Harry Marandi and Timothy Hall - 2 on Three Works

Three works by Evanthia Tsantila

  1. Ramona project. Summer 95’. 10 artists invited to take part in a one-day show in a building with uncertain future - either to be demolished or renovated.

  2. Harbour project. August 97’ Exhibition sponsored by UNESCO, Paris dept. Women artists of the Mediterranean and Black Sea. Part of the Cultural Capital programme, Thessaloniki 98’.

  3. French Institute Project. June 98’ Collaboration with the Thessalonikian based artist Richard Whitlock. In the Institutes Gallery site, which is a converted theatre, each artist constructs two objects and one drawing or draught directly on to the gallery wall.

While these three projects have marked differences there are themes and questions running through these works which are clearly identifiable. The fulcrum around which these questions turn is the question of the modern gallery as the site of possibility for the production and exhibition of art. To what extent can the institution of the modern gallery still sustain a vital artistic practice? This question, this enquiry is, we believe, at the centre of Evanthia Tsantila’s work.

A number of strategies for opening this question are discernible in the above works.

(a) In an attempt to get beyond the work of art as spectacle Evanthia Tsantila attempts to substitute immersed modes of viewing. Ideally the viewer would come to ‘notice’ the work in the same way that we might be struck by the aspect of a building that we were in and that we hadn’t previously noticed. The art work’s status as an object to be contemplated, fore-grounded by the gallery site in which it is mounted, is seen as a relation that needs to be dissolved and overcome. The interrogation of the gallery space is carried out on the premise that gallery space and the possibilities for viewing and exhibiting it produces constitute an institutional optics, which at the same time is a norm for being a citoyen of the art world. However imaginative the possibilities this logic generates are, what remains undisturbed is its terms: object-work exhibited/ viewer contemplating it, thus the possibilities the logic of the gallery space creates are not ‘real’ possibilities, and this not in the sense that the relations the gallery produces are ‘illusory’, but in the sense that such logic cannot genuinely transform its own fixed terms. What is encouraged in Evanthia Tsantila’s work is another modality, instead of the ‘aesthetic’ and the ‘disinterested’, the ‘distracted’ and the ‘immersed’ ways of experiencing. This strategy is manifest in the Ramona project where the blue shapes are placed in such a way (half-concealed, off-centre, little too high, etc.) that they are not immediately noticeable. Similarly with the installation in the French Institute. There is no object confronting the viewer. There is nothing exhibited. Rather the object merges with the ground (the gallery space itself) that is supposed to foreground it. These works intrigue another relation both to themselves as objects and to the immediate spatial relations of the gallery itself. Instead of self-consciously, shuffling before works placed by the artist for our contemplation we go in search of the work or let the work come in search of us. As direct reflections/interventions on their environment, these works open up the possibility of another relation to our environment beyond the logic of the exhibition site. The possibility of another relation is not simply one more meaning added to the ones we already have as viewers, in this sense her work is not didactic, is not teaching the viewer a more developed aesthetic mode of experience, or the hidden truth about gallery spaces. The works themselves by refusing to be exhibited overturn the logic that sets them up as works to be exhibited, and they do so immanently, in their constitution as works. This strange logic which the work makes possible comes to expose the self-assured logic of the exhibition gallery: by taking away from or making it awkward for it to have an object; comes to interrupt the prejudicial meaning of the viewer: always expressed as a disappointment that ‘there is nothing to see’; and forces the artist to relinquish her intentional control, since she does not know in advance what the work would or would not make possible. This entails that the work becomes the place holder of our critical self-reflection, or rather the work is the attempt to make space for such reflection to begin, and this is also the reason why her work appears to break out of the strictly aesthetic - but only through aesthetic means- and search for a conceptual truth.

(b) The second strategy inscribing her work is, of course, one conditioned by where she is coming from: installation art. For installation art the work is in the way the object is placed or mounted in the gallery space. The artistic process assimilates - or better still arrogates to itself - the curatorial practice of ‘positioning’ or ‘placing’ completed works of art in such a way that they can best be viewed. For Evanthia Tsantila’s installations - as for other installation artists as well - there is no clear boundary line between work and the decisions on how it is best exhibited. Artistic and curatorial practice collapse into one another leaving neither as it was before. A work can no longer afford to be indifferent to the site in which it is exhibited. Equally reflection on where to place the object-work finds itself without any longer an object to curate.

The work for the installation artist is the mounting or the positioning of the object in the gallery site. This came to be the case because the gallery site no longer self - evidently could claim to be the ground or support on which to view works. The neutrality of the modern exhibition site (white walled, windowless, brightly lit) came to be questioned. Perhaps these were not the ideal conditions under which to view works. Perhaps the gallery was tied to paintings and sculpture and was no longer suitable for works in which the support was the gallery site itself and not just the wall on which it is mounted. The possibility arises that galleries built primarily to house collections of paintings and sculptures, preclude the very moves that contemporary art needs to make when it no longer believes painting and sculpture is viable. The question then returns can the gallery site serve as the ground and support of the work of art anymore?
Evanthia Tsantila’s work responds with a qualified affirmation. The gallery site continues to be the site of possibility for her because she doesn’t underestimate the difficulty of escaping from the modern gallery. For her the gallery institutes a way of looking at objects and it is this that must be challenged. To exhibit in alternative sites (houses, everyday settings, disused factories and harbour buildings, natural settings etc.) serves simple to reproduce these conditions - the conditions, that is, under which works of art are viewed - elsewhere. The point is that the installation artist is not liberated from the gallery by the mere fact that he or she exhibits in alternative settings. For the above mentioned works there was still a spatial relation to be recovered/discovered in the harbour project as there was in the Ramona project. Even though these tensions were different from the French Institute work there remained a gallery logic to be overcome.
In the harbour project her work was precisely to find and restate the only site that fell outside the official exhibition space. The work was the room nobody noticed although it is backing onto the gigantic space that has come to be used frequently for group projects. This way the work became the non-exhibition space which was placed at the centre of a domestic scene of viewing (chair and table where if one was seated one would watch the screen) and annulled viewing as such, not only the thematised viewing of the installation but also the viewing that was promoted by the seductiveness of the exhibition site with its big windows opening directly onto the sea.

(c) These works have a peculiar ephemeral character. The effect of constructing them in situ and tying them to the site in which they are exhibiting is to imbue the works with a life of their own. The character of this existence is best illuminated when we reflect on what is to become of these works - literally what happens to these objects after the exhibition. In the case of the Ramona project the works are tied to the uncertain future of the building. Whether the building is demolished or renovated. This uncertainty and transitoriness permeates the work itself. Evanthia Tsantila makes works that have a very definite duration whether this is the duration of the exhibition or the fate of the building itself. These works cannot be re-installed without substantially changing the work itself. As works they are bound to the particularity of their situation. Whether this takes the form of an intervention in an architectural space, or an image of a concealed back room as in the harbour project. Our own finitude is reflected in these works. Their uncertain fate is our own.

Harry Marandi and Timothy Hall
London, April 1999