by Roula Partheniou
Published by Dunlop Art Gallery
Review by Juliana Rupchan
$29.99 ISBN 978-1-988404-01-1
Index is an art catalogue collecting the works of Roula Partheniou, a Toronto artist working primarily in sculpture. Index was published in Saskatchewan by the Regina Public Library’s Dunlop Art Gallery, and Regina locals may also recall seeing Partheniou’s exhibit, “Chalk to Cheese”, which was on display at the Sherwood branch of the gallery in fall 2016.
Even a casual observer could find this catalogue satisfying to flip through: Partheniou’s work deals mainly with simplified, handmade replicas of everyday objects, making the book a veritable I-Spy of recognizable items. The primary colours and smooth designs have an oddly satisfying and almost relaxing effect, but closer observation also draws one into a strange in-between world, real but not quite, with the unsettling air of an optical illusion. It’s these questions, about how we perceive objects we might initially dismiss as mundane, that are central to the collection.
The book includes photos of eight different exhibitions: several, including “Chalk to Cheese” consist of an array of replica household objects, leaving the viewer to determine possible connections between them or logic behind their arrangement. Others, like “Twofold”, take a more abstract approach, with simply-shaped objects on display in double. Also included are six essays, which provide avenues for interpreting the various exhibitions. Most interesting of these is an interview with Partheniou herself by Nate McLeod, where Partheniou reveals a sense of play in both the making and viewing of the artwork, ideas of double-take and illusion, claiming the whole project started through a chance match between the size of small canvases and a pack of cigarettes. The various exhibitions then arose through questions of how far the resemblance can go: how much can a design be simplified or distorted and still be immediately recognized? How is a viewer thrown off balance when there is one real item displayed among replicas, or when, in “House and Home and Garden”, construction site details are included in an exhibit at a perpetually-under-construction gallery? There is a dry sort of humour to the whole project, right down to a replica banana peel, thrown away on multiple occasions by well-meaning janitors.
Partheniou’s work is a made-in-Canada example of a pop art style, reminiscent of Andy Warhol’s replica supermarket and with nods to the Marcel Duchamp “readymades” that first introduced the idea of putting everyday objects into the art world. But her work erases most traces of the commercial to focus on its own domestic, handmade, and experimental quality: the familiar world taken into the artist’s own hands and rearranged according to different sets of rules. Above all else, the work is playful, and it might just make you look a little more closely at the objects you see every day.
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