By: Vasileia Anaxagorou
Born in Limassol, Cyprus in 1989, Meletios Meletiou studied Fine Arts in the Academy of Rome and worked also as an assistant professor during the academic year 2012-2013. Furthermore, he attended professional courses of interior design at the Rome University of Fine Arts as well as window dresser and visual merchandiser at the Altieri Academy of Fashion and Art. Since 2014 attending a second level Master in Visual and performing arts in Rome’s Fine Arts Academy.
Meletios developed his ideas and formulated his own thinking during his academic and pre-academic years and applying it in various ways in his work.
Artists of his nature are essential to the artistic practise, they offer a different perception of the current events, with a realistic and more humane approach.
- How did you enter the art world? How did you start creating?
I can recall my father from a relatively early age being exposed into the arts, and that was the catalyst that triggered me to go into a private art school for 8 years. As I was growing up, I realised that this was my field. The entire procedure of creating art defines me as a person.
- Can you share with us what are you doing right now? What projects are you undertaking?
Currently, I am working on three projects. The two of those begun last year and the last one was initiated few months ago. One of those projects, includes the new park that is taking its shape in Magliana, next to the Tiber River. I was chosen to create a sculpture through my university. This project was supposed to be exhibited last year, but due to some procedural decisions it was postponed. This project includes a rock made by travertine tiles and it is called “Transition”. The other project, was given to our team by the United Nations and it is based on the 17 Sustainable Development Goals to be fulfilled until 2030. The last project however is the one that stigmatised me both as a person and as an artist.
I started focusing on the refugee crisis, and most importantly to the people that were victimised from the war in Syria. It all started when I was scrutinising the entire chaotic situation in Mytilini where it was filled with people urging for a better living with no organisation whatsoever; as it was a crisis indeed. “Better Days for Moria”, a non-governmental organisation, which is volunteering in the area of Lesbos in Greece is burdened by refugees helped me to visit Lesbos to dissect the situation. The initial plan was to take some photographs that I needed for this project depicting the chaos in the area and conduct some workshops with the refugees in the entertaining section that is held by ‘Better Days for Moria’.
The project however took another take. I had to change my approach to it. You have to understand that when you have to do with people, emotions are getting involved and things cannot go according to plan. Generally, this project was related to the journey of ordinary people from Syria to Greece and then from Greece back to Europe. So this included a two-journey depiction.
- What do you want to extract and focus on in Lesbos?
At first I just wanted to go, see what is going on, help, cooperate with the people there and leave. I never thought that the impact of this visit would have altered my perception and my practise. It helped tackle art in a more humane way. Most importantly it reminded me how to be a human and not just a human being. It made me erase everything I considered in the past and create my one “Simio 0” which is the name of the project I will focus on. My ultimate aim is to create an installation that will describe the present situation in Lesbos of the victims of the war and in the same time be used as a historical evidence in the future of what was going on back then. I feel that even if the refugee crisis has gained massive exposure, it is not entirely raising the awareness needed. After all, the crisis is still there. We do not learn from history. History repeats itself, but with different standards every single time.
- How did it all start and how do you visualise the final installation project?
Few months ago, more specifically in September, I started a project that was related to the Refugee Crisis. This project was a continuation of my previous studio practise. You have to bear in mind, that I usually use symbols while creating. From 2010, I am using an everyday object, what people know as clothes hangers as a symbol to depict people that are trapped into certain situations that they cannot handle themselves. I initiated this project to depict a massive issue to create awareness and this was anorexia. I tried to portray bodies that suffer from specific nutritional turbulences. As I went along, this project developed to a generic depiction of turbulences that cause humans addictions. My aim was to actually interpret bodies that due to these experiences turn out to be lifeless. I understand that this is harsh. But my objective was to put an end to it. These bodies were hooked in what I have used as a symbol – the clothes hanger. The clothes hanger turned out to be a symbol that represented the people that are hooked by certain situations. Without it, the people would have been free.
Last year, I used this symbol of clothes hangers to represent the people that suffer and are trapped from terrorism and more specifically ISIS. I called this project ‘PortaCorpi’. Therefore, through this process, this symbol became my trademark. I relate this symbol to the refugee crisis. I relate it this symbol to the life vests that are the only safety nets people have during their journey from Syria to Greece and Greece to Europe.
I don’t know if you have seen this, but when the refugees land into Lesbos, those life vest jackets are thrown away. The irony is that those life vest jackets are the only supportive elements people have. They are not even real. They cannot save human beings. It is simply an illusion for the refugees that the life vest jacket is their own protection. But its not.
I want to create the parallel of these life vest jackets to a clothe hanger. People throw the life vest jacket as soon as they see land, to get rid of the burden. To get rid of the war crime because they feel safe at least. I don’t know how to define the burden. The people that arrive to Lesbos are bodies that were forced to leave their country. They are bodies that are trapped into a situation that they did not choose themselves. Nobody wants to leave their country and that is the only thing we can take for granted. From my perception, this is what I define to be the ‘clothes-hangers’. It is the situation that keeps the hooked embedded into a consequence that they did not choose themselves. They are forced to enter the sea with the fear of dying and Lesbos becomes their zero point where they finally feel safe. Zero point in Greek means “Simio 0” which is the name of the project. As Lesbos becomes the safe haven of the refugees their bodies are finally back on track.
From my own perception, time stops there- in the so-called “Simio 0”. I want to create an installation, with hundreds of handmade wires that will be presented as hangers. This will work as a parallel with the mountains of life vest jackets that are thrown away after the refugees reach the land. As you can imagine, the situation itself is unstable therefore, things can be subjected to transform and develop as I go along.
My plan is that I will visit Lesbos soon. This journey will definitely last longer. My aim is to conduct new workshops that will focus on the ‘imaginary friends’ that refugees may have in this journey as their shoulder. These workshops will consist of handmade wires sculptures that will represent each person’s personal perspective on the matter.
- I understand you work with concepts. Why did you choose to work with the refugee crisis? Why now?
It was not an urge. It was a building process of my previous studio practise. After the ‘PortaCorpi’ concept, this project was subsequent development. The refugee crisis, had a massive impact on me, especially after the incident in the port of Mytillini, last summer. Especially when you see all these horrific images – image is so important nowadays- you understand that you need to relate further. The orange brightness verifies a vigilant sentiment. Therefore, all these images, and the development of my studio practise made me understand that this project was essential for me as an artist.
- Based on your experience, what is the role of art in a society?
As people, we tend to forget quite easily. Art is an important source of communication between people that have a language barrier. When I was in Lesbos and I was interacting with the refugees, we were communicating through sketches. They couldn’t speak English so art was our common language. Art is a language that everyone can understand, every person in this world. Thereby, I feel that art underlines memories and interaction.
