Sunday, May 23, 2010

Sophia Hadjipapa presents: LOVE in Odd Places

As we await for the unveiling of this year's selected artists for Art in Odd Places 2010, we feature another AiOP alum to share her story. What is so special about this week's featured artists is that her piece for the festival was inspired by love. Please meet Sophia Hadjipapa, from Art in Odd Places 2009: SIGN. The use of art as a form of expression is nothing new; Using art as a profession of one's devotion makes the message significantly louder. Sophia did just that. The merging of the idea of Love and Art in Odd Places almost resonates a true, yet almost cheesy, adage about the concept of love: It comes up where you least expect it.

There is much to say about Sophia, but I don't think I will be able to give her justice. Before I get carried away, I will let her do the talking so she can walk us through the process of creating her piece last year. I promise you this is one is great read.

AiOP: Tell us about you
I was born on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus to a Bulgarian mother and a Cypriot father. I spent my life between the two countries and thus could not relate to one single cultural identity. After school I studied Painting at the National Academy of Fine Arts in Sofia, Bulgaria then completed a PhD in Art History. I now teach art at a university in Cyprus where I also keep a studio. Besides Painting, which was my major, in my practice I also employ video, illustration, installation and text. I come from a family of poets and this may have influenced some of my projects and especially the one created for AiOP SIGN.

AiOP: How was your Art in Odd Places experience?
SH: I met Ed Woodham and the curatorial team of Sign during my artist residency at SVA last summer (2009). Through a collaboration Aiop has developed with SVA, resident artists working in the realm of public art were invited to create a site specific project on 23rd street. Ed, Radhika and Erin met with us and discussed our ideas helping us to develop our projects further. They gave a presentation of previous work done in AiOP Festivals which was inspiring for all of us. After a successful presentation of my project in 23rd street I decided to apply for Sign and create something for 14th street. Fortunately my project was selected and the curatorial team of Sign helped me present it in the best possible way. Since I am currently living in Cyprus I was unable to be there during the time of the festival but I know that it was quite an exciting month. I was getting updates from AiOP on all that was happening during that month and that made the experience much more alive for me.

AiOP: Walk us through your thought process in creating your piece for Art in Odd Places.
SH: Last summer I went to Venice for ten days to take part in a European art project with my students. I was excited but also sad, since Venice is a place for two to enjoy. The lack of the loved one however is felt more intensely from the one who stays back, in the home’s routine. So, my husband wrote me a poem while I was gone, talking about emptiness and loneliness and how it persists despite the good life one might have. One week later, I was on the road again, or rather on the plane, this time travelling to New York. This trip would be longer and the words he had written resonated in me much stronger. Yes, I was in New York, yes I was in this great residency of SVA, but something was missing and nothing could fill that gap.I had many ideas about creating a public art project on 23rd swirling in my mind, but one gradually became stronger: I started to look for ways to make the poem he had written come alive and re-invent it in some way, visually, so that its meaning would travel back to him through my means of expression, the visual language. As I walked on the streets, mentally reciting the poem, it attained new meanings in the big city of New York, where most people seemed to be satiated materially, but still empty inside. In big cities loneliness seems graver. I imagined the poem in space, where people would see it, in their environment, and stop for a moment to ponder on its minute truths. First, I thought of carving the lines of the poem on trees: each cadence on another tree. This way people would meander around it, and its lines would unravel one by one, as precious truths. After all, people always carve their loved-ones’ names on trees, or any other message they want to communicate to the world. Instead of names, you would have an unfolding story of love. There were some practical issues I encountered: first, there were not enough trees on 23rd street to carve, and even if they were, that would be a lot of carving, and not so beneficial for the tree. Then I thought of creating the text in wire and hanging it off the trees. Again, something was missing. I was adding to the trees, while I wanted this poem to be impregnated by this city, to become part of it. I had walked up and down 23rd street and had noticed how people didn’t see much, didn’t notice much and just went on their way, hypnotized. I imagined creating new experiences for the site, enlivening it, by inserting my poem in unusual places. I had taken a lot of pictures of 23rd street. Of things unusual, or usual, architecture details, shop fronts, empty planters, puddles. I took pictures of hydrants that seemed very characteristic for New York, so typical, no one notices them anymore. And then, the picture of the hydrant suddenly clicked with one of the poems’ lines: This water refreshes, but cannot reach the depths your presence touches. I replaced the sign above the hydrant, and instead of ‘Siamese connection’ one would read this totally impractical, totally poetic and out of place line. I loved how it corresponded to the place. How it cunningly became part of it.

