Life travel. On Dimitris Tzamouranis’
“Mare Nostrum” pictures
By Micheal Stoeber
Life travel. On Dimitris Tzamouranis’
“Mare Nostrum” pictures
By Micheal Stoeber
The seascapes that the Greek-born painter Dimitris Tzamouranis made in the years 2015 to 2017 under the title “Mare Nostrum” are nothing less than spectacular – in the literal sense of the adjective, which derives from the Latin word for “spectaculum”, a play that is also a mirror (“speculum”) we look into to know ourselves. And perhaps also, as in the end of Greek tragedies in an act of catharsis or moral purification, in order to become, if not better people, at least more reflective people. “Mare Nostrum” is how the Romans in antiquity called the Mediterranean. It was their sea, because it was familiar to them. They had travelled and studied it. It no longer hid any terrors for them like the seas beyond the borders of their empire. If we look at Tzamouranis’ seascapes, however, which were inspired by the Mediterranean and the politics of our day, it seems everything but familiar and domesticated. In his pictures the sea has risen threateningly. His waters pile up to form powerful waves – often against a night-time background in which no horizon can be seen. Thus the pictures seem to consist of nothing but a single bleak, dangerous and devouring wasteland of water. “And it boils and it roars, and it hisses and seethes”, as Schiller strikingly put it in his famous ballad, “As when water and fire first blend; / To the sky spurts the foam in steam-laden wreaths, / And wave presses hard upon wave without end. / And the ocean will never exhausted be, / As if striving to bring forth another sea.”
As Schiller depicts the sea in his verse and as Tzamouranis paints it, the observer can easily imagine it to possess a soul – to be the home and under the rule of no less than an angry and aggressive god. For the Greeks this god was named Poseidon, for the Romans Neptune. He is the brother of Zeus or Jupiter, respectively, and shares with him the ability to throw lightning. His trident identifies him as a warrior. The horse is sacred to him, and when we see the waters in tumult as in the artist’s paintings, we can easily imagine the incoming waves as a furious and belligerent mounted army. Anyone familiar with the work of Dimitris Tzamouranis knows of his proclivity for mythological and art-historical themes. These are the contraband he inserts into his art that determines the contents of his paintings as their subtexts. They make his seemingly so veridical paintings more than mere mimeses, more than a doubling of reality. We can say of them what Émile Zola, the most famous protagonist of literary naturalism and close friend of Paul Cézanne’s, said about art: “L’art, c’est le monde vu par un tempérament.” Art, that is the world seen through a temperament. Tzamouranis’ specific temperament and perspective determine his paintings to a great extent, and outstandingly so in his “Mare Nostrum” series. This is essentially a conceptual work.
The concept underlying the series relies on the use of a rhetorical figure. In these pictures Tzamouranis works with the figure of inversion. He shows something in them that he essentially doesn’t show. A paradox of the highest degree! His ocean views depict precise locations which are identified by the geographic coordinates in the titles. These are the places where in the past refugees sank with their ships and died in their attempt to reach Europe by illegal means. They wanted to reach Greece or Italy by various routes from North Africa. The artist left Kalamata in Greece, his native city, on his boat and traced parts of these escape routes until he reached the sites where the tragedies occurred. He recorded the tragic sites in a sea chart he made that accompanies his “Mare Nostrum” pictures, essentially turning his works into memorials. With the help of painted allegoreses they keep the memory of the catastrophes that happened there alive. Absence and presence, the dead and the sea, are in dialectical relation to one another. The depiction of the ocean serves thereby as index. Here it does not appear as a sublime natural wonder, as in so many seascapes of the past, to be reverently celebrated and marveled, but rather as a kind of roaring monstrosity. His depiction is light-years removed from Gerhard Richter’s seascapes, which, as in “Gegenlicht” (Contre-jour, 1969), show sea and sky, clouds and sun, light and shadow in a harmonious balance and in this way mobilize the Horatian “modus in rebus” as a metaphor and thus the appeal to moderation and the middle path.
Tzamouranis’ pictures recall more Caspar David Friedrich’s “Der Mönch am Meer” (The Monk by the Sea, 1810), who in view of the endless water feels small and helpless – a picture that also becomes an existential allegory, with such a prodigious impact that the poet Heinrich von Kleist thought as he saw it that “his eyelids had been cut off”. If the world has come apart at the seams there, then all the more so in the pictures of Dimitris Tzamouranis. The monk – and with him, the viewer – still retains the possibility in the face of the powerful sea of a moral superiority founded on his faith. The philosopher Immanuel Kant described this as follows in his “Critique of Judgment”: “Thus the broad ocean agitated by storms cannot be called sublime. Its aspect is horrible, and one must have stored one’s mind in advance with a rich stock of ideas, if such an intuition is to raise it to the pitch of a feeling which is itself sublime”. Today it is less possible than before to look at the “broad ocean agitated by storms” with such a feeling, as it is directly and indirectly responsible for the catastrophes and the misery occurring in these desperate passages across the Mediterranean. The most shameful of many shameful events is the history of the political operation named “Mare Nostrum” – a very successful aid operation set up by the Italian government in 2013 for a year that saved tens of thousands of refugees. It was shut down for lack of money and replaced by the EU with the operation “Triton”, which works much less effectively.
Dimitris Tzamouranis’ “Mare Nostrum” series of seascapes is accompanied by paintings of damaged shipwrecks, which metonymically refer to the catastrophes. They are painted on copper in rather small formats, 30 • 40 cm and 50 • 70 cm, which even in their dimensions are optically inferior to the panorama-like large-format seascapes and thereby express in their size as well the helplessness of humanity and its artifacts in the face of an overpowering nature. In addition there are two narrative large-format pieces associated with the series, even if one of them, “Seegefährten” (Companions at Sea), was painted in 2014 before “Mare Nostrum” had begun. However, the dramatic situation of the crew in a nutshell of a ship, thrown back and forth under a night-time sky by overpowering waves lit by lightning, anticipates the series. The painting choreographs in a way the precise event evoked but not shown in the seascapes: the imminent sinking of the ship. That this is more than a mere maritime disaster is made clear by the inescapable similarities this work bears to Théodore Géricault’s painting “The Raft of the Medusa” (1819). The people in Tzamouranis’ picture are clearly from here and now, but the poses they assume recall those of the castaways of the “Medusa”. In this way the artist places his “Companions at Sea” in the context of not just a physical but a moral breakdown of terrible proportions.
Géricault had based his painting on a true event – just as Dimitris Tzamuranis’ “Mare Nostrum” pictures today. The “Medusa”, a French warship led by an incompetent captain, ran to ground in 1816 off the coast of Africa on its way to Senegal, at that time a French colony. Because there was not enough space in the life-boats, the crew built a raft for 149 people from the ship masts. At some point someone cut the rope, after which most of those on the raft died miserably. In the end only 15 people survived; they had eaten the corpses of their fellow sufferers. A breakdown in civilization that threw a lasting darkness over the light of the Enlightenment that had at the time begun to shine promisingly. If it has not come to acts of cannibalism in the similarly overfull refugee boats of our time, the travelers are attacked and murdered again and again in order to make space for those stronger than them – a moral scandal hardly any less significant. If Tzamouranis is referring to Géricault in the composition of “Companions at Sea”, in another painting he refers to an equally famous painting through the eponymous title. His “Einschiffung nach Kythera” (The Embarkation for Cythera, 2016) directly reminds the viewer of a famous painting by Jean-Antoine Watteau. In fact the French painter created three pictures with this title: the earliest in the year 1710, the second version in 1717 – he owed his desired admission into the Académie Française to this work – and the third version in 1718. Whichever one prefers: all three paintings, like the “Raft of the Medusa”, belong to the cultural heritage of France and are the pride of the nation.
