File Note 148: Marina Xenofontos - Camden Art Centre

Essay by Sabrina Tarasoff

Quote Prisoner’s Cinema Credits References

‘The development of productive forces shatters the old relations of production and all static order turns to dust. Whatever was absolute becomes historical.’ Guy Debord

Prisoner’s Cinema

In Public Domain, Xenofontos eyes the science of progress and possibility. Each object included feels familiar but can be sussed out as copy, cognate, mirror, or twin—precisely for what it reveals in its difference. The origin points are all atmosphere: lost, but within their own sense of returning (to the wrong place?). Xenofontos drives an idea of homecoming as an ambiguous ideology. A proposition to repair the alienated past in the present. Everything here has a dual meaning: as if you could read each object twice, from different perspectives, from different ideological ends. On one hand, there is the push forward: breaking through and beyond. On the other, there is the option to remain in the mirror, the dream, the other, and inch towards what (upon first glance) seems to be an imaginary place: the fantasy, its disavowal, and the suspension of disbelief. The trick is to realise that ‘tomorrow’ promises the wrong thing. The future leads to nothing but the end of the game. Xenofontos reveals fantasy to be an agent of the reactive present, its reiterated myths holding, taking place in the now.

Often, Xenofontos’ doubled virtues serve to dismantle a held belief in the hierarchical structuring power of the image. It is seen, instead, as a matter of volume. Her works treat common images, tropes, tales and structures as spaces—to dwell inside, work within, reflect on and revert to. She leads us through works as a series of whispered theories—theories on class, cultures and language—while struggling with the question of difference at the core. Her works look into the spaces formed between objects, ideas, and moments in time, with the suspicion that the goal is not newness, but intimacy.

Consider how King, oh King, with your 12 swords! What work do you have for us today? Laziness, the King demands, and the children all reply, Let’s get to work! (2023) entices doubt and instability as possible virtue. Metal poles, slightly crooked, operate in the realm of anxious familiarity. Reminiscent of canes that her grandfather would use, they enter into the domain of sentiment. But the sense of familiarity is dented and bent in Xenofontos’ version, drawing attention towards itself as a special object. In other words, the sentiment becomes more and more visible in the fact of the doubt—in the double, twin, somehow wrong, but pointing to the right.

The core of her practice comes, like this, as sudden conflagration— as a fire, a blaze. Setting things alight to make all traces vanish. Choices keep us in motion, alive. Flickers of a past, licking the present.

A Magic Lantern is flickering forth ever-astonishing vistas across near-imperceptibly changing frames. Over time a narrative unfolds, but not only from a pre-conceived script. Break open nature (or what we’ve assumed as art’s ‘natural operations’ by now) as artifice. Infinite attraction holding the entire galaxy together. Goethe’s protagonist in Upon The Laocoon (1862) advises to open and close one’s eyes rapidly, as a kind of cheap cel animation. Flutter VFX: lids making reality feel real. Think of each blink as a cut, a decision. Close your eyes to reality to re-animate it in the next instance.

The search for proof of self in a twin flame. Aristophanes takes us there in the Symposium: something spirited has to flicker from the pre-metaphorical brain. The romance of separation and return are at the core of Xenofontos’ practice. Twins, doubles, as narrative breach. How one narrative splits into two, more. These sculptures measure degrees of separation. That is, in the same sense that twin studies track differences in personal expression through time, Xenofontos’ aim is to track changes in signification from its origin point to its final destination. Doubling undoes the self, the thing. It forms space in time, and gaps in meaning, logic, and discordant ideas. The aesthetics of reception shift in context. The question becomes: what’s next? She intervenes into futures maybe not foreclosed.

The poetics of her work depend on paying attention to the missed mark. The missed time, lost time. Twin studies point not to the twins as narrative emblem, but rather to the fact of the distance between. That is the study here: distance that narrows to widen understanding. Finding space and time. Time spent on examining distances, differences, measuring the duration of an idea, and how long it takes for it to change, imperceptibly. Points in transformation. She draws new lines between these things, revising for volume—as ideas to dwell inside, amble in. She leads us through the objects culled from her home: absent, missing, suspended

Mark Lussier’s book Romantic Dynamics (2000) begins with the line, ‘Make efforts in ways then to perceive interdependence’.

