Venia Bechrakis est peintre, photographe et vidéo artiste. Son travail de performances porte sur des interrogations sur l’identité, et sur l’espace entre les domaines privés et publics.
La majeure partie de son œuvre est constituée d’autoportraits, où elle se représente en tant que protagoniste d’histoires imaginaires et de performances publiques, faites de rituels et de traditions féminines. Elle y joue des rôles dont la forme est volontairement outrancière, comme dans la série «Within-Without» et “Strange Weathers ».
Ces scènes paradoxales, qui ont lieu dans les espaces publics, en nous ramenant aux images prosaïques et stéréotypées des films et de la publicité, posent la question de l’identité féminine d’une manière humoristique.
Ses images semblent être à première vue un constat de la réalité quotidienne avec, comme motif central, le personnage de la femme, l’artiste elle-même, qui semble relever le défi des conceptions restrictives et des tabous sociaux, en suivant le mouvement féminin de l’art conceptuel des années 80, qui oscillait entre les manifestations de « mass culture » dans l’art, et l’expérience de leurs vies intimes.
Bechrakis interroge ainsi constamment les relations entre le privé et le public, questionne l’identité de chacun dans un environnement social, dans les espaces réels ou imaginaires.
2003Master of Fine Arts, New York University, New York
1999 Bachelor of Arts, School of Fine Arts, Athens
- 2002: The Jack Goodman Award for Art and Technology, New York University, New York
- 2001: The Gerondelis Foundation Grant, New York
- 2000: The Alexander Onassis Foundation Scholarship for graduate studies at New York University
- 1997: IKY Government Grant for studies at Ecole Nationale Superieure des Beaux Arts, Paris
- 1993: IKY Government Grant for distinction in studies for the academic years 1993,’94,’95,’96, Athens
ONE PERSON EXHIBITIONS
2009 “Strange Weathers”, Melenia art Gallery, Bucharest
2008 “Urban Dwellings”, Zina Athanassiadou Gallery, Thessaloniki
2006 “Within-Without”, Zoumboulakis Galleries, Athens
2003“Within-Without”, Real Art Ways, Hartford Connecticut
SELECTED GROUP EXHIBITIONS
- 2009: “Face to Faces”, curated by Isabelle de Montfumat and Aggeliki Grammatikopoulou, 2nd Biennial of Thessaloniki, Thessaloniki Museum of Photography
“ART ATHINA 2009”, Zina Athanassiadi Gallery, Gallerie Basia Embiricos, Athens
“Kostas Tsoklis, Afrodite Liti, Michalis Manoussakis, Venia Bechrakis”, Melenia Art Gallery, Bucharest
“Material Links”, Center of Contemporary Art, State Museum of Contemporary Art, Thessaloniki
“The Water”, Thessaloniki Museum of Photography, Thessaloniki
- 2008: “Material Links”, Technopolis, Athens
“Environment-Action ‘08”, Villa Kazouli, Athens
“Art Photo Expo Miami 2008”, Zone D and Gallerie Basia Embiricos, Miami Art Basel, Miami
“Material Links”, Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), Shanghai
“ART ATHINA 2008”, Zina Athanassiadi Gallery, HELEXPO, Athens
“Art Beats II- 37 Scholars of the Onassis Foundation”, Onasseio Hospital, Athens
- 2007: “Heterotopias”- Public Screen, curated by Syrago Tsiara, 1st Biennial of Thessaloniki, Thessaloniki
“Echelon-Who is watching you?”, Polvo Gallery Chicago
“Bodyconnections”, La Maison de la Photographie, Tachkent
“The Chronicle of the Absurd” curated by Bia Papadopoulou, Museum of Photography, Thessaloniki
- 2006: "FROM TO”, Melina Merkouri Foundation, Athens
- 2005: “The human figure in a manipulated environment”, curated by Lisa Williams, ARTISTS SPACE, New York
- 2004: “ART ATHINA 2004”, AD Gallery, Hellinikon Airport, Athens
- 2003: “18 Wheeler”, curated by Juan Puntes, The Annex-White Box, New York
“Cosmos”, 11th Biennial of Young Artists from Europe and the Mediterranean, Athens
“Group Exhibition”, curated by Nick Lawrence, DNA Gallery, Provincetown, Massachusetts
