Roula Partheniou is a Canadian artist currently living and working in Toronto. Her works explore visual puns created through sculpture based installations. Her experiments with these familiar objects challenge logic through strategic use of repetition and duplication in color and form. Together, these works capture hyper-real aesthetics that deconstruct traditional representations of objects. Viewers are challenged to interpret sculptural witticism presented by color and material form in order to negotiate what is perceived.
Roula Partheniou is represented by MKG127 in Toronto and has been exhibited across Canada and internationally. She co-founded Nothing Else Press with Dave Dyment, publishing artist books and editions. Upcoming, Roula is publishing a monograph on her work with Black Dog Publishing, UK, in 2017, and a solo exhibition September of 2016 at The Dunlop Art Gallery in Regina, Saskatchewan.
Where did your relationship with art begin?
I remember scavenging and stockpiling random materials as a kid (fruit netting, strawberry containers, egg cartons, toilet paper rolls, the round-edged cardboard pieces that came with my mom’s pantyhose, etc. etc.) and keeping them organized in boxes in case I ever needed them for a project. In grade 4 I claimed my parents’ old kitchen table and set up an “art table” in the basement. It was my first ‘studio’ which I kept until I left for university. I spent a lot of time there.
What are some influencers that you would attribute to the development of your relationship? Any movements or experiences that you can think of primarily?
Recently I was mesmerized by a video at Casey Kaplan called Second Gift by Dublin based artist Aurélien Froment. After watching it twice I sat on the floor and watched it 5 more times. It’s about one of the 12 children’s toys, called Gifts, devised by Friedrich Froebel, the German inventor of Kindergarten. His “Gifts” are used by teachers to give children a sense of the interconnectedness of geometric forms, materials and, by implication, everything in the world.
It’s a long list, but off the top of my head: Richard Tuttle, for his simultaneously simple, slight but also bold gestures, his use of simple materials, colour and wall sculptures. And Joe Taylor, for his explorations on where drawing and sculpture overlap. Sol Lewitt, for his dedication to permutations and geometric forms, and his “Sentences on Conceptual Art” were a big influence early on, specifically, “The idea is the machine that makes the art”.
How did your education affect the development of your artistic narrative?
My work certainly developed drastically during my undergrad, which I imagine is not uncommon. I started school thinking I would specialize in photography, but quickly realized that in every class – photo, painting, drawing, etc. – I was making sculptures. I began school making very personal and somewhat expressive work and by the end of my undergrad I was looking outward at the world of objects and finding and making connections between materials. Many of the materials I was drawn to in my final year of school still make an appearance in my work today.
How are your media important to the dissemination of your narrative?
For the last several years my practice has largely revolved around making replicas of common objects, things you might find around your house, garage, studio or workshop. Remaking a familiar object, for me, is not so much about the object itself but more about my interest in the double-take that it evokes with the viewer. So the use of ubiquitous objects is strategic, since we normally filter them out as ‘visual givens’, and in the installations I ask you to focus your field of vision. The replica provides the opportunity to navigate the gap between what we see, and what we think we are seeing, and to deconstruct ideas around perception.
What kind of creative process and research would you attribute to your work at this stage, and has it changed much outside of academia?
I am still stockpiling objects and materials to make sense of later. I comb garage sales, thrift shops, hardware, lumber, dollar and grocery stores looking for objects that make sense to add to my larger lexicon.
A project often begins with an object and a question, like ‘what would happen if I removed the colour from a Rubik’s Cube?’. Other times, I will begin a project by setting up an overall framework that provides specific parameters to guide the creation of the work. For example, a project I’m currently working on takes the structure of a ‘daisy chain’.
Depending on what problem I’m trying to solve in the studio, an object I didn’t pay attention to before will suddenly come to light and make sense in the context of a project or composition. My approach has long been to respond to the inherent quintessential properties of a material and draw out an alternate logic.
My time in school was important but I don’t think about it that much. I suppose I was asking some of the same questions I am asking myself in the studio today – around ideas of doubles, dualities, alternates and the flexibility of perception, but to different ends.
How does your studio space to allow you the opportunity to interpret and research your work?
When I first moved to Toronto after school, I couldn’t afford a studio and saw the direct impact on my work. As a sculptor, I really missed being able to place and compose objects in space, stage relationships between things, remove objects from their natural environment and put them in new contexts with one another. I need to have materials on hand to respond to or “sketch” with while I’m developing a project, and that requires space. I also need power tools and to be able to make a mess.
Many of your works present multiplicity and material familiarity that share relationships with each other. How would you describe your own relationship with these objects during the creative process?
A piece may start with me itching to make a replica of a jar of mayonnaise and it eventually becomes a formal exercise, where I am combing the aisles at the grocery store looking for something tall, yellow and cylindrical, or something that is the same colour blue as the Hellman’s lid, to complete the arrangement. Working through a project is like solving a visual puzzle, to find the shared logic between disparate objects.
How do you reflect this relationship in the display and with viewers?
The replicas are typically displayed in a naturalistic way – leaning on the wall, sitting on tables or shelves, left in a corner, etc. – the way one might encounter them in the real world. The faux-casual display is at odds with the formal balance and meticulous precision of the compositions, which adds to the sense of the uncanny. The objects are often arranged to draw out shared colour, shape, and other similarities or typologies between seemingly unrelated objects.
I hope that the experience of my work destabilizes our assumed knowledge, understanding and memory of the familiar and I use several strategies to achieve that in the way I display the work.
What is the role of the viewer?
The installations are experiential; the double-take moment and the feeling of disorientation is key to reading the work, and this is not immediately evident in documentation. I am asking the viewer to look closer, and locate themselves somewhere between what they see and what they thought they knew.
Many of these works, such as House & Home & Garden and Five O’Clock Shadow just to name a few appear very reliant on a suitable space to be presented accurately and creatively. What sort of spatial challenges do you face in conjunction with your work?
I am always keen to work site-specifically and to let the possibilities and limitations of a particular space guide the work. Just like colour and the strict use of 1:1 scale, context is a very useful tool for heightening the double-take moment and I take advantage of it when I can.
Last modified: March 5, 2016