Text and Interview: Alec Coiro
Photo: Olimpia Dior
Materials are key for Ioanna Pantazopoulou; often times her process begins with them. She did a pasta installation in Italy (for obvious reasons), a toilet paper monument on Hydra, and, most recently her bikini hut at Safe Gallery in Bushwick. “The bikinis came from a luxury swimwear designer. She’s a good friend of mine. She donated it. Her brand is called Paolita. They’re old stock. It’s all the different sizes you can imagine.” But in the instance of the bikini hut, the initial inspiration was not the bikini material, but rather it stemmed from one the Athens-born artist’s encounter with the peculiarities of American car dealership culture. “FIrst I decided on the car dealership streamers, the roof, because it’s my second year hear in New York and I was very fascinated by the car dealerships: it’s a very macho environment and then they have these fairy tinsel eye attracting tinsels that you can only find in car dealership suppliers. I thought I love this; I want to use it. So I came up with the roof, and then organically the bikinis.”
Indeed, there is an organic nature to Pantazopoulou’s work that causes it to resist facile categorization. Thus, in trying to articulate her approach to the materials, I called them “found materials,” which I quickly realized sells short the scope of her project after listening to her elaborate on it. “They’re found and also discarded. They might be perfectly new and never used. The bikinis were sealed with the tags on them. They have an expiring date because after the season’s over it’s like they lose their function. There’s always a journey behind all the materials. Sometimes it’s a funny story where they come to me through people, word of mouth, or I stumble across them. And other times I search for something specific.”
There’s always a journey behind all the materials.
Pantazopoulou’s work never sermonizes nor does she talk about her work in a didactic way. But beneath the playfulness and the invitation to be used touched and transversed, her work also communicates a strong critique of contemporary global capitalism and its attendant waste. But more than a critique, her work also offers a symbolic solution by refusing to classify the expired materials as waste. “It is important. Because I use a big quantity of it, whatever material I use, whether it’s toilet paper or previously I’ve used pasta or vintage motorcycle jackets. They wind up becoming building materials. In real life they’ve lost their function because they exist but then they don’t exist because they cannot be sold as a product, but they have another life in the sculpture.”
In addition to Pantazopoulou’s fascinating redeployment of global detritus, her project also extends explores architecture and the subject’s position in space. “I’m interested in the materials but also architecture. While I was in Africa I saw how resourceful people are with building. With this sculpture what I wanted people to do was actually get in it. I wanted them to see what’s inside of it, the way it’s built and be surrounded by an environment.”
The Bikini Hut is meant to surround you, and invites you to come inside. Pantazopoulou intends for you to go inside and investigate how it was constructed. “I’m becoming more and more interested in making objects that people can interact with.” Indeed, at the opening of the exhibit, the hut was packed with people watching Kill Altars perform.
Also on exhibit was the hammock that Pantazopoulou constructed out of discarded climbing rope and bells. I adored reclining on it and listening to it jingle. It had gone past its expiration date for hanging off of a mountain, but it was still just right for slow swinging, which is what I think is a use Ioanna would approve of.