“Tools of Endearment: Bag of Aspirations” (2019)
Formal Garden terrace, Yorkshire Sculpture Park
Bag of Aspirations is a vastly scaled-up version of the famous Birkin handbag made by French fashion house Hermès. This expensive and highly sought-after bag has become associated with luxury and exclusivity, and embodies the values and desires of a consumer culture. Lemos often investigates how such trends in society affect and frame women in particular, exploring the way femininity is constructed and defined by narrow and restrictive ideals of beauty and behaviour.
Though made of steel, the sculpture skilfully captures the appearance of worn leather. Its folds and creases suggest a remarkable texture and softness, forged from this cold, hard metal. Even the finest details of the stitching are picked out and echo elements of Lemos’s wider practice around sewing, textiles and the craft-based, traditional work of women.
Bag of Aspirations forms part of Lemos’s Tools of Endearment series of large-scale sculptures that include a gigantic and uncomfortably high stiletto shoe and a boned steel corset. The artist refers to how women have to fortify themselves in the face of expectations from the outside world, so in one way these ‘tools’ can be seen as a female fighter’s armour. On the other hand, the word ‘endearment’ suggests compliance and an outdated, but still enduring, need for women to present themselves favourably, to be soft, feminine and obedient. Lemos questions what it is to be a woman in today’s society and presents us with many of the conflicting ideas that surround this issue. However, all the objects she depicts are containers that impose limits and can be suffocating.
Kalliopi Lemos is a sculptor, painter and installation artist who was born in Greece, and lives and works in London. She studied at Byam Shaw School of Art and Central Saint Martins, and exhibits internationally. Lemos challenges the viewers of her work to consider some of the most pressing political and social issues of our time, including human rights abuses, powerlessness, forced migration and the oppression of women.
When seen in the context of Lemos’s ongoing artistic themes and concerns, the yearning for material things displayed in Bag of Aspirations is placed in sharp perspective. It highlights fundamental inequalities in a world where some people have to battle for basic rights, and certain human lives are valued less than possessions.
Courtesy the artist and Gazelli Art House, London.
Photographs © Jonty Wilde, courtesy Yorkshire Sculpture Park