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Athena Schina: Middle Age, Middle Class in a Middle Society Dance

[23/07/2011] back

The visual art which is produced in the times in which we live reflects its own age, and it is not only now that this is the case. This has happened at all periods, the only difference being that at other times there have been ideologies, even ideological confections, which have influenced the aims and the shaping of its preoccupations. In any event, we are not talking about a single ‘art’ (which it has never been), but about orientations, trends, and directions which have been expressed through a variety of means and creative particularities, without these being confined to watertight compartments. The compartmentalisations and apparent shrinkages are due to later classifications and categorisations attempted by the theory of art with its axiomatic interpretations, and do not depend upon the works in themselves, a more careful ‘reading’ of which outstrips any norms and arrangements. These arrangements, anyway, in being shaped and designed, written down and then written again, prove the multiplicity of levels and the resistance to the action of time of all those works of art whose quality renders them impervious to generalisations and to one-dimensional dictionary ‘entries’.
In our own age in particular, above all from the 1990s onwards, the art which has been produced by contemporary artists, in an effort to achieve ‘socialisation’, has taken on a surplus denunciatory discourse which is largely due to the attempt to overcome the ‘marginalisation complex’ through the backwash of postmodernism.
Within the context of the artistic ‘realisms’ which today, in one way or another, find expression, the wager focuses, on the one hand, on the kinds of portrayals and their inherent questionings or self-cancellations, and, on the other, on the means of expression and their uses when endowed with meaning, on the part of the artists, and on the versions also of a theoreticised cerebralism, on the part of the ‘experts’. On the other hand again, art is searching feverishly to find new definitions of its principles, necessities, and roles in what is now a globalised and composite language which does not always succeed in avoiding homogenisations or, at least, ‘smart’ variations, although behind these the pathways which economic globalisation now provocatively maps out cannot always be concealed and mutated.
Against the background of the crisis of institutions and values, systems and ideologies which our age is going through, against, also, mounting debts and dangers of bankruptcies, real or engineered disasters and rhetorical alarmisms, enslavements also of consciences and numbing of efforts to lay claim to human dignity, everything seems appalling and anguished, scandalous and scandal-mongering. And it not only seems; it is becoming so, and sometimes, moreover, in a brutal and undisguised way, from which not even ‘self-consuming’ civilisation (which finds itself between the upper and nether millstones) or life’s daily routine itself, which is taking on the dimensions of nightmare, are exempt.
One side of the coin of life shows us its scars, manipulated as it is by a ruthless amoralism and an aesthetic approach governed by the market - an approach shaped by cheap quid pro quo, sexism, dumbing-down, the terrorism-mongering of the all-powerful television, the tailored news item, statistics lacking transparency, the philosophy of vested interests, as all this is complemented by the individual loneliness of the internet channels of ‘communication’, by the lifestyle in fashion, by unabashed violence, which, together with all the rest, sets in train a philosophy of degradation and humiliation, as well as a primeval fear and a more general restraint. The other side of the coin, generated by the nature of life itself, is - in spite of the trumpetings and the deception, in spite of the exploitation and enslavement - a spontaneous and invincible power of hope and an irrepressible openness towards reconstruction and the discovery of a way out from the tunnel’s black hole. This black hole sometimes needs to be exorcised by black humour for some light to be seen shining in its depths.
PLOES XVII could not have stood apart from this undeclared war which, as perpetrators or victims, is being experienced by those of us who have nurtured it or by our toleration have allowed it to spring up, ‘sowing the wind’ at other times, and now ‘reaping the whirlwind’, without granting immunity to our own self, as to the degree of responsibility which we share. It may be painful, but we do have a share.
Within the framework of the broadening of the horizons involved in post-War realism, this radical exhibition, without seeking to pictorialise sociological parameters of the issue, focuses on a sub-title. This is a sub-title which concentrates on the bourgeois, or, more correctly, the neo-bourgeois, class, which is on the road to a utopian Paradise. The tense of the verb (whether it is past or present) is of minimal importance. More importance is taken on by the beneficial humour and self-sarcasm shown by the Sword, in spite of the idyllic complacency of a blissful ‘irresponsible - responsible’ life, from which we have with pain of soul defected. How unexpectedly, one wonders, did we find ourselves with the gates shut against us, in this idyll with the ‘good life’?
The works of art which realise the thinking of the exhibition are timely and not merely rendered timely, as they are being presented at the very height of the crisis we are going through. In any event, in the ‘philosophy’ of these artists, the specific trends towards resistance were pre-existent, without their works having taken shape in order to serve some expediency. We are speaking here of the painting of Antonis Kyriakoulis, the sculptures and ‘installations’ of Michalis Kallimopoulos, and comparable works by Stavros Diakoumis. The ‘discourse’ of their works (in spite of the fact that they belong to different generations) is not denunciatory nor does it serve shallow sloganeering. Nor is this discourse bland or the vehicle of a messianic approach which would see the sky or the lawn as being to blame for everything, in all the things that have been imposed upon us. From where? And on what wavelengths have we been travelling? In what did we want to be, or did it suit us to believe that we were, involved, and with what did we buy it off on each occasion?