- What was the hardest thing you came across in Lesbos?
The first boat. I cannot take it off my mind. I was holding two cameras and I had no clue what I was going to see there. I saw a new-born baby getting off the boat. That was my zero point. I was dashed.
- Are you usually influenced by political/historical considerations or by artistic ones?
I tend to examine historical considerations to create something that is going on in the world right now. I don’t care about visual aesthetics to the eye that much. I care that the aesthetic of the concept will delivery the right messages to the audience or make them ask questions regarding the concept I am raising. Art needs to make people think. If it is aesthetically pleasing or not, that’s not something I focus on.
- How do you approach your work?
I sketch non-stop. I analyse my thoughts. I let myself into my thoughts and research non-stop. Lesbos was a turning-point as I said before. I have seen something that I have never seen in my entire life. It made me tackle art in a more humane way.
- Who is your favourite artist?
I never felt the urge to have a favourite artist. I examine several artists for what they are doing which many of them are influential to me in their own level.
- What is the thing that inspires you?
Humans and their surroundings.
- What are your plans in the future?
I want to feel satisfied from what I am doing in Lesbos. I want to reach a point that I will feel that I have offered something else with the project that is based on the refugee crisis. The only thing I have learnt from my experience in Lesbos is that situations are subjected to alter all the time. You cannot go according to plan.
- As a young artist, what is your advice to the younger generation that aspires to become part of the art world?
Find your own form of expression. Whatever you do, do it passionately.
January 26, 2016
One good thing about having friends from all over the world who live in London is that you can be informed about various events each one of them is planning to attend. This gives you a full glimpse of what is really going on in London, especially in the art arena.
Four final-year photography students from the University of East London took the initiative to form an organisation called RENEWAL which aimed to work with a community in London to raise awareness on using second-hand clothes and the importance of recycling unwanted clothes. These might benefit the less fortunate members of society who are in need of the basic necessities. But it all fell into place when TRAID charity appeared on the scene.
TRAID worked perfectly for these young, talented artists. What would they need anyway? A fashion charity with a sustainable and circular approach to the production, consumption and disposal of clothes across London. TRAID can be inspirational to most of us, in the sense that it has empowered RENEWAL to promote charity using a modern approach that would attract the youngest sectors of society through a charity fashion catwalk.
Labelled as the “Renewal Catwalk”, I cannot imagine myself being at any other place on a Friday evening. The effort put forth by the Renewal team is exceptional. The audience will experience a catwalk with different kinds of models, both conventional and unconventional, wearing clothes and accessories selected from many TRAID shops across London by the Renewal team. In the event, there will be a clothing collection point where people may drop off their quality clothes for donation to TRAID and the chance to get to know the team in person.
Such events, for me, may act as a turning point in such a way that art washes away all the dust and the chaos of the world. Art works as a stepping-stone to raise awareness. My motto has always been the same, art should raise awareness for what is going on in the world. The sad truth is that many people across the globe are in need of clothes and basic necessities that often are taken for granted. But as long as we have people like the RENEWAL, there is hope that the barrier of inequality could be eliminated.
Friday the 29th of January at the Loading Bay at The Old Truman Brewery – Brick Lane, London at 6:30pm.
Don’t miss it!
Be the change you wanna see in the world!
January 24, 2016
I had the honour to meet a great artist and, above all, a great person. Maria Aristidou is a commercial artist from Larnaca, Cyprus. Her work went viral because of her own distinctive technique: using coffee as her medium. Maria studied BA Fine Art Printmaking at the Manchester Metropolitan University, and completed her postgraduate degree in Arts Health at the University of Central Lancashire in the United Kingdom. Maria is interested in pop culture phenomena and trends and most of her pieces are influenced by movie characters and science fiction, which makes her work even more intriguing. Enjoy her words in our tete-a-tete.
- What do you think contemporary art really is?
Contemporary art is something very personal and open. It is the opportunity of an artist to express his or her feelings so broadly using any type of medium. The exciting part of contemporary art is that it has no limits. A person that never had an experience with artistic knowledge has the opportunity to interact with any medium and create art. So contemporary art opens its doors to everyone. Contemporary art is the new world we live in. For me, the media is the new distinctive form of art. We are not depending on galleries and agents anymore. From a personal perspective – I am not implying that this is absolute – contemporary art gives the opportunity to everyone to create something masterly, creatively and cleverly and consequently, to be successful from it. It’s the evolution of the history of art.
- Where do you place yourself in the “art arena” – are you conceptual?
I was given the label of a commercial artist. So, I am a commercial artist. I do love marketing and the fact that I am commercial does not necessarily mean that I don’t belong under the umbrella of the “visual artists”. I do work with concepts if I am asked to. I am drawn into teamwork, into communicating with other artists and customers. I became known due to my concept technique, which is coffee, and I think that this is a concept itself.
- I completely agree with you. How did the coffee technique emerge?
It all started in February 2015. It was completely accidental. I was painting using watercolours, and suddenly coffee poured on my paper and when I saw the effect of coffee on my paper I said “why not?”. From that day onwards, I started experimenting using coffee as my medium. I used different coffee brands and blends. I realised that if I worked with different blends, the colour effect was altering. Subsequently, the technique I have today came out of this process of experimentation. Every coffee has a different colour effect. The Greek coffee has a very interesting effect; it is between grey and sepia. I cannot really explain it.
- Is there another ‘unconventional’ medium you would like to explore in the future?
Yes. Tea will be my next attempt.
- Do you think tea will have the same effect?
I haven’t worked with tea as my medium yet. I do have some thoughts how the effect will turn. For instance, I presume that tea will be much lighter and smoother than coffee. You can use anything that extracts colour as your medium. It is up to the artist to use those colours to make up an unconventional technique. Even ketchup would do.
- When you create, do you instantly create or do you have a specific procedure you follow?
There is a procedure. I need to observe the picture that I am painting. I have to start painting the light areas and then proceed to the bolder ones. The tricky part of coffee is that as soon as you start painting there is no way back. You cannot erase anything. So every time I start painting with coffee I am a bit restrained and then I go crazy (laughter). I start splashing, throwing and lose myself in my painting.
- Are you a coffee lover?
I am indeed!
- So basically, one day while you were painting, your coffee was poured accidentally and that was it, you went viral as a coffee artist.
Exactly. The funny part of the entire story is that the coffee that was spilled that day is not the coffee I am using today to create my pieces. I spilled my latte. I always drink latte! But now, I am not using latte as a medium. You know milk is a bit risky so I’d rather use coffee. Plain coffee. But no sugar (laughter).
- What is so special about coffee compared to other materials?
