Ancient Icon, Modern Muse

For MTAnagnostou reflected on the daily apathy and struggle of Moscow’s metro.

Orthodox iconography and the Moscow metro are brought together in a new solo exhibition at the Moscow Museum of Modern Art. Titled “Climacus,” the exhibition features paintings and video installations by Greek-born Moscow artist Martina Anagnostou.

“Climacus” references the Eastern Christian text “The Ladder of Divine Ascent,” written by the monk John Climacus around the year 600. The treatise, in 30 chapters, each on a particular vice or virtue, is a guide for a life devoted to God and uses a ladder metaphor to show how people can ascend to heaven.

A famous icon of the same name in the St. Catherine Monastery on Mount Sinai shows people climbing a ladder toward Jesus Christ at the top. Angels are shown helping people up the ladder, with demons attempting to drag people down or shoot them with arrows.

Anagnostou was inspired by the polarities of good and evil present in the icon. Her work looks at the influence of these polarities in modern life and is an ominous call for political and social awareness.

“It’s not at all a religious message. It is a message about how we can go about improving ourselves,” she said, calling our current journey “doomed.”

Each of the 30 paintings in the core of the exhibition is titled after one of the treatise’s 30 chapters. They superimpose text and imagery in shades of orange, brown and gray. Hung unframed to mimic the pages of a book, the paintings, like a puzzle, piece together the Climacus icon as if their edges were joined together.

“There are 30 paintings, but you don’t see the whole image. The fragmentation is an effort to marry an ancient philosophy with a modern context,” Anagnostou said.

One of the exhibition’s two video installations combines footage of metro escalators with a painting of the Climacus icon. Anagnostou says she rides the Moscow metro every day and contemplates daily the apathetic, yet intent, faces of those around her.

For her, the experience of the metro represents a global phenomenon of descent toward decadence. Anagnostou is not hopeful about the future as long as human apathy persists.

“Symbolically we all live in a kind of underworld, unable to rise up,” she said.

Orthodox churches have been visually dominant in Anagnostou’s life since her childhood in Greece. She has long been fascinated by the way in which icons connect to a different reality, mediating the human and the divine.

She has studied art in England and Greece and has exhibited her work around the world. Her work has appeared in several collaborative exhibits in Moscow, including the 2008 Moscow Biennale. This is her first solo exhibition in Russia.

Anagnostou also teaches art at her studio in Moscow.

“Climacus” runs till March 21 at the State Museum of Modern Art of the Russian Academy of Arts, 10 Gogolevsky Boulevard. 694-2890, www.mmoma.ru. For information about Anagnostou’s art classes, see www.martinanagnostou.com.

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