Liste Showtime 2021
18 September - 30 September 2021
@Liste Art Fair, Basel

When taken for its constituent parts—representation in situ, abstraction, metadata, and the culture that sits in-between—Cypriot-born Marina Xenofontos’ work beams into view. Looping between poetic conjectures, indexical evidence of process, and (your; my; her) short-term memory, the works play to a viewer’s longing for sentiments and associations that were never there, never personally experienced. This is Xenofontos’ craft: activating invisible nostalgia while moving between inhuman ontology and life-like storytelling, contending that reason is in retrospect. In anticipation of her Liste showcase, which features the “reanimated” works Class Memorial Bed and Twice Upon a while, Marina and I discussed the methodical and material consid- erations which inform her practice. We spoke about retranslation—moving between digital/analog versions of the same avatar—and “reperformance”, Monobloc chairs, and about what possibilities exist, if any, towards the reclamation of abstraction.

Elizaveta Shneyderman (ES): There is a flow between digital and analog modes of working in your work, as evidenced by an adolescent avatar in Twice Upon a While (2018 – ongoing). The character is reanimated in virtual and physical form, lending it immortal status—and embedding the possibility of its infinite reanima- tion. How do you tackle the evolution between digital and analog representations, particularly when rep- resentation (and reperformance) is also constitutive of the work itself? Marina Xenofontos (MX): When an image or material moves from digital to analogue, or the other way around, apart from the possibility of infinite reproduction—or as you put it, reanimation—in the process you usually get small inaccuracies, slip-ups, and cracks, which can eventually snowball and become more evident. It’s these faults that I routinely tap into. While at Rjiks, I started working on the teenage avatar for Twice Upon a While (2018 – ongoing), a video game about an ideologically befuddled teenager failing to complete her tasks. I’d been rendering the character digitally for a couple months, and had the desire to see it in physical form. So I got it sliced, carved, and assembled using a CNC machine and a lot of help from the staff at Rijks. A couple months later at the open studios, I showed it laying on the floor, grasping up with its eyes covered, seemingly in a state of desperation. Since then I’ve carved another few versions I’ve shown both at the Island Club and Hot Wheels Athens, and now its most recent iteration at Liste. Every time I make a new physical version it feeds back into my understanding of the virtual. At this point they’ve melded into one in my head, there isn’t an original anymore, they’re all glitching, mutating, and branching in and out of each other like a rhizome. The work acts both as a witness to memory that is disjointed and fragmentary, inescapa- bly fallible, and as a testament to a confluence of errors.

ES: Speaking of errors, the defective Monobloc chair features prominently in your upcoming presentation. What role does the Monobloc play in your work, specifically in relation to its idiosyncratic status in Cyprus, as well as its colonial legacy?

MX: Monobloc chairs, known as the world’s “most common plastic chair,” are everywhere in Cyprus, we use them especially for any kind of outdoor celebration or ceremony, like weddings and around easter. Any kind of event that requires a quick set up and fast take-down. The one I used in the Liste presentation, I found in front of a taxi office called ‘New Faithful’, positioned on the pavement where the drivers hang out while wait- ing for bookings. “The Queen” type Monoblocs are made by Lordos plastics, the largest plastics manufacturer in Cyprus, and because they are misprinted in the manufacturing process, they are usually sold to small busi- nesses and factory workers at a discount. You’ll notice the blue one, for example, has white pigment marbled into it, probably because it was either the first or last chair on the production line in between the two colors (they’re forged in single piece via injection moulding). And I think this uniqueness embedded through error is what drew me to them in the first place. These chairs are often used to order space. Growing up in school, we’d lay out the Monoblocs in the courtyard whenever we had an announcement or an annual celebration, making what would usually be a really chaotic space organised and arranged.. Both universal and distinct, in a sense they’re a paradox; instances of unrepeatability within endless repetition.

ES: Children of builders, grandchild of miners (2020) is very meditative, and I can’t help but think that much of your work overall is composed of these dreamlike, sonorous compositions—allegorically embedded, mate- rially dense. I wonder if that in part has to do with your interest in metadata. Can you speak more to this?

MX: The title of the work is biographical in a sense, my father worked in construction all his life and my grandfather in the Amiantos asbestos mines. It is also universal in the way that it traces a broader shift in labor. A lot of my work rests on these kinds of details, stories, anecdotes, or histories, which could all be placed under the umbrella of metadata. They usually come in the form of vestiges, either of a political event or change, buried and abstracted in a place you’d usually consider untainted in that respect. These gestures and particulars become enhanced by their relationship with the larger cultural histories they are embedded within.

ES: Right, that makes sense. I also notice that many of your materials are “readymades”, or lightly manipulat- ed found objects which are abstracted from their originally intended use and put to use in a new vista. This opens up the objects to represent their nostalgic evocations—a “return-to-myth”—and I am wondering if this misregistration can constitute “misuse” (or sabotage). To know something so well that one can deploy its fictions and reveal its contradictions from the start...