Coffee is a material that can destroy your brush easily. With other materials, if you clean it properly you can go on with the same brush for years. But with coffee, it’s completely different. Coffee can wear your brush easily. Perhaps, coffee is what draws me into a painting. Coffee gives me that vibe of roughness and toughness. Perhaps it is the entire concept of coffee. I cannot explain it. When I use watercolours the essence I get is not the same. Watercolours reflect a smoothness. It is something nice, neat and perfect. But with coffee, I can express who I really am. I simply go crazy and wild about it. It is okay to be messy with it! Perhaps it is something personal. The addictive element of caffeine probably makes me more passionate about it. I could say there is a psychological implication to it. I will never forget the day I started experimenting with coffee. It was a turning point on my own career. I can still remember one day I was asked to do a coffee portrait of Einstein and Churchill. With Churchill it was an entire different story, I was so delicate about him. But with Einstein, I went crazy. Probably, the ambiance of each personality I am painting is what alters my technique and the level of roughness I use. So I need to relate and draw with the characters I am painting.
- What is truly your source of inspiration?
My source of inspiration is social media and pop culture. Movies, celebrities, not the Kardashians though. Something that questions my mind. When I did the Star Wars series, you have to bear in mind that I am not a fanatic compared to the fanatics. What made me completely fanatical about Star Wars is the thought behind the characters, that sort of personality building process. The team, the product design, the marketing behind that character. The background story of each character is my true source of inspiration. For instance, Winnie the Pooh and Alice in Wonderland diachronically, have had a project plan, a thought behind every character and that is what excites me when I am working.
- Do you think its important for a painting to be aesthetically nice?
It is important. But I do believe that balance is the key. What is “aesthetically nice” is up to the material you are using, the concept you are deploying and most importantly how masterly an artist delivers it into a paper or canvas. Being decorative is not what makes a piece aesthetically nice.
- What are your plans in the future? Is there something that the public should not miss?
My mind is always travelling. I am working on cakes right now. I do have dreams and ideas about what I want to do in the future but I am not sure because things change all the time. The only thing that I can define as a plan is that I want to be stable. Stable not in terms of being situated in a routine. I like messiness that will help me evolve as an artist.
- As a young artist what is your advice to those that aspire to be part of the “art world?”
Just go crazy. What you do, do it perfectly and masterly. I am quoting Walt Disney: “whatever you do, do it well. Do it so well that when people see you do it, they will want to come back and see you do it again, and they will want to bring others and show them how well you do what you do.” This is my advice. And most importantly love yourself.
November 30, 2015
Camden Image Gallery is a hire space gallery with 4 rooms over 2 floors situated in Camden Town, in central London. Camden Image Gallery has four rooms all with light walnut laminate flooring and clean white walls, perfect for displaying artwork; one large and one small room on the ground floor, and one large and one small room in the basement. The large room on the ground floor is fitted with adjustable LED spotlights, great for sculpture and installations. All 4 rooms have a fully adjustable hanging system with a variety of different lengths of rods to suit any artwork.
On the 5th of December until the 11th of December of 2015, Camden Image Gallery will celebrate its second year of success with a very interesting exhibition based on Mixed Media. On the 5th of December there will be a live performance by Periscope View at 7pm. The exhibition will continue from 12-7pm daily.
Let’s meet Elena Chimonas the gallery owner of this interesting hire space gallery.
1. Camden Image Gallery is situated in the heart of Camden Town, Camden Road. Is there a reason why you chose the gallery to be situated in an area like Camden Town? Do you think the area plays a role when artists choose a gallery to showcase their artwork?
Definitely. The location is definitely important. Camden Town used to be a very creative, artistic area, it still is, but it is more focused on music now. So I wanted to help bring back the artistic vibe in the area. A lot of people thanked me for it. I believe that it is important to welcome everybody, no matter on what stage his or her career is. So for me, it doesn’t matter if an artist is studying, or [has been] in the industry for the last 50 or 60 years. If they are passionate in what they do, then I don’t think age or experience matters at all, as long as they are passionate. In terms of artists choosing a space, for me it is very important to have a space next to a station for mobility and accessibility reasons. A space that is welcoming and friendly. I am very lucky to have found this place. It was perfect for what I was looking for.
2. What brought you here? What is your background?
My background is photography. I finished my degree and took full time and part time jobs and entered this space you see here into a gallery. I was very lucky to find this space. It took me a lot of time and work to turn this place into Camden Image Gallery. Initially, I found it in very poor condition, the staircases were not safe to walk down, there were no plugs in the space so I had to strip everything down and rebuild it from the beginning. The walls and the ceilings came down, the floors were renovated and we retouched the two floors. I was very lucky when I found out that there was a large space downstairs that didn’t exist when I took the property. The gallery originally had just two spaces – one upstairs and one downstairs – but then we realised that there was another trapdoor, which led to two separate hidden rooms downstairs as well. One of them was made by clay and concrete and it took us almost 4 months to renovate. We made the two rooms into one. It is actually my favourite room. It is a very long elongated room and works wonderfully for projections on the wall, great for sculptures in the middle of the room. I also have the same hanging system so artists can exhibit there as well. As it is a hire space gallery, the artist can choose either to hire the ground floor or the gallery as a whole, which includes the basement. In terms of Camden Image Gallery, as I said, it is a hire space gallery so people can hire the gallery for as many days as they wish. The gallery is open every single day, including bank holidays and weekends, especially during exhibition dates. I wanted to open a space that has this consistency otherwise it is very complicated to keep up with which galleries are open on which days – some of them are closed on Mondays, some of them on Sundays. I wanted Camden Image Gallery to be open 7 days a week, so people would know that they could always walk in.
3. Are there a lot of hire space galleries in London?
There are lots of hire space galleries and then there are other galleries that represent artists. Those galleries are the galleries that artists sign a contract for a specific time and then the gallery will sell their work through websites perhaps. Then you have hire space galleries, such as myself, where we welcome all artists. Camden Image Gallery for example, charges one fee for set-up, installation help, flyer designs, promotion, invigilating, take down. It all comes together. I wanted to open up a space that welcomes all genres of art. So I have photography, illustration, graphic design, fashion design, and painting – everything that comes under the arts. It is my job to support it. We also have poetry evenings and performance evenings so it is nice to have a space that welcomes anybody.
4. How hard is it for a gallery manager to choose the artists that will display?
It is a hire space gallery. So if the work is of a good standard and it is suitable for the space I accept them.
