Ceci n'est pas une livre.
Roula Partheniou delights in books as objects, and loves the look of print. In 2005, she began her series of "Handmade Readymades", stretched canvases of the same dimensions as books, painted to replicate particular books.
These individual paintings of books evolved to loose sculptural stacks of paintings, wherein the books relate according to particular themes:
Partheniou's work was also featured in the series of three one-night exhibitions entitled "On Painting: History, Surprise, Restraint" curated by Richard Rhodes at last fall's Toronto International Art Fair. Partheniou's library-like installation held the "Surprise" spot in the series.
The work is indeed surprising, and witty, and attractive, and very collectible. But, like all good art, it can be read on several different levels. Initially the work appeals as a cheeky nod to the importance of language and punning humour in contemporary conceptual painting.
However, Partheniou has begun screwing her canvasses together, in order to create permanent sculptural piles. Now, not only are these books you cannot read, they are paintings you are are not allowed to see. She explains that the act of screwing the canvasses together has a queasy sense of finality for her, in that the paintings have now been defaced and further, will never be fully available to the viewer.
There is something about this rescinding act that reminds me of the twin myths of Pandora and Lilith. In Greek and Judeo-Christian mythology respectively, Pandora and Lilith were each first-created human women who were reviled and punished for their intellectual curiosity and strength . In the common versions of the myths, they were disobedient, and as a result, unleashed evil in the world. In other versions, what they did was to change human nature by acquiring and sharing the power of language. Partheniou's permanently unreadable sculptural stacks reminds me that language and literacy changes everything. Once emancipated by literacy and a free press, the only means of imposing absolute control upon social groups is through brutality or complacency... and in the latter case, we all get just what we deserve.
A small collaborative installation by Partheniou and Micah Lexier "Works, Works 1, Twice" can currently be seen at "Queen Specific", a vitrine gallery next door to (and sponsored by) Dufflet Pastries at 787 Queen St. West, Toronto.