“MFA Show”, 80 Washington Square East Galleries, New York
- 2002: “The Jack Goodman Award For Art and Technology”, Rosenberg Gallery, New York
- 2001: “1000 Drawings Night”, Artists Space, New York
- 2000: “Deconstruction”, Angel Orensanz Foundation for the Arts, New York
- 1998: Group show, Creta Mares Hotels, Crete
- 1997: Group show, Melina Merkouri Foundation, Athens
2008 Thessaloniki Museum of Photography
2001 “Eleytherios Venizelos - New Airport of Athens”
September 2009 - “OPEN XII-International Exhibition of Sculptures and Installations” Bellati Editions, Lido, Venice
July 2009 - “Face to Faces”, curated by Isabelle de Montfumat and Aggeliki Grammatikopoulou,
2nd Biennial of Thessaloniki, Thessaloniki Museum of Photography
January 2009 - “The Water”, Thessaloniki Museum of Photography
“Material Links”, Technopolis, Athens
December 2008 - “Environment-Action ‘08”, Villa Kazouli, Athens
“Art Photo Expo Miami”, Zone D and Galerie Basia Embiricos, Miami Art Basel, Miami
August 2008 - “Material Links”, museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), Shanghai
April 2008 - “ART ATHINA 2008”
“Urban Dwellings”, Zina Athanassiadou Gallery
“Art Beats II- The Onassis Foundation Scholars”
September 2007 - “Heterotopias” Public Screening 1st Biennial of Thessaloniki
May 2007 - “Photosynkyria- 19th International Photography Meeting”, Thessaloniki Museum of Photography
“The Chronicle of the Absurd”, Thessaloniki Museum of Photography
October 2006 - “WITHIN-WITHOUT”, Zoumboulakis Galleries
June 2006 - “FROM TO” Athens-Cairo-Paris
January 2006 - “Within-Without” Real Art Ways
June 2003 - Cosmos-11th Biennial of Young Artists from Europe and the Mediterranean
November 2003 - ART IN GENERAL, Slide Slam curated by Jean Shin, Art In General, New York
By Marina Fokides
The image of a young woman, seen from behind, leaning against a glass window that seems to be protecting some rare tropical garden brings to mind a number of hypothetical scenarios. On the other side of the glass there is a small crowd of people among which an elderly couple, stares with wonder at the curious exhibits. These separate worlds on either side of the window appear to be wholly disconnected from each other, though events taking place therein seem to be occurring simultaneously. Although transparent, the glass that stands between the two worlds gives the impression of a distinct yet impenetrable psychographic boundary between different realities. But then again, maybe not! It all depends on yet another factor, which comes to complete this play of multiple viewpoints that Venia Bechrakis orchestrates in her work The Garden (2004): it’s the gaze of each one of us upon this particular image.
The subject or the object of viewing? Voyeur, or observer? Artist, or the audience of art? – the role of the artist is determined by the viewer and it is through these parallel readings of the image that the nature of her work may be determined. Bechrakis uses photography to construct imaginary, at times surrealist, environments that make reference to everyday life. Images that at first sight appear to be documenting a mundane reality, centering on the figure of a woman – the artist herself – challenge conventional restrictions, social taboo and what we tend to take for granted. Following in the footsteps of women performance artists of the 80s, who consistently probed the boundaries between various manifestations of mass culture in art and lived experience, Bechrakis investigates throughout her work gender and identity issues, the relationship between the public and the private, the space of the fictitious (in its cinematic version) as a space of real experience and a revision of the simulacra of advertising, which renders the viewer indispensable to the fulfillment of plot.