5. Do you have any restrictions to being exhibited in the gallery?
Generally no. But, I wouldn’t allow anything pornographic in the gallery. That is a genre that I wouldn’t allow. No matter how fantastic or talented an artist is – that is something I wouldn’t want in the space. But everything else is welcome. I have open shutters every day, so I wouldn’t want any children passing by and seeing something like that so I don’t want to accept that kind of genre. The quality has to be good.
6. What do you mean by “quality?”
I mean standard – Anything that has effort in it. Something unusual. Artists like Robin Lee; for me he is a great example of quality. He focuses on the expression of the eye. We had an exhibition a few weeks ago and I am very privileged to have worked with him. He is a great person and a great artist. I understand that it is a contested term and curators don’t tend to agree on what quality means, but in Camden Image Gallery, I stick with “standard”.
7. This leads me to my next question – were there any times when you had to differentiate between your personal likes and what the audience prefers?
Obviously, not everybody will like absolutely everything. If the artist is passionate then it all goes back to the main motto I have as a gallery owner to support artists. I opened up a space because I am passionate about the arts. There were not enough hire spaces to support artists. For example, performance art is not allowed in many galleries – but why not? If a dancer is good enough then why not give them the opportunity to showcase their work? If that is the way they express their art. I want to help. That is the main idea. I don’t differentiate. I just support. Because of that, I don’t target a specific audience; anyone can come into the gallery space. It is absolutely fine for one gallery to welcome just photography, I don’t criticise that. However, Camden Image Gallery has a different approach: to help everybody.
8. What was the hardest thing you came across as a gallery manager?
The hardest thing I came across is the lack of sleep (laughter). Generally, I am a positive person, there is nothing specific that made my life hard during these three years that I started this business.
9. What do you think is the role of art in society? Is there a role?
Of course there is a role. It is the only thing that can keep individuals creative – to keep creative minds buzzing. There are 10% of artists in the world – poets, musicians, and painters. They are the ones that keep the world more interesting. It is lovely that there are arts in the world. What would the world be without images? Imagine walking down the street without images. How boring that would be? It is fantastic to have creative things that people could view.
10. How do you think gallery owners contribute to this role?
By putting up exhibitions and by organising events. Not just that, our job is to draw [in] and engage people to contribute to exhibitions that they wouldn’t normally be subjected to.
11. Generally, the word “art industry” is contested – especially artists cannot accept that sort of label. Since you are an artist yourself, and a gallery owner, do you think art is an industry? Is it easy for you to be both? There is that general idea that the industry “exploits” the artists and it is rarely the opposite. What do you think about that?
It is very difficult to be both indeed. I am a gallery manager 7 days a week and I am a photographer occasionally. So it is difficult to be both. I have always wanted to open up a gallery that is open for everyone. A gallery that will give the voice to every artist regardless of background and experience. Camden Image Gallery is here to help and support artists, as the nature of the gallery promotes all types of genres. Unfortunately, not every artist has the ability to work as full-time artists to be able to support themselves. It is still a very hard industry to get into. That is why it is great that there are many galleries open. They make artists cater to their needs. There are curators and gallery managers that can help set out an artist. Unfortunately not many artists make their living out of art – that is why gallery managers are here to help.
12. Are there any current or future shows that you believe the public should not miss?
The Saturday of the 5th of December from 6 until 8pm will have the opening of an exhibition that celebrates these two fantastic years of Camden Image Gallery. It will be a great celebration and I believe it should not be missed. Periscope View will also be performing a live performance at 7pm. The exhibition will continue from the 6th until the 11th of December, from 12pm until 7pm, daily. Also, for the first time ever, the Camden Image Gallery is organising a charity exhibition – this will be from the 7th until the 13th of January. The gallery will raise money for Solace Women’s Aid.
November 19, 2015
Yes. It is just a word. Some say it’s a way of living. Ben Rivers certainly depicts on that. But I don’t know if it is a way of living. I mean, we tend to think it is. But is it really? I don’t know if there is such thing as liberty – complete or partial liberty. We are some sorts of victims – either of the lives we choose to follow – or the paths we seek to walk through.
My thoughts on this were triggered by Ben Rivers’ black and white 16mm film shown at Camden Arts Centre in London. It was produced in 2008, but 7 years later is still more relevant than ever. I don’t think it will go out of date anytime soon. It is a diachronic issue on which artists and generally people feel the urge to talk about. In the film, there is no linear narrative, which perhaps – I think- was the main aspect that intrigued me in writing about it. It can much reflect on our everyday lives. We as human beings we don’t have a narrative – neither artists.
Even if we wish our lives had a narrative, a beginning, middle or an ending story, it is never really the case. Life comes up in unexpected ways. We set off on our path as human beings and end up somewhere else, which was not really planned. Ben Rivers focuses on a ‘cinematic essay’. This is the genre he deploys in his work. It’s the same way with human beings. Our lives are cinematic essays. I never felt that such a genre would fit so perfectly in the human nature.
His attempt to visualise all aspects of a liberated life is outstanding. I don’t know if there is a sense of irony in it or a sense of contrast to what is going on in the world today; it might have both elements. He might be addressing his ideal view of how life should be. But it is not. The sad truth is that it is rarely the case in reality. Liberated life? Liberty? What kind of liberty? And what is liberty really? On which terms? How can you be really free if you have restrictive boundaries? And we all do have boundaries and restrictions. Even at the time when we were children. We were carefree but not entirely free. Our innocence made us think we were free – or perhaps our parents perceived it that way because we were not entitled to pay taxes or for our own survival. Others did that for us. It is mesmerising if you think about it.
To be completely free in a world filled with ignorance, poverty, class struggle, capitalism, genre class and social inequality is utopian. Perhaps, Rivers wanted to depict that utopia. Only nature is free. And even that today – with all the climate change and the destructions of men – is not really coming through. It is slowly diminishing.
So my observations are really straightforward. You can never enjoy liberty or freedom. I mean, even the Statue of Liberty (the embodiment of liberty, ironic isn’t?) did not enjoy freedom. It came as a gift from the French. So spot the irony. Liberty always comes with a price. The price of knowing your own surroundings, what is going on out in the real word. Art, film, photography, and theatre are here to address these issues. Fiction deploys reality in some ways. There is a fine line between truth, documentary and fiction and that is – reality. But I keep thinking, the world needs magic for each person to choose its own liberty – whatever that is.
November 8, 2015
Nikolas Antoniou was born in Larnaca, Cyprus where he resides and works. He is a graduate of the Department of Fine and Applied Arts of the University of Western Macedonia, Greece (2012) with professors Harris Kondosphyris and Manolis Polymeri.
His paintings do not stem from a specific idea or theme. He consciously avoids focusing on specific questions or particular answers but instead, creates new pictures that generate unknown questions. He paints vague spaces, objects which appear to be misplaced both through time and dimension, next to items disjoint with figures lost in an intense painterly environment, but in the end coexist and interact, giving meaning to their existence, tell a story and express a sentiment.