The Watteau pictures are in a sense a counterpart to Géricault’s “Raft of the Medusa”. If in the latter the human condition is ruled by horror and fright, in the former it is happiness and lust for life, even if these are not untroubled – more a promise than a fulfilled reality. All three pictures show young couples on the way to Cythera, an island dedicated to the goddess Aphrodite, which was supposed to be the place of requited love. The people on the paintings stem from the society of the ancien régime, living under the resplendence of the sun-king, Louis XIV. The courtly protocols they were subjected to were full of rigid constraints. Thus the works can be seen as images of longing clearly expressing the desire for a distant paradise in which people can deal more freely and lovingly with one another than in the situation in which they find themselves. This reveals the early symptoms of crisis within the ancien régime, which was to be swept aside in the same century by the French Revolution. The longing for another life is the subtext that Dimitris Tzamouranis has discovered in Watteau’s pictures and that enables him to establish a coherent connection to the fates of modern migrants that are the theme of his works. In composing his own Embarkation to Cythera he has clearly adhered to Watteau’s earliest version, the picture from 1710, at the center of which stand three women whom a young man is trying to bring on board the ship. A group of three women are also the protagonists of Tzamouranis’ work, one of them with a child in her arms, with clear allusions to Christological and mythological motifs. When they look over the ocean towards distant Europe as a modern version of the ancient island of Cythera, they recall for us the many young men who have left their wives behind to make the dangerous journey across the ocean.
Although this painter does not come up in connection with the “Mare Nostrum” pictures but rather in other works of Tzamouranis’, he could play a role in them: Caspar David Friedrich and his painting “Die Lebensstufen” (The Stages of Life, 1835), another maritime work in which the ocean serves as the foil for a life journey incomparably different than that of the refugees of our time. On a still and calm sea we see five ships that serve as the personification for the painter’s family in the foreground, consisting of the painter himself, his wife and both children. In this allegory of fading and regenerating life Friedrich represented himself as both a young man and an old man. A life shaped by consonance and symmetry like the alternation of day and night – by the secure existence in an ordered cosmos in which, despite all possible storms, the hand of a merciful God still presides over all. But this seems increasingly absent in the anarchistic upheavals of the present, a deus absconditus. Thus in the opus magnum of Dimitris Tzamouranis, his altar entitled “Melancholia” (2012), a polyptychon, it is only a distant echo of a once great presence. A quotation without real presence. The panels of the altar do not have any truly Biblical figures but rather people from our time. The central panel does not show Father, Son and Holy Ghost enthroned, rather different people crowded together in a sleeping camp as in a protective uterus. The state of co-existence in solidarity is played off against a solitary, autistic and self-referential existence – the “solidaire” of Albert Camus against the “solitaire”. And it seems, if we look long enough, as if the numinous were also shining once more in this state.
Stories about Humans
Picture annotations by Dimitris Tzamouranis
From Micheal Stoeber
Stories about Humans
Picture annotations by Dimitris Tzamouranis
From Micheal Stoeber
Dimitris Tzamouranis introduces the series of his paintings, which he is gathering in this catalogue under the title Garden of Youth, with a programmatic painting. It is a “text picture”. He succinctly named it Blume (2002). And the picture shows what the title is indicating: a flower. However, it is a flower that presents itself in beautiful ambivalence. Against a strongly coloured background, its blossom shines in bright white. Framed by warm shades of brown, a lighter blue, a touch of green, red, and purple. The white flower benefits from an act of transfer among all these colours. In a way, the viewer adds them visually and mentally upon reception, causing the flower to shine with great beauty. At the same time, the flower in its bright white appears extinguished, an impression that is supported by the fact that the head is hanging down, as if it were about to fall asleep or even pass away. Sleeping and dying – one might think of the famous monologue by Hamlet – are congenial in their very essence. Like a closed eyelid, the effect is intensified by the resting, blue brush stroke. It reminds us of the beautiful words by Rainer Maria Rilke about the rose, which the poet chose for the decoration of his tombstone: “Rose, oh pure contradiction, delight of being no one’s sleep under so many lids.” Being awake and asleep, death and life, beauty and frailness are correlated here in a congenial way. This is no different from the lines of poetry Tzamouranis cites in his painting. They originate from the Egyptian Greek poet Constantine Cavafy, who was born in 1863 in Alexandria, Egypt, where he spent the majority of his life until he died there in 1933. He was known for his historical, philosophical, and erotic poems. Regarding the first two, he continuously focused on the topic of the “becoming” and “passing” of all that exists, trying to meet it with serene stoicism. In the last of these, he celebrated the feast of life, the intoxicating state of love, and the felicity of bodies as a devoted hedonist. In the process, his verses became more and more crystalline and refined over the years, throwing off all superfluous verbal ballast. We read Cavafy’s lines in the picture of Tzamouranis: “The ageing of my body and my beauty is a wound from a merciless knife.” And we become aware that the poet’s verses are intoning a trinity of beauty, ageing, and frailness, which also ground the artist’s paintings.
The impressionistic language of Blume stands in striking contrast to the naturalistic and old-masterly style, in which Tzamouranis is negotiating the themes in his following paintings. Needless to say, their realism is highly artificial and follows a strict staging. But while the pictorial objects of these works, appearing as if they were cut out by a scalpel, formally imprint on the viewer’s retina, the fluent painting style of the flower painting, not unlike a rebus, has to be deciphered first in order to be understood. One can only speculate about the reason for this change of expression. One explanation might be that the last things of human existence are addressed in the symbolic language of the “flower”, which lies in the darkness of the incomprehensible itself: the withering of what once blossomed in overwhelming beauty, ageing and dying as a fundamental scandal of existence, as the ultimate stone of initiation. “Men die and they are not happy” – these are the words of the young and long-suffering Emperor Caligula in Albert Camus’ play of the same name. Death comes when and how it desires, and all order is only temporary, no matter how much man longs for validity and security. Camus himself spoke of this truth as truism, but cruelty lies in the fact that there is no other truth. So, the poet is forced to base his philosophy on the absurd. Dimitris Tzamouranis confronts us with the theme of transience in perhaps the most sustainable way in his painting called Therapy (2018). The naked body of an elderly woman reveals in shocking clarity and directness how mercilessly it is treated by time. But it is not only traces of age that are noticeable. Giving birth and sicknesses have turned the body into a battlefield, which the surgical scars on the bloated belly of the woman bear witness to. Her dark, thoughtful eyes behind large glasses make it clear that she doesn’t have any illusions about her condition. When frontally looking at the viewer, they seem to say, “My fate is yours.” The artist Marcel Duchamp met these words with irony with the epitaph “D’ailleurs, c’est toujours les autres qui meurent” (“By the way, it is always other people who die”). In such a situation, solace is given by the sympathy of a person, expressed by the therapeutic hands of the man on the woman’s shoulders.