Merging various techniques borrowed from the cinema, advertising photography and the visual art tradition, Bechrakis creates a series of odd landscapes, a universe of oxymora and paradoxes that captivate the viewer. In these unorthodox situations that Bechrakis stages, she is at once the author of the image and the object of viewing. Whether waiting for the frog to turn into a prince on a metro platform, or enjoying a cocktail while she lounges, swimsuit on, in the middle of snowy Manhattan in front of the billboard add of some exotic drink, or hanging her laundry to dry along some urban avenue. The essence of her work lies as much in the final result – a frozen moment in time that is at once part of tangible reality and the realm of the imaginary, as determined both by the artist and the viewer – as in the creative process, which is a special private ritual in itself. Either through digital manipulation of her images, or through real action where she publicly performs the most private of routines (often in exaggerated form), the artist casts herself as protagonist in imaginary scripts staged basically as a means of personal feedback. The ultimate goal of this practice is not only to show the attractive aspect of everyday reality as it appears in the fictional worlds of advertising and cinema, but also to comment on the manipulative power of the image in contemporary culture. Although her works often have a sort of tongue-in-cheek, kitsch quality, they are not exclusively meant to entertain; they rather seem to focus with a sense of urgency on the mundane, the restrictions of daily experience and the stereotypical model of women’s life.
Shifting between the art of performance, photography in its emancipated form, the composition of classical painting and a cinematic representation of reality, Bechrakis’ creates works that go beyond the narrow limitations of traditional photography and reinvent the photographic image as a field of psychoanalytic investigation. Her way of treating photography explores the fine line between truth and the lie. By undermining the evident, she allows the viewer to become aware of the deception and to decide for themselves whether they want to be deceived or not.
"Where is my home?"
By Yorgos Tzirtzilakis
Over the past years, a younger generation of artists has demonstrated a rekindled interest in the city and the home. And though it is a known fact that art’s early twentieth century avant-garde plunged head on into the ‘religious intoxication of the big city’, in our days such references tend to take on a more personal quality; they are less strident; and the metaphors are sophisticated and paradoxical. Today’s new art may be following and perhaps completing a turn signaled by the decade of the 20s, and, later on, the 60s, yet it differs in terms of mood and spirit: nihilism and a self-reflexive formalism have been replaced by a new sensibility favoring subtle acts of signification, by an attraction to the city as mediator in interpersonal relations and by the embodied anthropogeography of dwelling. It is in terms of this trend that we may defineVenia Bechrakis’ photographs.
To start with, I shall focus on three qualities that seem specific to her work and are readily identifiable: First, the female quality of her photographic self-portraits, which is the result of an ironic commentary of certain consumer and domestic patterns of behaviour. Second, an act of reversal that turns the inside into the outside: ‘The road becomes a home for the wanderer (flâneur),’ wrote Walter Benjamin, ‘who feels at home amidst the façades of buildings, as the bourgeois does inside his four walls’. And, third, the fact that these ‘extimacies’* are not always the result of digital manipulation of the image, but also the result of specific physical action carried out in either public or domestic space.
As Edward Soja observes, ‘in socially produced space, spatiality may be defined by the physical space of the material world and by the mental space of the intellect and of representation, each of which is used and integrated in the construction of spatiality, but cannot be thought as its equivalent.’ (Postmodern Geographies)
In any case, both the documentation of a direct physical action in space and the manipulation by means of photoshop of a series of displacements and paradoxes, take here the place of collage in order to place the self-documented body in a different context. This observation leads us to infer the following: what actually marks these self-portraits is the quality of heterogeneity and of a non-organic type of representation.
Rosalind Krauss maintained that the aim of collage was to place emphasis ‘on the gap between one fragment of reality and another’ (Amour Fou. Photography and Surrealism). If the realist organic work of art attempted to reconcile the natural world with culture, then the non-organic quality of collage simply plays with reality’s fascinating heterogeneity. I am not at all sure that we have to be skeptical of the fact that the methods of the avant-garde have lost their former, ‘heroic’ character to become the property of mass culture. Besides, the city itself, much like the contemporary dwelling, is no longer a harmonious thing, subject to complete control.
