Maria Tsagkari

Maria Tsagkari works within a wide artistic spectrum, turning to whatever inspires her, constantly moving to new media, techniques and materials

Maria Tsagkari

Materials as actors

Text: Dimitra Kehagia || Photographs: Maria Tsagkari's Archive
Maria Tsagkari
Maria Tsagkari

Her work is characterized by explanatory models. The core of Maria Tsagkari’s art is free from platitudes in terms of forms, materials and media. Instead, her interest lies in innermost desires and backstory – what hides behind those known, historical narratives, which can be tapped into to reveal the fluid nature of our contemporary emotional convictions. She works within a wide artistic spectrum, turning to whatever inspires her, constantly moving to new media, techniques and materials. “Every objective sets its own terms, points to different manipulations, and demands constant experimentation – even if that means you need to enter into the logic of a new medium or techniques you know little about, or need to invent methods that have not been tried before,” she explains.

In her career, she has often worked with ephemeral materials. A paradox, one would think, considering artists’ need to produce artwork that stands the test of time. Yet, for her, “materials are actors; they can take on many different roles because connotations coexist with their carriers; they are not trapped inside them. Often, the material is the trigger; other times, they are starting points, alibis or outcomes,” she notes and adds that often, it is the ephemeral and fragile nature of certain materials that speaks out to her, as though with a wink, precisely because they are challenging.

Maria Tsagkari believes that “the work that condenses meanings and sets the terms and conditions of its own historical existence is the one that lasts the test of time. And if its carrier does not exist anymore, it is still documented – or it remains as an account; as a memory.”

In her ephemeral installations made from ash, she tried to transform the terminal state of the material’s life. “I believe that this state is not the end; it is a stage. And here enters a concept that is very important to me – that of reuse, exactly because things around us are not single-use; they are charged matter; carriers of emotion and memory, they enclose people’s relationships and, of course, condensed information about these histories – and thus our history too.”

Her studies in the conservation of antiquities and works of art have influenced the way that she deals with matter and how she handles it, since they cultivated her need to restore, repair and reuse even more. “I fully grasped the ravages of time early on, and I realized that things do not end. They are not lost but transformed.”

Love and nature play a central role in her work as well. “I will completely agree with the much-beloved contemporary French philosopher who said, ‘love really is a unique trust placed in chance.’ The problem is that present-day humans do not leave anything to chance. They frantically try to have full control and thus we are today faced with normalization, predictability, and an extreme conservativism.”

Romantic relationships, as well as one’s relationship with nature, have been in focus for her since her first steps, as she tries through the wider narrative to expose inner history, fruits of cancellation… those components within which, as she says, “lies the substance of things.”

Beyond cinema, literature and history, her references include anything and everything that could inspire an artist – unanticipated stills from everyday life, from the manner in which a paper is folded, to a mistake in the development of a photograph, how a crab shell has cracked, the spaces between words in a handwritten note…

She teaches at the Athens School of Fine Arts. As she acknowledges, she got into academia “unexpectedly early” and, from the outset, realized there is no place in teaching for pretentious solemnity and self-centered posturing but real support, persistence, dedication and enthusiasm.

Having received five awards, Maria Tsagkari says about prizes that “they are guarantees, earned trust, promises of permanence and progress.” She notes that beyond financial provision, they offer moral and emotional support which, to her, is equally important, while they also help to build a network of relationships with very interesting people that spans the entire world– even leading to the creation of new communities.

At present, she is completing her contribution to the Psiloritis Biennale, a very special project curated by Stamatis Schizakis. She is also participating in a group exhibition in Paris, and working on a project supported by the Ministry of Culture to do with an urban open-air cinema, which poses questions about the role of the language of love in the public and urban space. Early next year will follow the multi-venue exhibition on rebetiko music curated by Christopher Marinos in Athens, in February 2022. 

Maria Tsagkari was born in Piraeus in 1981. She studied Conservation of Antiquities and Works of Art at TEI Athens. She worked as art restorer at the National Gallery of Athens and for private collections and, in 2006, she enrolled at Athens School of Fine Arts. In 2007–2008 she attended the Facultad de Βellas Αrtes in Madrid on a state scholarship. She graduated from the ASFA in 2010 and went on to do a two-year postgraduate course in Visual Arts, graduating in 2012. Since 2015, she has been employed as an adjunct professor at the Athens School of Fine Arts, as well as in private institutions.

In 2019, she received an award from Stavros Niarchos Foundation’s Artworks and in 2014, she received the 2014 HYam award for the young Mediterranean artistic scene. Selected international exhibitions include AQUA, Contemporary Artists and Water Issues; SESC Belenzinho, Sao Paulo, Brazil; STANDART in Geneva; 1st Triennial of Contemporary Art in Armenia; Coup de Ville Triennial of Contemporary Architecture in Belgium; 4th Biennale of Contemporary Art, Everywhere but Now, Thessaloniki; A fresh: A new generation of Greek Artists, National Museum of Contemporary Art, Athens.