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Τρίτη 8 Απριλίου 2014

Kostis Georgiou – Hortus Clausus

Space exists outside the door and inside the mind.
Antony Gormley


Contrary to popular belief, my opinion is that painting is not the suffering art; this title is rather reserved for sculpture, an art going through an existential crisis, directly linked with the constant turmoil public life has been in for many a decade now, shrinking dramatically under the invasion of the private, of the widespread herd mentality and also of policing, which exists side by side with violent delinquency, in an interactive relationship. In other words, the sculpture, separated from its natural space and its open, public function as an incarnate collective memory and as a tangible declaration of freedom, is almost wholly banished to museums, private collections and closed-off, closely guarded private spaces, luxury buildings or their gardens, fenced and protected as if they were a forbidden Eden. This is why modern scholars (Rosalind Krauss1) refer to sculpture as being homeless, desperately seeking its proper grounds.
Modern sculpture, especially its more experimental version, is by necessity housed in galleries, international foires or museums, modern buildings that accommodate banks or corporations, and less frequently in squares, parks, avenues or crossroads, which is where the monument tradition meets the opinion of the state, in the broad sense of the word, regarding what is aesthetically good. I would say that public art is proportional to the education or the aesthetics of the power that chooses it (for however long it chooses it) and promotes it (for however long it promotes it). The public sculptures that surround us, so long as they withstand the attacks of the vandals (who strive to be commended for their good taste), are products of committees, institutions, and specific political interventions. In this way, the "monuments" serve official propaganda, rather than collective memory or aesthetic needs. This is why I contended that sculpture is facing a crisis; because it is the art being stifled in search of space, while painting still enjoys the role of providing fetish images for the still ruling upper middle class.


Beyond the boundaries of sorrow,
there is nothing left but the convention of time and space.
Friedrich Hölderlin

Art is a machine of the imagination, tracing the confines of space and time and overturning the boundaries of History. The small but explosive tradition of modernism, on the other hand, was proclaiming its independence from all systems of History, and the post-modern was presented as the affirmation of historical continuity, so that the past is dynamically activated within the art of the present. I believe, however, that the distinction between modern and post-modern is rather schematic, since it culminates in incomplete, as well as radical forms. A work of art by definition contains the challenge of subversion and the seed of the new, since it propagandizes a "different" reality, a different social institution. On the other hand, because of the very fact that it represents a cultural value and a perceptible ideology, it is unavoidably presented as being connected to the dialectics of culturefollowing, in other words, a course parallel to the mechanics of History. So, today, making the most of the experience offered by the past, away from naive stereotypes and precast notions, one can delve into the core of the work of art and study it for what it is, and not for what some cultural authority systems force it to be. An art work cannot be perceived outside the dialectics of History, regardless of whether its ideological load functions as an affirmation of historical tradition or as its negation. It is one thing, however, to consciously study the evolution of the forms in space and time, and a totally different matter to attribute a superficial image to History, by outwardly imitating some styles in the way of an intercultural collage, as was so often the case in the previous decade – at least –, and with the aid of many theorists in the field of the post-modern.2
Taking all that into consideration, we endeavored to organize the present sculpture exhibition by Kostis Georgiou, as an experiment and a reflection into the dynamics of the "open" and the "closed" space; in other words, the public and the private (if we consider where and how we come to classify a museum in those terms). Thus we created an enclosed "garden," a hortus clausus in the museum's atrium, where the peculiar sculpted creatures of Kostis Georgiou will reside for one month, safe and free. Liberated from need or fear, hostility or vandalism, enigmatic and ambiguous, here they enjoy their selfish freedom revelling in the eyes of the spectators.
What do these sculptures represent?
Are they daemons from a time before the fall, mechanical super-flowers and trees, or zoomorphic puppets of the future? Do they tread on a safety tradition or are they being tried on quicksand? Are they fire walking in a self-destructing mode or are they preparing to take off? Do they operate as teams or are they eager to sever the bonds of dependence? Do they dream of public recognition or are they rushing to become part of the fruitless (for their nature as sculptures) domain of the private? Have they or have they not decided on their fate between the humanoid, the herbal and the animalistic, the authentic and the mediated, the plastic and the painted, the mass or the colour, the monumental or the minimalistic, the narration or the subjugation, the metaphor or the metonymy?


