This body of work emerged and was completed while I was emptying my parents’ house. It relates to the psychological and practical process that we all are all called upon to face at one point or another in our lives. For those who haven’t yet gone through it, this arduous process looms ahead.
My mother passed away suddenly. I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye. To me, her departure doesn’t bear comparison with any other experience I have had. It awakened emotions that are difficult to process and express in words.
The house remained. As I had known it for fifty years… The odour, the furnishings, the treasured objects; every corner holding a memory – an entire universe pulsing with nostalgia.
During the weeks that immediately followed my mother’s death I didn’t want to touch anything. I simply cleaned and tidied. It was as though the house was something sacred that I had neither the right nor the desire to touch. I was trying to come to terms with the loss, reeling, without a sense of what I could hold on to.
Nevertheless, I now had to engage with one of life’s most painful experiences; to carry out one of the most emotionally taxing tasks imaginable, one that carries with it the most complex and contradictory consequences. That is, to empty the house.
‘To empty’… a verb that strikes me as ugly and aggressive but I cannot think of any other, gentler term for what I had to do. ‘Emptying’ also implies an internal emptying: allowing veils and masks to fall away; showing my face. So, as I emptied myself of my powers, for a while I lost my vitality and felt cut adrift as never before: it was like attempting to navigate infinity.
Nevertheless, the act of emptying led me to experience an opening and, in turn, a release. I did not only set about opening things literally, going through cupboards, drawers, documents, and storerooms but also, metaphorically, opened my family’s past, which is my past also. The lives and histories of the families we belong to influence and shape us. I got insights into my own relationship with my parents, and my parents’ relationships with my grandparents and other forbears. I came to know myself more deeply.
My parents’ generation never gave anything away. All the years of their life were piled up in that house. There was so much stuff. And from among it not only their features leapt out at me but also their character and personality; their varied stories emerged alongside the values of the time they had lived in.
It took time and energy to sort through everything; to evaluate, classify, decide what to throw out, give away, sell or keep, and it was an emotional rollercoaster. I was fortunate in that the emptying of the house coincided with the coronavirus pandemic, so I was gifted an unexpectedly generous period of time in which to manage the emotional side of the process, to complete the procedural necessities… and to be creative.
As a kind of counterweight to the emotional and practical process of emptying, I began to take photographs. I turned the dining room of the house into a studio and began to acquire a new relationship – an artistic connection not only to the objects, fabrics, clothing, old photographs, memories, and family stories, but also to my own imaginary, internal conversations and feelings. My photography sheltered me from grief and helped me to handle the pain during those moments when I felt myself overwhelmed by the sadness of parting.
My work drew further inspiration from the book “The Final Reminder: How I emptied my parents’ house” by Lydia Flem. I worked on many different photographic ideas before I felt I had found an ‘answer’ that rendered in visual form some of the phrases in Flem’s book. For example, I made several attempts to express the sentence, “As we accompany our parents to the grave, we are, at the same time, burying our own childhoods”. I tried burying some black and white images of my childhood in the earth and also used them to shape the words ΤΕΛΟΣ (END) and FIN (END). Others I transformed by burning, soaking, or punching holes in them, but the solution finally came to me when I found a small, dead bird on the house’s doorstep. I symbolically identified that little, black bird with the death that had cut me off forever from my childhood. I created an image that I had never planned. That is, of course, the magical allure of art: that the artist investigates and experiments upon the thoughts and feelings that dominate specific periods of her life, and when she finds a means to reflect them, she shares it more widely.
The work presented here rests on two foundations. One is its potential artistic meaning; the other is a subjective significance as part of a personal self-analysis and a reaction to death. Each is invisible and they are perceived as one.
The creation of these works transformed the whole internal and external process of emptying my family home and gave me both the strength and the means to realise more deeply my connection with those that came before me, to honour them, thank them and forgive them… and, perhaps, to take another step towards setting myself free.
Photographs from the animal world.
Photographs inspired from the cycladic rock formations.
Photographs of the water in the Aegean sea.
Shadows and imprints from garbage found on the beach.
A series of photographs done in 1991 for a book on the life of gypsy women in Greece, published by Olkos publishers.
Photographs from the early work and travels.