Originally from Athens, Irini Folerou now lives and works in London, having recently graduated from CSM with an MA in Fine Art. Of her work, she says, “I explore the materiality of spatial experiences. I am interested in the passage of time, and the unstoppable implications of its nature. Themes in my work are around the notions of memory, nostalgia, safety, captivity and isolation, in relation to the human perception and presence.” Here, I caught up with Irini to talk to her about her photography and her project ‘Swimming suit.’
When did you first become interested in photography?
I was originally trained as a product designer, but I have always been interested in art. It felt as something was missing during my design studies that had to do more with philosophical explorations, or simply things that went further than the commercial constraints of product design.
A key turning point was when I attended an international contemporary arts fair a long time ago. I came across the work of a photographer that I really connected with. It depicted an early morning vista through a window in a metropolis. As soon as I came near to the photo, I was able to smell the morning coffee, feel the morning and heard the noises of the avenue. I felt very impressed by this connection and wanted to be able to convey the atmosphere of a place through a static image. Since then of course, I have learned that there is much more you can communicate through art.
Later on, there came a deeply esoteric period in my life, where the camera became a motivation to visit places and redefine my perspective of what is around me.
What is the concept behind this work, ‘Swimming suit’?
The series ‘Swimming suit’ depicts my sister getting ready to swim in the sea. My core interest in the series is the way the body gets interwoven with its environment. In this unification, the human shape appears to lose its natural boundaries in a space of unidentifiable context.
Why did you choose to take these images without any presence of the sea?
In my frames I didn’t need the presence of the sea. The sea and its metaphors was my inspiration. However, only the human presence and its environment was enough to build my concept. The light can illustrate a story and build the ambience and connotations that imply the lightness or gravity.
What is it about your sister that you aim to capture through your photographs?
It is not about my sister per se. By observing her in that environment putting on her swimsuit, her movements reminded me of M. Mauss’ view on posture and gestures. He says that they are comprised of socially acquired techniques that encompass invisible forms of social control, with imposed boundaries between the acceptable and the unacceptable. Yet as we went towards the sea I realized that there in the pleasurable act of swimming the boundaries disappear. Instantly, perception of depth, dimensions and distance fade in the horizon.
From our childhood swimming has been associated with this liberating feeling. Yet, in the sea, I think this creates a paradox as this feeling of freedom contrasts what Mauss observed. The sea is an environment that on one hand it gives us the feeling of lightness allowing us to freely move, while at the same time forces our body mind and senses to co-ordinate, constrain and control our movements in order to survive in it. While our body defines what is here and there, social norms define how we transition within it.
In the beginning, my sister and the environment triggered the concept. By observing her and capturing her movement I started to recognise the elements that reinforced the concept. I then directed my sister in order to more accurately and technically capture these to form the base of the material.
In these photographs, the background is blown out so that we cannot put the subject in a surrounding context. Is this in relation to your idea of the body losing it’s natural boundaries?
The overexposure in the ‘Swimming suit’ unites the subject with the environment. In addition, the ‘flat image’ creates a perception like time and space do not exist. The lack of reference points make it hard, if not impossible, to pinpoint the when and where. This element along with the lack of visual boundaries creates a paradoxical feeling of captivity and freedom at the same time.
Boundaries that are fuzzy, permeable, where it is hard to discern between the boundary and what it engulfs has been a core interest to me. I feel they reflect life and human nature. One reality can be millimetres apart form another yet infinitely away at the same time through time and outside of our control.
What inspires you?
I am inspired by many different things from everyday life. From a sound that could take me somewhere, to a vista, to the political and social scene. Usually my work starts from personal matters and becomes political in the process and vice versa.
What is next for you?
There are a few projects in the pipeline and themes that I want to explore and develop, and I am now privileged to live in a city that can support this.