Monday 9 May 2016

In Balance, by Kalliopi Lemos

In Balance, by Kalliopi Lemos, at Gazelli Art House, Mayfair, London.

How do you achieve balance in a world of violence, income inequality, uneven distribution of the world's resources, female subjugation, racism, the heartless abandonment of refugees fleeing war, and sublimation through consumerism? In a world that is so imbalanced, how do you achieve some degree of balance? This is the question that Lemos poses in this thought-provoking and powerful exhibition. The world is out of balance, and our states, both political and personal are out of joint. The work asks us to consider how we might link these global struggles (imbalances) with our own internal, personal struggles (forms of inner balance).

'The idea is that there is always a point of gravity, a centre within each one of us, which we try to maintain in everyday life, but the constraints, conventions and pressures of the world try to push us away from it. The struggle to uphold it is what I am contemplating in my exhibition; and not only that, but also whether there is balance in the world. There are so many imbalances that we need to address'.

In Balance Stainless Steel sculptures (there are 3), 2016 (stainless steel)

'Balance is connected with the meaning of gravity', explains Lemos.' If we think for a minute about scales, there is a point along an axis where it is connected with the ground, with the Earth. On either end of this axis, there are two different objects that are balancing themselves against each other, like two children sitting on a seesaw in a playing ground, experimenting with their weight and force against one another'.

'I am concerned with the inner balance of the human being, our vulnerability and our defences, our struggles and tensions and how we deal with them to try and maintain equilibrium', she explains.

Stainless Steel Seed, 2016 (stainless seed)

'The meaning of the seed, the miniature element within which all life is contained, really fascinates me. For me, it represents the creation, the world with all its miracles'.

Stainless Steel Seed, 2016 (stainless seed)

In Balance, Yellow 2013, (aluminium seeds, colour)

This sculpture, on a bright yellow plinth, is the only primary colour in this whole exhibition.

Looking closer.

On the wall in this room is a series of Collage Drawings, 2016, (mixed media) offering a commentary on the imbalance in our world: images of press cuttings on current issues merge with drawings of seeds.

Greed is good after all - it sends Death to the poor next door

Don't die like my son

Energy vs public health

At every level of our society it is under threat

Migration - Displacement

Migrants fuel raft economy in Turkey

Thousands enter ... ISIS

This first room was the introduction, the setting of the scene. In the next room is a video installation and the highlight of the exhibition, one of the most powerful statements about female entrapment I have seen. The video is related to a sculpture on the first floor:

Sphere, 2015 (mild steel), 80cm diameter

At the Centre of the World (2015)

The video installation depicts a woman trapped inside the iron sphere which is just big enough for her (80cm diameter), struggling to escape.  The cage rolls around freely on a smooth warehouse floor. It rolls and rolls. The woman inside wages a very physical struggle to control the movement of the sphere which, due to the distribution of her weight inside it, tends to roll and place her on her back like a capsized tortoise.  Having no control over her body or movement, she is browbeaten, folded, subjugated, the sounds of her pain reverberating throughout the gallery.

In her analysis of At the Centre of the World, Nadja Millner-Larsen draws on the work of Judith Butler on the nature of power as something that 'presses on the subject from the outside, as what subordinates, sets underneath, relegates to a lower order'.  In this sense then, At the Centre of the World is a metaphor for power.

Millner-Larsen also shows how Butler describes 'the ways in which submission to power must be understood as a predicate to the very formation of the subject.... and that our customary model of power as that which imposes itself from the outside, 'fails to note... that the 'we' who accept such terms are fundamentally dependent on those terms for 'our' existence'... Butler underscored the subject's ambivalent attachment to their own subordination. This ambivalence seems to be at the core of Lemos' exploration of balance'. Because we internalise these systems of subjection, of oppression, our search for balance becomes so much more difficult.

'... Women have been suppressed and compromised, and the fight that they put on is a reaction to what they have faced and there is a balance to be achieved here' (Lemos)

Moving on to the first floor of the gallery, facing the stairs:

Sculptures with Photography, 2012 (birch box, leather cord, archive inkjet, printing)

A series of close-up photographs of details of the human body framed in boxes.

A series of figurines (2016) made out of airdrying clay wrapped in handmade tissue paper are displayed on this floor. These are of women with mutilated limbs, their faces not clearly visible,  manifesting a struggle of balancing acts, their positions ambiguous and ambivalent: most are worked into pained positions but the context is unclear.

one more view of the last one.

Studies of Head in Wax, 2011 (wax and oil on gesso paper)

Last but not least, is this series of three boxes on the wall as you come up the stairs. I found the positioning of these very frustrating, as I could not get close enough to have a proper look.  I zoomed in to take the photographs below, but that did not decrease my frustration - I needed to have a close look, to metaphorically get inside them. There were nine of those in the exhibition catalogue but only three in the exhibition - I wish I could have seen the rest as I found these boxed-in worlds intriguing and fascinating.

Boxed Worlds, 2015 (photographs, small figurines made of steel skeleton, air drying clay, hand made Japanese paper, wire installed in wooden boxes made with reclaimed wood from the roof of an old Georgian house)

A mutilated figure stands in the middle of a room, isolated and maybe imprisoned. In the background, a series of windows - are these windows populated with people looking at the figurine? A strong image of loneliness, confinement and isolation.

Pairing these Boxed Worlds with the Sphere video, should we conclude that Lemos is suggesting that the whole world is a prison? Or is the inclusion of seeds throughout the exhibition suggesting other potentialities?

The great body of Lemos’ work has been dedicated to examining and raising questions about the processes and politics that cause forced migration and the impact that neo-capitalism and the irresponsibility of political powers have on its victims, particularly women. Her work has historically centred on journeys and on displacement in a very direct, open sense.

See also:

Passages of Substance, by Kaliopi Lemos

Pledges by Kalliopi Lemos

An interview with Lemos here


The excellent exhibition catalogue.


  1. What powerful pieces, and the interview is fascinating too. Thanks for that.

  2. I'm a great fan of Lemos' work, Avril. We went to London especially, as it was the last day of the exhibition - we obviously did other things as well, but seeing her work was the highlight of the day.