Two things departing from the same core, separating for the pleasure of rediscovery. There is an erotics implied, maybe. Is the erotic anthropomorphism of the image a matter of shifting, skewing perspective? Like Holbein making the gaze weird, Xenofontos is ambassador to an idea that stretches from home into exile. She wants to catch things looking back: seeing things, seeing themselves, being seen. At that, she is generating motion around an object, an idea. Nothing is stagnant.

Everything that has been trapped and corralled in a signifier must be both recalled and held onto, whilst simultaneously embracing every other possibility it professes: what it could be, what it was, will be—or is fated to be.

In Evacuation Plan (2023), Xenofontos overlays her own image, and in doing so mines virtual selves, moon phases and mistakes with abstracted routes for escape.

Like ellipses, one thing becomes or leads to another, slowly, hesitantly, for pure revision. She measures the minutes between idea and object, origin and end-point, in order to point to the process as meaningful. (Not the process of making, but the distance from original meaning to the received meaning). Eternal return returns hardcore. The idea of the contemporary is intercalated in the impossible present as it marches onward. This has to do with progress, not stagnation. Peak VFX instead of appropriation.

In Class Memorial (2023) the lights are turned on. A simple door re-installed from the family’s home in Cyprus to the gallery space. This light flashes on familiars: the twin cognates, the whole gamut of revision is about looking twice, looking again, to realise that you understand nothing. Life appears as a sequence of repetitions. Think about Proust writing on how the ‘beloved object keeps moving’ (In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower – In Search of Lost Time Vol. 2, 1918). The face of someone you love that never settles in the mind. The beloved escapes the mental snapshot.

Iconography as it fixates on its own eternal return. Not theft, not appropriation. That mysterious something-something that keeps the beloved in motion. The inexpressible, the ineffable: cultural histories, personal meaning that elides and dissolves. Peering through—that’s what’s at stake. Everyone gets it wrong. The bar in Brett Easton Ellis’ Glamorama (1998) is called Doppelgänger for a reason: we are meant to see ourselves, seeing ourselves, or being seen. (Think also to Nabokov’s protagonist in Despair (1934) looking for ‘proofs that I was still I’ in specks of dust settling around his doppelgänger. The serendipity of sudden choice, bringing back the heft of detail). Looking occurs in front of ourselves—through others, as mirrors.

Through objects and ideas that occur and reflect an idea held/kept in motion: what were the images of exactly? How were objects arranged, the skies shifting? Being over the moon relates, here. (Romance: total romance. Twin flame).

Blank art confronts you with the theatre of your skull, someone writes. The construction of a theatre that reveals the self to its spectators. The script for Xenofontos’ Twice Upon a While (2022), for example, is written as if inside of thought. Stagnant, arrested in motion, in idée fixe, at times precarious, trembling, nervous, at times repeating, twice, spinning circles pauses, caesura, questions. It is a game that lies in wait for its next line. More questions than answers. We can ‘be’ inside the game.

Other works, like Data Storage (2023), stretch us into the infinite— productive boredom. The dust of life settles on the quotidian (now virtual). Keys containing information can be lost or forgotten. Data is a strange measure of what can be lost. Information, and a recognition of a shift in value that’s happened. Personal memories and mental images overturned to tech. An era is lost to the assumption of the new, lost fast. Broken shards of the recent past recuperated to mean something new, as collected. Brokenness, elision, misunderstanding, the gaps in knowledge: meaning lost and made obsolescent. Someone has the bright idea to use a thing the wrong way, and its being shifts, ever so slightly, against its own current—because, quite simply, meaning emerges in the breaks, the moments of lapsus, mishap, or misappropriation. Xenofontos reduces the debris of life to a game of noticing detail, measuring options.

The mind could be moved to what is colloquially called Prisoner’s Cinema: the moving images that appear on the retina after prolonged periods spent in darkness. Like the unclear contours of memories, these streaks of light take on form but have no clear appearance.

The beloved model in the mind’s eye turns into a dance of ideas, impressions, projections. Reality sediments in front of you into something ultra-real. But all virtual. Tricks of light and game-feel.

