Friday, March 4, 2011

Panikos Tembriotis

Tribus Hyba

Panikos Tembriotis’ latest work, inventive and sarcastic, creates the conditions for a pleasurable lunge into the modern human’s unconsciousness. His displayed sculptures impress at a very first glimpse. Naked humanistic bodies pose in various muscular positions, resembling motions of another type of animal.

At first sight, the effect seems both dazzling and fused. At a closer look, however, these figures appear as reflections of a modern human’s psyche, which, having ignored the intellectual dimension of her/his existence, is consumed by various activities, unconsciously incited by an impulse to search for meaning. Paradoxically, the result is equally humorous, as it is sarcastic, since, in an attempt to affirm their superiority over the animal species, these hybrid bodies disclose aspects of their being, which demonstrate their apparent relationship to animals, one they sometimes ignore, and at other times, try significantly to conceal. In the end, what remains is nothing but an echoing absence of existential meaning, as might be the case for the contemporary individual.

As with much of Panikos Tembriotis’ work, the issues of identity construction, individual consumption versus social happiness, superheroic idolatry, and the artist in relation to her/his political make-up, are engaged with here. Life-size mannequins adorned in wooden extensions of fruit, fish, and black crows, metamorphize into physically challenged skiers and roller bladders. Here, we have the merging of an animalistic innateness to survive and a contemporary paranoia of the artist/human to be super-human.

We could ski along with the alien/robotic-looking black mannequin with pink horns, and a spinal cord formed by, what looks like, two bloody egg-shaped hearts. Half skiing and half swimming, as the diver’s fin worn on the left foot suggests. Or we could inflame the very ‘foreigner’/mannequin/individual, who seems to be aloof about her/his own alterity, like the black crow, whose awkward site on the cross sculptures, makes it difficult for us to imagine that it could be ruled out from the tribe. It is necessary that it/she/he has a place in its identities and that they belong to the tribe.

As the title of Panikos Tembriotis’ project of the last two years suggests, the hybrid tribe is not a utopian space, be it imaginary or three-dimensional, but a real topos of clans, animal, human and humanoid, in which we all live interdependently. We are hybrid in our identities and in the ways that we believe, think, behave and perform. For every other individual, community, country, that we come to touch, we give and take something from this cross-ing of civilizing stimulus.

Tembriotis’ glossy and plastic kitsch dummies give off relevant propositions in the way that they make reference to their self-created distortions through a firm aura. If Tembriotis’ film, Helen, commemorates some form of unification of fragmented communities, and My wife threw me out, honours a world in which alternative communities may develop from within a globalized era, Tribus Hyba celebrates physical and conscious alterities in a world growing more and more out of a three-dimensional space.

Panikos Tembriotis

my wife threw me out

My wife threw me out is an installation performed for a week in Aglantzia, a small municipality in Nicosia, Cyprus. Armed with very basic amenities - food, water, electricity, clothes, a bed - this mobile ‘home’, a white caravan, ‘secures’ a place in a public square, and artist, Panikos Tembriotis, is there to perform this imagined, or not, refuge for seven days. Might it be the birth of a camping site? A ‘homeless’ man trying to start a temporary public life? An urban ‘Berliner’ unwilling to give up on the loss of the prospect of creating new communal life in a public square?

Positioning himself in a public square puts Panikos Tembriotis at both mental and physical challenges. An exposed fantasy and an exposing gesture of realization that something has to change. Inviting passers-by to respond or partake in whichever way they desire, Panikos Tembriotis, provokes us to lay a hand on a particularly current urgency - at least in many over-indulging, capitalist societies - to join with intimate strangers, if only for an endless moment. The ‘collaborator’ might be gracious but s/he could also be hostile. Implicit is the unpredictability of the ‘community’ being created, however, the artist takes responsibility for the eventful possibilities, which he allows to be created.

