Australian artist Polixeni Papapetrou trends the line between fantasy/theatre, mythology/reality, archetype/play, male/female, child/adult and animal/human. As with all her work, the series The Dreamkeepers tells a story that includes her autobiographical relationship with her children, but it also says a lot more about the condition of childhood -- its place in our culture and how we react to images of children in photography.
-- Susan Bright, Excerpt from Between Worlds catalogue
Papapetrou's art practice has involved collaboration with her children and their friends for over ten years. The models in The Dreamkeepers are her two children, aged 13 and 15. A man in blue striped pajamas stands on a rock by the sea, leaning into the wind. His body seems young yet he supports himself with a walking frame. His face is old, a little grotesque... He is "The Wavecounter."
To Polixeni Papapetrou: What inspired you to make The Dreamkeepers?
"After making Between Worlds I knew that I wanted to keep working with masks, as I was still intrigued by their transformative quality. I began researching the types of masks that are commercially available and noticed that many masks were caricatures of the elderly. I was struck by this concept, that the elderly were portrayed as grotesque or comical figures suitable for Halloween and dress up.
I became interested in the idea of the elderly as 'other'. I thought that to simply rely on these ready-made caricatures of the elderly was too simplistic and possibly demeaning. I searched for a mask that was in a way timeless, but that also had the quality of age and was able to transcend age too. I found a couple of masks that were suitable and I was able to create characters and change their appearance through the use of make-up on the mask, wigs and costumes.
I began the series with the work "The Lighthouse Keepers," which was based on childhood memories of living close to a port and a lighthouse. I thought that the people who worked and lived in the lighthouse were different to us, other, like some eccentric mythical people living unconventional lives. I thought about the freedom that these people enjoy in a life that can be constrained by conservative values. Paradoxically, for the characters that I created for this work their great freedom is to know nothing about the rhetoric of dreams, ambition and commercial success that is marketed us in our culture.
I became interested in reflecting upon the liminal stages in life where you transition from one phase of life to another. Growing up from a child into an adolescent has some parallels to the transition from adult to aged adult. I was curious about the idea of younger people feeling old and old people feeling young. Whatever age we are, we carry within us the germ of the opposite and thus, we are always old and always young. But we cannot stop the transformations of time and we change. It's possible that with such transformation we are forced to examine our identity and role and there is some of feeling marginalized, not being appealing or made to feel redundant and grotesque, both physically and psychologically. Certainly many of the commercially available masks of the elderly portray this image.
As in Between Worlds where I collapsed the animal body and the child body into one to look at what separates us, in The Dreamkeepers I used a similar technique to collapse these extremes of the life cycle into the one body to think about a common humanity. It is both a critique of representation of youth and the aged and a meditation on being itself."
Polixeni Papapetrou lives and works in Melbourne, Australia. She has held over 40 solo exhibitions and participated in over 70 group exhibitions in Australia and internationally.
The Dreamkeepers is currently on view at Stills Gallery, Paddington, Australia
March 28 - May 5, 2012