After a discussion I had with a Landscape architect Anita Glesta [had invited] in our studios, I was persuaded that I could indeed find a unique place for each cadence and thus enliven the whole poem in space, retaining the peripatetic quality I imagined in the beginning. I started walking on 23rd street, purposefully, trying to find the perfect place for each cadence. This would not be literally corresponding to the poem, but more symbolically, metaphorically. If it was the right place, I would feel it. Gradually, I created a series of renderings, where on different locations of 23rd street one could read lines from the poem and each time I tried to integrate them as much as possible in the environment. For some cadences I had two or even three locations. Gradually the most powerful would dominate and the others‘d subside. Some I had to part with because of practical reasons. For instance the church would not let me put my text on their sign. I tried to compensate that with an even stronger location. I wanted to get to the point where it would seem not like the location was found for that cadence, but the cadence was written for that location. This is when the poem would look completely integrated in the environment.

After I had found my locations, all I had to do was decide how I would practically resolve the issues. In most cases I tried to mimic the typography and colour of the existing signs, in others I tried to integrate my texts as subtly as possible. By connecting the lines of the poem with already existing signs I infused the poem with new meanings. For example a guy carrying a sandwich board on which it is written: this life is good, but cannot meet me body and soul.

Nobody usually thinks about what kind of life these badly paid, usually illegal immigrants, lead. The sign on his back that does not try to sell you anything, as usual, makes you for the first time ponder on that. Or the brown carton of a homeless person saying: And therefore I stand waiting with the stars in the desert of my hours, is in essence an overt cry of disillusionment and despair, complete desolation, which is actually what these signs mean when they write hungry, sick, joblessIn that sense, I tried to reactivate certain aspects of life on 23rd street and the big city in general, by infusing the poem in the already existing, desensitized signs.

After the presentation of this project that really resonated with the pedestrians of 23rd I was inspired to transfer this idea of altering the signs and infusing a poetic lines into the lives of passers by on 14th street as well.

After discussions with Radhika and Erin we decided to concentrate on the water hydrants of 14th street and have lines from different poems replacing their informational signs. I started walking again back and forth, this time on 14th street, trying to find the right places for the right stanzas, the ones that would click. For instance outside a bar I placed a sign saying: ‘your eyes full with dew and wine’.

The stanzas would create a strange dialogue with the surroundings.
I took pictures of all the sites, measured the signs I would replace, then I went home and printed the ‘new’ signs , the poetic stanzas, in the same typography and colour that can usually be seen on the signs by the water hydrants.

I had to leave New York before the beginning of the festival so I recruited a friend to implement the project. With an exact map of all the locations and directions she installed the signs and documented them.
I mailed AiOP a map with the locations for people to navigate and find the altered signs.
I was really excited to get the documentation photos and finally see my project implemented in my absence.

AiOP: Any words of wisdom for artists who are interested in becoming part of this year's Art in Odd places festival?
SH: Working on the streets is a really amazing process and not at all comparable to the solitude of the studio. Especially if the projects are coordinated and then advertised by an organization such as AiOP, they can have such a direct and immediate impact. I would say, though, think very carefully of all the practical issues and logistics of the project before you try implementing it. It might be that you need permissions for many things, or that you are absolutely not allowed to do them!

AiOP: What projects are you currently working on and where can people reach you?
SH: I am currently working on a series of landscapes of derelict or odd places in Cyprus. At the same time, alterations of the public spaces is on its way in Cyprus as well. More information about my projects and myself can be found at

AiOP: Where was performance along 14th street?
SH: A map of all locations on 14th street can be found on here.

AiOP:Any final words?
SH: I would like to thank AiOP for presenting me with an opportunity to work on a site specific project in New York . Working on the 23rd and 14th streets was a truly precious experience and I would definitely do it again!

Wasn't that amazing? Huge thanks for Sophia for taking us on a beautiful journey, proving that love is indeed everywhere (even in Odd Places).

Enjoy your Memorial day weekend, everyone! Art In Odd Places will be back with more exciting news. Currently, we are eagerly preparing for our upcoming benefit this coming June 22. Mark you calendars:


    Tuesday, June 22 7-10pm
    137 West 14th Street
    New York, NY 10011
    (a fundraiser for AiOP 2010: CHANCE)

We will see you there!

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