As of 2010 through to today Nikolas Antoniou has succeeded in portraying his paintings in a number of solo and group exhibitions. Most momentous of which took place in 2010 at the Aianis Archaeological Museum in Kozani entitled “Time – Memory – Oblivion”. In the following year he participated in the “Sixth Student Biennale of Fine Arts”, which took place in the exhibition hall of the Athens Metro at Syntagma Station. He also took part in the group exhibition “Eumorfos Anthropos” in Technohoros Gallery, Athens. In 2012 the same exhibition journeyed to two cities of Northern Greece. In the months of February to March the exhibition was hosted at Gallery 512 in Ptolemaida and two months later at the Museum of Contemporary Arts of Florina. Both exhibitons were held under the supervision of Harris Kondosphyris. During the months of June and July Nikolas’ works reappeared in the Technohoros Gallery under the heading “Maps 1987 – Travel 2012” and in late July-early August he takes part in another exhibition titled “IR E MO” showcased at Gallery Lola Nikolaou in Thessaloniki. In 2013 he returns to Cyprus permanently and is involved in several group exhibitions around the island and colaborates with a number of galleries. In May 2013 he presents his first solo exhibition entitled “Sanitizing Logic” at Polychoros Warehouses in Larnaca, while a few months later the same trail of work is exhibited again in his second solo exhibition “Sanitating Logic 2” in Gallery Technohoros in Athens, Greece. In 2014, his work is hosted by Gallery Myro in collaboration with Gallery Lola Nikolaou in Thessaloniki, Greece.
Solo – May 2015 – Technohoros Gallery – Athens
Group – Oct. 2015 – the Collection Gallery – Embody – Nicosia
Group – Dec. 2015 – Lola Nikolaou Gallery – Thessaloniki
1. What do you think contemporary art really is?
Contemporary art is the natural order of things that led art history up to this point. The evolution of time and the alteration of how we do things have played a significant role. In a sense, art and specifically painters used to be craftsmen in the past but now developed as modern day artists that can freely decide the concept of their art. In the same way -as we have today – contemporary artists that begun their practise with different foundations, this will be the case in 20 years time too and another term might possibly develop in art history. Artists will evolve with different foundations due to the evolution of time. Artists cannot have the same starting and ending point. Contemporary art today follows the general principle that an artist has the freedom of expression and is able to deal with any concept. But, the problem with contemporary art today is that it is difficult for people to understand especially when you have no interest in it and it is thus challenging to engage with something you can not understand.
2. So do you believe there is an apathetic stance from people to understand contemporary art?
Well, not really apathy. Art is just something that needs further consideration and examination. You need to go deeper and people don’t do that. People choose not to see art to its core but rather stay on the surface – that is the way they tackle everything they see. That’s a problem (laughter). The artist should not compromise his or her expression based on what the rest of the world understands. People who create (whether it is food, art or any service) do it the best way they can and develop along with it and thus consciously the result develops within them. Thus, people who will try and engage with an artist’ work must put the same or more effort into comprehending what it is shown on a plain canvas.
3. Have you ever come across in any misunderstanding with people that have brought you into a difficult position? Let’s say such as not understanding the way you express?
It happens everywhere, even if you go to a place with people not related to art, you might find people who understand what you do. Regardless if they are involved with art or not, they have the mood and eagerness to understand, ask and learn my own perception exposed in my artwork. There are people that just don’t want to understand. Personally, I have never came across a difficult position but you know it just happens.
4.Does it bother if a contemporary art piece in a gallery has an explanation written next to it? Does it bother you that the artist needs to go in the process to explain when he is displaying his work?
No, I don’t mind at all, because they way I see it – this is part of art as well. Why shouldn’t there be a panel next to it? An artist worked on that text and he or she is thus narrating his/her work. Art needs to find a way to draw more people in. What bothers me is when the text on the label is meaningless, or the artwork is pointless along with the text. Since you are using another medium along, it should be two times stronger.
5.Why does most of your work include the human body? How do you tackle any project series or art piece when it comes in creating something related to what you do? Do you do any specific research?
That’s what I like in art. The human body attracted me as an audience. So it gave me the interest to explore it and create artworks around it. The human body is the most interesting part of a human. A figure is a figure. Even a bottle can be perceived as a figure but the human body can change its position: the gaze, the size and that it creates emotion. Observing human body figures as part of an audience made me feel as if I was seeing myself. The eyes and the glance can capture you and draw you into an emotional process. I have worked into exploring the human body for so long that I became extremely interested on how the figure changes from one painting to the other. The smallest change in position can alter the whole atmosphere of the painting. I don’t do any specific research. I research and work all the time and gather my thoughts when it comes to create something. Most of my pieces are not related, some are, and some are not. When I exhibit my work I group my pieces and then present them. I do not start something based on specific research. The only research I do and the only way I tackle my projects happens when I gather all of my artwork and try to group them to make sense to the audience. I like putting myself into complicated tasks and then represent my art pieces in that way.
6. Would you classify yourself as a contemporary artist?
Not really. A contemporary artist is an artist who observes what is going on in the world now. I honestly do not think that I understand what is going on in the world today. I am contemporary in my own perspective; I don’t think others would perceive me as a contemporary artist.
7. Sometimes when I observe your artwork I can see a sense of rebellion in the way you paint. But then, this is my own personal take. Do you have any particular themes you want to elaborate through your work?
Not necessarily. I don’t work on purpose, I let my thoughts emerge and I like it that way. Sometimes I feel that themes might keep an artist restrained, but since I don’t work that way I let my paintings be personal. I don’t feel my art should be something particular. I do have some obsessions with certain concepts, which they help me elaborate on my work when it comes to my own technique, but this is as far as I take it. I want to expose particular themes. I am pleased when people perceive my art and create bonds, which works as food for thought for them. One of my teachers used to say that art is the space between the viewer and the painting. So, this is where my art lies. This is the way art should be anyway.
8. I feel that this could be interpreted as a theme by itself. Some artists might do some pieces and then for the sake of being accepted in the art world, they come up with some sort of concept they never thought about just to fit in a box. So, please share with us then what made you become an artist?
To be honest, I wanted to become an architect as my cousin influenced me. But then I realised I was terrible in maths. Going into an art school was almost an accident. I travelled all the way to Hungary for my studies but I couldn’t learn the language so during my stay there, I was having private art lessons and then realised that I wanted to do Fine Arts. When I was in my third year of art school I realised that this was my dream. I always liked art and people were telling me that I was good at it but I couldn’t really understand that myself. I entered art school ranking last and I then worked really hard and I could not abandon it. I always painted as kid, but that was as much as I can remember.