Is Panikos Tembriotis’ performance-installation a tempting place where more and more people/artists, today, are looking to rest outside consumerism?
The stress induced by the gap created between consuming material and losing a sense of community spirit seems to be an inherent response to a post-globalized isolation. Is Tembriotis’ performance a re-enactment of a 'other' life, promisingly simple, sensitizing, and fulfilling? In tune with the ambivalent title, the artist holds a photograph of Marilyn Monroe, engaging his audience by showing them a picture of the ‘wife who threw him out’. This is not a morbid ‘mass-produced’ image of Andy Warhol’s Monroe, but a small single photograph of a female icon, who is inimitable and priceless. Yet, the artist seems to suggest that Monroe is a treasure to be protected from an urban and industrial, corporate art market.

And so does this gesture leave him ‘homeless’ in return? Or is it a celebration of another possible world. Over a year ago, the man who lives without money, Irishman, Mark Boyle, parked his caravan from the organization Freecycle, on an organic farm in Bristol. He is the founder of the Freeconomy Community, an online organization of 17,000 members sustaining an alternative economy during the time of a global economic crisis. My wife threw me out addresses both a personal and a social crisis, where the two are not unrelated.

In 2002, Marina Abramovic took refuge in New York’s, Sean Kelly Gallery, for twelve days. Without speaking or eating, in an oath of silence and fasting, if you will, Abramovic opened a ‘‘private’’ experience into the public, pushing, once again, the boundaries of what is uniquely human and humanizing. In the tradition of Performing art installation, where blurring the boundaries is necessary, Panikos Tembriotis agrees playfully to an open ended ideation with his audience in order to enhance a human relation engulfed in possibilities. Through performance, he establishes his own existence as an artist, via time and space. However, the installation itself explores the experience of an audience leaving space and time as object relations. Open-endingly, we may wonder, whether the ‘visibility’ of the performer’s body is important? Must the artist be ‘present’?

Panikos Tembriotis

The Last Supper

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.

Panikos Tembriotis


This film attempts to merge George Seferis’ poem, Helen and Euripides’ tragedy Helen, as well as the history of modern Cyprus in the wider historical context of Hellenism.
On the countenance of both Helen and Teucer, the visionary and timeless work of the two creators reminds us of the struggles of latter Hellenism, which are ultimately not awarded a fair dealing.

The film incorporates archival material with dramatized and abstract frames of Helen’s and Teucers’ journey, and relates the events of the Trojan war with those of the catastrophe of Asia Minor, the struggle of Freedom in Cyprus between 1955-59, the declaration of Independence in 1960, the conflict of the two communities, and the Turkish invasion. The film doesn’t ‘return’ merely to the past but transports it to the present by making obvious how these affairs continue to have an effect on Cyprus today.

The bold reach of the director is a means by which to become problematised about the significance of the two texts in juxtaposition with the modern historical passage of Cyprus. How is it, in other words, that chronologically distant historical periods are comparable, if not because identities cross and re-congregate, therefore, making sameness unneeded and difference acknowledged.

From the far past to the very present and near future, communities have been building and collapsing. While the former Yugoslavia was ferociously dissected, and occupied Palestine continues to be brutally isolated and oppressed, there are, nevertheless, incidents of positive change, as for example, the unification of Berlin, current visions to create a single government to unite Afghanistan and Pakistan, and an ongoing plan to fully incorporate Hong Kong into China.

Identity continues to be a present day “problem”. But is it? Whether we refer to human identity, that of the individual and her/his ethical inclinations, or ethnic identity, that pertaining to the community from which we develop social behaviours, ideologies, phobias, etc, the question of “who we are” is not uncomplicated, but is it a “problem” to be resolved or a condition to be traversed?

Divided communities with similar histories, and diverse religions which have, however, matured parallel in a world of cross-cultural identities determined by fluid mobilities, can provide us with new ways of living in a world beginning to disintegrate by global warming, growing hostile by anti-democratic right-wing extremist politics, and disappearing from over-consumption in an age when natural resources are depleting.