Fantasy, apocalypse and personal loss collide in Ioanna Sakellaraki’s photographs of Patmos
In The Interval of Unreason, Ioanna uses photography as a way to conjure memories that belong in fantasy, starting by looking through her late father’s archives.
- Alif Ibrahim
- 8 April 2021
The idea that photography captures reality as it appears is perhaps an idea of the past. The relationship between images, both found and created, often conjure tales that might not belong to the photographer themselves. Far from merely showing scenes that have been lived through, it becomes the domain of endless possibilities. It is precisely within this mode of thought that photographer Ioanna Sakellaraki produced The Interval of Unreason, a project that she sees as the chapter after her previous work, The Truth is in the Soil. “My practice continues to investigate the relationship between collective cultural memory and personal trauma, fiction and passage of time,” Ioanna tells It’s Nice That. “Most recently, while forming this body of work, I have been looking into how photography can conjure memories that belong in fantasy, in eidetic recollection and some ontological reality, not in lived experience.”
The series begins with an image that Ioanna found in her late father’s archive, that she calls the remains of a tainted memory of an idyllic romance on the Greek island of Patmos. The discovery was followed by Ioanna’s extended stay on the island during the lockdown of 2020, during which she began to unravel the secret stories of her father’s past as a sailor and an adventurer of his time. She simultaneously went on to deconstruct Patmos’ history as the “Island of the Apocalypse,” the place where infernal visions of mankind’s downfall that inspired Saint John to write the Book of Revelation. The biblical story begins with Saint John addressing a letter to the Seven Churches of Asia, followed by a series of prophetic visions that included extravagant imagery of mythical beasts.
“The challenge in creating this series was going through my father’s archives and encountering his romantic relationships. Through the series, I attempt to show how the photograph is reanimated to show a previously hidden truth. The past can never be fully remembered if it is regarded as never fully having taken place. The archive is a container of memory, a memory not fully having been lived by the viewer, myself in this case, so there is no way of interpreting it but through fiction,” Ioanna describes. “To me, this interval is what brings the story together, not what ruins it; it exists as its incompleteness that is bound to its own rupturing as that which it endlessly pursues.”
Staying on the island during lockdown gave Ioanna the time to let this project emerge organically. There is a continuous dialogue between the pre-existing archival images and the newly shot material, the latter of which was created in complete isolation as Ioanna seeks to transcribe the feeling of transcendence that she felt being on the island. “In a vortex of clouds, shadows, starry skies and rushing wind, the island turns into a darkling site where the phantoms of imagination, personal loss and historic elegy occupy a transitional zone between the sublime, the cosmic and the solemn,” she says. “In its own unique ways, the archive becomes a site that is historically and hermeneutically transformed; a place where amnesic memories are recorded. Borrowing symbols and interpretations of different timelines and histories, I respond to an eternally deferred disaster, as seen through its multiple temporalities and discrete personal and collective stories.”
Studying the archive further, while keeping this apocalyptic tale in mind, Ioanna came across multiple cut-outs of graphic novels that her father kept, leading to her interest in the way that graphic novels signified the passage of time. “I started being interested in the ways a graphic novel evokes movement across time not only by way of what is recorded within its panels but also through omissions or fractures in both space and time that occur between individual panels,” she says. “Pairing the images became a way for reconfiguring the relationship between image-making and storytelling, the imagined and the truthful, evoking the illusion of a continuous, dynamic movement of action across space and time.”
Ioanna notes that this project is meant to be allegorical, inspired by the performative nature of text in ancient Greek manuscripts. Symbols she found are enigmatic, decoded and communicated through these images to Ioanna’s viewer in an attempt to explore how images and storytelling could be part of this apocalyptic sublime. “In the intersection of memory and oblivion, the work untangles the remaking that surviving loss entails, reminding us that history is not merely a matter of chronology but also a question of space and relationships. Between a moment of crisis and a temporal turn, the images articulate our obscure personal and cultural ends,” Ioanna describes.
Ioanna Sakellaraki: The Interval of Unreason (Copyright © Ioanna Sakellaraki, 2021)