The Interval of Unreason – Ioanna Sakellaraki
We live in a modern apocalypse. We have our terrors, and specific images of them. Nevertheless, this crisis is inescapably a central element in our attempts towards making sense of the world.
The ‘Interval of Unreason’ was realised during lockdown on the Greek island of Patmos, the so-called “Island of the Apocalypse” and the place where the end of the world began, inspiring Saint John to write the Book of Revelation, the final book of the New Testament.
In a vortex of clouds, shadows, starry skies and rushing wind, the island turns into a darkling site where the phantoms of imagination, personal loss and historic elegy occupy a transitional zone between the sublime, the cosmic and the solemn. It gradually becomes the roaming topography for composing a story ruled by desire, terror and imagination in the fascinating realm of time’s absence. Between a moment of crisis and a temporal turn, the images articulate our obscure personal and cultural ends.
I am a Greek visual artist and researcher based between Brussels and London. I am currently undertaking my practice-led PhD in Art with the support of a Doctoral Scholarship from the Arts and Humanities Research Council in the UK. My work investigates the relationship between collective cultural memory and fiction. Drawing emphasis on the photographic object, process and encounter, I explore the boundaries of a primitive yet futuristic vision of places and people.
I would say that my photography started evolving already back in 2011 while I was completing my MA in European Urban and Cultural Studies. In that context I carried out a series of research projects on urban planning, architecture and cultural development, paired with my background in journalism.
I gradually began to work on visual narratives around memory and territory with a focus on architectural ruins and historical landscapes. Since then I have worked on a series of personal projects and assignments with a strong interest in the relationship between photography and global and social systems of power, both in historical and contemporary contexts.
As my artistic practice slowly emerged, I have been interested in how photography as a medium is always characterised by a discontinuity in time and place, between the moment the image is recorded and the moment that the image is viewed or looked at – what John Berger calls an “abyss”.
This discontinuity and isolation of appearances in the photographic, the way the image affirms things in their disappearance and gives us the power to create absence through fiction, was what became a trigger for exploring the medium and its possibilities further, within my own narratives.
For the last five years, I have been working on my project ‘The Truth is in the Soil’ which will soon be published as a photobook by GOST Books, a London- based publishing house.
The series is a long-term exploration of grief and mourning rituals inspired by the last communities of professional mourners on the Mani peninsula of Greece. Sparked by my father’s death, my own grieving process became the lens through which I investigate the collective mourning in Greek society, the intersection of ancestral rituals, private trauma and passage of time.
In the crossroads of performance and staged emotion, my photography aims to bring the viewer into a limbo between the real and the imaginary, highlighting the void of separation and loss.
Most recently I have been looking into how photography can conjure memories that belong in fantasy, in eidetic recollection and some ontological reality – not in lived experience – producing images that avoid becoming descriptive but integrate into the plot of a story, grasping the complexity and tension to anticipate an artistic vision of reality… a vision that is never far from illusion.
‘The Interval of Unreason’ begins with an image found in my father’s archive, a remnant of the tainted memory of an idyllic romance on the Greek island of Patmos, which I followed up with a long visit to the island during the lockdown of 2020-21.
It was there where I begin to unravel the secret stories of my father’s past as a sailor and adventurer of his time while also deconstructing the famous history of Patmos as the “Island of the Apocalypse”, the place from where infernal visions of mankind’s ultimate downfall sprang, inspiring Saint John to write the Book of Revelation – the final book of the New Testament.
I see ‘The Interval of Unreason’ as the next chapter of ‘The Truth is in the Soil’, and my practice continues to investigate the relationship between memory, death and fiction.
Greece is a constant inspiration and encounter in both the works but the way it is depicted is imagined. It is like the idea of the homeland being this place one knows outside of memory, a land of curiosity where death is an encounter through family, religion, mythology and the self.
Making a work about grief requires a journey through memory and memory loss. In a way, my images work as vehicles for mourning perished ideals of vitality, prosperity and belonging, attempting to tell something further than their subjects by creating a space where death can exist.
What does photography mean to me? The mystery that illuminates for an instance.