Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Birth of Non-Truth

Truth is entirely and absolutely a matter of style. (Oscar Wilde)

While Friedrich Nietzsche buried God, mourning the loss of the greatest meaning, nineteenth-century philosophy matured melancholically, having realized that there is no “objective reality”. Belief in any God implies that there is a source responsible for all questions relating to truth and morality, but once this foundation is shattered truth becomes a relativistic matter devoid of any intrinsic quality. Testing truth according to man-made hierarchies, and claiming that perception and reality are separate, has proven that truth is an imaginary vision of the mind, not a verifiable view of the world “as it is”.
If Oscar Wilde’s thought-provoking epigrams have any intention other than to tickle the nerves of our brains, it is to show how autonomous, subjective, and aesthetically satisfying style is. Truth, with the t capital, poses as vertical, objective and holistic. It pretends to have the answers to all philosophical questions to do with our relationship to “reality”. And anything that moves upright imposes hierarchy, causing the failure of democratic distribution. Style, on the other hand – whether found in a Philipp-Stark object, Graffiti, Rap music or a Hussein Chalayan overcoat, ‘Table-converting-into-a-Suitcase’ – defies the logic of “high” art, “deep” meaning, and “whole” thought.
Since Nietzsche’s prophetic affirmation of the modern fragment - the idea that we think in parts, that is, dissected, and not wholly - and Wilde’s post-modern notion of the death of the artist - the artwork as significantly autonomous and detached from its creator - we remain committed to ‘art for art’s sake’, art being independent of any truth outside the object or sign. We accept, then, that the subjective viewer attributes values.
In 1917, Marcel Duchamp radicalized notions of what constitutes art. By placing a Urinal in a white-wall gallery, he overthrows the idea that two-dimensional art is an expression of craft primarily, which can, then, be judged by experts, i.e. art critics. The introduction of three-dimensional art paves the way for other possibilities, from performance and conceptual art – art that need not be “completed” – of the 1960s and ‘70s, to the installation and video art of the ‘80s and ‘90s, to the more recent art of technology, design, film-making and sculpture.
The 1890s and the ongoing 1990s tackle sobering issues, like truth, with humour. Wit is a caustic way for being radical and liberal, uncompromising and uncommitted: a wry organ of artistic regeneration. Just as ‘[Oscar Wilde’s] wit is an agent of renewal’, the re/production of images has produced a new wave of criticism through the use of humour. If Wilde’s dissident criticism of Victorian propriety unveils the hypocrisy of morality and truth, inspiring shock and awe, through our contemporary world of creativity we witness subversive attitudes at a visual level. Unlike the nineteenth century’s limited forms of critical expression, the twenty-first century expresses its resistance through various media, the most popular being computer art. Our world of technology and the internet is revolutionary for making art more visible and accessible to anyone connected with Our-New-World-Without-Borders, and we, the People and Creators, have the power to defy all sort of censorship by the democratic proliferation of this innovative art.

April 2006
appeared in ΥΓ of Phileleftheros newspaper

Gracious Superhumans

If one of the many ways to think of a post-modern identity is in terms of a highly sexualized libido whose explosive and liberating energy extends fluidly, one might perceive a ‘no-identity identity’ in Jannis Varelas’ drawings. Using pencil and gouache, his impressive collage-drawings are often larger-than-life depictions of individual figures (an oberman in the Nietzschean sense in which ‘man’ is all-powerful) whose gender ambiguity is probably one of the least inflated elements in his work. Varelas’ drawings are muscular and brittle, unassuming and arresting. At the same time that the razor-sharp and tidy geometric verticality of his work suggests a powerful composition, perhaps an urban high-rise building, it also deconstructs itself in a playful yet defiant way.

One of his drawings, showing now at Athens 1st biennale, fuses cultural signifiers, christian symbolism, sexual innuendos and mythological references. At the base of Varelas’ superhuman figure is a collage of, what looks like, two ancient Greek sculptures, perhaps in the form of a caryatis or an ancient Greek column. If we ascend/climb the drawing, through the mind’s eye, from south to north, we might see a historical-creative transformation from a period roughly located B.C to what looks like a medieval era, suggested by a cathedral. Eventually, we reach a contemporary landscape of the imaginary where the abstract and decorative meet provisionally. This pictorial transformation works as the spine of the gigantic figure, as the column, which upholds him while also changing itself and the entity, as a result. A comment, perhaps, on the interrelation between the individual and his/her history.

