ATHENA PAPADOPOULOS. BELLADONNA’S MUSE

Curated by Samuel Leuenberger

Belladonna’s Muse is a portrait or more likely even, a state of mind. Like a dreamscape that draws itself into a physical space, characters appear in forms of soft sculpture. The lively objects use as a point of departure personal experiences that belong to Athena Papadopoulos’ way of storytelling. Cut and paste images drawn from the artist’s archive are sewn together and laid over volumes of bulging materials. One gets the impression he or she is reading the artist’s diary, somewhere describing her life with an aggressively lyrical tenure while having accepted a somber state of dystopia. Belladonna’s Muse suggests beautiful and elegant women who might convene, spend time together and inspire. The title is however, an oxymoron: at once, it suggests a degree of adoration from one person to another, while at the same time belladonna is also a deadly nightshade plant used as a sedative; when consumed in large quantities, it is poisonous. The plant received its name via its homeopathic application by women in high society, many years ago, since the cherry extract, once swallowed, widens the pupils – a desirable effect for many. The exhibition at BASEMENT ROMA is entered through an intestinal pink tunnel, sickly sweet like the artificial taste of Pepto-Bismol: one is lead through different interpretations of the fictional and non (physically and mentally speaking), incorporating a series of gangrenous leg sculptures, an abstract portrait of the artist’s grandmother and objects ranging from disembodied yet sexy legs to amputated, putrid and supersaturated ones.

The space is a floater for disconnected limbs and thoughts. They are surrounded by a group of “Grapevine” pieces which like a wall of hunting trophies, or a kind of obsessive wall in a teenager’s bedroom, suggest a modern day shrine, or an analogue version of an FB feed. Images and materials that are amputated from their contexts, together drape the walls as overtanned, leathery skins, meticulously quilted together.

On one side of the exhibition space, new objects are being assembled by a group of elderly Italian women. A club of like-minded women who pretend to run a gift-shop create souvenirs, small mobiles that have a strange resemblance to an octopus, dancing in aspiration to be part of the festivities.

This setting of small workshop production interrupts the dreamy environment of the exhibition. It allows the viewer to revert back to a moment of creation which lays not in the past but in its instantaneous unfolding of. The audience finds itself among one or several women. These grandmothers, as in any Italian family, become Athena’s substitute of her own Greek family, grandmothers who stand for a matriarchy that represent a manifestation or quasi-portrait of the different life-stages where self-admiration turns into self-indulgence (versus self-despising moments of doubt and fear).

The hands and the sofa legs in this exhibition become a mirror of Papadopoulos’ own studio practice, an extension of her own hands, the hands of these belladonna women turn the showroom into a living room, a sewing circle, traditionally a setting not only for gossiping but an undercover for political conversations between women.

The artist’s oeuvre of painterly and sculptural works use as their point of departure autobiographical sources such as the debaucherous life of her diabetic family that she then exaggerates and transforms using literary, historical and pop cultural references that relate to her vision of her life as an artist living and working today in London. Papadopoulos’ works are densely layered surfaces featuring imagery that are at once of a seductive and repulsive nature; they use photographic and hand-drawn elements, t-shirt transfers and textile elements and other materials to create collages that are made using performative gestures such as spitting medicines and wine, scratching, splashing and staining the surface with cosmetics and bleach. Papadopoulos creates environments that could be home to a dream-like, hedonistic cast of characters who are celebrating being alive every second but who cannot help but relish in the larger, darker and more complex meanings of life. (SL)

A SPECIAL THANKS TO
SALTS
Emalin

THANKS TO
Overdrive Art
Menabrea
Settembrini
Wunderkammer

ATHENA PAPADOPOULOS was born in 1988 in Toronto and she lives and works in London. Selected recent exhibitions include: Natural Instincts, curated by Samuel Leuenberger, Les Urbaines, Lausanne (2015); Metaforms, curated by Nicholas Baume, as part of the Public Sector of Art Basel Miami Beach 2015; Rancho Rat-King-Cougar, Supportico Lopez, Berlin (2015); Zabludowicz Invites, Zabludowicz Collection, London (2015); Bloomberg New Contemporaries, London and Liverpool (2014). Her work is on view at DRAF as part of the group show Streams of Warm Impermanence (2016).

Courtesy: the artist and Emalin
Installation views Belladonna’s Muse, BASEMENT ROMA, Rome
Photo: Roberto Apa
Portraits: Gabriele Malaguti

@ SETTEMBRINI

“If art still exists, it is where we least expect to find it.”
(Robert Musil)

A cycle of interventions by Rome-based Italian and international artists, aimed at creating a temporary collection of site-specific works, mainly new productions, will take in the Settembrini venues – the bar, bistro and restaurant traditionally open to international collaborations and paying close attention to the contamination between food, wine and other practices.

The project, which takes place over the months, aims thus at offering a new dimension to the work of art and its audience, redesigning the layout of the Settembrini venues. Une promesse de bonheur, which reverses the relationship between artist and visitor, “between uninterested spectator and interested artist” (Giorgio Agamben, L’uomo senza contenuto [The Man Without Content]). On the partnership model established between artists and places of various kinds, which over time have become landmarks and meeting places for the international art community, Settembrini, with the artistic direction of CURA., starts a new challenge and commitment for the support of contemporary art.

