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Creative Paddington: Polixeni Papapetrou

By Lola Pinder


Critically acclaimed photographer Polixeni Papapetrou is one of Australia's leading contemporary artists. Papapetrou told me that as a young photographer she ‘thought nothing of a trip of to Sydney’, including Paddington, from her Melbourne home to see inspiring work. Papapetrou regaled the Paddington art scene in the 80s and thought of the area as full of possibilities. Then, Paddington offered a bohemian environment where she as a young, impressionable woman, Papapetrou was able to imagine herself as an artist. She describes the engaging and inspiring vibe of the neighbourhood that gave her ‘permission to belong to this scene’. She mentions the original Stills gallery when it was in just a terrace house, and remembers the inspiring scene of Oxford Street including the couple of times she has worked as an official photographer for the Mardi Gras, ‘only on Oxford Street!’ she said. Papapetrou speaks fondly of the ACP at this time describing it as ‘the only dedicated public space for photography. The exhibitions and the magazine Photofile became pivotal reference points and a destination for me’.

The ACP has shown Papapetrou several times throughout her nearly 20 year career, including the acclaimed international touring exhibition Photographica Australis organised by ACP in conjunction with the Australia Council for Arts, the Australian Embassy in Spain, and the Dirección General de Archivos, Museos y Bibliotecas de la Consejería de las Artes de la Comunidad de Madrid to represent of the state of contemporary Australian art. In 2012 ACP exhibited her first major retrospective Tales from Elsewhere. The works chosen centred on over a decade of collaborations between the artist and her children, Olympia and Solomon. Among these included her works Dreamchild, 2003 and Wonderland, 2004 in which Papapetrou re-stages Lewis Caroll’s works. These works represent a theatre of imagination; of child’s play and adult perceptions fantasy and reality. Papapetrou also reflects on the nature of performance, and its codes and implications.

Papapetrou identifies how her works reveal herself in many ways. Theatre and literature and the visual arts canon are deep influences in her work. The 19th century tableau vivant photography is present in Papapetrou’s aesthetic, from her use of props to the lack of depth of field in her work. Her early works are often formed from re-creations of influences from literary sources. She also references the subconscious as an important influence, elements of the unconscious become recognisable as she creates her pictures, bringing a multilayered personal experience to her work. Her series Lost Psyche most evidently shows an exploration of the artist within each archetype represented. The characters chosen represent old world characters.  The masked figures portray types lost between dreams and reality. Papapetrou seeks to use the medium of photography to capture and fix down such liminal characters, to stabilise The Daydreamer, The Storyteller or The Immigrant, if not for just a moment.

Papapetrou’s recent grants include the International Travel Grant from the Australia Council in 2014, New Work grants from the Australia Council for the Arts in 2009, 2012 and 2014, and the Josephine Ulrick and Win Schubert Photography Award in 2009. Papapetrou is currently showing Elvis Immortal, at Ararat Regional Art Gallery, Victoria. Last year alone saw her work exhibited on numerous occasions nationally and internationally, including Episodes: Australian Photography Now, the 13th Dong Gang International Photo Festival, Korea and Collection Conversations: Childhood, The Museum of Fine Arts, St Petersburg, Florida. She is represented by Stills Gallery in Paddington, Sydney, Jenkins Johnson Gallery in New York and ARTITLED!, Herpen, The Netherlands.

This post is part of the Art Month Event Creative Paddington taking place on March 7th in conjunction with Metro Screen and UNSW Art & Design.



Images: Installation from Tales from Elsewhere, 2012. Courtesy and © ACP, The immigrant is part of Papapetrou’s series ‘Lost Psyche’ shown at Still Gallery last year Courtesy and © Polixeni Papapetrou