Silvias Find a New Moon was commissioned by Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery for the fellowship exhibition COLA 2019.’
Writing by K. Bradford
Olga Koumoundouros: A Biomorphic Rupture
Olga Koumoundouros’s new work Silvias find the new moon reveals a quaking materiality at the center of her practice and aesthetics. In a conceptual, animated call-and-response, the artist creates compositions with what she calls a “hand of intuitive assembly.” She draws on forces that are theoretical yet intuitive, critical yet mythic, tactile yet global. Her recent return to a practice focused on materiality is shaped as much by theories of new materialism as by her intersectional feminism or by growing up in a family of Greek immigrants in Yonkers, New York.
With Silvias find the new moon (on view in the COLA exhibition), Koumoundouros has created a fish of unlikely parts: a head with a hood, a metal sawhorse body with wings, a pelvis, a tail, and perhaps most importantly, gaps between the parts. At the center of this piece and her short story of the same title is a biomorphic symbol—the flying fish—which the artist strategically offers as a conceptual readymade for us to unpack. This found eco-object, oceanic living organism, and mythic figure from an ancient Minoan vase pushes the borders of the hybrid form: designed for both water and air, made of gravity and ether, flesh and flight. Koumoundouros incorporates into this assemblage earth-sourced, synthetic, and mass-produced elements, and what’s more, she sculpts with air.
Notably the ceramic production took on an ecological course of its own. Koumoundouros left ancestral offerings of milk and flowers at the kiln. And the firing process itself—exploded vessels, cracked parts—led her to incorporate unexpected materials: rose quartz, spandex, steel, copper, vinyl, and an herb glaze she made in a ritual harking back to her grandmother’s recipes. Koumoundouros’s use of disparate elements incites a materialized tension. Her multivalent, morphological assemblage tugs at the notion of unified, fixed forms, revealing one of her primary preoccupations: activating materiality as a living text to shake out the temporal reality that our societal structures and narratives are no longer tenable.
The sculpture stands as a kind of (de)construction or (re)construction site. So alive yet also an archaeological layering—Koumoundouros leaves us this offering: a futuristic fossil of the potentiality of the flying fish. As the self-propelled fish breaks from water into air, creating gaps between its form and its original habitat, the artist creates breaks in her sculpture. Inviting viewers into an encounter, she invokes sculpture as a ritual of seeing. The rupture of bodily form, conjured through empty spaces, allows us to discover imagined assemblages: the possibility of air, light, trauma, freedom, labor, survival, and unexpected mechanisms of flight.
Embedded within Silvias find the new moon is Koumoundouros’s belief in a life and an artistic practice that disrupt hegemony, assimilation, and capitalism. In an era rife with systemic traumas, her flying fish is a biomorphic proposal, a sculptural space with rupture built in. Therein the artist invites us to meditate on the materiality of existence—how human-made structures and the earth itself are quaking, already in a state of fracture we can’t afford to ignore. Like fish escaping predators by shape-shifting from aquatic to aerial, what if we injected hybrid forms and interstitial structures into the paradigmatic narratives of our times? If an oceanic organism, at midlife, can convert fins into wings to survive, what alchemical conversions might human civilization enact midstream? With radical foresight, Koumoundouros presents a futuristic readymade: a form front-loaded with biomorphic rupture as a ritual and a remedy for the urgency of our times.