Text by Christina Petkopoulou
A golden foil fringe curtain blows in the wind, from an office building, right over Omonoia square, in the center of Athens. With the window open, Marina Velisioti is working in her studio, one of the numerous offices forming the labyrinthian structure of the building. In the corridors, lawyers, a few more artists, clients and visitors wander around. On the busy ground floor, inside the arcade, a multifunctional fish tavern serves as the building’s cafeteria.
In her luminous studio, Velisioti stacks her materials up in order. Color coordinated skeins of threads of various origins and textures, wool, metal strings, folded rugs and rolled fabrics, a few old magazines and books. A medium size wooden loom, set in front of the window creates an odd composition with the view of the prim hotel façade. Apart from the corner which is catered for the reception of visitors (a coffee, table and a small sofa next to the coffee maker), every inch of the room is organized in favor of the creating process: materials, tools and working decks. The artist doesn’t study nor does research here; this space is dedicated to production. The studio in the office building is a an actual “working” place itself, one could even see it as a crafts(wo)man’s workshop. Hence, the room is screen-free and one can spot only some of the books with her visual references: a series of magazines on UFO’s and conspiracy theories, a pocket size encyclopedia on extraterrestrial life, hardcover books about traditional embroidery and the architecture of ancient and prehistoric civilizations.
Marina Velisioti started her career drawing and painting, following her educational background. Her early works are mostly large canvases, resembling otherworldly deserted landscapes with floating mysterious creatures and machine-like humanoid silhouettes. Her iconographic interest in the aesthetic language of science fiction along with her attraction to popular visual culture were already evident in these works. Interestingly, even in her early painting surfaces, her practice demonstrated signs of her urge to escape two dimensions; the surface is covered with glue, a material that, without disrupting the illustrative lines, added volume to her forms and reached out for the sight of the viewer. Her forms and landscapes were starting to gain weight and movement.
Equally, her ever-favorite technique of collage satisfied the same impulse for visual depth. Collecting tremendous amounts of pictures, photographs and graphic elements from magazines, comics and encyclopedias for ongoing works, or stocking them for future use, Velisioti is carefully picking the structural components of her futuristic and flamboyant world. Landscapes with mysterious colors and unexpected geological relief, landforms that imply traces of inexplicable forces, her collages create a set up and an instigation point for the paths her practice takes in different periods of time and media. After all, her sewn collage series engaged the establishment of the systematic use of thread, a material and its accompanying techniques that defined her practice and liberated new dimensions in it. Her collages are autonomous pieces, studies on composition, plans for printed editions and for the past few years, drafts for her loom-embroidered objects and ceramics.
The yarn entered the artist’s work and slipped into her hands smoothly, as a natural development of her escape tactics from flat surface. Velisioti grew up among fabrics, rags and collars her mother brought from work in a clothes industry, materials that impressed the artist and she would play with. Today, her studio remains close to the source of these materials, a few blocks away from the streets where one can find all types of fabrics yarns and relevant tools. She learned weaving at SEN-Heritage Looms, an association founded in the end of the 19th century in Athens with the purpose to educate young women. She was comfortable enough in this non-academic environment to indulge in the artisanal knowledge, and begun to experiment with motifs of traditional weaving. At this turning point, her research on the non-human and the readings of the inexplicable phenomena, mirrored on the magical and mythological themes of folk and tradition. Her bewitching landscapes are now repositioned on the weaving surface, rough, soft, glowing and stimulating for the touch, as well as for the eye.
Equipped with the expertise and inspired by craftsmanship, Velisioti utilizes this visual and material language to expand her iconographic experimentation. She brings to life images, colors, textures and finally, sculptural objects that she extracts with her bare hands from a universe equally extraterrestrial and human; objects and textiles seem disassembled by Barbarella’s¹ spaceship, relics of a futuristic universe that is, nonetheless, humorous, seductive and conspicuously human-made. A recent example of this twofold effect, is her sculptural installation The Queen is in the chamber of her dreams (2022), showcased at the J. & A. N. Diomedes Botanic Garden as part of the group show “Sheltered Gardens”, organized by PCAI Polygreen and curated by Kika Kyriakakou. Velisioti has set a bamboo tent, covered with a woolen fabric she embroidered knot to knot. On the top of the pyramidoid structure, enigmatic ceramic symbols indicate the importance of the lodge’s inhabitant and possibly their unique powers. On the background, and in dialogue with Velisioti’s work the feathery plumes of the White Feather Pampas Grass plants were calling attention to the organic nature of the elements of the installation, which seemed, however, like it landed on the ground after an intergalactic journey.
