Crystal Gazer Lydia Venieri and The Art of Experience
Text Dr. Sozita Goudouna in the occasion of Lydia Venieri’s solo exhibition “Byronic Era” at the Olympic Municipal Gallery of Maroussi “Spyros Louis” November — 31st of January 2022 curated by Sozita Goudouna.
Lydia Venieri traces the epic story of Lord Byron set in a multi-temporal spectral landscape, intertwining the theme of a biography with those of history and poetic creation to proclaim a new, indeterminate “art of experience” rather than representation. An ambitious ensemble project “Specters of Byron,” comprises monumental photos and a series of portraits orchestrated or choreographed in a meticulous, even filmic, composition by the artist. The seed of this new work was sown as far back as 2011.
The artist, in her clairvoyant and crystal gazer words, states that:
“Aesthetics for me is a spiritual, a political act. Byron said that he was born as an “opposition.” This statement shows his criticism in any form of power that, however, as a cosmopolitan, was handled generously. Nevertheless, as an artist who ruled his characters, he tormented them as much as Zeus, Odysseus and his father, Christ. Byron himself, feeling divinity he embraced Prometheus. His characters preferred defeat to victory, not due to cowardness but out of invincible melancholy. The women in his poems beyond the Madonna, Aphrodite or Athena, embodied the consciousness of his world but also his mysterious fate.”
Time is the vessel of our fate. Thus, it is an unsettling mechanism as it becomes suspended, inaccessible or even (a)historical. Time unfolds to reveal the relationship between the physical reality, materiality, and our body.
Portraits in Historical Motion
In Venieri’s oeuvre, our body, the human body, becomes the historical body as contemporary figures shift into, or become, historical heroes. Her pieces go beyond those of most artists in their ability to convey motion, namely, not only the physical motion of the human body, but rather the internal rhythm of the emotions. Among their many astonishing aspects is the unexpected vividness of the figure’s expressions and gestures. Images that are of necessity, static, trapped in historical time, in a nostalgia of the past, nevertheless, seem to unfold in time before us. As if they are truly reciting or enacting Byron’s poetic texts in his Last words on Greece:
What are to me those honours or renown.
Past or to come, a new born people’s cry?
Albeit for such I could despise a crown
Of aught save laurel, or for such could die.
I am a fool of passion, and a frown
Of thine to me is as an adder’s eye
To the poor bird whose pinion fluttering down
Wafts unto death the breast it bore so high:
Such is this maddening fascination grown,
So strong thy magic or so weak am I. 
At the heart of “Specters of Byron,” however, is another first: no Greek artist has included this newly ubiquitous aesthetic “technology” of formulating a “theatricality of time-lapse” in relation to Greek historic narrative, in such a vivid, and at the same time captivating and contemporary way. “Greekness” itself receives another interpretation and “zeitgeist” in the artist’s dreamlike universe, it escapes stereotypes by being dreamy and aloof like the artist herself; it becomes more real by becoming sur-real and spectral.
The artist is providing her own words, on this new-born state, Greece. The historical background becomes omnipresent for her characters, but one that showcases their actions, expressions even thoughts. Venieri, as another fictitious originator of the discipline of iconology, fashions, like Aby Warburg a “critical iconology” to reveal the irrationality of the image in Western culture. Her heroes are enlightened westerners or ideal figures that participate in an Enlightenment, but the artist is interested in highlighting their humanity rather than their generic heroic perfection. Thus, her critical universe is operated by historical anachronisms and discontinuities rather than by scientific archetypes and canons. Using procedures of “montage-collision” she brings together or juxtaposes art historical references, reminiscent of masterpieces of Florentine Renaissance art, with everyday contemporary humans. She participates in a communion with those art historical figures whether to critically overcome the aesthetic hierarchies they establish or to nostalgically reenact their desires, activities and dreams.
Challenging normative accounts of Greek history and Philhellenism the artist brings the characters in close-ups, close to us. It is these lines of familiarity and fracture, contradictions, tensions and passionate energies that attest the definition of true Philhellenism for Venieri. Rather than the official narratives of Philhellenism and the bureaucracy of political opportunism and intentionality.
Nevertheless, it is the aesthetic afterlives or many lives of these portraits as drawings, photographs or even moving images, that is also of major concern here. In Venieri’s versatile aesthetic methodologies these characters have first functioned as trial runs on paper, for the artist to test the way images will blend in her notion of a motion picture or fairytale. The artist creates these portraits in historical motion as if she was writing a filmic storyboard. Her portraits bear the same relationship to a finished film, but they also preexisted in their other lives as drawings. Venieri first sketches her characters and her working sketches exist for themselves and say their own story or another critical story about (H)istory. It is a story that doesn’t rely on storyboards for filmmaking, but rather on expressiveness. It is a story of Byron as the archetype or a daguerreotype of the young radical poet. The young man that inspires love, that shows to us that we should relate to art in the same way we relate to people. Thus, Venieri’s argument is in favor of love, of this love that turns on what she terms as superficial interpretation of history and politics: the perception of art as saturated by common perceptions of politics. For the artist the notion of the work of art is endemic to that of experience and her exhibition works on this question as it becomes an experience rather than just art.
 First publication, February, 1887