Haris Epaminonda, Untitled #06 t/g, 2019, mirrored and lacquered wooden panel, brass, wooden panel, temple model,  27 5⁄8 × 19 3⁄4 × 20 1⁄2".

Haris Epaminonda, Untitled #06 t/g, 2019, mirrored and lacquered wooden panel, brass, wooden panel, temple model, 27 5⁄8 × 19 3⁄4 × 20 1⁄2".

Haris Epaminonda

In the last room of Haris Epaminonda’s exhibition “VOL. XXVI,” which opened this past April, a few weeks before the artist won a Silver Lion at the Venice Biennale, viewers found themselves facing the enigma of Untitled #15 t/g (all works 2019). A small vase and a slender metal structure were set atop a rectangular swath of gilded paper. A single palm leaf fluttered down from one of the metal bars. A few feet away, a white stucco panel leaned against the wall. Jutting from behind it was a snippet of an illustration from an old atlas, showing a young woman twirling on a swing on a red-figure Attic vase, dating from 450 to 400 BCE.

In its entirety, the original tableau shows a satyr on the verge of pushing the girl. Why the artist would include only this small, furtive excerpt is one of the myriad unanswered questions that Epaminonda’s work poses. Perhaps the image highlights the symbolic significance the swing had in antiquity, when it was associated with Dionysian rituals, with death and life. For the image not to yield a straightforward reading was, however, in keeping with the sense of oscillation imparted by other aspects of the show, from the quiver of the palm leaf to the rustle of the velvet curtain of Untitled #13 t/g. It was as if an imperceptible tremor were emanating through the show, upsetting the orthogonal order of Epaminonda’s pristine installations.

Curiously, while the artist arranges her ready-made elements in highly organized displays, she does so in a manner that denies them any evident meaning. Instead, Epaminonda suspends her works in a tension between movement and stasis, abstraction and life, atemporality and cultural memory. The exhibition contained references to at least three ancient civilizations, from the Far East, Greek, and pre-Columbian worlds. In the last case, a small idol made an appearance in the found photograph Untitled #01 t/g, while Untitled #06 t/g, featured a scale model of a miniature pagoda, enclosed and framed by mirrors arranged in an L shape. Divorced from any documentary context, the traces of bygone empires seemed to coexist spatially and temporally as artifacts of decontextualized histories, while at the same time constituting a sort of Warburgian atlas of forms.

The exhibition also featured a group of white, wall mounted works made using the ancient Venetian floor-covering technique of pastellone and articulated by linear or geometric inserts of polished brass: In Untitled #05 t/g, a vertical solid brass band bisects two symmetrical spaces, while in Untitled #02 t/g, four vertically aligned panels are each outlined in brass. The artist evidently chooses her materials and surface treatments carefully, and her deployment of reflective surfaces of gilded paper, brass, lacquered wood, or mirrored walls here created a multiplication of spaces and shifts in perspective, reflecting the light and the surroundings and thus allowing real space to enter the abstraction. This harmony of two-dimensional surfaces and three-dimensional spaces, and the alignment of planes and refractions in the show as a whole, bestowed an additional, subterranean tension to the formal perfection of Epaminonda’s creations.

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Sho