9. Then who is your favourite artist and what is your source of inspiration?
I don’t have anyone specific. I examine and observe several artists all the time and I like specific pieces not specific artists. Lucian Freud and Francis Bacon had a massive impact in my work. I realised that after many years of practicing. When I was researching Bacon and Freud I didn’t realise that they were the main catalysts influencing my development as an artist. My source of inspiration? I just want to sit back and paint. I don’t have anything specific that inspires me. My brain is always working, as I am observing my surroundings. I told you already that the human body is my main interest. Mostly women, but that’s completely without a reason. Therefore, I enter my studio and simply work. This is my way of living; this is my main source of inspiration.
10. Is there a specific life-event that stigmatised you as an artist? Something specific that worked as turning point in the way you are tackling your pieces?
Yes, a teacher that used to teach me back when I was in art school, Manolis Polymeris. It was the first time I have ever seen an artist in my life working and the fact that he was working so obsessively and neurotically to create an artwork stigmatised me. It was at that specific moment that I realised how art should be created. Most people see the end result in a painting, not the procedure. But studio practise is what art really is. Art is studio practise, not the result of a painting. So yes, Manolis Polymeris was the only person that made me realise what art really is.
11. Then what do you think is the purpose of art in the world? Should it have a purpose?
There is a tendency around the world where people think that things have a purpose only if they relate to everyone. If this is the case, then art will never be able to have a purpose. BUT, since some people sacrifice their entire lives working for art, developing both as humans and as artists around it, motivating other human beings, then art has entirely its own purpose. Not everyone will get its purpose and that is perfectly fine. It is enough if art goes back in motivating people to create more in any field they choose to be involved with.
12. How do you see yourself in the future?
In a studio, working and creating. If this thought will provide me with money to make living, that is another story. I don’t think I will be staying in Cyprus for the rest of my life but I am not leaving now. For the time being, I am happy here. I don’t have any personal ambitions; I just want to work in my studio.
13. And finally, since you are relatively young in age, what are the messages you want to deliver to the younger generation and especially those that aspire to be part of the art world?
The world today is structured in a way that it is easy for us to lose the substance and the meaning of life. Even if you are very ambitious, you have to understand what the substance of life is. That’s the only thing that will make you successful. Everything else does not really matter. There is a tendency for young artists to start their career from the ‘ending point’ – this is how I call it – because they focus more on the economic aspect of their career and not their own personal development. But this will not take you anywhere. This was not the main reason a person choses to become an artist. If you are interested in becoming famous, practising art is not the place to become one.
November 1, 2015
Last week I had the privilege to interview Gerry Judah in his studio in London.
Gerry Judah’s background has roots from Baghdad. Born in Calcutta and raised – until the age of ten – in West Bengal. At the age of ten his family and siblings moved to London. What affected his artistic development was the dramatic landscapes of India, the theatrical rituals of the synagogues and the deeply historic architecture of its temples. Having experienced post-war Britain and austere London led him to the need in finding inner peace by conjuring imaginary landscapes and architectural pieces along with futuristic unconventional cars and thus explored himself into art schools. He is a graduate of Goldsmiths College, University of London and Slade School of Fine art, UCL. Judah was not satisfied with conventional galleries when it came to exhibit his own work. Working in innovative design – film, television, theatre and museums as a set designer, installation artist, sculptor and painter his knowledge is very broad. Interestingly he created sculptures for Ferrari, Porsche, Audi, and Jaguar, etc at the annual Goodwood Festival of Speed. He even designed bridges in London, Cambridge and Sheffield. Judah was asked by the Imperial War Museum to create something about the Holocaust Exhibition and it was then when he began t make art born of his reflections on historical events. He created large three-dimensional paintings exploring the devastation of war and the ravages man has made upon the environment.
1) We all know that you are an installation artist, painter and sculptor. What do you think conceptual art is? What is the purpose of it in the world?
My original understanding of conceptual art was way back when I was at Goldsmiths College. Artists like Marcel Duchamp and the Dada movement were highly influential, when they focused on the concept of art rather that what it looked like and so we were all attracted to it, during that period. In a sense, conceptual art for me is something which puts across the significance of what we are looking at, in relation to art and the history of art. That for me is how I see the purpose of art. When someone like Damien Hirst breaks into the scene there is a strong connection between what he does and Duchamp in a sense that he is playing with the history of art and those of it which I find particularly interesting.
2) What is the purpose of it then? Is it far from the being part in ‘history of art’?
I don’t think it needs to have a purpose really. I tend to differ my point of view. As an artist I want to address on a wider public realm and when I went to study Fine Art at Goldsmiths and Slade of course there was a strong connection between art history and what we were doing in relation to art history. But when I went to the big wide world on the commercial arena, I found that art was way beyond art history. It was about how you connected with the public, how you entertained the public. I worked in theatre, film, exhibitions and museums and so forth and we were dealing with a much wider audience than art history. So on that level, I don’t feel I owe to the history of art to do what I do. If it makes history, if it doesn’t make history – it doesn’t mean a thing to me. What means to me is what is says in the “now” and to whom I am talking. So I take on issues such as conflict, religion, climate changes, which are present to what, is going on in the world today. I feel as an artist that is where my boundaries lie and I don’t feel I owe it to conceptual art, to the art world and I certainly don’t feel I owe to the history of art. Same thing with film, I love films that entertain me. That speak to me that connect to me about the story they are saying. So I like to tell stories. My paintings are about telling stories. They are related to geopolitics, my history, and my spiritual upbringing that are far more important to me than the history of art. Of course though, I owe to art history on one level because it gives the intellectual facility to be able to be far more critical about what it is that I do and what I see. But that is as far as I take it. To be honest, a lot of artists try very hard to link themselves in that world, but I think they could take themselves a lot further. I often find that connecting art history all the time is a bit boring because it doesn’t go beyond its own limitation. Sorry if I sound dismissive.
3) Not at all. We have seen through your work that you tackle motifs of destruction, the portrayal of war, climate change, religion and so forth. I want to know whether these choices are conditioned by political and historical considerations rather than by artistic ones.
