Arriving at the British School at Athens to view the current show, Prosaic Origins, I am informed by the artist, Andreas Lolis, that I have walked past and missed, not one, but two pieces in his new exhibition. In fact I have to backtrack to the street and be taken to the opening piece of the show. Of course this is no surprise to Lolis whose work meticulously explores what is understood to be art, and the intersection of what is seen and what is hidden, working in that critical arena of object making and presentation. This is perfectly illustrated by that first piece ‘Untitled’ (2018) which is two black sculptures carved in marble from Belgium to resemble two full black plastic bin bags and placed (as if discarded) beside the entrance of the British School at Athens. The surface of the work perfectly replicates the texture and gloss of an actual bag. The trompe-l’œil is utterly convincing and it is only by crouching down and closely examining the work that it reveals itself. Lolis tells me that the piece is “a paradox” and is intended to“break the seal of the exhibition”.
Lolis’ works constantly play with and refers to the city itself; Athens is a city burdened with many problems right now where piles of debris and rubbish are an extremely common sight. It is here Lolis’ says that his work gained its political consciousness, which is at the centre of his work. He wants to “arrest time” and make “a monument to those who have lost everything”. Further into the show and under a large tree in the garden is a bench, ‘Untitled’ (2018) for which Lolis has carved a simple white pillow and blanket. He wants to make the problem of homelessness “impossible to ignore” and by creating such extreme contrast with the material and subject he can’t help but make the viewer take stock. For Lolis this really is about using a material laden with historical weight - and perhaps baggage - and making it contemporary, as he tells me that he has to “find his time” and wants to use a material “without a tomorrow”.
All the works in the show are site specific; Lolis collaborated closely with the curator Nayia Yiakoumaki and the producers NEON (a nonprofit organization founded in 2013 by collector and entrepreneur Dimitris Daskalopoulos). The largest work ‘Untitled’ (2018) could be described as the interior of an abandoned white room - a work that Lolis want viewers to experience from the inside. This is perhaps his most delicate work, where, in a possible reference to Donatello and his technique of ‘rilievo schiacciato’, Lolis carves the visual evidence of entropy, with small areas of damage or peeling wallpaper - apparent at closer inspection - out of white Carrara marble. The room may be abandoned but it is still a room which could be inhabited as an alternative to living on the street, so again the reality of many peoples lives is brought into sharp focus.
Lolis uses slight of hand to confuse the senses and unbalance viewers expectations. He encourages visitors to actively touch and to feel the works. In pieces such as ‘Untitled’ (2018) - which is probably the best camouflaged - a sculpture of a log is hidden in plain sight among the bushes and rendered in an exact wood colour-matched marble. I find myself crouching down and being surprised at the cold touch of the material as if I can’t bring myself to believe it until I have felt it myself - the ‘real world’ pine needles lying on top only add to the artifice. It is almost as if the artists has the desire to make something that is almost invisible. But in discovering it, one finds oneself utterly delighted by both the revelation of the work and the incredible craftsmanship that is on display, yet still taken aback by the important socio-political messages that he imbues in each work.