The everyday as an area of inquiry, extensively scrutinized in the second half of the 20th century, is perhaps now more relevant than ever. From the surrealists to the feminist artists of the 70s, the quotidian has been encountered and reencountered fervently, not just as a subdivision to social and cultural theory but also as an aesthetic category in itself. The distinction between private and public life was, however, more apparent then; designating the everyday as an interplay between a private realm 'within', in which instances of sincerity, boredom, reverie or tiredness could transpire as radical departures from convention, and a performative public realm 'without'. The 21st century has seen immense corporate advances into the everyday. Via cyber technologies, the line between private and public realms has become virtually non-existent. Social media platforms and web-based services offer a level of personalisation and interactivity previous telecommunication mediums, such as TVs and radios, lacked. The marketing ploys of 20th century capitalism, which were more evident one-directional affairs relying on seduction and mimesis, have evolved into significantly more complex psychological entities that occupy the everyday subconscious.
What one desires is fast becoming less important than how one desires it. The 21st century consumer is a skilled content moderator. Via social media platforms we encounter thousands of titles, blurbs, photos and clips per day which require automatic filtration, distinguishing what may be of interest, ignoring what is not and steering away from spam and scams; offering priceless statistics and insight to market analysts with every click. Through our portable laptops, tablets and smart phones we stay connected to our online profiles 24/7, receiving newsfeeds and updates incessantly. The task of high level advertisers, social media strategists, copywriters, public relations officers and market researchers is to figure out ways to break through our cyber-cognitive filters and grab our attention, without being identified as spam. A recent trend, for example, is the appropriation of the meme phenomenon as an inexpensive form of guerrilla marketing. Memes are characterised by their ordinariness or homemade qualities. In fact, one may argue that it is because they carry such an accessible and relatable everyday aesthetic that they go viral. They may take the form of a video, image, hyperlink, website, word or phrase. However, what essentially characterises memes is that they are privately produced by your average Joe or Jane yet somehow achieve millions of views and shares within hours. This leap from private to global sensation skips any notions of public life altogether, disregarding cultural locality or social context. As such, the simulation of meme logic by market strategists entails the appropriation (and homogenisation) of the everyday global-private aesthetic.
Reclaiming the everyday means reintroducing the interplay between private and public life as an explicitly local experience. It means noticing, being present, allowing oneself the chance to do nothing, be bored, and disconnect from the world wide. For this to happen, however, notions of the everyday need to be redefined as unspectacular again and as far removed from the ironic sensationalism of the global-private meme aesthetic as possible. Such an endotic infra-ordinary everyday, in Georges Perec's words, would prove infertile grounds for the spectacularising efforts of advertisers. However, a further step, a form of radical emptiness, which requires not simply the reduction of content but the addition of a conscious emptiness-as-content-in-itself, is also necessary if we are to reclaim the everyday, according to Natalie Yiaxi. Whereas before the post-internet era one had the chance to fall back to emptiness and boredom, simply by doing nothing, today most 'connected' individuals fall back to their newsfeeds, emails and profiles instead; self-reproduction has become virtually indistinguishable from cyber-capitalist-reproduction. Passive emptiness, as a default buffer, is quickly becoming an obsolete notion in the 21st century and, like the everyday, needs to be reinvented as an active practice.
Natalie has worked as a copywriter in the past and is well acquainted with the techniques of title-crafting. In the piece 'Untitled' her skills are implemented to subvert the very expectations which they designate. Sans content, title-crafting acquires an unexpected poeticism, an intuitive play of words, definitions and references composed together for no apparent reason. 'Crafting' is an inappropriate definition altogether as many of the titles were either found or appropriated from Natalie's everyday life, dragged out of their context, from conversations, TV, books, online, overheard phrases, observations or simply as moments of epiphany discovered via introspection. Introducing radical emptiness means heightening awareness and engagement with form as an isolated aesthetic entity. After we discover that Natalie's books are empty we begin to wonder what their titles might mean. Our creative participation is called forth, we become the content.
'Posh Taro' refers to one of many anagrams, sourced through a process of lexigramming, of the word ‘Athropos’, which roughly translates as ‘Human being’ in the linguistically defined non-standard Greek-Cypriot dialect. The lexigram, "a phrase composed of words which contain only letters found within an original expression", is a form of word-play established by American astrologer Linda Goodman. The decision to translate a non-standard term using a non-standard method of intuitive, pseudoscientific, conceptual writing provokes a revision of the nature of translation and further disturbs title-crafting logic. The cultural specificity of the term ‘Athropos’ delineates a very particular portrait of Cypriot identity, emphasized by the playful symbolic appropriation of the taro (a root vegetable often used in traditional Cypriot cuisine). The frisky tone of Natalie’s voice, embittered by caustic references to local social issues, both at once denies and celebrates this identity. A love-hate anxiety is formed, resisting the temptation to sentimentalise in order not to neglect more pressing social realities. Yet, the translation of the 'Cypriot Human being' into a root vegetable, not just a 'Taro', a 'Posh Taro', offers a necessary tinge of humour, reminding us not to take such overloaded Humanist concepts as culture and identity too seriously.
While visiting the Cesnola collection of Cypriot antiquities, at the Metropolitan Museum in New York, Natalie listed all the titles of the anthropomorphic sculptures on display. She then recorded herself reading them to create a rhythmic conceptual poem, as if read from label to label while moving in the museum space. The recording was then milled as a marble waveform using 3D modelling and CNC milling technology. 'Metropolitan Cypriots' playfully interrogates the failure of translation, in this case between different conceptual vessels and structural forms, in an exercise which deconstructs notions of historical identity and institutional identity-crafting
(as opposed to title-crafting). According to Natalie, 'Metropolitan Cypriots' can be perceived as "a portable monument of these exiled ancient compatriots."
In 'Wind of Change' Natalie introduces the wind as a conceptual element in her work. Using just paper and tape, she performs a tongue-in-cheek caricaturisation of man's desires to construct meaning, empires and civilisations, only to fail in frustration with every attempt. Things emerging from cocoons usually undergo serious transformations. According to Natalie, once she emerged from her ephemeral cocoon" [her] brain got all weird and [she] had these bizarre flashes of thoughts in an echoy voice 'your body is the cocoon of your psyche, your clothes are the cocoon of your body, your home is the cocoon of your life, Earth is the cocoon of your home."
Yet one wonders to what degree these cocoons, everfailing to resist the force of wind, ever yield any valuable transformation. Perhaps the raw and unpredictable grace of the wind, as experienced in our everyday environments, is something worth meditating and succumbing to, as suggested in 'Flying Page'. Or else there will be consequences. In 'Time' Natalie likens time to the wind, an experience which exists outside the linear logic of man. Efforts to control or make sense of time are as futile as efforts to escape the wind. Time can only be witnessed in the same vain as the wind blowing around plastic bags or the leaves on trees. The act of cutting down trees is here presented to symbolise man's efforts to take control over time and hence over nature. Yet, as Natalie warns, such efforts are always met with a response.
DESTE Prize 2015
an essay written by Peter Eramian for the exhibition catalogue of the 9th DESTE Prize, published by DESTE Foundation,