Through the Looking Glass.
Katerina Apostolidou’s recent works, all exclusively video-based, revolve around – indeed are literally immersed – in the element of water. In these works water is appropriated as a transformatory destabilising device both in the visual but also in the metaphorical sense. The ‘aquatic scenarios’ the viewer is confronted with – whether they derive from nature documentaries or whether they are concocted in the artist’s own habitat – create a sense of disquiet, alienation and unease, and relate to each other through a continuum which privileges the uncanny. And Some Have Quite a Reputation (2006) is a double projection that, upon first sight, features an unlikely juxtaposition but one which reveals itself to be inextricably intertwined. On the one screen, we can see the close-up head of a moray eel threateningly opening and closing its cavernous mouth in an incessant loop. On the other screen we can see two hands (the artist’s) in the process of writing; but the act of writing is only half -customary: the left hand can be seen in the process of writing the title of the work repetitively but the right hand writes the title – again repetitively – in reverse and backwards thereby creating an awkward mirror image. The action is demanding as it is punitive and obsessive-compulsive. The logic of this work is also continued in another double video projection, This Might Look Suicidal (2006), where the image of tiny fish swimming unsuspectingly in and out of the mouth of a large grouper is juxtaposed with the same performative action as in the previously mentioned video; the action once again duplicates the title of the work.
The images of the sea creatures in these videos are appropriated from nature documentaries and digitally manipulated to focus on distilled repetitive actions in order to create this sense of latent threat that dominates both works, but also the sense of unresolved, suspended tension. The looming presence of the predatory fish can be read as an allegory of esoteric, existential situations and the hostile – and for us humans – ultimately unknowable environment of the deep offers no refuge but rather reinforces a sense of alienation and angst, a sense of being apart. These sea-creatures in their aquatic abyss seem to intimate our own internal abyss and existential chasm. Moreover, however, these works are a subtle comment on the difference – and indeed tension – between nature and culture and man’s uncomfortable position (trapped) in between.
Luna, by comparison, references a man-made environment. The video takes us on a frenetic, colourful, kaleidoscopic voyage which is at once exhilarating as it is disorienting. At first, the viewer struggles to identify the images that race across the screen until it becomes apparent that what he/she is confronted with is a fairground attraction, or ‘Luna Park’, as it is known in Greek. In the making of the video Apostolidou used water, mirroring and reflection as devices through which she transformed and altered familiar images of archetypical gaiety into alienating, often threatening ones which hint at a disquieting sub-text. The work, again, functions as a metaphor for the most fragile aspects of our psychological balance; throughout its duration, the feeling engendered is that of being on edge, of the possibility of eruption of the nervous tension that emanates from it. Luna uses the de facto extrovert characteristics of this archetypal environment, to create, on the contrary, a hermetic, internal world which intimates not only the frenzied aspects of urban existence but the feelings of angst, unease and entrapment that are a result thereof.
Ultimately all of Apostolidou’s work, though it takes place in latently threatening, unfamiliar or uncanny environments, relates back to us human beings and to our volatile psychological states. As such her works are existential in nature and refer to a world outside and beyond that referenced on the video screen; it is an anxious world that Apostolidou suggests, one where the fragile limits of our psychological equilibrium seems to have been stretched just before breaking point. And though the works are rooted in reality, this reality becomes twisted and warped through filming from unexpected angles, or filming through water, and mirroring effects; water thus being of multiple importance as both point of reference and a formally distortive element; water as that outside which is familiar, an estranged biotope but also a ‘filter’ of reality. The artist ultimately uses the aquatic habitat as a site of projection of trepidation and anxiety, an uncertain terra incognita which functions as a stage for the projection of unsettled psychological states. There is something decidedly compulsive about writing backwards or writing in mirror image, just as there is something decidedly unsettling about gazing into an image of the cavernous mouth of a predatory sea creature. It is a mystifying fluid world that Apostolidou creates, as weird as it is wondrous and as estranged as it is enigmatic, invariably hermetic and esoteric, but still open to further interpretation.