Walter Pater3 argues that romanticism is the point where paradox and beauty converge. Deviance, peculiarity, and distortion are all quality characteristics of Georgiou's sculptures, in addition to form moulding, minimalism, presenting part instead of the whole (eg. a disembodied head), and also the grotesque. In other words, everything that would very easily be attributed to the field of expressionism, with all its otherworldly (surrealistic?) elements. At any rate, romanticism is considered to be the precursor of both expressionism and surrealism in the 20th century.
To be more precise, we are dealing with sculpture that derives from painting, since its topics (zoomorphic or humanoid) have already appeared in older (painting) exhibitions of the artist. (In 1990 in his individual presentation at the Titanium gallery and his participation in the group exhibition "A reference to Bouzianis," Municipal Gallery of Athens, and in 1989 with the tribute to the French Revolution titled "6+6," Athens and Nîmes. All three of the exhibitions had an introductory note by the undersigned.)
Bulls, bull-leaping, rhinos, ferocious animals, figures surrendered to the colours of fire or the abyss, distorted beings begging or showing off their strength have always taken centre stage in Georgiou's art. Consequently, the transition to the three-dimensional comes as the natural evolution of a continuous study of forms and expressions. There is, after all, the example set by eminent artists (eg. Matisse, Picasso, Max Ernst, Magritte, and Dali, to name but a few representatives of the early avant-garde and surrealism), who combine painting and sculpture in a complementary way, also seen in other modern artists, such as Horst Antes or Thomas Schütte. Georgiou the sculptor, however, continues to make references to his immovable hero-artists, Willem de Kooning and Francis Bacon. Mythologizing monsters, monstrasizing beauty. And regardless of how his sculptures differ from his painting obsessions (graphic conveniences, visual conventions etc.), one can discern in them, however, a constant tendency to merge drama with the farcical, the rhetoric of the form with its self-negation, intensity with playfulness, the "pessimism" of the form with the "optimism" of the radiant colour. In other words, antithesis giving way to thesis.


This small retrospective exhibition presents in a concise way the experimentations and accomplishments of the sculptor-painter in the past twenty years. They comprise compositions initially moulded in clay, to be transferred later to a longer-lasting, more grandiose material: copper, bronze, polyester, aluminum. What is his concern? To study the boundaries between the human and the animalistic, the logical and the illogical, the frightening and the grotesque, the irony as content and the polished moulding as form. At the same time, to immerse his artistic fantasies, those creatures that exist between the obscurity of darkness and the serenity of light, in the realism of the sculpted forms. Now the outlines of a painting become intertwined levels, sometimes smooth, other times coarse, rough. Always prevalent, though, is the need for diligence of form for a final unity, no matter how its supplementary elements might sometimes diverge. For that reason, I believe that his sculpture has a tendency towards the classic, despite its experimental elements; its truth, in other words, is evident, as is its enigma. Designed to become part of an urban environment, in the depths of a city, not necessarily imaginary or idealized, it experiments with its sizes, increasing or reducing, in order for them to withstand the human presence. Very small, and they seem helpless; very big, and they seem invincible. You see, sculpture must always be surrounded by people. And people are not necessarily innocent, despite their good intentions. So the sculptor selects those sizes that impose themselves in the space without dominating it, thus aspiring towards an honest compromise with those who resent them or are unable to tolerate them. Maybe because their existence feels inferior to or uneasy with their own existence, despite the fact that, after all, people are much more fragile than sculptures and sculptures are much tougher than people.


Wake those who are sleeping,
leave those who are dreaming.
(Written on a wall in Athens)

Post-modernism's main attribute is that the image produced at breakneck speed by the electronic, now digital technology is detached from the locus, just like its representation is disconnected from the reference-concept that once contained it. The images now refer to other images and the signifiers, gaining their independence, echo other signifiers, while the inner coherence that once held them together has now been corroded. All those elements comprise a hyperreality, Baudrillard or Umberto Eco's hyper-réalité, which, with the illusionistic quality of its images shows that the boundaries between what is real and what is imaginary have been irrevocably eroded. "Reality," thus, is our personal relationship with this avalanche of hyperreal, deceptive images offered to us by the image-producing mechanisms of modern technology. Let's for example consider the televised image; while it pretends to be depicting the most real "reality," a reality ad extremum, the now wary consumer is aware that this is a wholly constructed impression, a "hypnotic behaviour" in the words of Guy Debord. A direct result of this phenomenon is Baudrillard's ominous conclusion that art today has become a parody of itself, since there is no reference to any content to distinguish it (simulations).
Monotheism's Jehovah considers the creation of simulacra, more precisely effigies depicting gods in human form, to be something dangerous, even blasphemous. This, however, is what "sculpture" means.4 Vasari clumsily claims that what the God of the Jewish, the Christians and the Muslims forbids is not the creation of sculptures, but their worship. Either way, sculpture enters the modern era bearing the stigma of sin. On the one hand in human form ‒ even when it claims to be "abstract" ‒ on the other hand in dispute with God, since it tries to usurp His right to creation.
In our time, Gormley, Schütte, Cragg, and Georgiou, professing a more general "post" mentality (postindustrial, postmodern, posthuman, etc.), suggest some human-like beings (humanoids) that hover between the golem's prediluvian clay and the robot's advanced technology.
What does sculpture want to convey, nowadays?
Why, an ontology of the form that is freed from moral preachings or self-righteous teachings, and the duty or the realization of that spirituality that slowly seeps through matter, in order to create what Bachelard called "the poetics of space." Sculpture, finally, ascribes its ontological characteristics to existence; that is why it incurs divine wrath.


