Costas Tsoclis

Grand Master's Palace

At the end of this past summer, a breath of new life swept through and filled the Grand Master's Palace on the myth-immersed island of Rhodes. This imposingly handsome edifice, renovated about 50 years ago, was originally constructed in the middle ages by the Knights of the Order of St. John. Its temporary “life-giver” was the master of illusionism and deception, Costas Tsoclis. For the form and thematic content of this exhibition, the artist took his cues from the palace and from the mood of impermanence imparted by the continuous flux of idle sun-worshippers to the island.

The exhibition reflected Tsoclis' use of technology as a means of creating evanescent games of illusion. He achieves this by pitting the “real” against the “illusory,” primarily by juxtaposing videotaped images anti painted scenes. Most of the 16 works in the show featured moving video figures of animals and people. As the spectators wandered through the halls of the palace, it appeared that Tsoclis resurrected both the castle's phantoms and art's ghosts. These mercurial images that appeared and disappeared at the flick of a switch evoked such notions as life's ephemerality, the passage of time, the elusive and illusory in art, a traveler's wanderings, and even formal questions pertaining to the physical limits of an artwork.

The ghosts in Phantoms, 1987, perhaps the most lyrical work in the show, were not the spooky kind but warm and glowing figures in mellow flesh tones. This was a tale of romance that Tsoclis shot on two separate videotapes to be projected simultaneously on the same wall. In their effort to approach each other, the lovers disappear from their respective frames, destined never to touch. Most alluring is the fact that the visual narrative happens in total silence, as haunting as the blank frames the two yearning lovers leave behind them as they “step out” of their own fictive space and vanish into the “nothingness” of our real, physical world.

In Bird, 1987, Tsoclis questioned the limits imposed upon a painter by painting itself. Here he employed the device of combining a painted scene of a bird on a quasi-abstract background with a video-projection of a little bird, which desperately tries to free itself from the confines of the conventional rectangular format to which the painted bird is eternally condemned. Through the juxtaposition of these two illusory images, Tsoclis deepens the sense of illusionism and manages to vitalize the painting by removing it from its two-dimensional stasis.

The ghosts of art are seen in Tsoclis' revival of old traditions of painting, such as the genres of seascape and still life, which be has transformed by the application of a modern esthetic, accomplished through the technology of video. The Sea, 1987, consisted of three conventional painted seascapes, placed above the doorways of three consecutive rooms, at the end of which he projected a videotape of the ocean on a white wall of the palace. These were made to appear like openings—windows in the walls—evoking Alberti's illusionism and the cinquecento's passion for using the surfaces of walls to make the walls themselves seem to disappear.

This exhibition gently prodded the mind and caressed the senses. Lyrical and poetic, it was intended to be only as real as technological illumination permitted. The impression of its actuality, tangibility, and presence were meant to last for only as long as that of the seductive fragrance of a fragile flower, the memory of which may linger on somewhat longer in the mind, the senses.

Catherine Cafopoulos