Naughty, Greedy Children - Interview by Vassilis K. Kalamaras

Vassilis K. Kalamaras

Source: Interview for the newspaper Eleftherotypia


Michalis Kallimopoulos’s installation, Family Dinner, is a direct comment, no less denunciatory for being artistic, on the Pangalosian utterance ‘‘We all had our noses in the trough’’. The 41 year old artist disagrees, and exposes the protagonists in the “secret orgy of greed”, the Greek Grande Bouffe of recent years.

The tables and chairs have the look and style of the fifties, or even earlier. They were in every bourgeois home, in the best parlour, kept in the dark during the week and lit up with silver and glinting crystal on Sundays and holidays. Michalis Kallimopoulos projects a still environment, as if time has shed over it a glitter of ironic detachment. The implements for eating and drinking are all unused and clean. They give no hint of a dinner that has finished. Or perhaps the artist feels it hasn’t started yet.

The members of this ‘family dinner’ are the four offspring of well-known political families. with weighty family names. Four diminutive puppets, lacking the strings of the puppeteer, four naughty ‘children’, restless, greedy, tyrannical, plaintive. Kostas Karamanlis [Former Prime Minister of Greece] in a dinner jacket and white bow tie, sits on the table, in the position of head of the family, looking like a scolded child. Theodoros Pangalos [Deputy Prime Minister and Grandson of the Dictator], is standing on a chair, dressed in the gear of a nincompoop general who thinks he is commanding an army. Dora Bakoyianni [Former Mayor of Athens and Daughter of the Former Prime Minister of Greece] in a man’s waistcoat, reaches across the table over an empty plate. George Papandreou [Prime Minister, son and grandson of Prime Ministers], is dressed casually, stands at table height, just tall enough to see what’s on the table.

They avoid one another’s eyes, nor do they look at the spectator. Each of them smugly in his own world. The first reaction of the public to the work was a spontaneous and redemptive burst of laughter. The installation would never have been finished without the collaboration of Ioanna Mathopoulou, Giorgos Pervanas and Demetra Kitsou. Family Dinner is the highlight of the exhibition: The Neo-bourgoisie Heads for Paradise, at this year’s Ploes XVII festival, held at the Petros and Marika Kydoniefs Foundation in Andros.

Snapshot from the exhibition 'The Neo-bourgoisie Heads for Paradise', held at the Petros and Marika Kydoniefs Foundation in Andros.

Michalis Kallimopoulos took a painting degree at the Venice Academy of Fine Arts, after which he completed his second training as a sculptor at the Athens School of Fine Arts. He paints, sculpts, and takes photographs, focusing on the face and the body in its many transformations and distortions.

How would you describe the creative process for this work, ‘Family Dinner’ from the moment you conceived the idea up until its realization as a finished installation?

“The work’s theme is the family dynasties that have governed the ‘risible statelet’ [Prof. Ch. Giannaras’s nickname for the Hellenic Republic in his newspaper articles]. The work was sparked off by my colleagues at ‘The Crisis exhibition’, held by the Greek Chamber of Fine Arts last February. There I saw artists needing to speak in a language of greater immediacy. A lingo I feel has been discarded from art for a long time: Colleagues were resorting to the cartoon.

Family Dinner is a cartoon made by an artist. Which means that it draws on structural elements from both worlds: Its element of topicality and immediacy makes it a cartoon, whereas the visual medium - the representation of the idea in three dimensions - makes the work part of the visual art world. This may mean that it is neither funny as a cartoon, nor a good work of art... as a cartoon it lacks a punch line. Reasoning as an artist, I didn’t want to put one in, so, you might not laugh. On the other hand, as a work of art it is possibly too one-dimensional and limited.

”I don’t think I’m doing anything different to what I usually do in the works I make. It made me laugh, and I felt angry while I was making it and disgusted. I’d like to hope that these feelings will be passed on to the spectator. The medium I was working in felt new to me. But I had very good collaborators, who worked with enthusiasm and commitment - they believed in this dear little piece”.

How are you confronting the current situation in Greece? How can art address all these things?

“I think art can address these things and does so. In fact, it’s been saying things for a while now. It’s just that it depends what kind of art we’re talking about. There are different ‘arts’, just as there are many Greeces. Just as there are Greeks who grow poorer and Greeks who grow richer, so there are works of art which open windows and others which close them. There is no distinguishable type of political art, or art of social comment. We would be amazed at how many things there are that speak to the soul, if we only open up and allow them in.

”I can’t give a meaning to “whistle blowing” in the current situation. Blow the whistle on whom? About what? In some strange way the accuser, the accused and the person to whom you address your accusation, coincide! They’re all one and the same. This was, in fact, a phenomenon which became apparent during some of the demonstrations in Syntagma Square. There shouldn’t be criticism without a counter-proposal, but before we come up with solutions to the problem, are we sure that we agree as to what caused it?”

You also paint and take pictures. What are the different roles that art and photography play in your artistic research?

“Hm, you see there are things I can’t accomplish with one art, which I can do with the other. When I am working, there is just one subject-matter. In some cases the subject-matter makes its appearance at the point where the art forms meet. In fact, it’s then that it gets interesting. I have noticed that when you work in two different media in parallel it facilitates the realization of the thematic content. Thus, its resistance to any kind of formalism is strengthened. I think that all three of these arts will lead me somewhere. Perhaps at that point the three will become one. Or maybe I’ll never be good at any of them”.

Would you agree that you are an artist from the so-called metropolis of Athens, who is fighting his demons?

”I love my profession and I try to do it as well as I can. Athens is over there, helping along with her rich images”.

When you are not working, how do you nourish your mind, your sensibility and your soul?

"This is an estimated reading. A breakdown of charges will appear only with the actual reading". Says the Electricity Bill.

Source: 'Eleftherotypia', Thursday 28 July, 2011.

Translated from greek for kallimopoulos.com by Irene Noel-Baker.

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