Danae Stratou: Upon the earth and under the clouds
Aeschylia Festival 2017, Eleusis, Athens
9 June - 30 November 2017
Review by Dr Kostas Prapoglou
The major installation work, Upon the earth and under the clouds, by Greek artist Danae Stratou at the site of the Old Oil Mill in Eleusis, a major industrial town 11 miles northwest of central Athens which will be the European Capital of Culture 2021, takes visitors on a journey of multiple dimensions. Heavily charged by its ancient past revolving around the practices of Eleusinian Mysteries, a series of significant yet secret rituals and ceremonies known all across the ancient Greek and Roman world, the small town triggered the artist’s imagination and played host to a distinctive visual vocabulary.
Embarking from the ancient myth of Persephone and Demeter which embraces the ongoing interplay between life and death, Stratou’s narrative considers all those ideological parameters that adapt to the habitat of a ruinous contemporary industrial location. The discovery of ancient pottery vessels in the area identified and interpreted by archaeologists as infant burials, fabricates a practice with a powerful symbolism conveying the process of the short-term life cycle and the poignant return to the womb.
This allegorical praxis played a pivotal role in Stratou’s conceptual approach and visual expression; based on a new design evocative of ancient counterparts, she introduced one thousand medium sized pots that were made at a traditional kiln and ceramics workshop in Crete, filled with 100,000 liters of water. Each one of them was carefully dispersed over an area covering 3,000 square metres, encompassing both the outside and inner parts within the derelict factory situated at the Old Oil Mill quarter.
The viewer descends following an almost hidden path flanked by a group of large fig trees and subterranean water tanks. Simultaneously, a sound installation featuring sounds and echoes from the process of making the pots provides an unorthodox and unsettling ambience. The trail leads the way to a tiny gate reminiscent of the cave rim, Persephone once used to return from the kingdom of Hades and the underworld when suddenly the sea of vessels emerges before our eyes. Visitors are free to explore and experience this labyrinth and follow its route throughout the vast space. The activated dialogue between the surrounding environment and Stratou’s installation is omnipresent, the evident tranquility of the water is at a constant juxtaposition with the concrete detritus and the collapsing building parts surrounding it.
There is something eerie and ethereal in the reflection of the sky in the water that blurs the boundaries between the earth and the heavens. The title of the installation Upon the earth and under the clouds is suggestive of what is in store for us. It is borrowed verbatim from the statement that a local character (featured in a documentary by director Philip Koutsaftis) gave as an answer when asked where he lives, eloquently defining the true meaning of home and origin. And this is exactly what Stratou tried to create when she started this project in 2015. Having developed a deep interest in notions embodying spirituality as well as corporeality, she observes the trajectories of human existence as these unfold in real life conditions. The flow of her pots, gently navigates us through various sectors of the building, eventually leading us to the seafront which devises a potent commentary on conceptions around displacement, crossing of boundaries and immigration. Eleusis was one of those places in Greece where a large number of Greek Orthodox Christians from Asia Minor resettled following the exchange of populaces during the Greco-Turkish War of 1919-1922. It is hard to bypass its longstanding memory and reflects the recent influx of a massive number of refugees fleeing Syria and other regions.
Stratou’s installation is a conduit of a thousand constituents harnessing the vibrations of earth and reflecting not only the sky above but also what breathes and exists in-between. Upon the earth and under the clouds maps the human psyche, channeled through its material hypostasis of soil and water. It initiates a poetic declaration of transition and passage, a perpetual esoteric negotiation between mortality and immortality.