Lizzie Calligas: Three Variations on a Calendrical Theme

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Greek Photography

A diary is simultaneously a tool and a record, an abstract system for the dividing of time and a historical exploration of the past - an exploration which would make little sense if it were not constricted within a defining framework. For us to possess the past, we must first devise a framework which allows us to define and subdivide time. Such a framework can be a simple division between 'now' and 'then' ("once upon a time, long, long ago..."), or else the increasing refinement of generations, years, seasons, moons and days; as the histories we must manipulate grow ever subtler, so does our subdivision of time, until the observation of sub-atomic particles forces us to think in fractions of nanoseconds.

There are, however, other and more satisfying measures of time such as, for instance, breakfasts. On April 1st, 1992, Lizzie Calligas took a Polaroid photograph of that morning's breakfast, which consisted of a small cup of (probably filter) coffee, a croissant and a glass of orange juice; she repeated the process on the next day, and the next. By April 4th, it was clear that a new calendrical system had been born. The artist continued the sequence over a period of twelve full months: wherever she happened to be, at home or abroad, at work or on holiday, she would take a single Polaroid image of the day's breakfast. At the end of one full solar revolution, on March 31st, 1993, the sequence was complete. Pinned to the wall, the 365 prints were arranged in twelve horizontal rows, one for each month: the record of a complete year.

This is the kind of thing photography allows you to do; probably only a Cezanne or a Morandi could have sustained the interest of such a long, repetitive series in any other medium. As it is, over and above the project's rather tenuous conceptual framework lie the pleasures of reading and analysing these images, of discovering patterns and discontinuities. The artist is frugal in her tastes, avoiding anything more robust than toast or croissant; on the other hand, she seems to switch from coffee to tea quite irresponsibly. Wisely, she opts for solitude at this most fraught of meals; with the exception of an obviously well-mannered dog, few intruders are recorded. If we cannot quite reconstruct a life from this sequence, we are certainly provided with a considerable amount of evidence.

So far, so good; 365 Breakfasts, as this work was originally to be called, was an intriguing, well-executed work of post-conceptual photography whose charm lay in the gravitational pull of reality, and which completely avoided the mawkish narcissism of certain other forays into this area of autobiography. A further and unexpected dimension was, however, added on July 4th, 1993, when the artist's studio was broken into and vandalised. On that day, 365 Breakfasts had been in place on the studio walls; not without some care and expenditure of time, the vandal covered the great majority of the Polaroid's with lines of white enamel spray paint. Only the 31st days of May, July and August escaped unscathed, together with the complete months of February and March which, being positioned lowest to the ground, were completely ignored.

A diary, we have noted, is in part a record of events; the events of July 4th were, in their turn, incorporated into the work. 365 Breakfasts, renamed Eventful Diary, now exists in three related versions: a large (127 x 275 cm) colour print of the original assemblage, showing the individual prints at a scale of 1:1; an identical print showing the vandalised work; and the original Polaroid prints, now showing the marks of cleaning and restoration, and arranged in a different pattern.

At this point in the work's history, the element of process is introduced into our reading of it. If the interest of the earlier version resided in the nature of the photographic medium and in an essentially inoffensive voyeurism, the latter version is largely about the more traditionally modernist subject of process - that is to say, the way in which materials change under and react to different stresses and procedures. In this context, the most dramatic part of the Diary trilogy is not the central, vandalised version (this becomes in effect no more and no less interesting than, let us say, the photographic record of a metal sculpture being forged or welded), but the final Polaroid images showing the traces of all they have undergone.

And this fact leads us to the realisation that with Diary, Calligas not only presents the viewer with an engaging and elegant paradox, whereby the consequences of what was intended as an act of destruction have unwittingly (and unwillingly) been used in a creative fashion; she has also carried out the ultimate form of appropriation, confirming in the process the not always inevitable victory of the artist over the vandal.

John Stathatos - Γιάννης Σταθάτος
November 29, 1994