To be honest, they are primarily connected to artistic considerations. I use politics, religion and war as concepts purely to create a structure upon which I can approach how I am developing my language as a painter. My canvases are 3D-canvases and they are connected to people like Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns, which were a massive influence on me. Artists like that that took themselves further from the canvas and played with installations and how far you can take a painting. So when I have buildings emerging out of my canvases they are really three-dimensional paintings. When I saw warzones in Beirut, Gaza and Baghdad – which of course I am connected to them because of my historic background- my reflections of them were big white texture canvases. I saw shadows; light and these are things that strike me as a visual artist. So my responses to these issues are more visually artistic responses. Yes, I am trying to work within the regions of history, social history and geopolitics but primarily I connect on the language of the painting. So, going back to what I said previously, I think there is a strong connection to history of art and what I do but not on a conceptual level but more on a level of artistic practise. It is all connected. As human beings we are trying so hard to connect all our histories together, from wherever they are come from because they make us who we are. So my artistic, social and religious backgrounds are intertwined. In this way, I tell my own stories and places. When I did the Holocaust in the Imperial War Museum; that to me was an epic painting. It was flat, a model but it was telling a story of the days of people back then, stories of death and I managed to create a shimmer that draws the audience in it. That shimmers with light, emotion. But when you go more to it is simply a painting.
4) So why do you use white in most of your pieces?
Colours tell you what to see, I use white because I don’t want to tell people what to see. I want to show something people will see for themselves.
5) Is there a life event, something that triggered you to focus on the issues you address through your work?
Yes – I was particularly taken by the wars between Palestinians and Israelis. I am Jewish so seeing the big landscapes covered in dust, remains of towns and streets and they were all leveled by light and shadow. That feeling strikes me in something very powerful. That historical connection as a Jew; I felt that sense of who is the victim who is the perpetrator. History has set me off on a path. So I felt it was time for me as an artist to go back to my current geopolitical considerations – and on what is going on in he world today.
6) While producing a piece do you ever improvise both in the concept and in practice as you go along?
I constantly discover all the time. I know what I want to do – sort of. I am interested in wind, the fragility of wind, destruction and all these are barons of buildings in Baghdad, Lebanon and Gaza. I sort of knew my recurring themes in my work. I know the format I want to work with but so much of my work is peeling away. The pieces I do with buildings are complete structures and I destroy them on the canvas. I take an entire settlement and destroy it. I do that until I get what I want to see in my work. A painting is only finished when you stop looking at it and it looks back at you.
7) Should art be something aesthetically pleasing? Or should it deliver some deeper meanings?
It can do whatever it wants. I don’t care.
8) Okay then, how about your own art?
Art is what you make of it. Its like music, you can’t say music should be like this or like that. It’s a place you go and say what you want to say. Some art is beautiful, some art is challenging, some art is moving. What I don’t like in art especially in galleries, is when you look at a painting and there is a panel next to it telling you what the artist is saying. I’d rather enjoy art for itself. Sometimes is good to get the issues on which the artist was preoccupied with. That I can relate to. But I don’t like telling what I should be looking for.
9) How do you approach your work? Does it require extensive research or do you simply focus on your personal reflections?
All of my projects have something in common – they all commemorate something. The car sculptures I do commemorate the history of those car companies. I suppose the piece on St. Paul’s Cathedral was a particular example of taking commemorating on a different level. When I was asked to put my canvases on the walls of St. Paul’s I thought I should do something particular. They wanted to commemorate the First World War so I thought I’d rather take the main images of the First World War, which was the white cross. So I contemporized the war that still goes on today. Note the Sykes-Picot Agreement, the current conflict of ISIS, Syria, Iraq that are all fought now because of the boundaries of the First World War or its aftermath. So in that sense, the buildings on the white crosses are reflections of Gaza. In a sense they made me make a statement in St. Paul’s Cathedral. So yes, I do research to make all these historic connections. I also saw how the cross has been a symbol of violence. A structure upon people sacrificed their own lives. So expressing this vigorous violence required research. The Bengal pieces from my latest exhibition came out due to my visit in India. I was in India to study some things about climate change and I went to Bengal where I grew up and during the period I was there, it was the Durga Puja Festival. They built these temples all over the country, in villages and towns, which were filled with amazing internal structures and panels and intrigued me to start working. Also, while I was there I was looking at the power stations that were burning coal and they were polluting the environment; more specifically the chimneys that destroyed the environment. So, I took the power stations and translated them into my work. My pieces were preoccupied with these power stations with the internal structure of Puja and the typical rituals of India. Such things are the embodiments of what I like doing, from the visual and iconic perspective to the entire emotion of India. I also did temples out of ashes and dust to indicate pollution, with electric candles, the Jewish ones. I am trying to mix all the cultures I was exposed to. So, there is a personal touch in what I do.
10) I would like to ask you about your presence in Goodwood Festival of Speed. It is something entirely different than what I am looking at here in your studio. How come that you produce sculptures of futuristic unconventional cars?
Well it pays for this (laughter). The problem is that people usually tend to get typecast. The feeling of “how you can do this and yet do that?” One of the things I enjoy when I left art school is that I went out to the big world, worked in theatre, photography film and big museums. An artist should constantly be challenged to do something different. The problem with a lot of artists is that they very much hold into their practice. I like to be completely open. All of my pieces (whether they differ visually) – they are all connected. They are part of me as an artist. My practice is to constantly change what I do. I don’t want to be known as the artist who designed all these futuristic cars but these are the people paying me to do what I do. I am constantly exploring. So these sculptures of cars have more to do with the language of sculpture rather than cars. Cars are embellishes to me, to know what the sculpture is really about.
11) Describe yourself both as an artist and as a person.
I don’t think there is an answer to this question. I love being in my studio, enjoy this one-to-one relationship with my canvas. When I was a child, my father took my everyday to the synagogue because he was a very spiritual man. Everyday I would sit amongst these men and watch them pray. Somehow I felt that that prayer, and the constant facing they did with God was part of the building and that was a very profound and moving to me. But for some reason, I never connected to it on religions terms, but I feel very spiritual about it. These men that were able to pray every day had some sort of connection with God and that in that way I was connected too but not in the same way they were connected. So, I had to find some other way to reach that sense of prayer and expression, and it was then that I wanted to become an artist. I wanted something to transcend me. So, when I come to the studio, I feel as if I am coming into my own temple, in the place I pray in my own way. I relate with my pieces, emotionally and historically – the languages of art, history, politics. I am a very spiritual person therefore and this is where my work lies. This has an intrinsic power to it, which does not rely on art history to guide it. It relies on what I feel, my own sense of prayer. Don’t get my wrong. Not the traditional way of prayer. I didn’t connect with that traditional sense of prayer. I was connected as a kid and as an adult today, with that sense of spirituality, the sense of real devotion. I don’t like that that devotion which tells people what to be devoted to. The word that guides me through everything is devotion. I am devoted to what I do, as I am to my family, to my people, to my friends, to my culture and society. This is another level of devotion.
12) I completely agree with you, history has a dirty background. It requires devotion to be able to translate all your histories as a human being in your pieces. It’s a big thing to do so masterly. So, on this level, I want to ask you, how do you see yourself professionally?
