Woman Crush Wednesday: Polixeni Papapetrou
Interview by Yanika Anukulpun
Project: Between Worlds 2009-2012
How did you get an inspiration for this project?
Actually, the cue was more than an accident. My family and I happened to be in Tokyo, looking at the lovely Ueno market when we saw some rubber masks of a horse. Our children immediately identified the masks as suitable for photography. I bought one but soon regretted that I hadn’t bought two, just in case some future photograph might warrant a pair of horses. My family encouraged me to go back through the dense market stalls in search of the other mask. At this stage, I had no idea where or how I might use the masks. They just seemed so curious, so bizarrely transformative, so odd that a membrane had been designed for a human head to suggest that another animal identity could be adopted. So there, in a flash, lay some of the mystery for me in this project: it is playful, carnivalesque, with a touch of farce; but beneath the joke, there is an uncanny equation of beast and human, an odd parallel that makes our rituals seem spookier, more ancient by millions of years when our gene-stock was mixed.
How did you decide to choose the types of animals, such as rabbits, and horses etc.?
So after the chance meeting of a horse mask in Tokyo, I began seeing similar masks everywhere, here in Australia and of course prolifically on the internet. It’s such a good question, because whatever I found I was caused to ponder the kind of animal, its associations, its relation to us, the way we sentimentalize the beast or exploit it, on the other hand, the way we miniaturize it or spiritualize or magnify it in narratives, allegories or moral parables since Aesop’s day.
What did those masks represent or mean to you?
A lot more than the rubber skin! I initially thought: here is a motif of transformation, another example of shape-shifting, the way children can morph into other imaginative roles in other worlds. But the more I pondered what those other roles and worlds are, the more I became absorbed in their atmospheric potential and the more I began to see an inner metaphor that has preoccupied artists for many centuries. We tend to see animals through our convenience but artists have also seen them more confronting. In Melbourne, we have examples of the French animalier tradition, with sculptures by Frémiet and others. We also have an earlier painting by George Stubbs of a horse being attacked by a lion. We are transfixed by the innocence and ferocity of nature, this terrible ambivalence that we may also feel at the dinner table (though I’m personally vegetarian). I’m attracted not by the moral but by the ambiguity, the way that our mind becomes poised between worlds, which is the title of the whole body of work.
Describe your creative process in one word.
If you could teach one, a one-hour class on anything, what would it be?
Yes, it would be how to find your own voice. You know, we’re so stifled by our upbringing, even if we have enlightened parents and visionary schooling. To find your own voice as an artist is something that involves everything that you’re never taught because it isn’t about responsibilities or logic or ethics or anything else that we profess with enthusiasm in education and upbringing. It’s about being able to see inside yourself. Maybe just one hour is all that you could fill with the theme.
What is the last book you read or film you saw that inspired you?
I was recently on an Oliver Sachs run, reading On the Move and then Gratitude.
What is the most played song in your music library?
I think the most played musician is Leonard Cohen but as to the most played song, oh that is an impossible question for which I do not have an answer. My tastes in music are very catholic. I still love the music that I grew up in the 70s and 80s with but also enjoy the music of many centuries back. I am in awe of musicians.
How do you take your coffee?
For me, always café au lait, no sugar! It’s a big ritual around here. Right at the moment, I am extremely sick and have stopped eating. Almost the only nutrition that I can ingest is café au lait or caffè latte as we say in Australia. Your question is more poignant than you’d believe.