The focus of many poems by Constantine Cavafy is the body. A body that remembers and whose skin resembles a palimpsest through which shimmers the pleasure it enjoyed, as well as the suffering it had to endure. The paintings of Dimitris Tzamouranis also stage a richly faceted “body theatre” in which beauty and horror unfold in equal measure. When we talk about beauty, we have to talk about the portraits of young women among the works of Tzamouranis. While the homophile Cavafy praised the glories of young men in his poems, Tzamouranis honoured the admirable beauty of young women in his paintings. They appear in different roles and as different types and characters. Character portraits are never fictional, but always based on real models, often from the artist’s family as well as his circle of friends and acquaintances. Even though the works mention the names of the people portrayed, they always appear in a certain pose and staging, entering a metamorphosis that lies in the eye of the painter and is given a shape in his paintings. In other works, as seen in the Einschiffung nach Kythera (The Embarkation for Cythera) (2017), it is visible from the start how certain roles are determined by their theme. The blonde Laura (2018) is hiding her beautiful face halfway behind a black veil, as if she were wearing sadness. At the same time, however, the veil also appears like a requisite in a game of erotic seduction in which she is enticing and eluding at the same time. Kerstin (2018) is no different. Her eyes are examining the viewer. Her fur reminds the viewer of a seductive femme fatale, a Venus in fur. The arms crossed defiantly in front of her chest suggest her reserve and restraint, almost like a celibate confession. Again, there is a domination of finely tuned pictorial frequencies manifesting themselves in ambivalence. Kathrin and Zoe (2017 – 18), mother and child, who have been put into the picture in an equally virtuoso way, do not appear to be symbiotically connected despite their spatial proximity. Both seem to be lost in thought, although seemingly in completely different worlds. The picture is fabulously staged and composed. It masterfully displays contrasts – between mother and child, horizontal plane and vertical plane, nakedness and cover, light and dark, texture and ornament – building up tension in the process. The eye of the beholder is constantly busy, always making new discoveries. Tzamouranis’ ability to paint skin – flesh tones – which is one of the great challenges for any painter, is sensational. The picture is painting at its best.
Another portrait shows a young, attractive girl in front of a mirror putting on makeup. She pencils her eyebrows over with a pen, looking intensely at her reflection in the mirror, which in turn is looking at us while we can also see her shoulder and back. Mirror (2018), a picture in a picture, so to speak. And at the same time a subtle indication that all images are reflections in which we ideally recognise ourselves, others and the world. In the same manner, the girl in front of the mirror is not only striving to improve her beauty, but also trying to recognise herself. This is also emphasised by the deep and focused look with which she is examining herself in the mirror. Mirrors and reflections can often be seen in Dimitris Tzamouranis’ paintings, always asking for the truth. Who are we when we say “I”? Who do we see when we see ourselves? Who do we want to see? But mirrors can also be dangerous. Because they encourage misrecognition as much as recognition. The narcissistic Narcissus sees his reflection in the water and drowns in the futile attempt to embrace his own image. The fact that we are accompanied by mirrors from the very beginning of our development as human beings is made clear by the so called “mirroring stage”. This term was used by the French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan to describe the moment at which toddlers recognise themselves in a mirror as a separate person, independent from their mothers, and welcoming themselves “cheerfully” as the ideal ego – an ideal ego that is forced to battle the “real ego” over and over again throughout one’s life. Thus, the search for identity is intimately connected with the search for truth, which is expressed poetically in Paul’s beautiful words addressed to the Corinthians: “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” In Paul’s day, a mirror could only be dark and blurry because it was a polished metal plate. But of course, the word itself can also be a wonderful metaphor to mark the illusions humans chase so often in their lives. Paul, on the other hand, holds that man will only face truth in the presence of God. The drama of imperfect and deceptive perception, hasty reasoning that results in false conclusions, has been wonderfully summarised by Samuel Beckett as mal vu mal dit (ill seen, ill said – or rather “thought”).
The painting Girls at the Mirror (2014) expresses the topic of seeing, along with its many implications, in an exquisite way. Similar to a scene on stage, Dimitris Tzamouranis arranges three women in front of a mirror. Two of them have white skin, one is light blonde, the other dark blonde, and both are young, slender and beautiful. In a way, they are duplicated in the mirror. As for the woman between them, she has darker skin and hair, is a little older, plump, and a little less attractive. In this tableau, her back is so close to the mirror that she is almost fully merging with her reflection. For a gifted allegorist such as Dimitris Tzamouranis, who paints each detail with two or more meanings, this can be seen as evidence of a completed search for one’s own identity, while at the same time showing signs of resignation and melancholy. Incidentally, melancholy is a motif that is visible throughout the complete works of the painter, in the form of changing colours and shapes, as a signature of a contemporary condition humaine. It is no coincidence that his opus magnum, his main work based on a winged altar consisting of several images, carries the title Melancholia (2012). Even though his melancholy is expressed in a completely different image narrative than Albrecht Dürer, the theme calls to mind the latter’s famous copper engraving from 1514, which was the artist also titled Melencolia. The black woman in Girls at the Mirror, whom Tzamouranis placed in the centre of his painting, is curling the eyelashes of the woman on the left side of the painting, while the woman on the right side is applying lipstick, intimately placing her hand on the “servant’s” upper arm. From afar the situation is reminiscent of Edouard Manet’s Olympia (1863), as well as the master–slave model by Georg W. F. Hegel, only transferred into the present by Tzamouranis to present social dependencies in a quite different way than they were in the past. While these subtexts appear rather weakly developed, the regime of glances in the painting is distinct. The black woman looks intently at the woman she is treating – her “mistress” – while at the same time the two white women are more or less exclusively fixated on themselves. The topic of power structures being depicted by glances – someone being fully ignored or bending under the stare of someone else – is explained by Jean-Paul Sartre in Being and Nothingness.
“Seeing” as a search for truth and “painting” as an investigation of the human condition are as equally contemporary as they are timeless: both fundamentally differentiate the naturalistic manner of painting of Dimitris Tzamouranis from image theories dating back to antiquity. From that time, we possess knowledge of multiple anecdotes about the artistry of old painters. Because of that, passed on by Pliny the Elder, we know of the competition between Zeuxis and Parrhasius to paint the most faithful depiction of reality. Zeuxis painted grapes so realistically that the birds in the sky were darting for his painting to snatch them. The audience applauded the painter. Impatiently he then turned to his adversary: “Well, pull the curtain off your painting already, so we can see it as well!” But there was no curtain to pull off. The curtain was the painting. Zeuxis had only managed to deceive the birds, whereas Parrhasius had managed to even deceive his colleague. He therefore clearly deserved to win the laurels. But their competition was about the art of deception, not about finding the truth. Because of their ability to imitate perfectly, their talent to basically create a photorealistic representation of reality, Plato was not too fond of the two painters. In his opinion, they were simply duplicating the world’s errors through their art. But the philosopher wanted to enlighten them. He sought the truth – a very modern point of view. He separated the naturalism of the past from realism as it is practiced by Dimitris Tzamouranis. With his conceptual painting style, his highly artificial art of staging is always meant to serve enlightenment. Thus, his “rescue paintings” go far beyond the mere documentation of a civilian and military support service. In Tzamouranis’ painting Pole Top Rescue Training (2018), we can see men training with 6 7 dolls to practice rappelling with people caught in high-voltage power lines, with the artist turning the scene into a work of Ecce Homo, reminiscing the Christian Passion narrative. The fragility and vulnerability of the human being, as well as their dependency on humanitarian support and solidarity, is also illustrated in another scenario by Tzamouranis, Tactical Combat Casualty Care (2018), in which paramedics are taking care of injured soldiers in the form of another simulation. The wounded are dummies, but with their terrified eyes and mouths wide open, they appear very alive.
