the leftover parts from the carved velvet fabric. For her show in Athens, she covered and transformed the columns that divided up the gallery space and had no other function than to support the building. By covering them up, she gave them a purpose and an artistic value. As we see, the way the artist places her works in a setting is never naive or arbitrary. On the contrary, they encourage the viewer to think. In that case, what does the works of Michalakos make us feel and think?

Till it’s gone

Till it’s gone
by Paolo Colombo

Maro Michalakakos’ work consists of installations, frequently constructed with burgundy-colored velour that she selectively shaves to create drawings on the fabric. She
also draws and paints, and over the years has created an archive of mythological animals, most often birds, carefully represented in watercolor. The birds, detailed in their anatomy and painstakingly described feather by feather, are engaged in interspecies mating, mostly with snakes and insects.

One formal antecedent to her watercolors is the
435 plates of “The Birds of America” by John James Audubon. Made in the first half of the nineteenth century, this publication of hand-colored life-size prints recorded the birds that Audubon encountered in the wild; most interesting to naturalists and ornithologists today, it includes images of six species that are now extinct.

Michalakakos’s works, though indebted to Audubon in their structure and scientific approach, are a proposition for a “parallel universe” (also the title of one of her series): they foretell the dystopia that will be the world of our near future. No longer natural, prone to mutation, it will find its perpetuation in pain, outside the solace and the rituals of mating. Its survival will lie in forced misalliances.

Violent beauty

Maro Michalakakos – Violent beauty
by Paul Ardenne

A long velvet snake slips its body through the eye of an enormous needle and bites its tail. Titled Entre Dévoration (Between Devoration), Maro Michalakakos’s sculpture condenses, in its refined crudeness, this Greek artist’s favorite themes: the relationship with oneself, seductive appearance, violence and allegory.

Born in Greece and raised in Athens, dividing her life between the Hellenic world and France, Maro Michalakakos became known through a substantial body of work in which figures or themes abound that are invariably in a state of tension: men and women, the protective domestic interior and painful intimacy, love and submission, the bond and the shackle. Woven of family memories, cultural references and erotic residual images, Michalakakos’s aim is to use the principle of figurative allusion: no description, no frontal statement and even less slogans. The artist’s universe is more given to creations on the edge of dreams, filled with an apparent calm, intentionally positioned midway between reality and the imaginary dimension.

False peace

Le Poulet dominical (The Sunday Chicken), a sculpture-installation, is a very reassuring work. At the center of the circular top of a heavy table in varnished wood, the artist, using marquetry, has elegantly inserted the appealing image of a roast chicken. This table with its decoration is imposingly placed directly below a crystal chandelier. A comfortable cenobitic atmosphere. Everything gives the impression of the land of plenty, the joy of being at table, those warm Sunday meals during which the family becomes a circle.

An evocation of domestic happiness? Undoubtedly if we take Maro Michalakakos’s creation literally. Nothing, however is less sure. Let us now look at In Between, a creation of a similar plastic type, a wooden table once again, but in this one, the top is split into two parts. On either end of this top’s surface, the artist has inlaid two pairs of bare forearms that extend the outline of the hands, placed flat. These hands, facing each other, are stretched toward each other. But they have trouble touching. The table, whose two parts slide, seems to have been crossed by the equivalent of a fault, which isolates the two half-tops from each other. Tension and retention, desire and restraint. With its play on polemic allusions, this work frankly admits its theme, the inability to communicate. In Between adds an ounce of perplexity to its obvious meaning. More than contact, proximity and exchange, would the truth about human relationships possibly lie more in the calculated distance, the gap, the position that each being keeps without necessarily coming too close to the other? To each his territory, perhaps.

A body of work focused on interiors

The work of art is a sign, the sign, in Michalakakos, of ambiguity. We are social animals, us humans, and nature has imposed being together on us. Is proximity with the other, our link with him, nevertheless, obvious? Giving oneself means risking losing oneself. This other creation by the artist frankly bears witness to this, this untitled work, the crude sculpture, in iron rods, of twinned chairs each of which is bound to the other by one of its feet, a link that is the equivalent of a shackle. A solid link, even though it is recommended to forget that such an imperative proximity underlies the sedimentation of identities. The binding of the bottom of each chair, for the occasion, is done in plaster, in the same way as a broken limb is encased in a plaster cast to prevent any movement.

The importance Maro Michalakakos gives to furniture is not random: the spectator must feel that he is on known territory. And what territory is immediately more familiar than that of the home, which its furniture incarnates? Furniture, for Michalakakos, summons intimacy and one’s own space, the interiors, living room, bedroom or dressing room. The table where the family eats, the sofa on which it relaxes, the chairs on which it sets its buttocks and where one waits – nothing in these places, cut off from the outside world, can disturb the events, those of the “inside”, carried out sheltered from others’ glances and judgment, other people who are “hell” itself, as Jean-Paul Sartre wrote in his play No Exit. Mirror, Mirror, a sculpture, is presented in the form of a modified “readymade”, using a principle that the surrealists were fond of. A large standing mirror has had its glass replaced by the red of velvet. This velvet has had its surface scraped – to be more precise, shaved – so that a triangle appears on it that evokes, without prevaricating, the triangle of pubic hair. Mirror, beautiful mirror, tell me if I am desirable, tell me if my genitals are attractive. Reflection, exhibitionism and desire synergized.