Sofia Mitsola: Aquamarina
Pilar Corrias is pleased to present a solo booth by Sofia Mitsola at Art Basel Hong Kong 2021. This new body of work explores the pseudo-myth Mitsola has written, entitled ‘Aquamarina', which follows the adventures of her female protagonists ‘Aqua’ and ‘Marina’ in the semiaquatic world they inhabit.
One of Nietzsche’s famed aphorisms (#146, to be precise) reads: “Anyone who fights with monsters should make sure that he does not in the process become a monster himself. And when you look for a long time into an abyss, the abyss also looks into you.” The “monstrous” – if such a category even exists - is characterised here as an evil that anyone could fall prey to, even a heroine. To avoid monsters, would seem the safest route. But what if the distinction between good and evil was not so clear cut? And, what does looking into the ever so menacing abyss entail? Why should we be cautioned from this too?
Sofia Mitsola’s pseudo-myth Aquamarina reads as a contemporary response to Nietzsche’s quandaries, as she irreverently undermines the dichotomy between monster and hero on which the philosopher’s aphorism is premised. The story of Aquamarina, which informs a new body of work of the same title, is centred on duplicity. The sisters ‘Aqua’ and ‘Marina’ are the female protagonists of a myth set in a semiaquatic world of Mitsola’s making. Blood ties and sisterly love make them one. A fusion reinforced by their names ‘Aqua’ and ‘Marina,’ different nouns essentially describing the same concept. In her large paintings and drawings, Mitsola visualises the union between the two by binding the sister’s bodies into one sensuous vision, as exemplified by Caresses or Tight Embraces Resolved Underwater (2021).
At once menacing and seductive, Aqua and Marina are the distant progeny of mythological creatures such as Medusa and the Egyptian sphinx. Both beautiful and hideous, monsters and protectors, feared and desired, Medusa and the sphinx, set the scene for the ravishing sisters. Like their foremothers, Aqua and Marina are fearless and adventurous. They take a plunge into the abyss, so deeply dreaded by Nietzsche, on a hunt for treasures to bejewel themselves with. The small painting Serpens, Natural saltwater pearls, old pear cut citrines, garnets, fire opals, a magnificent unheated ruby. Origin: Aquamarinia (2021) is testament to their insatiable vanity. Pearls and rubies are just some of the precious stones collected by the sisters. The feared and revered Medusa, had a similar penchant for jewellery. Even in her most monstrous guise she was often seen wearing bangles, a proof of her lasting vanity. While Aqua and Marina are not depicted as monstrous creatures, in fact quite the opposite, they are nevertheless imbued with the combative spirit of Medusa, as evinced by the drawing significantly titled, Medusa Fleece for Twins (2021). The snake laden fleece acts as an apotropaic cover, protecting and empowering the sisters, who are about to confront their enemy, a vicious crocodile known as Filthy Crocodile (2021).
The plunge into the abyss, which started as a fun adventure among the sea riches in the company of friends like a crab and a moray eel, takes a turn for the worst when the crocodile appears. He is hungry and lusting after the sisters. Unphased by the filthy crocodile, and in fact, visibly excited by the upcoming fight Aqua and Marina are poised to take down their enemy. A violent confrontation follows suit. Physical prowess is paraded on both parts, as is desire, in its most consuming form. At last, Aqua and Marina emerge as the triumphant winners of this gruesome fight. For the sisters – and for Mitsola by extension – defeating the crocodile meant unpicking the power dynamics that had long cast women in a place of subservience. Mitsola’s fearless sisters are confident of their own sexuality and in control. They subvert the abiding fear of the power of the female gaze that had framed heroines in Greek and Egyptian mythology as the not-so-liked other.
Aqua and Marina’s intrepidness also brings to mind the famed Amazons, charged in Greek mythology with the power to fascinate and repel. Barbarians who often fought against the Greeks, the Amazons were described by the fifth-century BCE historian Hellanikos of Lesbos as “a bunch of golden-shielded, silver-axed, man-loving, boy-killing women.” Existing in a space between: civilization and wildness, independence and co-dependence, feminine physique and masculine strength, the Amazons are compelling models for Aqua and Marina. Like the Amazons, Mitsola’s sisters are beautiful evils, that is, creatures made up of dualities.
Mitsola’s myth of Aquamarina started with drawing. Like notations waiting to be organised in a coherent narrative, the artist’s sketches are part and parcel of her myth-making process. A character, an idea or even a word, are born on paper first. With time, Mitsola organizes the disparate parts into one seamless story, that often leads into multiple directions at once. The myth of Aquamarina, for instance, does not start and end with the two sisters. Its tentacular narrative expands beyond them, to encompass also their imagined family, as well as their friends and foes. The fantastical world envisioned by Mitsola unfolds across multiple media, a further testament to how rich the artist’s imagination is.
As the ultimate choreographer of her myth Mitsola has the oversight and the power to command her characters’ actions. At the same time, Aqua and Marina call on the artist, who lends herself to them. Strictly speaking none of Mitsola’s drawings and paintings can be described as self-portraits. Yet, through the physical act of painting the artist projects her bodily self onto the canvas; temporarily becoming Aquamarina. However, this metamorphosis is short-lived and once the experience of challenging canonical representations of the female nude from within the artist’s body has ended, Aqua and Marina are set free to exist on their own terms.
Traditionally myths have always reflected both the teller and the reader, as much as the characters they portray. They exist in a space between the real and the fantastical and contain multiple timelines at once. Mitsola’s pseudo-myth deploys this traditional form of storytelling to show us that women are heroines, rulers, guardians, emancipated sexual beings and not the monsters that mythology has too often cautioned us against.
Sofia Mitsola is working primarily with paintings in which she investigates the female form. Her invented characters are informed by ancient Greek and Egyptian sculptures, usually depictions of goddesses or mythical creatures. These are set in simple geometric backgrounds with intensely bright and almost flat colours and are depicted naked and larger than human scale. Through them, she is playing with ideas about voyeurism, confrontation, and power.
Learn more about the artist here.