Ariana Papademetropoulos’s latest show at Vito Schnabel Projects is a soft, immersive experience that takes the viewer on a metaphorical journey. We feel compelled to follow the otherworldly music and wander throughout the space, just like the children who followed the irresistible music of the Pied Piper of Hamelin. A large room, carpeted with a vibrant and plush orange carpet that gives off a sense of exhilarating retro comfort, welcomes visitors. But I’m told this color matches the one used to identify Agent Orange, the defoliant chemical used during the Vietnam War. The manufacturer of Agent Orange was Rainbow Herbicides — a clue regarding the title of the exhibition, Unweave a Rainbow. What seems dreamlike at first takes an acrid turn. Processing this information, we imagine the loading of weapons of mass destruction; our reverie becomes more anxious and ambiguous, but loosens up when we discover a series of playful, rainbow-shaped modular floor cushions. On the walls are a series of three large paintings, each featuring a giant bubble floating in the air that encapsulates — or mirrors? — a domestic interior. The bubbles register somewhere between a time travel device and a magical spell, between a scientific experiment and a poetic symbol. They evoke the traveling domestic interiors of Jules Verne (think of Propeller Island or the Nautilus in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea); or the end of E. T. A. Hoffmann’s The Golden Pot, when the author himself wonders why he does not have a “nice little farm in Atlantis that is a poetic possession of his inner mind.”
Interestingly, these three paintings are connected: the bubble seems to be flying from one landscape to another, bringing with it the memory of the previous canvas. The bubble is an anomaly: it never reflects its surroundings. Maybe it should be understood as a metaphor: deserted of human presence, each landscape offers an opportunity to dream and travel without moving, and to be connected with other realms, other dimensions, which are the paintings nearby. Like Justin Lowe, Jonah Freeman, and Jim Shaw, all of whom she worked for as a studio assistant, Papademetropoulos shares an interest in subtle scenography, multidimensional storytelling based on eerie and hidden meaning, invisible forces, and uncanny situations where the domestic and the unfamiliar coexist. The theme of the liquid drop is also present in a parallel series of smaller paintings. Each of these canvases depicts a flower, a crystal, or a seashell featuring a teary eye in their center. If we try to connect all the elements together — the flowing bubble, the teary eye, the imminent danger (Agent Orange), and the dreamy landscape — we understand that the bubble is the common thread (bubble, teardrop, toxic rain, misty rainbow). We might propose that the eye produces the tear, born out of a wish, and then starts travelling, visiting places it had longed for, hoping for a journey, for a new experience, a life-changing story.