The realistic design of the dummies’ faces, which necessarily is not a requirement for the rescue exercise, must have been particularly fascinating for the artist. They guide the thoughts of the beholder, seemingly on their own, to considerations of reality and illusion. About how real reality really is. The idea that our brief lives could merely be a dream is a leitmotif throughout occidental cultural history, an idea that reaches its pinnacle in the works of Calderon de la Barca and William Shakespeare. But, of course, the idea of man as a marionette also goes hand in hand with an existential experience of powerlessness. It is a recurring topos within the fabulous poetry of Georg Büchner. “We are puppets, our strings pulled by unknown forces; nothing, we ourselves are nothing”, these are Danton’s feelings about his existence in the incalculable turmoil of a reign of terror after the French Revolution in Büchner’s play Danton’s Death. It is not by accident that a puppeteer is present in the predella of Tzamouranis’ great altarpiece. As seen in the artist’s altarpiece, the topic evolves around finding orientation and solidarity in a secularised world, while also evoking the image of man as marionette and puppeteer, for man is quite capable of acting in both roles. As the latter, he certainly is not a demiurge, but a manipulator from which one must protect oneself. In a similar fashion, the card player in the work of Tzamouranis also acts as a trickster, turning things upside down with his tricks and bluffs, trying to put one over on us. There are also masks. We know them from the theatre and carnival as an element of disguise. In the three paintings Versuchung des Heiligen Antonius (Temptation of Saint Anthony) (2013) by Tzamouranis, we repeatedly notice people with different masks among the gaping crowd watching the saint’s torture. Their function is ambivalent; from time immemorial they have concealed and revealed at the same time, serving deception and truth. Not infrequently, the wearer’s desire resonates through the mask (Latin: persona), indicating who they dream to be: their truer self, a projection of what they want to be. Often masks are nothing more than fake identities, as pointed out by the Swiss psychologist C. G. Jung. They are faking individuality, while in reality they are only an act.
For centuries, even to the present day, the figure of the devotional ascetic Anthony has not ceased to fascinate and animate artists. Starting with – listed ad libitum – Hieronymus Bosch and Lucas Cranach the Elder, through FeÅLlicien Rops, to Max Ernst and Salvador DaliÅL. As a devoted Christian, the Egyptian Anthony (who supposedly lived from 251 to 356) wanted to dedicate his life to God and spent his life praying and fasting. Since he resisted all impeachments and temptations, he was eventually canonised. The means of seducing Anthony basically remain the same in the field of art throughout the ages. They range from medieval torture and threatening gestures to the promise of gifting him beauty and sex, power, and glory. In DaliÅL’s painting, temptation is symbolised through an elephant train, with Anthony extending his cross towards the animals in order to banish them. Dimitris Tzamouranis has also worked on the subject in three of his works. On the one hand, this is because the narration relates a theme that speaks of man as a universal. From the eternal dispute between mind and body and the possibility overcoming of all temptation, which is rare, we only think of the biblical teaching of the willing spirit and the weak flesh. As long as man exists, this conflict will remain. On the other hand, this is because Anthony is an outsider, making him a role model beyond all religious implications for anyone who does not march with the crowd – in other words, a role model of great appeal for any artist. This reference to a still contemporary topic enables Tzamouranis to rightfully transpose the events into modernity, as he does in all his paintings, where he is inspired by mythical, historical, and religious subjects. Saint Anthony 8 9 appears here as an ageing, homeless hippie with jeans and a shirtless body. Even his tormentors and tempters are clearly living in present times. They torture and oppress him in different ways. When tortured with a medieval torture device, the association with Hieronymus Bosch comes to mind; otherwise they give the impression of rampaging neo-Nazis. The people around him, partially wearing costumes and masks of the commedia dell’arte, embody specific characters that are similar to actors of the Italian teatro della spontaneita` (improvisational theatre) who personalise different temptations and torments. It is also worth mentioning the presence of beautiful naked women in all three works, which obviously symbolises the temptation of the flesh, perhaps the strongest of all temptations.
In Dimitris Tzamouranis’ pictures, the events around Saint Anthony unfold like they would on stage. This form of theatrical mimicry is characteristic of the artist’s work. In his painting Einschiffung nach Kythera (The Embarkation for Cythera) (2017) the five protagonists stand in front of us like in a tableau vivant. Of course, Tzamouranis’ title is meant to commemorate the famous picture of Antoine Watteau, painter of fe^tes galante, as well as the playful and amorous Rococo period, which was a very comfortable time for the nobility. It reminds us with even greater urgency of the fate of the migrating refugees of the present day who seek protection and asylum. If the picturesque events on the canvas are exposed like on a stage, they benefit from a suggestive, deictic Gestus that is also strongly pronounced in the epic theatre of Bertolt Brecht. Back in 1922, when the poet’s play Trommeln in der Nacht (Drums in the Night) premiered in Munich, guests of the Kammerspiele (intimate theatre) were greeted by posters with the inscription: “Don’t stare so romantically”. Those who decided against fleeing the theatre in a hurry would then learn that they had been invited to an event meant to stimulate thought rather than to entertain. Like the play by Bertolt Brecht, the pictures by Dimitris Tzamouranis manage to evoke the same effect. But Tzamouranis more likely took his motivation from another painter – Leonardo da Vinci – than from the poet. Da Vinci also arranged his characters as though they were on a stage, most notably in his famous painting The Last Supper, in which a silent and collected Christ forms the centre of power. To his left and right we see his 12 disciples in two groups of three, highly excited because they do not understand the Eucharist instituted by Christ. Their helplessness and state of mind is express through their body language and facial expressions. As demanded by Da Vinci in A Treatise on Painting: “A good painter has two chief objects to paint, man and the intention of his soul; the former is easy, the latter hard, because he has to represent it by the attitudes and movements of the limbs.” It appears Dimitris Tzamouranis has studied Leonardo’s paintings as well as his book on painting very closely and made fruitful use of it for himself and his art in the present. As a result, he not only portrays people with entirely different mindsets – “l’homo e il concetto della mente sua” (“the man and the intention of his soul”) – but also stimulates the viewer to think.
