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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.”

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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?

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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.

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Razor on velvet – killing me softly

Razor on velvet – killing me softly(greek only) by Fivos Sakalis

Ο χρόνος αλλά και ο χώρος και ο ρόλος τους στη ζωή του ανθρώπου, με εργαλεία το παράδοξο, την ένταση, τον υπαινιγμό αλλά και την αμεσότητα, την υποβλητικότητα αλλά και την απλότητα στην φόρμα, αποτελούν τις συνισταμένες του έργου της Μάρως Μιχαλακάκου.

Χέρια πλεγμένα ή γυναικεία εφηβαία αποκομμένα από το υπόλοιπο σώμα, πρόσωπα που θυμίζουν το σήμα επικίνδυνων ουσιών πάνω σε συσκευασίες – σαν νεκροκεφαλές ή κεφάλια παράξενων καρτούν, φίδια αλλά και νύχια μυθικών τεράτων, ζωγραφίζονται πάνω σε τεράστιους πορφυρούς υφασμάτινους καμβάδες καθώς το χειρουργικό ξυράφι -πινέλο αποσπά από το βελούδο το πέλος του, που πέφτει στο πάτωμα σχηματίζοντας «σάρκινους», αιμάτινους σωρούς. Το παράδοξο είναι το κύριο χαρακτηριστικό των έργων της Μάρως Μιχαλακάκου. Όμως ένα παράδοξο που δεν προσομοιάζει στον σουρεαλισμό, αλλά αντλείται από το παράδοξο της καθημερινότητάς μας – ιδίως αν με ειλικρίνεια προσπαθήσουμε να αποκωδικοποιήσουμε τις σκέψεις και τα συναισθήματά μας. Ένα παράδοξο που προκύπτει από τον άναρχο και αχαλίνωτο ψυχισμό μας, που τελικά ανθίσταται σε κάθε είδους κοινωνικές επιταγές και νόρμες για να δημιουργήσει αξιοπερίεργα μορφώματα. Έργα αυτοαναφορικά στον πυρήνα τους, που όμως με ευκολία μπορούν να αντικαθρεφτίσουν τις αναρωτήσεις και την ανησυχία πολλών γύρω από θέματα όπως οι σχέσεις (εξουσίας πάντοτε με τον έναν ή τον άλλον τρόπο), το σεξ και η σεξουαλική ταυτότητα, η βιαιότητα της ίδιας της ύπαρξης, η μοναξιά, το γήρας, ο θάνατος και η ζωή.

Η τελευταία έκθεση της Μάρως Μιχαλακάκου στο Κέντρο Σύγχρονης Τέχνης Ιλεάνα Τούντα με τίτλο «Θα Προτιμούσα Όχι» περιλαμβάνει δύο τεράστιες εγκαταστάσεις και μερικά σχέδια. Η μία από τις δύο εγκαταστάσεις, το “Κόκκινο Χαλί”, είναι ένα πορφυρό βελούδινο ύφασμα όπου επάνω του έχουν ζωγραφιστεί με ξυράφι τα αποτυπώματα ενός φανταστικού αρπακτικού όντος, ενός δράκου που απλώνεται στη γκαλερί απειλητικά, με τα τεράστια νύχια του, έτοιμο να κατασπαράξει.

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Working with Red Velvet

Working with Red Velvet: The Art of Maro Michalakakos
By iris plaitakis, April 16, 2016

I’ve known artist Maro Michalakakos for many years, but this was the first time I visited her studio. I wasn’t sure what she would be working on, and was more than pleasantly surprised to find the walls lined with lengths of red velvet being shaved with a scalpel and heaps of fluff littering the floor. This is her signature work, which she does stray from, but it’s what I came to talk about.

Tell us about red velvet. When did you begin working with it and why?

Red velvet is the running thread in my work. I used it in my first solo exhibition in Paris in 1996, and even if I have done completely different things over the years it is what I keep coming back to, always.

At art school in France in the early 90s, I was studying painting and covering surfaces with layer upon layer of oils, which as a process was seemingly never-ending. For some reason I bought a piece of red velvet. I didn’t know what I would do with it; it was just my instinct. I hung it in my studio and at first I would just look at it and pet it! One day a professor said to me ‘well, it has hairs,’ so I thought to myself ‘then I’ll shave it!’ and that is what I did. And it was the act that was so satisfying, almost filling me with euphoria, a strange feeling indeed. I enjoyed the physically removing, the taking away and that I was creating via this process, as opposed to layering. The material at some point obliged me to stop. I think red velvet freed me from painting and that is why it stuck and why I keep coming back to it.

What role do the historic/cultural associations of red velvet play in your work? Does this inform the imagery you shave onto the panels?

After a while I began thinking about why red velvet and that led to the direction in which the work would go. We find red velvet in the theater, in church, in royal contexts; even in modest homes there is a touch of it. In the theater and in the church, it is a curtain that divides, the audience and the divine. By shaving you try to break through these barriers, but in the end you can’t.