Another of Varelas’ work points discreetly to facets of an apartment, decontexualized to fit as collage into a face. A profile that is temporarily identifiable through a city’s, Athens’ maybe, most characteristic element, namely, its apartment buildings. Each deconstructs and reconstructs the other. The individual’s eyes look onto a mobile and horizontal cityscape while the concrete construction of an apartment takes on malleable and anthropomorphic features. Is this an understated appeal to humanize Athens’ cityscape? A sensitive gesture towards creating a minimal façade by altering its current identity in order to realize a new Athens?

September 2007
appeared in ΥΓ of Phileleftheros newspaper

K:ITA – Friedrichshain – a haven for handfuls of Berlin-based artists?

In June of this year, 2007, Julian Ronnefeldt, a German photographer, living and working in Berlin, discovered a former Nursery school. Three floors high and over 2000 square metres of panelled workspaces, the K:ITA is buried away in 4000 square metres of woodland in the heart of one of Berlin’s developing centres, Friedrichshain. Situated between an old people’s home and a governmental administrative building, the K:ITA tempts you to discover it. Previously, in January, Julian had collaborated and helped organise The Coldstore Project. It was during this time that he came across a desolate building owned by a group of Berlin architects, whose initiative it was to revamp several of their buildings by preserving the ‘old’ style of post-war Berlin architecture while transforming them into something ‘new’. Julian grabbed this great opportunity and, from a bleak uninhabited warehouse, he created a platform for artists to work and exhibit in. Less than 6 months later, one of the owners offered him to operate the K:ITA space under the condition that the building is, once again, converted into an art centre or project.

The K:ITA (Kunstprojekt International Temporary Art) first started off with 10-12 people interested; now it is formed by, at least, 32 people. From fashion designers to photographers, visual artists to VJs, mezzo singers to computer experts, several of its members have adopted the K:ITA as both, a place to live communally and a space in which to create. Since Berlin’s critical transformation after unification in the early 1990s, it has come to be known as the European city in which an alternative art scene has been thriving. Individual quarters have been converted into artists’ residencies; off beat hair salons offer second-hand vintage clothing; chapels become exhibition spaces. But what makes the K:ITA project unique is first and foremost, the diversity of cultural background. Artists from Australia, Cyprus, France, Germany, Italy, The Netherlands, Spain, UK, and the US meet in Berlin’s Friedrichshain. A second interesting feature of the K:ITA is that it inhabits people with different artistic backgrounds, individuals whose impressions regarding collective space are materializing in this one-year project space. Wandering into K:ITA is a bit like cruising online, crossing cyber borders and instantaneously finding yourself in different cubicles where polyglossic encounters merge. Not unlike a university campus, here, too, you never know when you’ll bump into someone taking a stroll on the first floor. A sense of community is apparent at the K:ITA. The first thing you will see if you enter through the backside is, what looks like, an outdoor living room with vibrant couches and floral armchairs before acres of woods, where caravans secure a place for days. This is a meeting place for everyone who lives and/or works at the K:ITA, as well as for visitors. In many ways K:ITA functions as an open-house project space whose target it is to bring people together, and have fun.


For the 5 weeks that I stayed in Berlin, I visited the K:ITA at least once a week, on some occasions twice. At times we would give a hand to sand down, fill in holes and paint the walls white of the gallery space, located on the west wing of the building. Still work in progress, the gallery space is already housing small exhibitions, from video projections to fashion shows. The collaborators of the gallery space have by now contacted several curators from the Berlin Biennale to come view the project space.
Events vary from flower to flee markets, which take place on summer weekends in the outdoor surroundings where vendors can pay a small fee to come and set up their plant life and other belongings for sale. The artistic agenda has included a Columbian party, in which documentaries that had been filmed in Columbia were projected on a screen suspended between two tree trunks in the K:ITA forest. In early October, a festival will be running for a week. Co-organized with Luigi Totaro, the festival will include video installations, short movies and documentaries, a book launch and conference to do with art and networking, theatre work, and performances.
While spending time at K:ITA, I came to speak with several members. I was interested in hearing how some imagined K:ITA, and what they would like to see happen there within the year. These two questions were the basis for our short talks.

Athina Antoniadou:
I came to know of K:ITA when I first met Athina Antoniadou in late May at the Art-Athina fair in Athens, where her work was being represented in the booth of Argo gallery. At the time K:ITA was still in the process of forming itself; even so, hearing about it in its early stages appealed to me as a space to be observed and a story to be covered.
Two and a half months later, Athina Antoniadou is both pleased and relieved that the gallery space now looks polished and ready to exhibit work. She underlined ‘how important it is to establish a code of communication when working in a large group where each individual might have her/his own personal viewpoint in the project space, but must also respect a larger consensus which helps a space to progress harmoniously’. Asking Athina how she sees the K:ITA space, she murmured. ‘It’s a comfortable space where different artists can meet to talk and hang out in a pleasant atmosphere. In the evenings it’s a resting place to relax outdoors or to meet at the bar.

