Immortal Love or Ode to the Past
22 February - 21 April 2018
Kalfayan Galleries are pleased to announce Rania Bellou’s fourth solo show ‘Immortal Love or Ode to the Past’ at Kalfayan Galleries, Athens.
‘Immortal Love or Ode to the Past,’ consists of a group of drawings created over the past two years. Their genesis is a diary found by Bellou at an open air market in Athens. Covering the period from 28th May 1945 to 16th February 1952, the diary’s author, P. Stais, recorded not only his thoughts, feelings, desires and dreams, but also several love poems. The diary was mostly written in Greek, with some passages in English, and was dedicated to his childhood sweetheart Martha, from whom he had been apart for thirty-five years after the Asia Minor disaster. There was even a poem which was written in Smyrna in 1919. The old handmade diary was leather-bound in a hardback copy, with a hand-drawn painting of the Acropolis on the cover.
The title of the exhibition, ‘Immortal Love or Ode to the Past’, refers to one of the diary’s poems that bears the same name. The writer composed the poem in anticipation of the day of being reunited with his dearly loved. The vivid presence of the author’s beloved in his mind was empowered by his feelings of loss, and by his persistence in seeking her. Examining the writing, Bellou felt as if the author was holding onto images of his youth, eulogising the present. “Writings often act as proof of narratives through which we are told of a past that is not repeatable, but is reportable, narratives that spiral backwards and inwards into a life’s interior.”  An old photograph or a handwritten passage by a long-dead stranger can create a profound personal connection, as we explore who we are now through the past lives of others.
Setting herself on the task of recreating the world of P. Stais, visualising the events, characters and moments of his life story, Bellou reimagined these instants, bringing them to life in a series of technically refined drawings that capture moments in time around 1910-1920 in Smyrna (Ismir), as well as around 1940-1950 in Athens.
During all stages of Bellou’s career, her practice has been based on a rigorous exploration of drawing. Culled from archival sources, the artist’s new drawing compositions, spectral and fragmentary, range from landscapes to sui generis portraits. With exquisite delicacy and detail through the use of graphite pencil on a new palette of colourful tissue paper, the artist sculpts the light and plays with the translucency of the material, creating an uncanny blend of realism and abstraction. Bellou becomes the new author, allowing personal feelings and memories to intrude and inform the fictional narrative, commenting on the inherent desire we all have to rewrite our and other people’s stories.
‘Be your Freedom and Build your own Kingdom, 2017’ is a large-scale drawing on a collage of colourful stripes of paper pointing to a scene taken from an open air market in Smyrna. Similarly, ‘Climbing up the Acropolis “I” & “III”, contain architectural traces of Athens’ historic centre - their title referring to one of Stais’ poems. The second drawing of the series, ‘Climbing up the Acropolis, 2017,’ with its vibrant shades of blue and sharp parallel lines, reminding us of a flag, juxtaposes with the in-love couple walking inside the Parthenon.
Bellou’s artworks on paper often take the form of a book. The exhibited drawings are accompanied by 'Immortal Love or Ode to the Past' 2016, an unique artist’s book composed of thirty individual drawings on a collage of colourful tissue paper. Across the room, a related video projection depicts a viewer leafing through the artwork and allows the visitor to discover its intriguing content. The viewer witnesses a moment where present and past life collide; interweaving memories whilst preserving a loving impulse. The voice of the narrator gradually becomes memory before it happens; it is thus an echo before it becomes a voice, a narrative before it becomes reality.
Pearce, Susan, On Collecting: An Investigation into Collecting in European Tradition (Collecting Cultures), Routledge Editions, 1999