A narratological 15th century mural painting of the Christian parable, created by Leonardo da Vinci has found itself reincarnated in contemporary art. From Andy Warhol’s The Last Supper cycle (1986) to Judy Chicago’s The Dinner Party (1974-79), a subversive feminist iconic installation, the theme continues to excite and incite new interpretations.
The ritual meal of early Christianity, the ‘agape’ feast, was celebrated by each participant bringing his own food, bread and bloody wine, and eating it in a common room. Panikos Tembriotis’ Last Supper, an installation completed between 2003-6, offers yet another version of this narrative. The setting of the last supper comes in variations. In a procession of a kitsch-inspired decorative-framed reproduced photo of a version of The Last Supper, Mary Magdalene is implicitly present, since the desired and desiring woman is being anticipated. The all-male tale remembers that it has forgotten a crucial counterpart: a female.
Tembriotis’ installations shift, however, from ‘still’ representations, which make commentary on what’s missing in the early Christian ceremony, to a collection of real and fresh cauliflowers, offering a new and simple vegetarian ‘feast’, to wax-figures/dummies resembling children’s toys, to a decadent banquet, where bloody wine remains untouched, and, finally, The Last Supper, comes without the male bodies themselves. Twelve bright yellow raincoats hanging on a white wall behind an oblong wooden table dressed in a clean white tablecloth, with black loafers by them, suggest another reading of the ‘supper’.
Notwithstanding the parody, we wonder whether the followers of Christ are protectors or need to be protected? While a female representation is absent here, it is questionable whether a disciple is, in any conventional way, being symbolized. Invisible as they are, their ‘souls’ are identical and identifiable in what they are not wearing. An allusion, perhaps, to our prime state of becoming beings. Once again, Tembriotis’ subversive verve resides in the reconstruing of a historical narrative, in order to show how it is relevant today, precisely because cultural tales impact our own stories, and shape the way we relate to the world.