How do you see yourself in the future? Still breathing I hope. I don’t know. I don’t see the future. I cannot answer that. Ambition? I don’t have any ambition. I never had any ambition. I strive for excellence in what I do. That is good enough for me. I leave ambition for others.
13) Finally, what are the messages you want to deliver to the youngest generation, especially those that aspire part of the art world?
Don’t ask me about the art world, I don’t have any relationship with the art world. I like the world. What I would advice young people are: you just need to keep doing it. Get up and be devoted in whatever you do. Don’t be afraid reinventing yourself; don’t be afraid in doing something different. Be fearless in what you do.
October 14, 2015
Spotted in the 6th Moscow Biennale of Contemporary Art. We all know him or will know him in a few. Yanis Varoufakis. Known as the Former Greek Finance Minister, he was one of the key figures to speak in the 6th Moscow Biennale of Contemporary Art.
Whether one praises Varoufakis or not, is really irrelevant.
His speech had something to offer in the intended audience and beyond: the interpretation of art and music under the umbrella of the political. In my attempt to catch all the important pieces of what he was trying to offer – I had to listen to the speech several times and scrutinise it- I must admit that at first I was shocked. Varoufakis was addressing an audience obviously interested in the arts (they were attending the Moscow Biennale after all). To start off a speech at such an event with the acknowledgement of the minor position of the Ministry of Culture into a Cabinet, especially on issues regarding policy changes, was quite a challenge. After all, Varoufakis has always been like that. Unexpected. As I was moving along, I realised the whole essence of his argument, and the reason of his presence in the Biennale, which at first was unclear.
Varoufakis is no art critic and we know it. His attempt and process to isolate the aesthetic from the musical has always been outlandish to him. Interestingly, however, he does not undermine and adversely understands completely the essentiality of art within a society, as some political figures have failed miserably in doing (I’d rather not elaborate right now, maybe some other time). Instead, as a young radical, he used – perhaps consciously or subconsciously – the importance of the arts in understanding various political and social conflicts. Most importantly, the message is that art has something important to offer when investigating the culture of one’s country and more specifically events that have stigmatised the domestic and international arena. The Guernica for instance, which provides the essence of the Spanish Civil War. Through the eye of the artist an individual ought to recognize any economic or political difference or even indifference for that matter.
So far so good, I completely agree with him and admire what he is trying to say. Yet, another important bit of his speech appeared to be dubious to some. The Eurozone Crisis. We’ve met him reining a parade against the Eurozone. That’s how people got to know Varoufakis. Yes, indeed, the common currency is outstandingly terribly constructed, and perhaps has failed to deliver the purpose of its existence. But, the ambiguity of his argument came along when he spent a considerable amount of time focusing on how the markets are failing, with little reference to how art and culture is influenced by that, but in the end established his point quite clearly.
I’d rather not comment on the other sections of his speech. I am choosing to reinterpret the importance of politics in the arts. But we ought to think of it outside the box, without any prejudices. The history of the world, whether it is politically or socially related, has a dirty background. Europe is no exception. The world as we know it today encourages individuality, doing things separately, hiding behind our masks. Again, European countries are no different. The effort for integration has failed. The vision for a common currency has disappointed Europeans. The reason is quite clear: European political leaders have not encouraged the European countries to combine the economic with the political, the socioeconomic with the artistic and most importantly the heritage culture of one country with the arts of another country. Instead, this lethal division has caused countries to drive apart.
Hence, the rise of individuality has had a devastating impact in promoting a collective understanding of one’s civilization. Perhaps Varoufakis was trying to address the loss of identity, which is subsequently behind the core value of the common economic currency. Or maybe he was trying to address that art and culture was undermined due to the excessive need of the powerful elite to focus on economics and politics instead of the artistic. I cannot decide.
The last statement though, says it all. I am keeping that. “Artists should be feared by the powerful”. Artists are part of the cultural industry. They are part of the aesthetic in a society. Culture is the only industry that tends to fight capitalistic ideas and go against the system, create new ideas and movements. Artists have the capability to overthrow the status quo. Something the powerful dread.
Well done Varoufakis.
October 3, 2015
It is easy to discover some artists and movements that are famous and have had an impact in the field of art with their distinctiveness. Artists like Monet, Turner and Cézanne. People do that all the time. They familiarise themselves with important and acknowledged movements like Romanticism, Realism and Expressionism, but often neglect a momentous sparkle of art behind the great movement of revolutionary art.
By no means am I implying that the known movements have not altered the course of history. Of course they did, but in a different context. Today’s emerging revolutionary art, however, has something else to offer to the international community. Having all these in my subconscious, I accidentally read online about an imperative Syrian artist, Tammam Azzam.
Few months back, before the outbreak of the media that focused on the immigration issue of many Syrian refugees (which, by the way, has been a pressing issue for many years now), a picture of a war torn building was all over the media. Tammam Azzam declared his own revolution by enlisting one of the most famous mainstream kisses in Western art as an act of protest against the war in Syria. As a matter of fact, it echoes the Berlin Wall graffiti picture of Erich Honecker and Leonid Brezhnev back in 1979, who were practising the fraternal socialist kiss. Azzam has created rebellious and dissenting art by photoshopping Gustav Klimt’s painting The Kiss on a destroyed savaged Syrian building.
The impact? Exceptional! Azzam made art out of his own reflections of contemporary events by exploring the destructions of war by men. The Kiss delivers a romantic, idealistic image of the purity of love. Inspired by Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, that a kiss is made for the whole world, it explicitly states the universality of two people connecting through a kiss and the strong feeling of love in a simple painting.
Such an image on a Syrian bombed wall delivers mixed feelings to the audience. Certainly, there is a consistent element of critique in Azzam’s approach to Klimt’s masterpiece. As I perceive this, I can extract a dichotomy between Western arts against the non-Western conceptualisation. There is that resilient attitude which is open to interpretation. The existing distinction between the western world and “other”- the alien culture- which is non-westernised has always been around. Yet, the main priority of a contemporary artist is that art should connect and not dichotomize. Azzam’s point, therefore, is well established. Apart from that, there is an important subtext in using a Western masterpiece. In a delicate way, Azzam’s main emphasis focuses on Klimt’s theme of universality and successfully illustrates, in his photoshopped work, the idea that we are all citizens of the same world.
We have seen how empathy restricts its boundaries only to the first world. I cannot help but wonder if the main message of Azzam’s piece is that violence should be dismantled, whoever the perpetrator might be. Some would say that art is there to ease the mind, however revolutionary art seeks something else – to unease the mind in an emblematic way; to make the audience consider who’s in and who’s out.