With two exhibitions in Colorado, a group show in Montreal, and another in her native Cyprus happening within months of each other, the artist Marina Kassianidou has truly had to think about time. “I’m not the most organized person when it comes to figuring out when I need to have things done,” she told Hyperallergic, which is surprising because her meticulous and thoughtful work certainly takes a lot of time to make.
Kassianidou is a Boulder- and Limassol-based installation artist who creates quiet, material-driven work shaped by the place in which she shows it. Her work for both Geometric Frustrations at Boulder’s east window SOUTH, on view through October 28, and Volumes at Denver’s Lane Meyer Projects, where her work appeared with the artist Maia Ruth Lee earlier this fall, incorporates location-specific qualities. Kassianidou exhibits her work all over Europe and the United States, in 2016 she received a Joan Mitchell Foundation Painters and Sculptors Grant, and when Hyperallergic spoke to her she had just returned from a residency at MASS MoCA, her first in-person residency since the COVID-19 pandemic.
The experience of seeing art and the space in which it is shown is incredibly important to Kassianidou. For example, Lane Meyer Projects is a gallery in the back of Pon Pon, a dark and slightly divey bar. “I like the Lane Meyers space a lot, and part of the reason why I like it is that you get random people walking in. It is such quiet work in a space that’s literally not quiet,” she said. “There’s music, people drinking, talking, all this social activity happening. And then you walk in [the gallery] and it’s like a little sanctuary almost. I started becoming more interested in that contrast to see how it would play itself out. I’m still thinking about it.”
Kassianidou’s grandmother’s childhood textbooks are the basis of her work in Volumes. Two framed high-resolution photographs of the covers of two of these textbooks are mounted on the walls. The photographs, taken with the help of photographer Vassos Stylianou, are so impeccably lit and pristine that they appear three-dimensional. Next to each photograph hangs a large piece of thick paper held against the wall with a wooden bar. The bar crosses the paper’s center so the paper droops over it — like the pages of a book held horizontally. Using a projector, Kassianidou carefully traced each crease and pencil mark, every dog-eared fold, the outline of a drink stain, the contours of a hungry bookworm’s path, even a human bite mark she was surprised to find, that appeared on each page of her grandmother’s book — front and back. The graphite lines appear much darker where the marks overlap, compressing time and material.
“There’s a history that’s told by all these other marks that are not the text. How can that history then become the thing that the book is about?” said Kassianidou.
A relatively un-creased page took her 20 minutes to recreate, while a particularly “damaged” page took two hours. Because the thick sheet of paper folds over on itself, the detailed work is visible on the paper’s underside, but it’s also obscured. There’s something cheeky in that. It’s easy to imagine people wandering in from the bar thinking the piece wasn’t tacked up correctly, some picking up an edge curious to see what was hidden or to understand how exactly the paper was held to the wall. Curiosity, the desire to know, knowledge acquisition — Kassianidou is also an assistant professor at CU Boulder. Though she teaches in the department of Art and Art History, she also holds a master’s degree in computer science from Stanford University.
“I was thinking about how else [other than in books] do we know something or how else can we get to know something? We do it through movement and we do it through touching and holding things,” she said. “Turning [the textbooks] into these other texts where it’s just those marks of abuse — time had to do with that, another kind of knowledge that’s not necessarily legible. It’s not something that’s taught the way factual knowledge might be taught, but it’s a way in which we experience the world because we are embodied beings, we move around, we do things with our hands all the time. I was thinking about knowledge in that way when doing that work. I was thinking about the act of reading and writing in a different way. How else do we read the world? How else do we write the world?”
Geometric Frustrations, her show at east window SOUTH, reads or writes the world differently, too. The exhibit is inspired by a recent scientific article in Nature Communications that describes the mathematical patterns which underlie the way paper folds when it is crushed. These patterns enable the paper to maintain its material integrity — paper folds in ways that cause the least amount of structural damage. In the exhibition, Kassianidou crushed sheets of graph paper created by the US Department of the Interior specifically designed to depict data about the volume of water in streams over time. She uncrumpled the paper slightly, then drew over each crease and fold. The crushed paper sits on wooden stands that curve around the tiny, dark-walled exhibition space and is accompanied by copper plates on which she etched the paper marks she made — a two-dimensional depiction of the crags, canyons, and crevices of the paper. Filmmaker Erin Espelie and writer Oswaldo Emiddio Vasquez Hadjilyra wrote text for the exhibit — each adding another layer of knowledge. Espelie’s text explains geological shear zones; Vasquez Hadjilyra’s text is a work of science fiction about beings that inhabit inner earth.
Speaking with Kassianidou, it’s evident how much of her practice is grounded in a deep interest in, and even an emotional attachment to, her materials. She mentions the work of Susan Collis and Louise Hopkins, artists whose work derives significant meaning from the materials with which they work. Kassianidou uses textiles she’s found dumpster diving behind furnishing stores, extra vinyl flooring from her grandparents’ home renovation, fabric and interesting paper her friends pass along to her. “It isn’t the fact that it’s been thrown away,” she said. “I’m interested in the idea of the leftover. Things that were just left there. They become traces of someone’s existence or someone’s actions. I think of them as traces and link it back to mark-making. They have a history. How can I excavate that history and do something different with it?”
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