Mimesis, Mimicry and the Taming of the Gaze:
On Painting’s Potential to Influence Reality
by Sotirios Bahtsetzis
Mimesis, Mimicry and the Taming of the Gaze:
On Painting’s Potential to Influence Reality
by Sotirios Bahtsetzis
Dimitris Tzamouranis paints, and paints representationally! Today, this sounds almost like an impertinence. Both the use of the medium of painting as well as the conscious choice of representational motifs seems to be a rather elitist, nearly regressive position compared with a mainly iconoclastic tradition that forms the basis of modern art. How can one be legitimized through the representational and visual imagery based on the identifiable when painting and above all illusionistic painting has more the status of a peripheral phenomenon in the art of the neo-avant-garde, in an art that is characterized by an “antimimetic affect”? 1 Under these rather or less recognized conditions, which have a tone-setting effect on art today, where is it now possible to position Tzamouranis’s concept of art? To address this question, what should first be sketched out is the historical development of this anti-mimetic affect. Since this implicitly contemporary “iconoclasm” is based on a very old discussion about the relationship of copy and imagination. As is generally known, this discussion began with the art-historical debate on mimesis; a term that Plato introduced within philosophical aesthetics quite early on. Plato’s famous-infamous term, which was elucidated in the tenth book of The Republic, is often seen a scandal in the history of philosophy because there the philosopher there allegedly called for a legal ban on art and any production of images. The Platonic ban on illusory forms and the imaginative production of visual fictions guarantees and defends the authority of the “true” image, which is ossified in its iconography and is determined by cultic and political functions. Plato’s ban on images was continued and intensified during the iconoclastic controversy in the Byzantine empire of the eighth and ninth centuries, one of the most passionate theological, aesthetic, and political debates in the church, which had then not yet been divided into Orthodox and Catholic dogmas. To an even greater extent than in the case of Plato—as concerned in the production and use of images—was the examination of profound metaphysical-theological questions connected with issues relating to concurrence of forms, similarity of entities, and imitation.2 Both in the case of Plato as well as in the case of the iconodules in the first Christian empire, the true image (icon in Byzantium and eikon in the work of Plato), compared with the false image (eidolon), guaranteed the legitimation of the theological doctrine and the politics based on this ontology. Then, with the advent of the Renaissance, a new politics of images was proclaimed. The spectator-oriented subjectification of pictorial representation— achieved through the techniques of linear perspective and the use of the camera obscura and the laterna magica—heralded the epoch of a modern worldview with regard to phenomena.3 The production of representational images within Athenian Classicism and the Florentine Renaissance provides the genealogical foundations for a modern, self-aware, pictorial representation, which found ontological certainty in a play of phenomena based on pure presence. Victor Stoichiţă’s elegantly worded statement on the iconoclasm of the sixteenth century fundamentally explains the most significant effects of all historical iconoclasms on art: “While Protestants were busy destroying images, Catholics were engaged in rediscovering the image’s powers of persuasion and value as propaganda.” 4 Interestingly, John Calvin’s praise of the “white wall” and Martin Luther’s understanding of art as Spiegelbilder, (mirror images) provide the conceptual arsenal for the further development of art as a contextual, self-referential discourse, in other words, as meta-painting. Representational-illusionistic painting could thus be ascribed to this tradition of a persuasive, pictorial rhetoric aiming at phenomena, which re-contextualizes pictoriality simply “as only art.” The drama of iconoclasm was, however, repeated in the twentieth century, a century that rejected the theater of appearances in representational painting in an altered form in order to establish a new theology of abstract symbols. Abstract Expressionism (primarily that of American artists) stood quite emblematically for this essential ontology of the image and was directed against the propangandistic powers of persuasion of the demonized—or said in a modern way, “non-autonomous”— Social Realism during the Cold War. It allowed, in a Platonic fashion, only a non-realist imitation at peace with itself in the sense of a representative, metaphysical symbol, which was legitimized as a metonymic reference to an essentially absent reality. Nonetheless, the rehabilitation of the indexical symbol in contrast to the iconic symbol in the twentieth century can be seen as the basis or stage on which the performance of the painter is executed and presented.5 The heroicizing of one’s own self-expression, of inner states, and the quasi-romantic substitution of a grounding certainty for the cosmos through the emphasizing of the genial subject or the transcendence of a painting of individual ecstasy are, however, ultimately camouflages for a modern and completely individualized theology, or an “ontotheology” of existence.6 This characteristically comes to be expressed with Jackson Pollock’s exclamation: “I am nature!” 7 Might the representational painting that operates through the illusionistic modes of representation that Dimitris Tzamouranis consciously employs then instead be understood as a return to an older tradition of pictorial representation, to a tradition that affirms the iconicity of images in that it defends the transformative power of their presence, and thus recognizes the position of the artist as a crafter of illusions and a manipulator of our mental images? How might an affirmative reply to this question influence our understanding of the world and of our own self? In order to describe the fundamental problem that such an understanding of creating images exposes, the ways and means, as well as the impact on presence of iconic images should be considered in greater depth. Might a pictorial representation that is always connected with the recognizable amount to a defense of the dichotomy of specification and imitation, archetype and likeness, original and copy, real presence and mere, intellectual idea? Or would the deliberate use of mimetic techniques instead inversely mean a deconstruction of these dichotomies, paraphrasing Jacques Derrida’s dictum, “there is nothing outside the iconic image”? The mimesis employed in Tzamouranis’s work, his art of imitation, can be interpreted as an affirmation of the simulacrum, a term that can function as a plausible devolution from the Greek expression “mimesis.” And in reality, in the work of Plato, as Lambert Wiesing has outlined, it is possible to differentiate the mimesis principle into “two types of the art of imitation,” a differentiation that is still lacking in The Republic but that is undertaken in the late Sophist dialogues.9 Mimesis eikastike, the art of making likenesses, is not only a production technique of absolute imitation but also a guarantee of the ontological correctness of what is represented. In contrast, mimesis phantastike, imaginative imitation, strives for innovations and thus allows for a persuasive play of phenomena that is subjective, contingent, and visible with the bare eye. A subjectifying, viewer- related perspective is, therefore, applied here, supplementing the pictorial to include a performative and simultaneously self-referential (art that reflects on art) dimension. This art bears witness to an anthropocentrism that overwhelms the viewer, in which the well-known statement of Protagoras—Plato’s philosophical archenemy—“anthropos metron,” “man is the measure of all things,” echoes. For this reason, it is a “deceptive image,” in Friedrich Schleiermacher’s translation—a rendering that is in fact not necessarily correct but analogous, which apparently conveys the essence of Plato’s viewpoint, which is propelled by pure ontology (and politics) and deprecates the visual imagination. “A simulacrum is the idea of an imitation that inevitably falsifies what it imitates and not only falsifies but, for Deleuze, directly inters the idea of an original and a truth of the original in the simulacrum.” 10 In Gilles Deleuze’s representational- critical approach, the anti-Platonic gesture of the simulacrum can actually signify the affirmation of a type of painting that is consciously utilized in an anti-essential manner. “So to reverse Platonism means to make the simulacra rise and to affirm their rights among icons and copies. … The simulacrum is not a degraded copy. It harbors a positive power which denies the original and the copy, the model and the reproduction.” 