Christodoulos Panayiotou


“Act I: The Departure,” as this show was titled, brought together four recent works by Cypriot artist Christodoulos Panayiotou under the aegis of the Lausanne art festival Les Urbaines. Inspired by anthropology, Panayiotou often casts himself in the role of a scientist doing field studies, in order to shed light on the manifestations and myths of “cultural performances” such as rituals and festivals. In the silent color video Untitled, 2008, a palimpsest of shots of various firework displays form an undifferentiated spectacle. Fireworks—a popular allegory for the theatrum mundi ever since the Baroque—imply a variety of cultural and historical metaphors and frequently appear in Panayiotou’s oeuvre as a motif. Much like Freud’s model of memory as a “mystic writing pad,” on which traces of previous inscriptions are preserved as illegible impressions, this work captures the visibility of explosions that have long since faded away, revealing a profound melancholy.

Seen together with the work Guysgocrazy, 2007, a looped double-channel projection, the fireworks of Untitled also refer to the sexual and orgiastic as a form of pop-culture symbolism (one that was used in Hollywood films as a recognized code for sexual climax, in a manner unobjectionable to censors). Appropriately, Guysgocrazy is a Czech production company for porno films that specializes in staging huge orgies. Panayiotou filmed the empty set before and after one of these shoots, showing a stage with disco balls and an inflatable pool—and then its postshoot, with countless banana peels and paper cups strewn about. A sound track of men exulting under the shower and a small-format framed photograph of the actors posing mounted beside the projection replace what is absent here—the straightforward manifestations of corporeality in the film.

For the eighty-part slide projection Wonder Land, 2008, Panayiotou sifted through archival images of the carnival in Limassol, the second-largest city in Cyprus, discovering that for years now subversive and traditional masquerades based on costumes taken from Disney films have played a dominant role, completely obscuring the carnival’s original character. Taking his cues from Mikhail Bakhtin, who saw in the carnival a temporary transcendence of taboos and a utopian self-assertion in the face of repressive structures, Panayiotou here presents a collection of images that bear witness to the island’s problematic psyche, shaped by ancient conflicts over both territory and identity, even as a part of its population anesthetizes itself by means of escapism and role-playing. Their unheard ribald laughter, prompted by the decontextualized fictions of absurd, benign cartoon characters like Pinocchio and the 101 Dalmatians, is (unconsciously) indicative of a more widespread sense of helplessness.

Untitled (Act III: The Glorious Return), 2008, in tandem with the exhibition’s title, “Act 1: The Departure,” served to wryly indicate a dramaturgical narration via only prologue and epilogue, much as in Guysgocrazy. This installation, part of a trilogy that is only ever presented one piece at a time, consists of a historical theater set acquired from an archive and shown lying, folded, on the floor. Its motif of a trompe l’oeil theater curtain framing the bow of a ship coming into port is here only visible in an accompanying photograph that shows the stage set installed in a theater. Like Panayiotou’s other work, the installation uses its iconology of interstitial space to compel the viewer to engage in dialectical reflection.

Valérie Knoll

Translated from German by Oliver E. Dryfuss.