Venice

Costas Tsoclis

Greek Pavilion, Biennale

Amid the quite often didactic and scholastic seriousness pervading the Venice Biennale, the Greek Pavilion stood happily apart. Costas Tsoclis used the pavilion’s ample space as a public forum in which to reflect on two distinct entities: darkness and light. Within this space he set up a game of mirrors, sinking images and objects into the depth of illusion. Both the real and the reproduced met at an intangible threshold that defied the senses and logic. Underlying Tsoclis’ esthetic is a precise control over the potential of fiction: the mythical tale dissolves into ordinary reality short-circuiting perception with a highly charged emotional content.

In the room to the right of the pavilion’s central hall, the room of darkness, the portraits of four men and a woman, standing motionless against a dark background, occupied an entire wall. One’s first impression was of hieratic fixity, of an epical scenario achieved through the representation of human figures on a giant scale. But this effect was followed immediately by a perceptual scaling down of the figures—these were "everyday heroes,” ordinary people—and then came the surprise. The characters began to move, blink their eyes, swing their feet, bend their heads. They stepped down from their ideal pedestals and became human. The margin of irony—the fall of the idols—was achieved through an unexpected trick: videotapes of the paintings’ subjects, in the same poses in which they were portrayed, were projected onto the canvases, creating a synthesis of opposites. Although originating from two distinct structural planes, the pictorial and the technological, immobility and movement coexisted on the same surface.

In the central hall, in intense daylight, the theme was that of water, of the refraction of light, and, once again, of the deceptive nature of visual perception. The use of mirrors, incongruous surfaces, and a painting technique that imitated reality—was truer than the true—injected the room with a sense of the provisional, and dictated that the spectators concentrate their attention, even though the objects seemed to address them in a familiar language. In this space as well, one’s knowledge of the commonplace was brought into question by means of projections onto the canvases and strategically placed mirrors. Were the jagged rocks of the Greek terrain real or false? To what extent did the seduction of the deep blue sea reflect the stereotypes of tourism? Had the iron spears once belonged ’to ancient heroes, or were they remnants of contemporary urban constructions? Given the impossibility of distinguishing between a constructed reality and a fleeting appearance, the density of time and the fascination of the symbol were taken to task in the transformation of the solid into the provisional.

Tsoclis’ seductive objects obliged one to activate senses other than sight, to open oneself to a spectrum of esthetic experience. Touch could be used, as could hearing. From one side of the room, in fact, came the intermittent sound of falling water: a group of 100 faucets suspended high above the floor dripped water into a like number of metal buckets, with differentiated rhythms. This was a casual musical background, modulated by the same element of chance inherent in the events of nature. Yet it was reproduced according to a preestablished scheme. The artist played at pursuing the spectator’s senses even here, although he always remained in control.

In these works Tsoclis did not betray his ethnic provenance, his cultural inheritance of classical art and mythology; rather, he wedded it to an awareness of contemporary languages and to an irreverent use of technology He took neither gods nor men seriously, flitting through the loopholes of perception’s rules with imagination and amiable lightness, without pedantry. Tsoclis is an excellent architect of deceptions who challenges the viewer to accept the most extreme paradoxes, and not without a smile and a touch of poetry.

Ida Panicelli

Translated from the Italian by Mayta Munson.