Naarm (Melbourne)-based artist Stanislava Pinchuk presents a new venture into marble at Yavuz Gallery in Sydney this July. After working with designer Henry Wilson last year on a sandstone sculpture, Pinchuk began to realise her ambitions of working with the medium she’s held a ‘lifelong love affair’ with. In the show, titled The Wine Dark Sea, twenty-four pieces of marble – some the size of plinths, others brick size – conceptualise two stories told in tandem.
The works are modular and stackable, each engraved by grave makers telling the narratives of Homer’s Odyssey and the Nauru cables. “I’ve pulled out lines that are pretty much identical from the two and swapped the protagonists, so Odysseus becomes [REDACTED] and [REDACTED] becomes Odysseus,” says Pinchuk.The artist shares that Homer’s Odyssey is the original “migrant novel”, forming the basis of a lot of Western thought and literature. “It’s the idea that Odysseus moves from island to island, trying to return home to Ithaca. He’s trying to get to where he wants to go, where there’s someone waiting, where there’s a life for him, even though the life isn’t necessarily easy,” says Pinchuk.
“The core of the Odyssey is the idea of hospitality and how we treat our neighbours,” says the Ukrainian-Australian artist. “The inhumanity of going from island to island without an answer is reflected in Australia’s immigration policy; the white Australia policy never ended.”
First developed six months ago – during Melbourne’s strict lockdown – the series was originally set to be a large architectural work, but with the pandemic underway, the timing wasn’t right. Instead, Pinchuk wanted to express her ideas in an intimate sculpture that could move around, akin to Homer’s “endless grave” in Ios, Greece. “I love graves that feel really alive,” she says. “Homer’s grave is so beautiful; it’s these big pillars and little stone pebbles that are just stacked on top of each other.”
Collaboration is at the heart of the work, working closely with her marble supplier and stonemasons, as she considers the history of the palazzos in Italy or Odyssey’s first version written into stone. “I’m trying to find a certain freedom and fluidity with mediums,” says Pinchuk. “And also, because I really enjoy collaboration and bringing in people with specialist fields.”The epicness of Odysseus and Homer’s legacy ensures it is reinterpreted throughout generations, the narratives continuing into humanity today. “The modularity and stack-ability are really about the fragmentation of narrative,” says Pinchuk. “But also, a big tribute, and from a really loving place to Homer.”
And yet, the artist muses, maybe Homer didn’t exist or wasn’t just one person? The nature of his stories being one of oral poetry passed down. In this, she reflects on the corporations that run offshore detention centres, such as Wilson Security, which operates as an umbrella corporation with many authors.
“There’s a similar fragmentation of narrative and the fact that also, the paperwork stands for migrants and Australian stories, because they are Australian stories,” says the artist. “I live in a block where men are being held in indefinite detention in a hotel with no fresh air, no outside time. After eight years in offshore detention, it [can only be described as] torture.”
As an artist always in flux, projects take Pinchuk across the world. The standstill of COVID lockdowns in Melbourne gave the artist precious time to stop and think about facing the world head on. Around her, she considered the perspective of the approach to keep busy and distracted – noting this was the first time many of her peers had experienced this level of uncertainty.
Pinchuk will be moving to Bosnia in July, and the show at Yavuz Gallery allows her to construct the layout of the artworks in its first iteration. After this, the sculptures will be at the whim of the curator – feeding into the concept of collaboration and one of many authors. In a later version, Pinchuk has asked the journalist Paul Farrell, who leaked the Nauru cables, to lay out the stones. “It’s again fragmenting the narrative,’ says the artist. ‘It will have its own life, like Homer’s grave – to keep changing and reforming.”
The Wine Dark Sea follows on from Pinchuk’s artistic practice that draws on philosophy, art history and a commitment to reorienting the world in front of us. She invites the viewer to, yet again, face the world head on, especially in times of discomfort, through poetic renditions of art.
Emma-Kate Wilson is a Sydney-based arts writer.
8 to 31 July 2021 | Cancelled
2022 Adelaide Biennial of Australian Art: Free/State
Art Gallery of South Australia
4 March to 5 June 2022