11 Does it, therefore, mean that the presence of an image affirms the existence of an image that moves outside of an essentialist understanding, and which, as a result, references metaphysics and favors the phenomenal world? Does the ascent of the simulacrum mean the revaluation of a “quasi-pagan” understanding of the image, which is wholly removed from the indexical theology of the referring symbol? At the same time, what exactly does phenomenal presence mean in this context? Emmanuel Alloa’s observations on the conjunctivist content of images are pioneering in this regard: images can generally represent interconnections for which it is not initially relevant whether they exist in fact or not. Nevertheless, particularly in the interpretation of images that rely on recognition, as is the case in representational painting, the logical error of confusing reality with actuality is often made. (The modern debate regarding the concept of mimesis is based on this misconception alone.) Nonetheless, it is less actuality than reality that is missing from images. “Images are conjunctivist to the extent that they signal conjunctions in which the question of whether they can be related to an empirical actual existence in an indicative mood at all remains open. Every image correspondingly consummates, in the words of Edmund Husserl, an ‘epocheÅL’ when it makes a structure of phenomena visible in its intrinsic stringency through bracketing its validity to exist.” 12 Deleuze’s observation thus becomes clearer. In order to be able to speak about images, one has to recognize their potentialities, their virtual content: images are only images because they might also be simulacra at the same time. What are these conjunctivist structures of phenomena that come to light in Tzamouranis’s simulacra? Let us then take a closer look at his oil paintings. If one would like to understand the essence of these images, a discussion of the way in which he produces them seems indispensable. On the often large-format paintings, the figures of people who generally come either from the artist’s immediate family or close circle of friends almost always appear. These figures seem to participate in a play of gestures, stances, gazes, and props in which it is not possible to identify precisely. The figures are often depicted as if they are part of a theatrically arranged or staged meeting of the individuals involved, thus completely in keeping with the “historia” of the art-historical treatises of the Renaissance. Encompassing this concept, which is borrowed from the rhetoric of antiquity, the pictorial representation is animate and shared by individuals situated in various types of affective states. The viewer is prompted to decode the nature of these figurative gestures and the symbolism of the costumes and diverse props. The Milanese Giovanni Paolo Lomazzo, perhaps the most ambitious art theoretician of the late sixteenth century, expressed this new image convention to the artists of his time with the call to take advantage of all the possible combinations of pictorial language, which can be subsumed under his concept of inventio. In the work of Tzamouranis, what is also concerned is pictorial invention, which is itself presented in the manner of what at first glance appears to be a history painting. In his three-part series Triumphzüge (Triumphal Procession, 2011/12) and particularly in the paintings Rebellion and Thanatos (2011/12), which were clearly inspired by Andrea Mantegna’s famous series of images The Triumphs of Caesar (created between 1486 and 1506) and concretely by paintings such as The Corselet Bearers or The Musicians, Tzamouranis adheres to a classical compositional scheme that exalts the pictorial-rhetorical persuasiveness of painterly invention. With his procession of plunder and trophies (statues, busts, inscriptions, armor, and weapons), which are presented on stands and carried by prisoners and soldiers, Mantegna creates a prototype for the design of triumphal processions, which Tzamouranis gladly brings up-to-date correspondingly and with reference to the events of today. His triumphal procession is a demonstration of young people, who present their own armor, weapons, and standards in the form of puppets, masks, and colorful clothing. Precisely this strategy of pictorial updating shows that Tzamouranis makes use not only of the conceptual means of Renaissance painting but also of the compositional strategies and production modes of another, later classical canon. It is to the merit of Svetlana Alpers to have discovered an innovation in image creation in the art of Rembrandt, the “theatrical model.” The pictorial representation of body language and movements in the art of Rembrandt as well as in that of his student Samuel van Hoogstraten can actually be traced back to theatrical performances in the painting studio. “It was a theater designed for the actor, not for the spectator, and was a model for the spectator less theater in the studio, where the artist was not a spectator, but a performer.” 13 In the course of image creation, theater was regularly practiced and thus promoted as visual art to rhetoric and poetry. In the Netherlands of the seventeenth century, painter and poet and/or playwright were sometimes combined in a single individual. Rembrandt’s greatness is not least a result of this specific mixture of art and life in which the highlighting of pictorially inventive mimicry, the performance-like element of modeling, “[plays] with the performative nature of modeling but also [reflects] on the enacted or elusive nature of a person so represented.” 14 What is decisive in this is how modeling inevitably coincided with role-playing. And Alpers summarizes: “It is not, then, as surprising as it may seem that a particular line of European painters whom we think of realists—VelaÅLzquez, Hogarth, Courbet, Manet, and, I would like to add, Rembrandt—have been fascinated by the playing of roles, be it on the part of models, sitters, or, by extension, professional actors.” 15 It might perhaps be superfluous to mention the fact that precisely the painters that Alpers mentions are among Tzamouranis’s art-historical role models. The role-playing of Victorine Meurent as a bullfighter, as Olympia, or as herself but in the company of a parrot, which according to the iconographic tradition stands for the imitatio, meet in Manet’s art with VelaÅLzquez’s series of portraits of the jesters and dwarves that served in the Spanish court, and with Antoine Watteau’s Gilles in order to emphasize the ambiguity and even the questionable nature of social roles, and their manifestations and behaviors. But is it not astonishing that the greatest degree of realism in painting is achieved specifically in the unselfconscious display of role-playing, in the use of the theatrical model? Surprisingly, the individuals depicted on Tzamouranis’s paintings, who model for the artist according to this old method of a studio painting of a Rembrandt, are also actors in fictive, everyday scenes that develop in the painter’s studio as well as on their own, but which are also supplemented to include an imaginative dimension. Thus, for instance, in Ausgang (Exit, 2012) in which three female figures equipped with flashlights illuminate each other. Tzamouranis’s method of working often has onomatopoetic characteristics: the name of one of the women depicted is Ariadne, and she thus provides the basis for a pictorial composition that brings up-to-date the myth of the Cretan princess of the same name, the daughter of PasiphaeÅN (the “wide-shining”) and, through her, granddaughter of the sun god Helios. Thanks to Ariadne’s luminous thread, Theseus found his way out of the labyrinth. But would Theseus’s fate have been if the hero had been required to choose between the three Ariadne’s at a dark intersection? The answer is left up to each person who views the oil painting. For every Greek who grew up with Homer, Hesiod, and Ovid, proper names have a significant meaning in a literal sense; they each have their own story. The three figures depicted in the painting Ausgang are all friends of the artist; they can, however, at the same time embody the Three Graces, or the three goddesses of fate (the Moirai of Greek or the Fates of Roman antiquity). It is precisely this play of transferring roles, the palimpsest of layers of meaning, which is able to trigger sensual sensations, emotions, and spiritual insights in the viewer beyond the clear representation of a narrative evoked through meticulous pictorial rhetoric. In Tzamouranis’s art, the play of mimicry and readjustment even becomes the subject of the image. In Panos Pretending to Be Vincenzo Peruggia (2011), one sees a young man posing on a sofa. He hides a painting that is nothing less than Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa on the floor under the sofa. The mimicry is twofold: once as the role-playing of a person who pretends to be someone else, and a second time as the insertion of an existing image into the actual painting in the form of a pictorial citation. As is generally known, the decorative painter and occasional crook Vincenzo Peruggia stole the Mona Lisa from the Louvre in 1911 and kept the painting in his accommodations in Paris, and namely hidden under his bed, for two years. Perrugia even developed an obsessive, eroticizing relationship to the most famous lady in art history, who had already become the epitome of museum, cultural voyeurism prior to his time. The representation of a painting in the painting, which can be seen as “a procedure focusing on meta-artistic discourse,” 16 is significant in this. Since Mona Lisa represents the reverse side of the painterly play with imitation as a result of the fact that the detective-like efforts of art historians to identify the actual model have reached thriller-like dimensions. The play with identity is continued even in the ambiguity of the gender of the model: is the merchant’s wife Lisa del Giocondo or Leonardo’s lover Andrea Salaino depicted here? The play of references and