‘Twice’ then as denomination: not mere measure of self, but self-inhabiting the other. Twice is a relation. Xenofontos is asking us to look inside the unreal in space to see the ‘me’ as a matter formed in cognates, kinships, and affinities. She has us traverse points of connection as if through ellipses, elisions, commas. The works move in the paratactic pace of fairy tales, as if things made were always told: once, twice, as a matter of seeking reflection. Knowledge arises in the arbitrariness of ambling, overdetermination. One choice overriding the other, leading to variation. Each choice leads us to notice something else, something new, as nothing more or less than a series of elisions, misunderstandings, happy accidents. Gaps in logic alter meaning. Entering the mind of another courts confusion, but also the pleasure of discourse.


Sabrina Tarasoff is a Finnish writer and critic based in Paris. She is currently working on a book of essays, Fantasyworld, that dwells on the mysterious movement between popular culture, poetry, and contemporary art, and is also editing an anthology of Bob Flanagan’s collected poems to be published in 2023.

Camden Art Centre Emerging Artist Prize at Frieze:

The Camden Art Centre Emerging Artist Prize at Frieze offers a UK or international artist, selected from Frieze Focus, the opportunity to deliver a solo exhibition at Camden Art Centre and achieve the critical milestone of their first institutional show in London. Marina Xenofontos is the fourth recipient. Previous winners include: Wong Ping (2018); Julien Creuzet (2019); Tenant of Culture (2020).

The prize is generously supported by a significant group of international collectors including lead supporters Alexandra Economou and Noach Vander Beken, and prize supporters Nicola & Julian Blake, Anne-Pierre d’Albis, Suling Mead, Batia Ofer, Ralph Segreti, Ronald & Sophie Sofer, Alma Zevi, and Indira Ziyabek. With special thanks to Frieze, London and Hot Wheels, Athens.


Mirene Arsanios, Notes of Mother Tongues: Colonialism, Class, and Giving What You Don’t Have (Brooklyn: Ugly Duckling Press, 2020)

Spike Bucklow, The Alchemy of Paint: Science and Secrets from the Middle Ages (London: Marion Boyars, 2009)

Dinos Christianopoulos, ENANTION (Thessaloniki: Ianos, 2016)

Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle (Paris: Buchet/ Chastel, 1967)

Silvia Federici, Caliban and the Witch: Women, the Body, and Primitive Accumulation (New York: Autonomedia, 2004)

Yuri Gagarin, Road to the Stars (Reprint) (Forest Grove: University Press of the Pacific, 2002)

Anne Higonnet, Pictures of Innocence: The History and Crisis of Ideal Childhood (London: Thames and Hudson Ltd, 1998)

Hans Joachim Muller, ‘Failure as A Form of Art: A Brief Guide to ‘The Art of Failure’’ in The Art of Failure, ed. Sabine Schaschl and Claudia Spinelli (Basel: Christoph Merian Verlag, 2009), 10-16

John Kirkup, ‘Nicolas Andry and 250 years of orthopaedy’, Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery – British Volume 73(3) (June 1991): 361-2

Elizaveta Shneyderman, ‘Animation and its ‘AlreadySeenness’: Deathliness in the Era of Automation’, Big Window, December 24, 2020.

Susan Sontag, Regarding the Pain of Others (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2003)

Samira Makhmalbaf, The Apple (Iran, 1998), film

Chris Marker, Sans Soleil (France, 1983), film F.W. Murnau, Nosferatu (Germany, 1922), film

Eva Stefani, What Time Is It? (Greece, 2017), film

Andrei Tarkovsky, Mirror (Soviet Union, 1975), film

Dean Blunt and Inga Copeland, ‘Face Tun (Mastered)’, Track 11 on The Attitude Era (World Music Group, 2012)

Muon, ‘This Is Not the End’, Track 5 on The New Mutants (otherism, 2008)

Arvo Pärt, ‘Spiegel im Spiegel’, Track 7 on Dear Frankie (Silva Screen Records, 2004)

Aphex Twin, ‘4’, Track 1 on Richard D. James Album (Warp Records, 1996)