MX: I’ve always collected and archived objects, materials, and pictures—like modded cars, custom made obsessions, and face painted portraits— but only recently developed them into my practice. When I started, I was using mostly objects I wanted to reframe, that I thought had lost prevalence or meanings in the years since they’d been made or widely known, losing or almost losing their symbolic value in the process. With Class Memorial Bed (2021), and Class Memorial (2020), before it, I wanted to touch the shifting values and layers of middle-class desire. For both of their construction I used found extruded aluminum from window- sills and gates, where the aluminum goes through a process of oxidation that turns it silver or gold, signaling an aspiration for the American dream—middle class housing with three small bedrooms for the ideal nuclear family, a faux kind of modernity. For Copy of a dream (2020) I modded a dilapidated animatronic dinosaur, ripping out it’s motor and using it for another work. I’d found it in a cordoned off area of the Limassol Munic- ipal Gardens restaurant amongst another four or five equally uncared for dinos. Back when the Jurassic Park franchise was gaining momentum, the owner of the restaurant decided to make a playground with a herd of dinosaurs as the centerpiece, but due to disagreements with the Municipality management over aesthetics, the fantasy was left unfulfilled. The state I found them in, almost fossilised in place, left me with a feeling of time being completely out of joint, a redoubling of an archeological site, a recreation of prehistoric animals that we only had access to as fossils becoming fossilised again.

ES: It sounds like a testament to your investment in eking out material culture and its ordinances—that you would find these refashioned and reanimated dinos, intended for some municipal purpose and, presumably, affective register, worn by time and a lack of investment.

MX: In the process of abstracting a symbol, removing it from its initial connections and context, placing it in between the real and the imagined, I try to bring out its imaginary possibilities. This is happening all the time already; we’re always losing meaning and recreating it. As symbols lose prevalence, they’re left behind and then picked up again and used anew. In the liminal stages between these two meanings, you have the possi- bility to reclaim their beauty, and possibly to view them undefined, blurred, dreamlike.

ES: Right. And there’s a connection here to digital/analog transfigurations—or, conversely, simulative and non-simulative methods of making meaning. I’m also interested in the liminal space between, particularly in as it relates to our new status quo of digital dependency. The demands of acquiring technical mastery make it all too hard to achieve critical distance, which is plain-to-see in contemporary digital media work. And the more powerful our tools become, the harder it is to imagine life without them. To that end, I wanted to ask: what, for you, constitutes a uniquely digital avatar?

MX: Digital avatars have become essentially omnipresent in our daily lives now, from profile pics, to char- acters we use in video games, we’re constantly oscillating between virtual and physical space, fracturing our sense of self into multiples. It gives us the chance to reimagine ourselves, play around with our identity in ways we couldn’t in the physical world. The anonymity of the early internet intensified these possibilities, with forums and games like Second Life, people used to hide completely behind their avatar, using it as a mask, disassociating themselves as much as possible. Since social media became big, there’s been a shift though to a more physically representational kind, they’ve become sort of extended self-portraiture. With Twice Upon a While, I wanted to explore a space somewhere in between the two. When first creating it, I’d been pastiching analogue images into landscapes and platforms, kinda like theatrical stages to put up imagined memories in, and was thinking of ways to further sublimate myself and the audience into these stages. I wanted to make an animation/video-game about a boy and a girl that burned down a church by mistake—the work was theoris- ing my understanding on the notions of the “Romantic child”. As I was rendering the characters on Blender, I drafted monologues out of borrowed poetry books, translated folklore songs, and wrote a small scenario about the character continuously failing to complete its tasks in the way it’s expected to, eventually leading to a sort of breakdown (drawing parallels between it and my younger self). I was sketching it out at an age just before puberty, when you’re still sort of unsure about how the world works, kind of naive and innocent. She became a sort of symbol, or icon, for that state of suspension in a time before understanding, looping it back into the liminal.

ES: And your work is indeed tracing and excavating those choreographies. Thank you for taking the time to do so with me!

Installation View

Installation View

Twice, 2021, MDF carved on CNC, rejected Monobloc chair, 143 x 123 x 76 cm

Twice, 2021, MDF carved on CNC, rejected Monobloc chair, 143 x 123 x 76 cm

Twice, 2021, MDF carved on CNC, rejected Monobloc chair, 143 x 123 x 76 cm

Twice, 2021, MDF carved on CNC, rejected Monobloc chair, 143 x 123 x 76 cm

Twice, 2021, MDF carved on CNC, rejected Monobloc chair, 143 x 123 x 76 cm

Class memorial bed, 2021, Aluminum, 203 x 125 x 61 cm

Class memorial bed, 2021, Aluminum, 203 x 125 x 61 cm

Class memorial bed, 2021, Aluminum, 203 x 125 x 61 cm

Night error, 2019, Digital print on newsprint, 104 x 80 cm

Night error, 2019, Digital print on newsprint, 104 x 80 cm

Night error, 2019, Digital print on newsprint, 104 x 80 cm

House crystal, 2021, Digital print on boxfile, 64 x 35 x 8 cm

House crystal, 2021, Digital print on boxfile, 64 x 35 x 8 cm