Despina Stokou

Exhibition: November 7 - December 19, 2015
Opening: November 7, 2015, 6 - 9 pm

Ghosting 1

The first solo exhibition of Despina Stokou in the spaces of the Galerie EIGEN + ART bears the title Ghosting. The works on display tie in with earlier works by the artist in which she combines text, painting, and collage. Her works are often presented as installations, which heightens the object-like character and the forcefulness of the canvases. While in terms of content the artist has been dealing for some time with the phenomenon of the World Wide Web and the processing of information that is stored and circulated in it, her new works are primarily concerned with the universal semiotic language of emoji, with pictographic symbols that are above all used in digital communication. In the Feminism (light) series, for example, female dancers in red are applied to the canvas in recurring symbolism, and in the series Machismo (light), rows of cacti dominate the canvas. The four works in the Emoji Poem series deal with poems from the Internet, while the works from the series Recently Used are to be understood as portraits of individual people.

Ghosting 2 

What all of her works have in common is that they examine forms of digital communication and the handling of text in the Internet; she translates these into an "analogue" language and applies them to canvas. In doing so, the artists once again puts her finger on and feels out the phenomena of dealing with language and digital media in this day and age. The fact that she remains faithful to the classic medium of painting sustains the exciting character of her examination:
„In her most recent works, in which she deals with the relatively new (semiotic) language of emoji, Despina Stokou addresses how the Internet has changed, as it were, communication, writing, and the writing process itself due to social networks and short message services such as Twitter, text messages, or WhatsApp. The Japanese neologism (e = picture, moji = character) and its rendering as a twelve-by-twelve-pixel ideogram has existed in Japan since the late eighties, yet it was not until Apple's introduction of the iPhone in 2007 and the subsequent glut of smartphones on the market that emoji became an independent "language" and was listed as one of the selectable languages, between Dutch and Estonian. In the beginning there was the heart, and today there are about eight hundred symbols in Unicode, a computing industry encoding standard used on all makes of cell phones; new symbols are constantly being added. There is emoji poetry, entire books are rewritten in emoji, and Sony Pictures is currently producing a feature film with emoji as the protagonists.

Studies confirm that nowadays, teenagers most frequently communicate via text messages, followed by telephone calls and then personal face-to-face conversations.[1] Emoji provide an entirely new vocabulary, the potential to communicate facial expression and intonation in a symbol and with a minimum of words, to add an undertone to what one has written, cushion it, distinguish it as irony, or furnish it with "emotions." Even though the original set of symbols can be traced back to Japanese parlance and includes several symbols we have no use for, emoji is a universally understood language in which anyone in the world who has a smartphone or a Twitter account can communicate.

Ghosting 3

This is the reason for Despina Stokou's interest in this semiotic system: emoji has the potential to become the first universal language. The linguistic investigation of this language is just starting, as is Despina Stokou's artistic examination of it, which initially only employed her collage technique by listing and repeating certain symbols out of the just under eight hundred available.

The artist's greatest interest, however, is the semantic quality of the symbols, because no one knows exactly what each of them stands for; there is no official dictionary and no universally valid translation of them. Individual symbols obtain their very own meaning between particular individuals or in certain groups of people or cultures. In Japan, the "Smiling Pile of Poo," about whose meaning and design any number of articles are circulating in the Internet, is considered a lucky symbol. The eggplant that appears on the keypad between grapes, tomatoes, and corn is often used as a symbol for the penis, but it remains open whether it was originally designed to play down a vulgar symbol or whether this is a meaning that was culturally inscribed in it later.

Two new series by Despina Stokou deal with this semiotic language: Feminist Light and Light Machismo feature two stereotypical symbols, endless repetitions of a dancing woman wearing a red dress and a phallic, prickly cactus; here, too, each individual pictorial element was cut out and applied to the canvas. The second series includes reactions by people from the artist's circle of acquaintances that she received by appealing to them on Instagram and Facebook to send her screenshots of the emoji they use most often (the iPhone depicts them as a clearly arranged, independent set of symbols). The result: the picture of a person that is based on the emoji he or she uses the most, a portrait written in color and paper on canvas in a language that is constantly developing, a snapshot. And this is just the beginning."

[1] Cf. Adam Sternbergh, "Smile, You're Speaking Emoji: The Rapid Evolution of a Wordless Tongue," New York Magazine (November 16, 2014). 

(Leonie Pfennig, Found in Translation, in: Despina Stokou, Ghosting; Galerie EIGEN + ART Leipzig, Leipzig, 2015.)