To the degree that the world (and the language) of images is universal, it goes to say that the construction of images and their infusion with meaning have both a place and a time. Especially in Greece, whenever artistic production wants to break free from jabbering subjectivity or from vulgar fashions, it has no choice but to be influenced by the consciously ripening process of becoming acquainted with one's own country. Do linguistic archetypes affect the image-making process, or is it the other way round? Either way, if the indigenous school of thought has an identity, it owes itself to the shared linguistic consciousness and to all it represents on a social, historical, expressional, and psychoanalytical level.
In 1993 Kostis Georgiou chiseled and welded a 2.20 x 2.20 m Swastika, which oozed rust and filth. It was an ominously prophetic work; while it seemed to be settling scores with the European past, today it is disturbingly apropos (cf. "Eleftherotypia" newspaper, 21.10.1994). In 1998 the sculptor moves permanently towards coppersmithery, creating his first humanoids, the bull heads, the animals, and later the enormous porcupine, the flowers, the trees, as well as the clusters of acrobats, reminiscent of Picasso's rose period, among other things. When Spagnoletto was in love with the Cirque Medrano artists.
Gradually, gaining in sufficiency, Georgiou's sculptures travel the world, conveying their ironic ambiguity from New York to the newly-emerging metropolises in China, with their impressive museums, which, in turn, discover the Hortus Clausus and the symbols of an artist from the West. The Japanese Kan Yasuda, born in 1945, who creates his monumental forms in an intense decorative way, is likewise received both in Rome and in Venice (Museo Dei Fori Imperiali, 2007). Osmosis between East and West, interculturality, a breaking of the frontiers through art, transnational communication? There are times when individual artists do what ought to have been done by nations or international institutions with great resources and a long-term cultural plan.
The new Benaki Museum's atrium hosts an exhibition of some works that have already travelled halfway across the world: the Couple of 1997, the Guardian Angel of 2001, the threefold version of 1994's Equus, the Acrobats' pyramid, which began in the '90s and was completed this year. Conclusion: The journey continues and this is one of its very prolific stopovers. Where will the next stop be? Wherever the conditions are ripe for sculptures to be erected. After all, there is no ideal place for them; there never was. There always had to be a sort of prior compromise: From the Holy Rock of the Acropolis to the vast tomb of the Chinese Emperor. Because, unlike painting, sculpture doesn't suggest an ideal locus, opening ideal windows on blind walls; rather it exists in space, at the same time creating it, it surrenders to it, at the same time rearranging it, claiming a different kind of beauty that goes beyond the natural. Let us not forget, after all: "The art forms transcend the convention of space and time, comprising a suggestion of eternity..."5

Manos Stefanidis
December 2013

1 Passages in Modern Sculpture. Cambridge Mass: The MIT Press, 1977.
2 Manos Stefanidis, Small Gallery, Personas, crises and values of modern Greek art (Μικρή Πινακοθήκη, Πρόσωπα, κρίσεις και αξίες της νεοελληνικής τέχνης), Kastaniotis Editions, 2011, 4th edition, supplemented.
3 The Renaissance – Studies in Art and Poetry, Oxford University Press, 1998.
4 N.J.T. Mitchell, What do pictures want? The lives and loves of images, University of Chicago Press, p. 246: "Image-making is a dangerously godlike activity…"

5 Manos Stefanidis, A History of Painting (Μια ιστορία της ζωγραφικής), Kastaniotis Editions (1st edition), 1994, p. 15.

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