UI printmaking fellow Elena Smyrniotis’s vision of ice: more than a frozen display

Smyrniotis’ art, available for viewing at an exhibit in Cedar Rapids, reflects a concerned look at environmental issues across the globe.


Contributed by Auden Lincoln-Vogel and Philip Rabalais.

Bruce Bartlam, Jr., News Reporter

Elena Smyrniotis said the town she was born in, Ufa, Russia, was a frozen, industrial wasteland throughout her childhood.

“The skyline was littered with smokestacks. There was a huge oil refinery,” Smyrniotis said.  “During the night, we had to close the windows. We couldn’t let the air in because they were burning it all night. In the morning, the snow would be black from settling soot. The environment was always an issue.”

Over time, Smyrniotis said she saw a change at home as the summer temperatures started to intensify, and the climate changed.

As a printmaker – someone who makes pictures and designs by printing them on special plates and blocks – and installation artist at the University of Iowa through the Grant Wood Fellow program, she is using her experience of observing the effects of climate change in her art, she said.

“During my childhood, we never had temperatures above the 60s during the summer,” Smyrniotis said. “And, sometime in the 1990s, we started having a month in the 70s. Now, my parents can’t even leave the house during the day. It’s [the temperature] into the nineties…it’s scary.”

Smyrniotis said the change in climate inspired a lot of her work to include in Dispossessed, her art exhibit. Her art will be available for patrons of the arts at the Czech-Slovak Protective Society Hall in Cedar Rapids until Aug. 29.

The exhibit is an installation art in the form of printmaking. It embodies a vision of ice in the ocean, which slowly deteriorates as you walk around Smyrniotis’ art.

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As represented in Dispossessed, Smyrniotis said during the winter in Russia, the snow never melted as a child. She said it blanketed the land for months, but now it just melts.

Terry Conrad, a former Grant Wood fellow and now professor in the UI printmaking program, said he has worked alongside Smyrniotis for a year. He said her work including climate and environmental change are important issues to highlight.

“She imagines projects as utopia versus dystopia –– ideal scenario versus worst-case scenario … heavy emotional spaces,” Conrad said.

Smyrniotis’ said her art has been displayed in Spain, Turkey, and across the country. Her work includes fellowships in Dubai, Italy, and France.

The quality of Smyrniotis’ creative work is the first thing that caught UI printmaking program head Heather Parrish’s attention, she said.

“While rooted in printmaking, it reflects an expanded practice that includes large-scale sculptural installations, video projection, digital, and intricate handwork,” Parrish said.

Conrad said Smyniotis brings a collaborative spirit to the UI as a Grant Wood Fellow.

“What Elena gets out of it is time to make work and share her ideas in a collaborative space,” Conrad said. “What the students get out of it is watching an active artist build a project from beginning to end.”