What we have here is a failure to communicate

18. 792ARTS

• Olga Cironis’s dark self-portrait speaks volumes about migrants’ experience and an inability to communicate.

Stephen Sondhiem’s Into the Woods is a dark, musical look at fairytales, the happy ending of familiar stories turned on their head.

Artist Olga Cironis says her latest exhibition Into the Woods Alone draws on similar themes as she comes to grips with her identity as a Czech/Greek/Australian.

“Fairytales are one way of dealing with life…this exhibition is an extension of that as a narrative,” she told the Voice

The title has no reference to Sondheim’s work but rather is based on her own uncle’s horrified response when she announced she was travelling to remote villages in the mountainous region of northern Greece, where her parents had been born.

Using the tools of a modern anthropologist, including film, interviews, vox pop recordings and collecting artefacts, her visit was no tourist jaunt.

“The investigation of identity and cultural realities outside my the comfort zone of my familiar sphere,” is what drove her.

Cironis immigrated to Australia at 10 but the fall-out of the 1946–49 Greek civil war made a big impact and forms a backdrop to her narrative artworks, along with Australia’s history and treatment of Aboriginal people.

History is manipulated by the victors, Cironis notes.

“For political or personal reasons some histories are manipulated or hidden, like the Greek civil war or particular incidents of the white settlement of Australia.

“In my work I explore the hidden places of personal and collective histories.”

Her cultural heritage enables her to understand that what to most is “accepted and normal” in the dominant culture is not the norm for the many migrants arriving in Australia.

“So I spend lots of time exploring, questioning and satirising the places of difference…I’m trying to make sense of why I feel so misplaced.”

Much earlier in her career Cironis focused on performance art, but stopped because she felt it was too exposing.

With Into the Woods Alone she reveals herself to the camera, with a stark and disturbing image of a woman, lips sewn together, wearing a three-quarter length kangaroo fur coat.

“[Questioning] whether a dominant, political, social or ethnic structure must repress others to maintain its authority and established social order.”

The end result of her mountain sojourn is a mix of works, from text engraved into polished black acrylic disks, images embroidered onto blankets, words gilded onto traditional Greek woven rugs, eerie photographs, hair and feathers woven into antique frames and a glass sphere loaded with the artist’s hair.

The exhibition is loaded with layers of multicultural meanings, Turner Galleries’ Allison Archer says.

“[Underpinning] all is the investigation of not only what it is to be displaced culturally, but what it additionally means if you are a women and an artist,” she says.

Into the Woods Alone is at the Turner Galleries, 470 William St, Northbridge till August 31.

BY JENNY D’ANGER

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