Elvis Immortal - Polixeni Papapetrou
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4 February 2016 to 27 March 2016
In 1985 Polixeni Papapetrou began photographing fans, mourners and impersonators of Elvis Presley. Her series 'Elvis Immortal' documents a 15 year journey which observes the cult of Elvis in Melbourne and registers the pathos of the dedicated men and women who zealously keep his memory alive.
Papapetrou has encountered many fans each year on the occasion of Elvis’ death (16 August 1977) at the Melbourne General Cemetery. An imposing memorial was erected in the cemetery, attracting the faithful mourners who allowed Papapetrou to record their homage to the American star. She met youths with greased back hair striking poses of sultry but eroticised melancholy, families with flowers, even individuals who prayed to Elvis or contemplated his image in reverence for his tragic decline.
Papapetrou sometimes followed the fans to their homes often full of Elvis paraphernalia constituting domestic shrines and showing an earnest enthusiasm for the design of the fifties, sixties or seventies. The artefacts crammed into these houses seemed consecrated by Elvis’ memory accompanying the iconic images of Elvis which often have an almost religious status in the adoration of the Memphis idol.
Other fans rehearsed the magic songs with imitative performances, strutting the stage of a personal fantasy of white jump suit or velvet and metallic jacket, emulating the theatricality of the musical genius in the demonstrative gestures for which he is still almost universally famous. These walking facsimiles also sometimes inhabit houses built in the manner of Gracelands, the legendary home of Elvis.
Papapetrou’s photograph are neither a tribute nor a direct part of the Elvis cult; but even less are they a send-up of the sincere people who have taken her into their confidence. The photographs are an artistic witnessing of a popular cult, a kind of spontaneous religion emerging from an area of popular culture and often ordinary aspirations. 'Elvis Immortal' is not a sentimental journey down ‘Memory Lane’ but a contemporary exposition of popular culture in its desire for a community of faith, grace and immortality.
'Elvis Immortal' is presented as part of the Virgin Australia Melbourne Fashion Festival‘s Cultural Program Project Series 2016 and the 2016 Ararat Jailhouse Rock Festival.
Image: Polixeni Papapetrou, 'Nick Paolicelli with floral guitar 16th anniversary of Elvis’ death Elvis Memorial Melbourne 1993, pigment ink print, 100 x 100 cm, courtesy the artist and Stills Gallery, Sydney