The works of all three artists, as presented in the exhibition, converse among themselves, and extend their interactive relationship to the public, who are not only reflected, meta-poetically,
allegorically, and mythopoetically in them, but become at the same time a lever and catalyst in a living and open dialogue - a dialogue which concerns spiritual resistance of the crisis which we are going through, without, however, pre-empting its accompaniments, at a time when many active neo-bourgeois customs and mentalities, ideas and establishments, behaviours and systems of values, which reflect us, deposited in, as it were, a boat, like the ‘ship of fools’ of Hieronymus Bosch - which this time we have driven on to the rocks - are being touched upon.
In the tones of a Fellini atmosphere which is rendered visual as an artistic ‘environment’ of inner dialectical responses, as well as a composite mimodrama, bitter humour and satire, self-criticism and paradox, they give shape to a contemporary ‘comic idyll’. Its allusive mixture of tears and laughter is not, however, in the nature of a landslide or a steamroller. Through social reflections of the past and present, of the ephemeral and the oft-repeated, the coincidental and the exceptional, identifications, together with declassifications emerge, interweaving the myths and stories of the ridiculous and unexpected incidents of an everyday life which consists of what seems to be a street ‘opera buffa’. This is an opera in which its melodramatic element is reined in through a rock approach, given shape, nevertheless, by a hypothetical, contemporary rapper who writes the ‘plot’ of the spectacle, as that constantly evolves, leaving among its tentacles or in its labyrinths some escape ‘windows’. These windows are not fixed in the walls of any navel-gazing which would lead to the self-cancellation and to the benumbing of the viewers. On the contrary, these ‘windows’ create passages for a redemptive and revisionary, semantic and recomposing, life-giving and saving humour.
Antonis Kyriakoulis (painter, set designer, cartoonist, illustrator, and writer), by means of his imaginatively fertile and mythopoeic arbitrariness, makes fun of authorities which take themselves so seriously, thus creating, in a mood of playfulness and with all-subduing sarcasm, his own subversive and enduring visual commentaries, though these are inspired by observed current events and their resonances. Without fixations and evasions, he undermines and, in the end, caustically demythologises the power structures and the bourgeois-populist mindsets of our inflationary, hypocritical, and arrogantly provocative, but in every other respect spiritually nouveau pauvre, society, the so-called ‘cabrio and yacht’ society.
Through his eudaemonist and witty anthropocentrism, in which the leading role is played by his delightfully vain and female-ruled universe, Antonis Kyriakoulis de-demonises magically and ‘exorcises’ subcutaneously (sometimes grafting on vitriolic humour) evil, bashfulness, respectability, and the very bubble itself of our toleration. The artist designs and at the same time sets the stage with a mixture of qualities which involve attitudes and behaviours of everyday life, as this develops on the stretcher, on cardboard, or in the space, as a dance drama, with his women sprouting, suspected or unsuspecting, like offshoots, impervious to any kind of obstacle, any kind of plant pharmaceuticals... Kyriakoulis sympathises with them and illuminates them, he shapes them and arranges them as caricatures of life without pretexts and alibis, making them walk the tightrope in the self-sufficiency, the complacency, and the evergreenness of their Paradise. He brings them to burgeoning life, tending at one and the same time their dramatic and their mocking features, as they bring to mind a processed and enriched version of the style of their distant ancestors, such as the shadow theatre of the Near and Far East, the atmosphere of the medieval vitraux, the ‘croquis’ of the tapestry-makers of the eighteenth century in the West, Goya’s (1746 - 1828) demonic sub-stratum of ‘caprichos’, the dramaturgic sketches of Paul Gavarni, the social caricatures of Honoré Daumier (1808 - 1879), the cartoons in magazines and newspapers of the age of Dimitris Galanis, and others besides. In all this is with a contemporary artistic approach which goes far beyond any indirect source of reference, because Kyriakoulis has always been unpredictable, the antennae of his powers of observation straining, with a host of stimuli which he can receive on a daily basis, subverting any expectations, given that he possesses inexhaustible imagination and a unique talent for transubstantiating even the tiniest detail, without himself ever losing the centre of gravity, the character, and the stylistics of what in each case he wishes to suggest.
