Anna Kafetsi on Venice Biennale Project

Untitled - Greek Pavilion, 48th Venice Biennale

Introductory comment on a work in genesis

The artistic activity of Evanthia Tsantila up to the present can best be understood in the context of a powerful artistic trend which has been in force since the Sixties, in which the conditions for the presentation of a work in the space, as well as its more general relationship with the special characteristics of a specific site, constitute the fundamental object for visual reflection and query. Although similar practices may have different motivations from one movement to another, not to mention the different methods by which the phenomenology of a site is approached or even the means by which a dialogue is opened with it, itself in terms of artists quests, above and beyond any cultural, social or institutional dimensions. This is valid both for the artists who are endeavouring to pin down the principles of our perceptive experience in space and time and for those who either set off from metaphilosophic starting points and quests focused on communication, or are seeking in nature alternative possibilities to the limits of architectural space or a museum. Within such a broad artistic spectrum, the real space is at times confronted as a neutral, empty receptacle, while at others it is treated as an environment in which the work of art develops interactive relations with specific architectural elements (walls, floor, ceiling) or the site itself. The means used do not always preserve the palpable, visual conceptuality and the replacement of the material form with the idea, the process, the attitude. It is sufficient for one to traverse the arc leading from the early minimalists to the conceptual artists and from there to the representatives of land art to conceive of the focused interest, in all its many forms, of an expanded sculptural act when treating the problem of space. Moreover, the original rupture which occurred with the works done in situ in the Seventies, involving the organization of artistic activity in the context of a given exhibition, and the establishment of the ephemeral, although in our times it has shed its provocative character, it continues to liberate artists from the obligation to pile up works, ready or exclusively for sale. Creative energy is thus channeled into other levels of the human psyche, such as, for instance, in mind or thought, invalidating or even maintaining in a state of potentiality the manual or morphoplastic process. A site specific work, even when it has been draughted with absolute technical precision, or is described in its specific details through diagrams and other connected graphic elements, retains the character of the unexpected until it is completed. This is true above all in those cases where the stipulations of the creative game are the continual transformation of the original conceptions and the lingering elusiveness of the final work. The work of Evanthia Tsantila, now in the process of creation, can be incorporated into this framework, without actually excluding the possibility of an open paradigmatic chain of possible works to be carried on in a conceptuality form beyond the sensible work at the Greek pavilion, in a virtual space, such as an electronic computer, for example. The passages with the artists thought, which are subsequently placed selectively side by side, emanate from various concrete moments of time during the conception and processing of the basic project, as stated by the oral and written communication between us, and describe the first reaction arising from the inspection and the feel of the space-matrix, the initial ideas, the changes to which they were subjected, the probable or possible modifications in the manner of execution, the choice of material and technological means, and fortuitous or objective (financial and technical) difficulties. The reader will thus have the opportunity to observe tergiversations, changes, corrections and, more generally, repentir, a condition not unknown to the traditional genetic process. The difference lies in the fact that the repentir involved in traditional art is latent and is covered by the visible surface of the work, laying its claim to participate in the entire productive process on equal terms. In the most recent instance of this process, one finds three possible versions for dealing with space, of which the final one will be realized. Photorealist preliminary drawings and plans of the space by means of computer illustrate all three proposals.

And a postscript

As can be seen from the preceding description of the creative process, the questions with which the artist must deal change from one proposal to another, as well as the strategies for the treatment of a specific architectural space. These questions prompt her to make an inquiry into the spatial relations, the relationships between the represented space and the real one, the artistic object and the space as an exhibition site, always in reference to the viewers perceptual experience. The relationships of the inside to the outside are thus scrutinized, and the possibilities for the opening up of the closed space is sought out along with that intersection where antithetical and apparently counterbalancing forces apparently meet within it. This is achieved with the assistance of quasi immaterial technological means, such as light, which in each instance, diffused by means of spotlights or concentrated in thin beams which are broadcast by laser apparatus, is used as a neutral –in terms of expression- tool, outside any rationale applying to formalistic aestheticism. When the final stage of the process is apparently reached, or in any case is being realized, the artist provides for representation in a linear manner of a smaller, rectangular parallelepiped traverse the side walls of the building by means of four apertures, and thus extend into the external space. The viewer, once he is inside the pavilion, has no immediate visual experience of the work. He is only able to perceive conceptually –and is assisted in this by the presence of the small openings- that at another chronological moment would also be open to visual perception. In essence, the work describes, using as its linear means thread-like beams of light, the shape of relationship to it. At the same time, it borrows its architectural properties –it is perimeter of the various levels which are formed, delineates a space within the space, which becomes sensible and open to the viewer as physical experience, as the content inside a grey container. Nevertheless, despite their similarities, during the perceptual experience, the artistic space and the real one are perceived as being different. The first is what it is, that is, a space that can be visited without being architectural, which the second one is. From this point of view it is negatively defined in regard to the space-matrix and thus the first opposition between them is established, between what is built and not built. In any case, the presence of the represented, the fictive space which is experienced like the real one without being so, places the reality of the built space in doubt. The questions the viewer is faced with are obvious; what is real and what is not? What differentiates that which ordinary reason accepts as real from the non-real? Its use? Its non-ephemeral character? The choice of an energetic material, such as the laser beams, intensifies the perceptual uncertainty lying between the two situations, of being and non-being, which is further heightened by another objective factor: the constant deactivation –and subsequent reactivation- of the work for safety reasons, whenever the viewer approaches those areas from which the light is transmitted. One observes that the artistic object which does not desire to express or convey any another aesthetic message outside these questions, which create the position it occupies and its condition in space, offers itself as a material for reflection but also as a means of access to the essence of the real. In this sense, it transcends its palpable character and is transposed into a conceptual field. A dual strategy can be recognized in this undertaking of Evanthia Tsantila. One the first level, the space is appropriated, she occupies it through a process of its repetition, apparently forming an identity with it, since the artistic object is shown to be the faithful depiction and imitation of the rectangular, architectural “box”. On a second level, however, this “cognitive” process is succeeded by an extremely deconstructive one. The fact that the wall is breached so that beams of light can be directed through opened apertures in a dynamic exodus, reveals not only an energy of impetuous rejections, but a refutation of the specific built space in terms of its objective obligations and limitations. Of far greater importance, it establishes a transcendence of the real through which the perceptual field is expanded, as well as the artists horizon of intervention. If, therefore, the specific endeavour posits primary questions related to the phenomenology of the perception as an artistic act of liberation. From this point of view we can say that the artistic problem related to space slides from the conceptual to the existential level.

Anna Kafetsi
Commissioner of the Greek participation in the 48th Venice Biennale

Published in the catalogue for the Greek Pavilion, 48th Venice Biennale, 1999