#01 GABRIELE
Untitled (2016)

Gabriele De Santis offers several keys to his door. His work, neo-pop conceptual, brings him to surf between mainstream, romance, short circuits of meaning, language processing, compositions of letters, words and figurative elements, with a certain satisfaction from the banal, as if to emphasize the obviousness of everyday life or the elementariness of the messages that are constantly offered us in complex and elaborate ways. The neo-pop component of Gabriele’s work is instead focused on ease of access and an immediate understanding of the work of art.

Arriving in a semi-hidden alley in a metropolis (what metropolis?), in one of those sequences where of course it’s raining, the story is coming to an end and the two main characters are about to engage in a long, passionate kiss. And a lighted sign is flashing because the rain gets to the live wires: an enigma, a rebus: rain, rain, rain, rainBOW.”

The fumes of Chinese take-away fried food, fashion bloggers sitting at Starbucks with their Macs, cafeterias with colored eco-leather seats, Gloria Gaynor’s voice resonating, caressing the friendly local venue: “You’re just too good to be true / Can’t take my eyes off of you.” A collective dwelling, where all find their place in a more or less frenzied way.

An espresso or an Americano?

Cities that were born in the middle of nowhere, and which are magnificent and pompous. “Las Vegas is to the Strip what Rome is to the Piazza,” “The casinos and lounges in Las Vegas are ornamental and monumental and open to strollers.” A comparison resulting from the unrealistic 1977 project by Robert Venturi and John Rauch, who wanted to restore Rome following the aesthetics of the American capital of gambling.

And then multiculturalism, panem et circenses, monumental size, kitsch, neon lights and smog. And realize day by day, with surprise, that ultimately they are as welcoming as our living rooms.

#02 NICO
Tombola! (2017)

Nico Vascellari superstitiously has chosen Friday the 13th, 2017, for his Tombola!, during which the players are invited to trying their hand throughout the evening. The artist, who orchestrated the action with the help of an exceptional auctioneer, intervenes on the central wall of the club to each extracted number.

The interventions of Nico Vascellari, known to be unsettling, disruptive and often disturbing, turn themselves into an accommodating parlor game, bringing the art community and some extemporary adventurers together, literally invited to get in the game, whose most eligible prize is an artwork.

Looking for a hiding place, a place where no one can find them, the two lovers take refuge in a suburban bar, with the mosquito nets that own the solemnity of the widows’ black laces, slightly worn. There are some black and red murales on the partially open shutter: the usual tags, some genitals, some blasphemies, but mostly numbers. Once they walked in a television hanging from a black metal arm in a corner dominates the room. On air a generic sitcom episode, where unbridled recorded laughter comment the show and its all happens in a room with cream-colored wallpapers.

Can we smoke in here? Can we play?

‘Of course!’ slurs the landlady, who forgot what year is it, or rather she doesn’t care. The lipsticks had been accurately applied, and the wrinkles around her mouth crack the pink cosmetic, the apron is dirty, but not much, and the yellow gold rings give her authority and malice. She’s just like the colorful slot machines, the light bulbs without lampshades and the soft pornographic postcards hanging on the wall, with tape and pins.

It’s really hot. Only the moths are interested in getting close to the blue-neon electric insect screen, sloppy and bulky like the rest, and bequeathed a burst like a stroke of a whip, a puff of smoke and a slight burning smell.

The inhabitants of the district come here on Sundays, bored with the long summer days, to play tombola,  cursing at every drawn number and trying their hand… It doesn’t matter if it’s Friday… It’s Friday the 13th… Does it bring luck? We heard a rumor that the tombola prize will be extremely cool this week…

#03 GIANNI
Glass Editions (2017)

“But is decadence really over?”, I ask myself in the shady courtyard of this restaurant in the center, a short walk from the Natural History Museum, while my throat burns with yet another glass of Magrod.
I have no idea, I am here, my feet wrapped in soft Egyptian cotton socks, to reflect. The sounds of the city reach my ears through a diaphragm of oleander and jasmine.
The shuffling outside remind me of an insect with large colorful wings, the noises are nothing more but rain falling and hummingbirds flying and the metro roars like a puma approaching its meal.
My meal! I am not hungry. I do not remember the last time I had lunch.
It would be scary to find out that it’s all a hallucination. But that waitress is so kind, the colors so mellow and warm, so real.
I wonder what the girl languidly lying on the chair is thinking. She has her arms draped along her body, a small mirror in her hand and her skirt slightly ajar.
A rooster wanders among the tables. It reminds me of a pagan trophy, a magic animal painted with violent brushstrokes.
The tapestry hanging on the wall at the entrance features an atlas, each country has its flag, each flag its country. And the nations, hand sewn, starkly stand out against an overly blue sea.
From the window I see the shadows cutting obliquely across the square, the monument at the center looks like a puppet, a tailor’s dummy, a disturbing muse on top of a colored cube.
The stones are suspended in mid-air, as if they were clouds.
Men are pouring down.
This is not a story.

@ SETTEMBRINI
Via Settembrini 21, Rome
www.viasettembrini.com

* The stories cycle that embraces each intervention, creating a kind of storytelling of imaginary characters, is edited by Leonardo Caldana, assistant curator at BASEMENT ROMA.