As far as the imagery is concerned, yes but it’s not so obvious. For example, I have put the legs of a predatory bird onto a red carpet and it’s true that human predators are the sorts that walk the red carpet, but then again we all have a bit of a predator in us. In general the imagery is always anthropocentric. Even when it features animals, it is still about the condition of being human.

The red carpet and opera curtains both have to do with performance, the notion of the spectacle. Is this particular association of red velvet what led you to do certain site-specific installations, such as in theaters?

I didn’t think so, but perhaps you are right! I have also done theater-set design.
I enjoy doing site-specific installations in places that have a history because the place inspires fantasy.

You have also upholstered furniture with shaved red velvet. Presumably this has to do with the fact that your family had an antiques shop?

It was very natural for me growing up surrounded by all of these objects to use them in my practice. Often we would receive furniture from people who were emptying the home of a recently deceased parent so I didn’t want to know the story behind. I was more inclined to create a fantasy tale around the object and that is what red velvet allows me to do.

You also collect all of the pile shaved from your panels and in fact covered two columns of a gallery almost to the ceiling with mounds of it. Tell us a little about this.

When I shaved that very first piece of red velvet as a student, perhaps I didn’t keep the pile but I photographed it. I still have that photograph, which shows how important to me that which came off was from the very beginning.

When I began working with it in my practice, I started thinking about not only fiber fluff but also the dust balls that gather under furniture, in empty spaces. Wherever you leave space, something will come to fill it.

What is the relationship of this work to the rest of your work, the plumbing networks for example?

What is common to everything I do is the notion of the tie or the knot. For example, in my recent watercolors I have painted Audubon’s flamingo, but its neck is knotted around its leg and it can’t move forward. It is just like the boundary that red velvet gives you, not allowing you to go any further.

What are you working on now?

I am about to send off this work that you see here in the studio. It will form an installation in a medieval tower in France. The shaved velvet panels will cover the five large windows of a room and act like stained glass making the entire space crimson. I was inspired by the tower’s history as a prison. That’s why certain heads are upside down. They are meant to reflect the pain, agony and sense of fatality that the prisoners must have felt.

A second installation in this show consists of eight pieces of furniture. Each is upholstered with red velvet where I have removed the pile to feature body parts (hands, eyes, heads) of their “fantasy owners.”

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.

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Interview By Efi Michalarou

Interview By Efi Michalarou
NEON & Maro Michalakakos Archive

Mrs. Michalakakos, you are starting a new collaboration with NEV Gallery in Istanbul. We know that last year you participated in the exhibition “Till it’s gone”, with watercolors that all were purchased by the Istanbul Modern. What does it mean for you the developing of this new professional relationship?
The cooperation I had with the curators of the exhibition, Celenk Bafra and Paolo Colombo at Istanbul Modern was productive and the concept we worked on was very interesting. The communication with the artists was very prolific and it was a great honor for me to participate in the exhibition ‘’Till it’s gone’’, it was a marvelous experience. I am glad to be the first female Greek artist in the Museum’s Collection for personal reasons; my grandfather had origins from Istanbul.

As we know, you have visited recently Istanbul, after the change of the political situation, have you noticed differences from last year?
Istanbul is a magical city that is going through hard times and you can feel that in the atmosphere. It is a very charming city of great cultural and historical interest that can provide great inspiration for an artist, particularly when a part of her originates from there. I am approaching my work through elements that are personal-experiential or historical, enriched with information and influences to form the artwork with the intention to communicate with the viewer.

In your 1st solo exhibition at NEV Gallery in Istanbul you will present older and new works in velvet and watercolors. How challenging and interesting is for an artist to combine different periods, phases and means of expression?
My work has multiple aspects, mainly in the means of expression. When I have the idea of an artwork I am trying to find the best way to express it. I investigate and choose the materials that I consider are the best to fulfil my idea, but the central axis of my work is stable. At first I thought that the process was like the links of a chain, now I feel it like the water flow. My work deals with the human relations and the acceptance of human nature, which also contains death.

The exhibition’s title is “Doors of Perception’’ a very intriguing title. How emerges and what are its references?
It is inspired by the work of William Blake ‘’The marriage of Heaven and Hell’’, and from the philosophical essay, by Aldous Huxley. These were the inspiration of “The Doors” to name their band as such. William Blake’s poetry refers to dipoles, Heaven – Hell, attraction – repulsion, love – hate, white – black… Whilst also referring to the wedding of these elements…. Those dipoles are necessary for the human existence.

I know you and your work many years and I’m keeping track of your work closely. I believe that your work from the figures that you are chiseling on the velvet, to the “Oh Les Beaux Jours” that is on presentation at the exhibition “Flying over the Abyss”, is an internal journey from the conscious to the unconscious, and finally to the soul, which contains the personal and the universal.
At the Athens Conservatory the installation stretches in space trying to find other gaps that can be filled. Perhaps through these gaps the two mountains can eventually meet even for a while… The title of the installation “Happy Days” (Oh les Beaux Jours) has been chosen by Paul Verlain’s homonymous poem and Samuel Becket’s work. Two mountains of fluff, and dust, covering anxiety about human condition and shows to us the path of the authority and power games in relationships.