Marina Velisioti through laborious processes extracts vestiges and biosignatures of an extraterrestrial civilization to which she attributes earthly and natural characteristics, without demystifying it from its charming and arcane glory. She understands her fabrics, her embroideries, her sculptural and her ceramic work as a pile of findings from an archaeological pit; they are all paraphernalia of an extraterrestrial civilization, whose history and achievements are being recorded in present time by the artist who takes the role of a counterfeiter of history. I see the knitted belts and the long scarf she created for SERAPIS this winter and I think of ceremonial clothes that survived to reveal stories for mystical cults. Velisioti imagines landscapes as magnetic fields, she embroiders sacred architectural monuments and molds in clay cosmic symbols that serve as canals for curious correspondences. Her insistence on handcraft, her choice of materials and her references point out the affective realization that human fantasies of the Other and the transcendental, project mostly our immeasurable admiration of life and nature, as we know it, yet, not always comprehend it.
Currently, along with her new series of ceramics, Marina Velisioti creates, collects and organizes material and also designs a new self-published edition for her work that, -in her own words- involves “party, the erotic, food and UFO’s, all things that have always fascinated me”. I can’t help but share her enthusiasm as I’m thinking that not only these things actually “fascinate” myself, but also bring us closer to the uncanny, the otherworldly and the magical.
Marina Velisioti was born in Thessaloniki, Greece 1982. She studied at the Department of Applied Arts at the School of Fine Arts in Thessaloniki. She is based in Athens. During her university studies she attended courses and seminars of scenography. Amongst her interests are video art applications and music themes of psychology, psychoacoustics and documentary. She has also attended courses in technical analogue and digital photo printing, engraving and sculpture. She is a scholar of U.F.Os, monsters, sci-fi culture. In her recent work, Marina Velisioti produces a series of collages, tapestries, sculptures developing narratives inspired by ancient buildings, deserted or forgotten landscapes, motifs symbols, over which she collides with the most prominent technique, turning them into astonishing, unrealistic universes, often with a playful mood. She is the founder and editor of the art zine Bebabebo. Marina Velisioti rthe Stavros Niarchos received the Foundation (SNF) Artist Fellowship by ARTWORKS (2022).
Christina Petkopoulou, (Athens, 1992) is a free-lance curator, researcher and writer based in Athens. She has studied Archaeology and History of Art at the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens and the Paris I-Pantheon-Sorbonne and completed a master’s degree in Cultural Management at the Panteion University of Social Sciences. She is a member and the in-house curator of the A-DASH team, a researcher and curator of the online art projects a time of her own by Zoe Chatziyannaki and Athens Report by Anna Lascari. She has curated exhibitions and public programs (Lipiu, 2020, Playing Ground, Automatic Transmission, 2019, Liminal Aristeidis Lappas solo show, Praxitelous 33, 2016, Choro-graphies-Points of flight, Artscape Athens, 2014 and more). Her texts have been published in several editions and catalogues (The ArtNewspaper Greece, Lipiu, Vera Chotzoglou, Bona Fide, State of Concept, 2021, Ammophila II, Under the Burning Sun, 2021, The Feminine Sublime, 2019 and more). She has worked for the Greek Contemporary Art Institute (ISET) researching and documenting its archive and she has also collaborated with several cultural institutions such as the Athens Biennale (2013, 2015), Art Athina (2014, 2015) and Archaeological Dialogues (2015). In 2016, she was chosen for the Neon Foundation curatorial exchange program in collaboration with the Whitechapel Gallery and in 2019, she received the SNF Artist Fellowship by ARTWORKS. She also works as a teacher and a copy editor.
¹ Roger Vadim, Barbarella, 1968