Rena Papaspyrou

Photocopies Straight out of Matter, 1980-1981

Athens Conservatoire

26/05/2011 – 18/09/2011

Curated By: Stamatis Schizakis

In the framework of the series “Every Month”, EMST presents for the first time the complete series of works by Rena Papaspyrou Photocopies Straight out of Matter (1980-81) alongside three Small Samples from the Urban Landscape of 1979. These two series of works consist of collections of materials gathered by the artist during her urban explorations in an attempt to classify and archive the urban environment. This selection focuses on the “episodes” that occur on the surfaces of the material gathered from the urban environment, i.e. on the effects of time, environmental conditions and the human intervention on the sundry materials.

With Photocopies Straight out of Matter, 1980-81 and with Samples from the Urban Landscape, 1979 Rena Papaspyrou stimulates the associative ability of any viewer, illustrates the range of images and narratives that are hidden in the city details, and reveals him a new way of viewing the environment in which he travels on a daily basis.

Artist biography

Rena Papaspyrou was born in Athens in 1938. During the period 1956-67 she studies in the Athens School of Fine Arts and at the Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Beaux Arts in Paris. During 1993-2005 she teaches as a professor at the 3rd painting studio of the Athens School of Fine Arts. Since 1967 she has realized numerous individual exhibitions in Greece and abroad, with the most recent being Flashback in the Macedonian Museum of Contemporary Art in Thessaloniki in 2009, accompanied by the publication also entitled Flashback. She has participated in numerous group exhibitions such as Avanguardia e Sperimentazione in Modena and Venice in 1978, Emerging Images in Europalia 1982 in Antwerp, at the XVII Biennale of Sao Paolo at 1983, Metamorphoses of the Modern, the Greek Experience at the National Gallery in Athens in 1992, P+P=D, From the Activities of the Desmos Gallery at Deste Foundation Centre for Contemporary Art in 2000 and in the exhibition of the National Museum of Contemporary Art, Athens The Years of Defiance: The Art of the ’70s in Greece, in 2005. She is professor emeritus in the Athens School of Fine Arts. She lives and works in Athens.

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For Samples from the Urban Landscape, which is an effort to classify and archive the urban landscape, Rena Papaspyrou collects objects–by-products of urban habitation, both public and private. But before selecting, classifying according to its material and putting an object on the wall together with others from this “category”, she photocopies it. Shut in a room with a photocopier, the artist photocopies papers with colour residues, torn and trampled millimetre papers with drawings, pieces of wood and leaves, a straw whisk, soda cans flattened by cars, mats and fabrics, burlaps and strings, walls, pieces of wall and plaster, small pebbles, rusty iron sheets, plastic and glass objects, alone or in combinations between them. In most photocopies, the image of an object covers the entire surface of the photocopy paper, while in some instances one material is combined with another.

In this project, the role of the artist as collector and administrator of these materials is documented by the work itself: the artist herself can be seen in the photocopies, her face and hand intervening on the materials, crumpling paper and holding objects. And yet, her presence among the materials has a two-fold meaning: it is the documentation of the story of an individual who collects materials, photocopies them, combines them, de-scribes them and uses them, and at the same time is one of them. The city inhabitant is also a “material”, which the artist gathers and photocopies as an essential element of the landscape she tries to compose.

Through this practice, the artist seeks, with minimal intervention on her part, to reveal to the viewer the images contained by the object – the ones left on it by time and wear and tear, any intervention on its material, either accidental or deliberate, even by its construction process. At the core of this practice lies the identification, demarcation and revelation of images which haven’t been made by the artist’s hand but by “that great sculptor, time”.

In this work, which is closely connected with matter and its properties, the decision to mechanically reproduce the objects’ surface seems paradoxical. But while this process eliminates the objects’ materiality, it also facilitates the visual observation of the “episodes” in the way chosen by the artist [..]The photocopier, a misunderstood and underrated image-making device, without a lens or any focusing or portability option, does not offer the numerous image composition possibilities of a camera. Still, it copies with exceptional clarity the surface of any object placed on the glass plate and covered by the copier lid. The high contrast between black and white and the hard light allow a capturing of the details of the material, where every fibre, pore, rib or any other part of the material can clearly be seen. Without any actual enlargement, the resulting images have a scientific exactitude, being more like a herbarium or an encyclopaedia illustration.

[…] The photocopy translates the appearance of matter into an image that exists only as a surface. The result of this translation is achieved, since Papaspyrou’s photocopied “samples” have been chosen for their capacity to carry images on their surface.

“…I began using pieces of wood, asphalt, sheet metal, fragments of plaster removed from walls, cloth, plastic- the materials and elements of the cityscape, which is the actual landscape that the city dweller sees everyday without really seeing it.”.4 Thus describes Rena Papaspyrou the objects she collects: a non-visible but real landscape. In Photocopies Directly from Matter, through a technical device, the artist makes visible the tactile and microscopic details. The photocopying device assumes the role of a camera to reveal a “different nature” from the one that the unassisted eye sees or, as Walter Benjamin pointed out, to allow us to discover the “optical unconscious, just as we discover the instinctual unconscious through psychoanalysis”.5 With Photocopies Directly from Matter, Rena Papaspyrou stimulates the associative ability of every viewer, illustrates the range of images and narratives that are hidden in the city details, and reveals him a new way of viewing the environment in which he daily roams.

Stamatis Schizakis

Excerpt from the text Photocopies of a Non-visible yet Real Landscape in Rena Papaspyrou Photocopies, (2011), Athens: futura

4 Papaspyrou, Rena “Episodes in Matter – Images through Matter – The Illustrative Power of Matter”, in Rena Papaspyrou: Flashback, ed. Michalis Paparounis (Athens: futura, 2009), p. 37.

5 Walter Benjamin, “Little History of Photography”, in Selected Writings, Volume 2, Part 2, 1931-1934, eds. Michael W. Jennings, Howard Eiland and Gary Smith, trans. Rodney Livingstone (Cambridge, MA and London: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2005), pp. 510-512.



Photo: Rena Papaspyrou, From the series Photocopies directly from matter, 1980 – 1981
Donated by the artist 2011 and 2014