New technologies of the image contribute to a reality of reciprocal overlapping: architecture seems to be enhancing its artistic character, as art practices increasingly seem to be borrowing elements from architecture; the epicenter being always none other that the adventure of perception, the vertigo of the gaze. Today, the ‘quality’ of the city, as much as that of the home, does not only depend on the needs they necessarily serve, but also on the power of the imagination. And that was already sensed by German architect Karl Friedrich Schinkel as early as in 1834, when he designed Otto’s pharaonic palace on the Acropolis of Athens without in fact ever having stepped foot in Greece. Here then is an early instance of non lieu apotheosis, a notion to which all seem to refer today. But we can go ever further back, if you will, to El Greco’s magnificent misrepresentation of Toledo (1595-1600), in which he arbitrarily shifted the location of the river and the belfry, changing the place of buildings.
What is more important today, though, is the ability of contemporary art to transform the most commonplace, mundane thing into something special. All readings of the city and the dwelling are by necessity a misreading. The only possible interpretation is a misinterpretation. The ‘new alliance’ between art practices and perceptions of space has first and foremost to do with the function of the image. “This seeking for my home (…) it eateth me up’, Nietzsche writes in Thus Spake Zarathustra: ‘Where is my home? For it do I ask and seek, and have sought, but have not found it.’ It is a question still relevant today; a question that somehow seems to resound through Venia Bechrakis’ photographs…
* Extimacy: English rendition of a neologism coined by psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan, namely extimité [from the prefix ‘ex’ (exterieur) and the French word intimite (intimacy)].
What can we make of self-portraits in odd places that juxtapose ironic vignettes mocking our contemporary urban lives with everyday chores and mundane routines? In this series of new works, Becharkis, a native of Athens, Greece who studied at New York University, sheds light on our complicated lives and shows us our current environment in which we are constantly bombarded with images.
Whether in a grocery store, the airport, the subway or on a Manhattan street, the artist’s portraits remind us of women’s work and that ever-tenuous balance between one’s private and public life. Always seeking out and representing duality, Becharkis offers composed theatrical performances using a documentary style of photography that investigates the spaces between autobiography and fiction, performance and reality, perhaps reflecting her own national bifurcation between Greece and New York.
Becharkis’s photography is a culmination of multiple techniques influenced by cinema. The long, narrow format is elongated to capture the duality of combined images. She creates fantastical sentences, stringing the viewer along with multiple ironies, and a tantalizing sense of humor emerges as the scenes become even more real. Fascinated with the artist becoming herself an art object, she stages various events that normally don’t occur within public/private locales, prompting the viewer to ask, “Is this true or false?” The merging of images such as a portrait of the artist sitting in her living room, fruit in hand, (as though she needs to make a selection between apples and oranges) contrasts with an image from a local grocery store that highlights the orderliness of a mundane minimalist display of stacked fruit in the store’s aisles.
Other images include the artist in a bathing suit, lounging with a drink in hand in an empty parking lot covered in snow. She is surrounded by two advertisements of famous people toasting with Skyy vodka. All three are holding cocktail glasses, totally unaware of their surroundings. It’s almost as if she was reporting the weather for the evening news, live from her lounge chair: “today’s weather, it is snowing out.” Some of the most contemplative images are from a series of portraits where she portrays herself doing everyday household chores, taking a bubble bath or washing the floor, contrasted with shots of an anonymous subway platform. With these, she creates unusual ambiguities of the kind that resonate throughout New York City.
Airports and subways stations, although basic transportation hubs for any major city, can also be scary, daunting locations in which normal routines can be irrevocably altered. Anxiety surrounding robberies and terrorist attacks can permeate these dark and gloomy sites. Becharkis’ images draw attention to how one navigates through such an urban terrain, alluding sometimes in obvious ways to these potential crimes, while at other times subtly allowing the viewer to reconsider what public space is.
In a typical arrangement, Becharkis combines three frames that merge into a panoramic overview, overtly toying with the viewer’s perception and gaze. Whether artificial or natural environments, she sometimes shoots through various glasses creating reflections that cause us to speculate on who the spectator is: the viewer, the setting, or the artist?
Holly Block is the executive director of Art in General, a leading nonprofit arts organization located in New York City. She has been the curator and organizer of numerous contemporary art exhibitions and projects and is the author and editor of ART CUBA: The New Generation (2001), a book on contemporary art from Cuba published by Harry N. Abrams.