Ancient Fragments: Haris Epaminonda’s ‘Vol. XXII’ at the Aspen Art Museum
If You Go …
What: ‘Vol. XX11,’ Haris Epaminonda
Where: Aspen Art Museum
When: Through June 4
How much: Free
More info: http://www.aspenartmuseum.org
Haris Epaminonda has turned two connected basement galleries at the Aspen Art Museum into a sort of choose-your-own-adventure experience.
In “Vol. XXII,” the artist has filled the massive space with scattered architectural fragments, pieces of sculptures and found objects. Navigate your way through it and you’re forced to spin a tale in your mind to answer the questions these objects beg of you. From what ancient time and place did they come? How do they relate to one another? What are they doing here?
“I would love to create an abstract or imaginary space in which things suggest places or spaces, but they remain as fragments,” Epaminonda said earlier this month at a walk through the new show.
Among the objects and appropriated images, you will find shiny ceramic vases and bowls, a broken mask from some unnamed ancient society laying on the floor. There are framed pages from books and elliptical captions on some walls, broken tiles pieced together in a corner, suggesting a millennia-old terrace, there are scattered sections of Greek columns, ceramic turtles, rocks, a pile of sand, textiles, carvings, pieces of statues. Some are placed in contemporary framework — on tables, or amid spare scaffolding, on small pavilions, behind a curtain, placed in a glass box.
At first it suggests the familiar experience of walking through a history museum, where ancient objects are placed on walls or behind ropes and glass, divorced completely from their original context. The museum catalog refers to the show as “an appendix of an imaginary museum.” But something is off here.
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“The thing I love about Haris’ exhibitions, and this show in particular, is that there are things you find really familiar, you ground yourself there,” said curator Courtenay Finn. “So, I understand what a curtain is or a column or a structure. Then there are things that you’re not sure why they arrived or what their relationship is with other things. It’s a narrative that you get to construct as the viewer.”
Epaminonda is based in Berlin but was born in Cyprus, where remnants of ancient civilizations are ever-present. She is naturally drawn to history, architecture, ruins and how we — historians, tourists, residents, various publics — create narratives around them. She recently had a similar show at Point Centre for Contemporary Art in Cyprus. Epaminonda said her long-running artistic project is investigating “kinds of memories of place, which remind me of home, though it’s not been my home in many years. Somehow the memory is still there.”
For this show — as in the Epaminonda’s preceding “volumes” and “chapters” that have led up to it — she came to the museum with a trove of assorted treasure.
“The idea is that every show is a continuation of a previous one,” she said. “It’s an ongoing process of growth.”
In the gallery space, she moved it around, added pieces and took pieces away, she arranged and rearranged for more than a week in early March. The meticulous process led to the final arrangement of objects now filling these two galleries. She calls it “site responsive” rather than “site specific,” as her works take shape based on the dimensions and peculiarities of the gallery space and her feelings as she arranges the objects.
Like the viewers making their way through these scattered, broken pieces, Epaminonda imagines them all coming together forming a whole at some point.
“At the end, if this work ever has an end, I would bring all these fragments into one room,” she said.
There is no right or wrong way to see “Vol. XXII” or to snake your way through it. But it does reward multiple laps — the more you see it, the more details and repeated images you’ll discover. That physical act and investigation, Epaminonda said, is part of the point.
“I want to make it a physical experience,” she said.
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