symbol-laden transpositions also pertains to the artist’s own biography. In Tzamouranis’s SelbstportraÅNt (Self-portrait, 2011), one sees the face of the artist looking directly at the viewer while being touched gently by the artificial hand of a shop window dummy. This is an allusion to at least two topoi of art history: the theme of the “docta manus” or the “manus ingeniosa” is addressed in the self-portrait of the thinking painter’s hand, the instrument of creation encounters the myth of the artist of Pygmalion and Galatea in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, in which the poet, as is known, reports on the inspiriting of a female figure carved from ivory, brought to life by Pygmalion’s love. Nevertheless, wanting to uncover the art-historical soundness of Tzamouranis’s picture conception does not mean undermining the deliberate artificiality and contemporary ambiguity of his pictorial language. Tzamouranis’s Galatea, despite having been brought to life, does not strive to conceal her artificiality. Even if the painter styles himself as a new Pygmalion, he also shows himself not least as a crafter of transformations, as a master of artifices, and as an artistic conjurer—in this regard, one might also think of his earlier self-portrait with the all too eloquent title Pretending to Be Houdini (2005). The reference to magic that is metaphorically employed here should, however, be understood in a literal sense and elucidated within the art-historical context. In any case, until the Renaissance, painting was seen as part of a science of manipulating imaginary images (phantasms) and of imagination, which ranged from mnemonics and prophecy (mantic) to the hermetic manipulation of the phantasmagoric Eros, of magic in general. It is not a coincidence that the most prominent representative of the Florentine aesthetic, the Neo-Platonist Marsilio Ficino, understood Platonism within the context of the theurgy, demonic magic, and astrological magic of a Proclus, Porphyry, and Iamblichus.17 According to Ficino’s “empirical psychology,” external images penetrate the pneumatic interior of human beings through two related intellectual activities, the sense of sight and Eros. Nevertheless, these are not only attributes of the divine enthusiasm of the poet (enthusiasm refers to the sentence “en tō theō,” thus “to be in god”) but also those of an expert in manipulation, of a magician. The widespread belief in the evil eye (jettattura), whose cause is abnormal desire, would be proof of this. As a result, the sublime Florentine portraits of beautiful women and pretty youths can be assigned not only to the Apollonian but also occasionally to the Faustian face of art. Just as mnemonic represented a link between Eros and magic, painting, which was based on this system of rules, was also supposed to be understood as a technique for manipulating imaginary images. In this sense and analogous to the magical effect of harmful spells initiated through eye contact (jettattura or baskania in Greek) or love darts, gazes that come from paintings can have devastating effects for those to whom they are addressed. (The use of the arrow motif in the scene of the blinding of the judge on one of Mantegna’s frescoes allegorizes not only the theory of sight in the Renaissance but can also be introduced as eloquent evidence for the existence of this old belief.18 ) A certain fascination that quite clearly aims at desire underlies images and gazes. (The word fascination comes from enchantment and/or bewitchment (fascinatio), which provides the etymological basis of the word fascinum, the apotropaic, phallus-like amulet of the Romans utilized primarily against the evil eye. Apparently, the objet petit a in connection with phallus, the chiasmus of gazes, and desire was discovered long before Jacques Lacan.) In the case that the Renaissance treatises on techniques for manipulating imaginary images remain incomprehensible for our philosophical taste of today, we can attempt to interpret them—now finally stripped of any reference to magic— in a contemporary manner, namely from the perspective of the aesthetics of perception. Images do not see but they can gaze at us. The manipulation of images already described is based entirely on the specific dialectic of the nature of gazes, which was first highlighted theoretically by Jean-Paul Sartre. “His starting point is not looking as an activity that originates from the subject but rather being-looked-at, which happens to the subject by means of another.” 19 Yet as Lacan demonstrated, this other does not need to be a person who is actually present. The other is situated not only in the domain of the interpersonal but also in the realm of the inanimate. Hans Belting called this innate (and learnable) ability of our bodies to discover life in inanimate images—clearly recognizing the magic charging of this word—“animation.” 20 Although we know that the destruction of a photograph of a person who has been photographed does not cause any physical harm, we would at least hesitate to poke holes in the eyes in this photograph. If a beloved individual were concerned, such an act would be virtually unthinkable. The subjectivizing chiasmus of gazes is best illustrated by the myth of Medusa. The petrifying head of the Gorgon—the Gorgoneion was often depicted on shields, amulets, and gravestones in Ancient Greece due to its apotropaic magic— allegorizes the confinement from which, in the words of Belting, the image’s “animation potential” arises; it simultaneously represents a metaphor for the power of painting to intercept the image’s visual contact directed at the observing subject and to reflect it as a mirror image. It is not necessary to emphasize the fact that what is concerned is a motif that often appears in Tzamouranis’s iconography. It is indeed often combined with a further allegory in painting, that of the curtain. Every painting consequently proves to be a taming of the gaze, an immobilization of the viewer. When Maurice Merleau-Ponty highlights the inversion of gazes with reference to something that painters often express, the fact that things look at them, he outlines how painting—for him an allegory for philosophy—establishes the paradox of becoming-manifest.21 In that we are no longer the subject of seeing but rather the object of being-looked-at. For Sybille KraÅNmer, it is this ongoing possibility to be gazed at, this dialectic of gazes, “that explains the irreducible fact of our sociality” and thus comprises “power and powerlessness, domination and submission.” 22 Nonetheless, the danger for us presently does not arise from the enchantment of painting but instead from the narcotic effects of the high-tech mass media of the spectacle. The treatises of the Renaissance thus not only prove to be an archeological starting point for modern psychological and sociological sciences but at the same time also provide fundamental tools for the powerful industries of the imaginary, which have constantly and regularly colonized both our powers of imagination as well as the collective memory—the realm of the imaginary in the twentieth century. The deletion of inner images that may also be uncanny or unsettling and the subsequent reflections that influence our frameworks for action lead to the current culture of repeated forgetting, to the contemporary pornography of the simulacrum played down in the art world, in the press, in politics, in war. Now, Plato seems right in being unwilling. If art is supposed to be “mimesis mimeseos,” then it seems that the real wants to appear exclusively in the “imitation of imitation.” And the Surrealists also seem to be right: only the real beyond the real, or the surreal is capable of bringing what is essential to light. Painting is then a second nature; since it imitates this, it surpasses it. This is the paradox of mimesis. According to the well-known Aristotelian definition of tragedy from the Poetics, mimesis operates in conjunction with catharsis, and as Philippe Lacoue- Labarthe has shown, the term catharsis not only means purging, thus the excretion of harmful emotions, but should also be understood as a synonym for the renowned Aufhebung (sublation) of the Hegelian dialectic. (The word comes from kathairein, whereby purifying is not its first meaning but rather abolishing, terminating, destroying.) Mimesis would then to be understood as an operator of an abolishing of contingent reality. Painting is a theatrical mimicry that suspends the arbitrary play of phenomena by reconstructing it. In this sense, an ethical provision is inherent in the potential of images to influence reality, which originates in the mimetic arts. For Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe, mimesis is the absolute condition for purifying catharsis, for the “the successful sublimation of negative feelings, which are nullified in their negativity and which are perpetuated in their intensity through artistic mimesis in general,” which can be summarized in the declaration that “the purifying of Greece lies in the negation of its negativity. It is concentrated and come to light in the phrase: the theater of the Greeks was not [pure] theater.” 23 For Mehdi Belhaj Kacem, Lacou- Labarthe’s excellent insights pave the way for a further meditation on the nature of cathartic negation in art, which can accordingly only be explained as part of a general “mimetology.” In Aristotle’s defense of mimesis, what is attested to is not only the fact that there would be no abreaction and no possibility of expression without art, but much more the fact that the mimetic-cathartic effect of art primarily has a pedagogical, in other words, a political-subjectifying function. Mimesis might then be another term for explaining the affective process of transmission that arises from acts of looking, which is often described in the terminology of “aesthetic contagion.” 