Wolf Jahn, On Neutral Ground - The work of Evanthia Tsantila

On Neutral Ground - The work of Evanthia Tsantila

The question of the nature of art may be just as futile as that of the nature of objects. It is revealed neither by art nor by ordinary objects. It is promised neither by art nor by everyday objects. Possibly only one order of art analogous to that of things exists: an order of autonomy or non-autonomy, of the white cube, of context, or one in accordance with the given political discourse of the day. Nevertheless, the question of the nature of art plays a decisive role in Evanthia Tsantila’s work, though not so much relating to its nature as to a particular aspect of its assumed existence: with regard to its distance-generating, more neutral than autonomous reality. In the process the work of art is always seen together with its surrounding: its (virtual) space and its place of exhibition. Or else it may be consciously confronted with other genres, such as architecture or literature. Thus, a site-specific form of art presents itself here, albeit one which links its actual location to the experience of neutrality, to, in Kant’s words, the ‘indifferent’ existence of art and its transcendence.
A good example of Evanthia Tsantila’s practice of art contextualization may be seen in her work for the 1999 Venice Biennale (Untitled, 1999), where lasers positioned inside the Greek pavilion traced the outlines of a second pavilion. Guided beams of light within the interior, as well as rays from the outside directed through holes in the wall, made the building’s architecture reappear a second time. With this work Tsantila initially reacted to a conflict she found evident, namely that the exterior of the building “does not prepare one in any way for what will be found inside”. (1) The immaterial reconstruction of the pavilion in the form of a laser drawing was a first approach to solving this conflict. The interior corresponded to the exterior in a type of structural analogy. However, the artist attached more importance to the double representation of the exhibition site – a venue, which precisely due to its prominence runs counter to the communicative aspect of a work of art. “Because”, as Tsantila states, “a Biennale is always overwhelming – the space and the purpose of the exhibition a priori overwhelms the works”. (2) Accordingly, the motif of reduplication in her work posed the question as to the identity of the space in order to infer from this a paradoxical situation for works of art. As Tsantila emphasizes, her work “lets the unavailability of meaning hang in the atmosphere of the dark room”. (3) Elsewhere, Tsantila furthermore speaks of the attempt “to ‘crack’ the given status of space which tends to neutralize the work and to create a new context which can exist autonomously and articulate its questions” (4)
Only a few other works have pursued the motif of reduplication as was the case in the installation in Venice. The drawing of an exhibition site presented at the French Institute Thessaloniki (Untitled, 1998) leaned in a similar direction. In an installation for two artists (in collaboration with Richard Whitlock), which revolved around the work process, she presented the exhibition space as a “multi-perspective outline of the gallery”. (5) “The works”, as is stated in an accompanying text, “seek to subvert the neutrality of the space in which they are exhibited” (6) Other works oppose this contextual ‘neutrality’ by other means, with the Berlin work in the Kunst-Werke (Crime and Punishment, 2002) standing out as one of the most complex of these. It is based on a literary source, Dostoevski’s Crime and Punishment, from which Tsantila adopted images and forms of dialogue. To speak here of neutrality would imply concentrating not only on the neutrality of the exhibition site, but also on that of the literary model. In this case it was transformed through a work-in-progress approach and personal appropriation. Staging the installation took four days (and this period was also considered part of the installation) before the public was finally granted limited access on the fifth day. In those four days a room was constructed and distinctly furnished with material based on Dostoevski’s novel. Then together with the artist an actor, Robert Beyer from the Schaubühne Berlin, took on the role of the murderer, and subsequently reported on the experience of playing this role. Finally, the following day, the artist gave the audience an account of her, preceding experiences per video (Familistere 1, 2002).
The construction and reconstruction of key scenes and spaces from Dostoevski’s novel thus take place in a phase before being appropriated by the public. Its exclusive ‘non-presence’ recounts the impossibility of its inclusive ability of active presence in the classical role play between theater and audience. Just as in the novel only an innocent fly, incapable of empirical knowledge, attends the murder – literary ‘being present’ in the act – in this way Tsantila as well initially stages the event without the public’s ‘inter-esse’. She deals with the neutrality or put another way, with the neutralizing aspect of the potentially ‘failing experience’ indirectly through the chronological sequence of events and the distinction between the processes of staging and subsequent ‘inter-esse’.
While architecture, literature, and performative art forms have stood in the focus of Tsantila’s work until now, the work she is currently planning for the Künstlerhaus Bethanien draws upon film, in particular Ingmar Bergman’s motion picture The Silence. Here scenes from the film are recreated in a pronounced detachment from the original. The video recordings will be accompanied by drawings, a medium that Tsantila has lately been employing with renewed frequency. In a type of motif-montage she merges the cinematic images with those drawn from her personal consideration of the movie. This mixing or crossover of various disciplines and practices expressly serves to clarify the ‘neutral’ foundation of art. Tsantila explains this form of analysis as follows: “In coming close to other practices, the aim is to earn the distance of fine art from these practices, to elucidate and specify the autonomous status of the work of art. To elucidate its solitude” (7)

Wolf Jahn
Hamburg, 2005

Translation – Sean Gallagher

—1— Evanthia Tsantila, in: [cat.] 48th Venice Biennale, Greek Pavilion, 1999 — # —2—Cf. fn. 1. — #—3—Cf. Fn. 1.—#—4—Cf. ft. 1.—#—5—Evanthia Tsantila in an unpublished text, 1998. —#—6— Harry Marandi-Hall, Timothy Hall, in: Evanthia Tsantila – Richard Whitlock, The French Institute (ed.), Thessalonica, 1998 (n/p) —#—7— Evanthia Tsantila, in: Any Place Any [cat.]: Makedonian Museum for Contemporary Art, Thessaloniki, 2004; p. 78.

Published in the BE Magazine, issue #12 “cosmetique”, Künstlerhaus Bethanien Berlin, 2005