Half Phillipine and half Austrian, Iris Ramoser is a cinephile who came to Berlin four years ago with a vision to project movies, after having worked for a silent movie producer in Austria. She is currently involved in several housing projects, as they are often called in Berlin. On her way to discovering where she could realize her dream, she got connected with K:ITA, by helping with the organization and running of the space. When I asked her what she thought characterized these project spaces, she confessed enthusiastically, ‘they are about developing skills to survive differently in today’s industrialist societies. Finding other possible ways of dealing with, and circulating, money in a highly consumerist world’. Finally, with a wide smile and a tone of optimism, she added, ‘K:ITA is about making something out of nothing’.

Over breakfast one Sunday morning, just before we made our way up to K:ITA in a truck that would transport gallons of white paint and steel rods to build a counter in the bar area of K:ITA, I spoke to Julian Ronnefeldt. I asked him how he saw K:ITA developing and what he expected the group to make out of K:ITA for the year ahead of them?
This is what he said. ‘After the constructive outcome of the Coldstore project, I believed that the K:ITA project could be, in different ways, another interesting space for an art project. A place where there is equal representation and distribution of space, etc, without strict leadership. It is a space that can have multi-purposes, from experimenting with different media to diverse events and parties, to, perhaps, workshops developing in the various workspaces available.
I also asked him to what extent he thought the K:ITA project was socially or politically engaging? ‘It makes a statement by not making an assertion’, he replied in a serene smile.

K:ITA engages socially by promoting itself as a space for events and various exhibitions. It is now housing fashion parties with British-Berliners spinning house music until the morning hours. On this particular occasion, the queue had stretched its coiling tail around the nearest public phone booth in which ravenous individuals lay, legs crossed and beer in hand, lingering as the tailback shrivelled.
So, a lot is happening for those who are in Berlin looking for art venues to visit casually, to knock back a beer or two, and to hang around until Berlinesque things crop up. Visit K:ITA on Weidenweg 44-46, Friedrichshain, or cyberly at

March 2008
appeared in ΥΓ of Phileleftheros newspaper

Dis-Playing – a game on playing and its unravelling

Dis-Playing – a game on playing and its unravelling is a play on seeing the seriousness of what lies inside the outer layer, behind the frontal/face, the game, if you like. In fact, to ‘dis-play is to bring something to play; to make it both subject and object, as that which subliminally imposes itself, and whose material offers itself for consumption, visual or real.

The project Dis-Playing, as conceived by artist, Panayiotis Michael, involves 8-9 art students who have been given guidelines to create an artwork, which may then be installed in the display windows of various shops on the road of Ονασαγόρου, in old Nicosia. Some of these shops no longer function as small businesses, and so one of the challenges for the students is to create works, which may, or not, inhabit these spaces. An interesting point to make about this area is that it falls in a part of Nicosia’s green line, and so this raises questions to do with the geographic and historic nature of the area in which these desolated stores stand. By whom were these small enterprises run? Why did they close down? What kind of shops were they? How did they display their windows? These alternative spaces – and I call them alternative as they may be experienced by art students who are planning to show their work in a temporary “exhibition” space – offer their own histories, whether through the students’ abilities to imagine them as they were in the past, or to envision them as future constructions.

Each individual has his/her own ideas about shopping, window displays and forms of consumerism. The concept of this project puts the students in a situation to imagine themselves as both the consumer and owner, the object and subject, the outside browser and the inside trend-setter. So the relationship between the artist and his/her product, the student and his/her work is related, in ways, to that of the entrepreneur and the consumer. The artist/student has an audience to consider, and in many cases, a potential collector/viewer.

There is a semiological setting that attracts a viewer when strolling by a shop window and the invitation for these students is to install works that develop an exchange between the inside and the out.

We have only to imagine how long it might take someone to walk several blocks on New York City’s 5th avenue. Glamorous designer stores; children’s toyshops; chocolate boutiques; sensational perfume houses, and art galleries, are all encoded with hidden messages, which allure browsers passing by. Dis-Playing, might then, be seen as an experiment on how viewers might respond to storefronts that house art rather than particular products designed for quick consumption. How might we imagine Ονασαγόρου street to look after the project Dis-Playing is installed? We await with anticipation!

November 2007
appeared in ΥΓ of Phileleftheros newspaper