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Unlocked is a book in the form of photo narrative that attempts to “unlock” the depiction of the naked body in the post-photographic, digital era. Based on an original idea and research by Vassilis Zidianakis –the art director of Atopos Contemporary Visual Centre, based in a marvelous neoclassical building at the scenic and artistic neighbourhood of Keramikos, in Athens (Greece)–, the 512-page publication presents the work of more than 140 international photographers and artists. Ren Hang, Maisie Cousins, David Marinos, Kostis Fokas and Hobbes Ginsberg, are only a few of the artists that have established a new visual language emerged from the contemporary digital platforms and other forms of social media, and is featured in this book. Their images, often in their original state and other times edited, recycled and twisted to extremes, wreak visual havoc with their originality and crudeness. Nudity and raw eroticism are normalised and transformed into a popular topic of presentation on modern digital platforms.

Vassilis Zidianakis talks about the idea, his relationship with the human body, the research and social norms surrounding nudity in the era of “nudies”, selfies and smartphones, holding his book proudly, inside the Atopos building, on a sunny, summer-like day in Athens.

“I'm interested in the human body in all its shapes and conditions, clothing, gender, the social norms around it... After ten years of working on it through extravagant fashion projects –because it's amazingly important how the human body, when dressed, can be changed in such a way, and new shapes, grotesque and monstrous, are created–, I thought it was quite normal to take off the clothes and see what lays beneath. Just like a child, full of curiosity, undressing its doll. Nowadays, the naked body is almost pop! Technology of course, smartphones and selfies, led us there; taking pictures of our friends’, lovers’, strangers’ naked bodies and then sharing them with all the planet. Thus, I started searching in an ocean of porn images for nights and days and months. I chose Tumblr, where all is permitted, ‘cause I did not want these images to be filtered through fashion or anything else. I wanted to be the filter myself. Gradually, certain things intrigued me and I started to grow an interest on them. It was like that documentary in which some guy ate hamburgers all the time to see what would happen – I watched pictures with naked bodies and this is what happened to me: this book.”

Apart from a note on the preface by Atopos CVC's director, Stamos Fafalios, and a forward note by Jerome Delormas, Unlocked does not contain any other form of text, not even an editor’s note. Vassilis Zidianakis chose to speak with yet another image. “There is no editor’s note, but there is a picture of photographer Elinor Carucci, from the Mother series. It is a diary photo of her and her son, with the latter peeking through her panties to see where he came from. This is a very touching image for me. The look on the child’s face is inexplicable. This is what I want to say to the readers. Look at this book, like this child looks at where he was born. Can you do that?”

“The way the work of all those artists is presented in this book,” continues Zidianakis, “looks more like a music score. Compiling all these works, in such a way, I wanted to make a new story, a brand new work of art. It has my look, but at the same time, each photo of course belongs to the body of each artist’s work, so from there you can go anywhere. Even if you open a page randomly, you will see things merging that you never thought would fit in the first reading.'' Unlocked has pictures of the naked human body in every possible condition. Romantic, raw, gritty, humorous, guilty free. Yet, in the era of social media, where nudity prevails, it is considered a taboo for a quite big percentage of our society. Does the book want to also “unlock” the eyes of such readers? “Certainly! Although trying to hide a nipple with a flower emoji or a smiley face and posting it to Facebook or Instagram creates another kind of aesthetics, quite interesting for me. But yes, Unlocked is a statement on how the naked body became so popular in the digital era, but, at the same time, makes us think that there is another side. What I want to say is, humans project all kinds of ideas on their naked body, from the most radical to the most conservative.”

Unlocked is an ongoing project, with many side events running before and after the publication of the book. “After seeing all these images, I thought we should talk,” Zidianakis says. As part of the research, Atopos CVC launched the Occupy Atopos artist residency in 2014, and the Atopos BlahBlahBlah program of events, performances, workshops and discussions in 2015. As part of the Unlocked publication launch, they also opened an exhibition where the book is presented as an art object. Through a number of site-specific installations Vassilis Zidianakis unraveled his research. The man that spent 1,068 nights (and still counting) scrolling on his Tumblr dash.

Philippa Dimitriadi
Katerina Samartzi

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