Michalis Kallimopoulos (painter, sculptor, photographer) borrows his points of departure from reality in order to transcend them, focusing through his works on the role of art and the functions which it performs in society. In his sculptures, he concentrates on human types and on situations which concern, on the one hand, moments from everyday routine, and, on the other, forms of power of every kind which define structures, mores, deals, mentalities, and established institutions of life. The humour and the self-sarcasm, together with the power which is concealed by what is negligible, but nevertheless definitive, are reduced or blown up in size as the artist mutates and at the same time undermines the concept of authority and tyranny, together with assumed seriousness and loquacity, characteristics which in every other respect have ranked values and relegations, giving shape to tug-of-wars between relations, and, in the end, consensuses, of certain unholy and far from transparent ‘alliances’.
The critical dimension which springs up in the works of Michalis Kallimopoulos contains both drama and trauma. These are characteristics which charge the qualities of his own bitter humour, as he castigates the self-sufficiency of ‘appearances’ and of ‘reality’. The items which his figures allude to have as their target, on the one hand, the individual condition and the responsibility which falls to its lot (for the ways in which it chooses to negotiate its presence), and, on the other, the collective response which takes into its guardianship and sometimes defines the ‘currency’ of life, with its ‘meanings’ distorted and constantly unsafeguarded. The question which arises as to who and what is being imposed behind the surface and the style, as his figures (full-length, as busts, and as caricatures) reveal, shadow-boxes with truth and deceit, as it does with simulations and disqualifications, leaving the enigma hovering in their place.
His sculptures of greater or lesser magnitude monumentalise vignettes and anecdotal material, as well as versions of and established outlooks on reputations and the disreputable, as he excoriates narcissism and complacency, together with the greed and pretexts of every false dilemma which would lead to the ‘discovery’ of causes and effects. His figures are self-defining as to what they think they are on the ‘stock exchange’ of life and art, and through their blend of tears and laughter, they activate the reflections of the beholder.
Also the character and the formulation of his sculptures present, according to my opinion, an ecclectic relation with the sculptures of one of his ancestors in the artistic “stage”. This was the Austrian Franz Xaver Messerschmidt (1736-1783) who had made, among others, the metal portraits of the Imperial bavarian Court of his time, giving in his sculptures, (through a combination of realism an expressionism) the typology of the social role of its personalities together with the instant outbursting of their sentiments, emotions and bizarre but fascinating conditions of their everyday life.
Stavros Diakoumis (sculptor and ‘installations’ artist) by his daring and subversive works brings to centre stage the ‘hero / anti-hero’ of our fissiparous internet age. By means of his works, which perform a balancing act between a first and third-person identity, between the demythologising and the ‘re-haunting’ of their own selves (through software and the derivatives of mass industrial culture), the artist brings to bear an indirect critique on pop-art, but, nevertheless, using characteristics and codes from its language, which he then undermines. His heretical conjuror’s figures seek to define a new space for their vital presence, while at the same time militating against monumentality and false seriousness of any kind.
The forms of Stavros Diakoumis serve as magical images or enigmas, detaching the earlier ratio of reference between the ‘bearing’ and the ‘borne’ sculpture construction, which in this particular instance is overpainted. The meanings, mostly contradictory, ‘conveyed’ spring from an uncontracted and disorientating reality, allocate, deconstruct, and unexpectedly recompose their parts, as they strangely give shape to the body types, as it were, of the ‘bearing’ formal and spatiodynamic construction, together with its fleeting ‘entity’.
In a playful, monstrous world of dealings, the artist’s figures which stand as if contradictorily moving and balancing, overturning any kind of established order, seem to come from everyday life, but also from a competing ‘fiction reality’, that is, a fantasy reality who has, nonetheless, ostracised its rhetorics. The tragic element in the appearance, together with the alternating nature of the presence of these forms (with ready-made features and their sometimes small-sized heads, which alter or confuse the viewer’s distances of observation), graft the dramatic on to the humorous element, and the vulnerable on to the heartbreaking. The eyes of his figures are usually closed, thus externalising time or leaving the manner of their active presence, which betrays relations of conflict, exposed, and at the same time personifying the exclamation marks, the question marks, and the aposiopeses of the space of existence and self-knowledge of a dismembered or counterfeited ‘self’ - a self which through anguish and sarcasm, bitter humour, and the wry smile, surprise and reflection, stresses the silence of the unexpected, which has revealed an earlier mute explosion. And it is this explosion which breaks open the watertight compartments, demolishing any kind of alibi, when the masks of social hypocrisy fall. Or are we perhaps wasting our time in believing that these masks can fall? However this may be, the works of Stavros Diakoumis dare to resist the illusionism and the damaging quid pro quos of our age.

For the title of the exhibition, I have been inspired by the older famous film of Elias Petri “The working class goes to Paradise”, (with the actors Gian Maria Volonte and Mariangela Melato). The film had been honored at the “Cannes Festival” (1972), with the “Palme d’Or”.

(Extract from the catalogue of the exhibition Ploes XVII - The Neo-bourgeoisie Heads for Paradise, held in 2011 by P. & M. Kydoniefs Foundation in Andros, Greece).