Polina Miliou’s sculptures are brimming with warmth. They announce themselves with bright colours and rough textures, which conceal the tables, chairs and functional objects nestled within. Are they sculptures, or are they furniture?
“I’m always curious to see how someone will interpret a piece”, the Greek artist muses, “whether they’ll consider it furniture or something more sculptural.” It’s the interactive element in these functional objects that attracts Miliou, as she hunts for furniture to form the basis of her sculptures. “I don’t try to achieve efficiency or comfort in my work. But I’m very happy when, for example, it feels weird to sit in!”
For Miliou, who trained as an architect before shifting her focus to smaller objects, this interactivity is vital. “Sculpture was in a way a reaction to my previous work in architecture,” she explains, citing art as a liberation from the parameters of architecture’s creative process, and the “months or years it takes to see what you’ve created.” After four years of working within these parameters, Miliou felt an “inner urge to turn towards the scale of the body,” and towards something she could control with her own hands.
Working with functional objects felt like a good place to start. Their proximity to our bodies, how we touch them, how we need them. The intimacy of the everyday inspired Miliou to create characters that share in these moments, combining disused furniture and papier-mâché that she mixes using paper, pigment and whatever materials she has to hand. Miliou spends time with each piece, adding or removing parts to exaggerate or disrupt the found object. “In each one I find a system of intervention, like an algorithm that I apply to twist the existing character,” she says. Miliou describes how each cut and addition “reveals a new body,” reshaping the future of something previously unloved.
There’s an ode to Fernando Botero in these reshapings, as Miliou loves the balance of humour and politics in his voluminous paintings. She’s also influenced by Katie Stout’s approach – “how she doesn’t take herself too seriously” – by Zsófia Keresztes’ worldbuilding and by Ahmed Morsi, “for the nostalgia, as well as the awkward way he depicts his figures.” But even with an architect’s eye and a melange of influences, inspiration sometimes hesitates, and Miliou has to resist the desire to “freeze and look at the piece for days, as well as annoy people about it all the time!” What helps is to do the first thing that comes to mind. “It might not be the right move, but it will definitely change my perspective and spark ideas,” she tells me.
Miliou’s recent solo show at the Carwan Gallery in Athens was surely proof of this – named Kyklos, after the ancient Greek word for circle and sky, this exhibition featured traditional furniture transformed into sculptures in all the shades of the Cycladic sky, from sunrise to sunset. They marked “a more affectionate and intimate direction” for Miliou, who is now working on her next project. “I’m developing a collection of objects where each piece will be a collage of found furniture, with two or more functions,” she enthuses. As the sun sets on Kyklos, it sounds like more joyful experiments are already on the horizon.