33° 3’ 45’’ East, the title of the present exhibition of recent work by Yorgos Petrou, refers to a remarkable geographical location, the Red Lake near Mitsero, located west of Nicosia. Surface mining for pyrites (iron disulphate) left behind a crater. Pyrite is a highly unstable material and its decomposition due to exposure to air or water leaves behind iron oxide and sulphate; the latter, when coming into contact with water, produces sulphuric acid. The bottom of the mine over time filled with toxic water which is not only acidic but also displays intense colours ranging from red to an ominous near-black depending on the water’s depth and the viewing direction.
The Red Lake embodies concerns that pervade Petrou’s work - in particular the interface between natural material and human agency. In a series of photos collectively entitled Fractions of a Landscape and produced in 2017 the individual titles refer to the percentages of an initial photograph taken in situ that were recycled into compositions that focus on aspects of the scene. Thus we encounter the delicate ripples on the poisonous water and the multi-coloured layers and terraces of material left behind after the extraction of the metal.
The encounter of matter and form is further explored in the context of the human body, perhaps a remote echo of hylomorphism in Aristotelian theory. Untitled (topography II) of 2017 is a scatter piece on the floor. The material in this instance is wind-dried clay, the form, depending on what side of the individual parts we consider, is that of the artist’s fingers handling the material, and impressions of human body parts. An arrangement that from a distance might be perceived to be no more than a collection of rock fragments reveals, when viewed more closely, assertions of the uniqueness of an individual human being. A private existence is insinuated as much as it is withheld due to the fragmentation and only partial portrayal of the human form.
A third group of works, entitled Postcards with men, local soil, seasonal fruit, and classical figures of 2017 forms a connecting link between the works previously discussed. Photographic images of classical sculptures, one of the most universally admired redefinitions of natural material in terms of the human form, and males photographed in landscape settings, form the starting point of these small works. The images are partly occluded by natural materials derived from the location of the Red Lake. Olives and other parts of plants and earth are heaped onto the photos, forming still-lives that are then crushed to form opaque but richly textured layers over the images. Organic and inorganic matter – which furthermore we understand to be toxic – are thus allowed to take back some of the aesthetic and sensual appeal of the human form and its artistic interpretation. The body fragments, reminiscent of Untitled (topography II), a head, feet, a torso, have a powerful hold on the viewer, but no less memorable is the encounter with the material stuff that underpins human activity and that is here orchestrated in a richly modulated way.