24 It is to the credit of Friedrich Nietzsche to have been the first to highlight art’s contagious modalities of transmission, that unintended and unconscious catharsis that takes effect in observing. The human being as a zoon politikon, as a political being, is at first a zoon mimetikotaton, a living being, which, according to Aristotle, is most capable of imitation as a result of its nature. At the same time, the human being is a zoon pathetikon, a being suspended in the mirror of the other and infected by his or her charged gaze. A type of painting that operates according to these rules can liberate us from the spell of the consciousness-altering inflation of images that arises from the diverse pictorial practices of ideological, religious, and political propaganda. It resists the subtle pictorial regime of the movement of capital, which is able to exist continuously in the form of the spectacle. It is not a coincidence that one of Tzamouranis’s most important works, his Melancholia (2012), borrows heavily from the tradition of presenting religious art, thus from the overwhelming pictorial rhetoric of altar retables. Although the theological dimension of this modern painting, which is divided into sections and include side panels that are attached the large central panel (polyptych) is obviously present in Tzamouranis’s iconography, here, it is, nonetheless, presented in a form devoid of the religious, in a perhaps pagan form. In the middle panel, where one would usually expect a crucifixion, or an entombment, or a Last Judgment scene, one instead sees a group of young people lying on the floor, calling to mind an hour of rest in a room in a shared apartment. The young couple positioned in the center of the image, which are hugging one other while sleeping and flanked by friends (depicted are Elektra, the daughter of the painter, and her friend Julius) embodies the more sublime form of the innocent, unconditional agape centered on others, which as inclusive, communal love transcends exclusive love based on partnership. Does Tzamouranis’s profane devotional image speak of a social utopia or of a fact that is always realized in the presence of lovers, which transcribes the metaphysical seeming Pauline “agape” for the people of today? The image radiates a pure humanism. Its counterpart would be the painting Die Nacht (The Night, 2010), in which a similar scene with the same cast of individuals takes place. Here, the female protagonist awakes waiting (and with her all of us) for the moment of fulfillment. It is a thus natural to mention the fact that this painting and even Tzamouranis’s work in its entirety is to be understood as a re-questioning of the classical link between the imagery of light and the idea of enlightened thinking, therefore, the occidental ontology of light that fundamentally defines our thinking and was called “helio-centrism” by Derrida. On the outer wing panels of Melancholia, full moon and new moon landscape sceneries are depicted opposite one another. Rays of light, luminaries, mirrors, eyes, and masks appear so often in Tzamouranis’s work in order to show the visibility-related foundations of the world, intellect, and insight in European thought. It is significant that the upper panels of the polyptych, in contrast to the painting Die Nacht, in which initially a rather unorthodox perspective of a view from above of a space whose perspective cannot be fixated is presented. This unusual perspective resembles an autonomization of space that simultaneously signifies a revealing of means particular to painting. Tzamouranis seems to want to communicate to us that despite the illusionism that he consciously employs and the persuasive dynamic of his art, painting always remains related to the consummate mastery of what is connected to handcraft, and should thus always be understood as a techne. Likewise, paintings such as Soika und Eva (2009), in which color defines the surface of the painting in an aggressive and explosion-like manner—one thinks of a “Pieta` of color”—strive to bring the autonomization of the coloring to the fore. The broad range of content in the polyptych (“poly-ptych” literally means many-faceted) obviously cannot be examined in-depth within the framework of this short presentation. Because apparently, this wall of monumental size comments on the conventions of painting since it became secularized in the eighteenth century, as the portrait in the form of the portable panel picture, and often against the efforts of painters to reverse this trend, became nearly synonymous with the nature of painting. Nevertheless, Tzamouranis’s mimetology does not strive to be an ennoblement of the individualized and still glorified ego, which would all too gladly be nourished by the modern industry of the spectacle. Our alleged immunity to images in the age of their technical reproducibility (oh, that’s only a picture!) turns out to be merely an illusion that wants to conceal the potential of the gaze to influence reality. United in such an art (thus techne is understood as the methodical achievement of a goal) is the desire to liberate human beings from the darkness of the cave-like dwelling in Plato’s well-known allegory of the cave from The Republic and the Christian vision of the Revelation to John in which “the end of the alternation of day and night and the rule of eternal light” is prophesied. And as the philosopher Giorgio Agamben has observed, Christian belief is present in a hereafter flooded with light in various, social utopias of liberation: thus, for instance, in the text of the German version of L’ Internationale by Emil Luckhardt, in which it is also prophesied that “the sun will shine without respite.” Yet for those who do not believe in something outside of the text (be it the transcendent sun of absolute truth, that light-bringing hereafter of religion, or the lightning-like revolution, which is always set in the future), this means consciously living in the illusory nature of the world creating moments of a transitive becoming, and affirming them through an art of presense, therefore through an immanent pictoriality of the simulacrum. Tzamouranis’s heroes are not acting individuals but rather melancholic witnesses to a world that has become unthinkable; unthinkable because it has long since shown itself to be unbearable in its immense injustice and everyday banality. Nevertheless, they are neither passive nor resigned. They are heroes of a contemporary paganism who enjoy their life as a simulacrum in the immanence of this world. One can gladly call such a strategy melancholic, since as every art and world literature, the history of art, and the multitude of literary and artistic greats considered to be melancholy individuals prove, it can ultimately only come into its own as such.
1 Karl-Heinz Ott, Die vielen Abschiede von der Mimesis (Stuttgart, 2010), p. 9.
2 Marie-JoseÅL Mondzain, Image, Icon, Economy: The Byzantine Origins of the Contemporary
Imaginary (Stanford, 2004).
3 Friedrich Kittler, Optical Media (Cambridge, 2010).
4 Victor Ieronim Stoichiţă, The Self-Aware Image: An Insight into Early Modern Meta-Painting
(Cambridge, 1997), p. 89.
5 The development of the art of the twentieth century can be seen as a movement that
leads away from “mimesis” and toward “semiosis,” or according to the terminology of
today, away from iconicity and toward the indexicality of the image. Ludger Schwarte (ed.),
Bild-Performanz (Munich, 2011), p. 14.
6 Jacques Derrida, “The Ends of Man,” in: the same, Margins of Philosophy (Chicago, 1984).
7 Robert Rosenblum, Modern Painting and the Northern Romantic Tradition: Friedrich to
Rothko (London, 1975).
8 Jacques Derrida, Of Grammatology (Baltimore, 1997), p. 163: “There is nothing outside the
9 Lambert Wiesing, Artificial Presence: Philosophical Studies in Image Theory, trans. Nils F.
Schott (Stanford, 2010), pp. 102–121; Plato, Sophist, 235d.
10 Mehdi Belhaj Kacem, InaÅNsthetik und Mimesis (Berlin, 2011), p. 21.
11 Gilles Deleuze, The Logic of Sense, (New York, 1990), p. 262.
12 Emmanuel Alloa, “Darstellen, was sich in der Darstellung allererst herstellt: Bildperformanz
und Sichtbarmachung,” in: Schwarte 2011 (see note 5), p. 53.
13 Svetlana Alpers, Rembrandt’s Enterprise: The Studio and the Market (Chicago, 1988), p. 43.
14 Ibid., p. 56.
15 Ibid., pp. 56–7.
16 Stoichiţă 1998 (see note 4), p. 166.
17 Ioan P. Culianu, Eros and Magic in the Renaissance, trans. Margaret Cook (Frankfurt am
Main, 2001), p. 54.
18 See Hans Belting, Florence and Baghdad: Renaissance Art and Arab Science, trans. Deborah
Lucas Schneider (Cambridge, MA, 2011), p. 218.
19 Sybille KraÅNmer, “Gibt es eine Performanz des Bildlichen? Reflexionen über Blickakte,” in:
Schwarte 2011 (see note 5), p. 69.
20 Hans Belting, “Zur Ikonologie des Blicks,” in: Christoph Wulf, JoÅNrg Zirfas (eds.), Ikonologie
des Performativen (Munich, 2005), p. 50.
21 Maurice Merleau-Ponty, L’oeil et l’esprit (Paris, 1964), p. 31.
22 KraÅNmer 2011 (see note 20), p. 69.
23 Kacem 2011 (see note 10), p. 61, Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe, Poetik der Geschichte (Berlin,
2004), p. 100.
24 Mirjam Schaub et al (ed.), Ansteckung: Zur KoÅNrperlichkeit eines aÅNsthetischen Prinzips,