Alessandra Cianetti: Filippos, you were born in Athens, moved to Madrid to complete your studies, and now live and work between London and Madrid. Your exploration of performance, painting, digital art, video theatre has been widely and internationally shown since the ‘90s and I wonder how your practice has changed – if it has! – since you moved to the UK in the very midst of the post-Brexit referendum’s landscape.
Filippos Tsitsopoulos: Well, my thoughts come from painting. I studied painting and I still work with this medium. Actually, my way of looking at the subject of Art is through painting as a form.
I work with performance as a conjunction to painting. Even my regular job for years and years in Madrid, after I completed my studies, was at El Prado Museum taking over the workshops related to this medium. The history of painting, especially the old ones, is from where I ‘drink’ as an artist, as a linear approach to painting. That means that as a painter I tent to connect everything that I paint in one huge imaginary reality, where the obsessions of the forms and the shapes are forming a long endless dialogue with the history of painting and the particular connection with other painters’ artworks. To see through their works and be inspired by the masters, was and still is the “daily bread” and the language to speak for me. I consider myself a painter that works with masks repeating and repeating the same but every time different identity, through new media and performance, hidden behind a mask, like an evolution that the viewer cannot go through.
I give different shapes always to the same face.
We can see and appreciate that one of my work continues the next one and the next goes to reveal the steps to climb at the following one.
Like in the old paintings where the definition of the artist through the movement of the brush and the scratches on the canvas was essential to discover their names, in my works the performative movements and gesture and dramatic texts through masks are working in the same way while also suggesting another “reading”.
Exorcising poetry and theatrical texts through modern undiscovered rituals.
But why texts?
It’s linked to my father’s heritage, a repertory actor, and my memories of him from his Western classical theatre performances and rehearsals that I never had the courage to do and to perform without a mask and with an undistorted voice.
How to face the figure of The father without wearing one of those masks?
Art is so intriguing to me as it was to my beloved painter Morandi, that singular example of an artist who was obsessed with panting bottles of delicate colours and different shapes all his life. Imagining the shining of the lightning and the tremble of the thunders in those bottles. I recall the sentence “for nowadays the world is lit by lightning. Blow out your candles Laura and so goodbye”.
This passage from Tennessee Williams’ play The Glass Menagerie, is representing how the torments of the world are having an impact on a delicate glass soul.
I do believe in the obsession of a subject, like an on-going project that takes all your life because you are part of it first of all and second because I need to complete the huge carnivalesque archive of myself.
Brexit to me is a situation that I see in the streets, I see it all over and it poisons people’s characters and dizzies their judgment. I see a country who is divided and politicians that want to get into power in the most filthy way.
Escaping to South maybe?
As a person I fight for beauty that has an ugly part but also the shining and warm temperature of the painted feelings of Morandi, but as an artist I have to find the ugliness through my own ugliness and as far as I am concerned, I have a lot of battles to fight still, to transform my own weirdness into something that I will finally like, and maybe, with time, I might win some of these battles if Zeus wants.
Alessandra: Your long-term body of work Is Art Lonely? is a multi-disciplinary exploration of loneliness through performance, interviews, drawing, writing, and exhibitions. In this research, how do you reconcile the figure of the genius white male artist so dear to the patriarchal and colonial European art history, with the realities of different kind of loneliness – some creatively productive, some socio-politically tragic – within the context of the arts?
Filippos: ‘Is art lonely’ is a project about loneliness in art. Everyone can be lonely in a moment of life, even when facing your own face in a mirror or a white canvas or an empty theatre, an academic postgraduate judge, or going to buy cigarettes in an off-license store and see the employee watching television in a cold Christmas night, while this singular silent moment is torn apart by shouting happy people entering the store asking for boozes and bottles of wine and spirits.
If you are a young boy who tries to reconcile the figure of the genius white male artist so dear to the patriarchal and colonial European art history and you appreciate traditionally defined beauty also as a measure of art, so much that I think sometimes that I have the Stendhal syndrome, simply you have to leave your country. Greece in my case.
Now if you have a father like mine who tries to drag you down because you would never be good enough for him and you live in Greece, you realize that you live at the intersection of being the colonizer as white European and also being the colonized as a Greek citizen and part of its patriarchal system. I saw clearly that I lived in the ‘post-British’ Greece that just changed hands with the Americans but the British colonial heritage is still there. Even the national water company at that time was EULEN, a remaining of the British colonial times. Believe me, you feel all these subjects you mention as an inner reason to make art.
The Greek society I was born was traditional and with a real strange mixture of matriarchal shaped patriarchy but when I left Greece and I lived in other countries I had the same loneliness in Germany, in Italy, and in Spain. This is why I created this project. So as a person and as an artist, I’m not, Julian Schnabel.
Alessandra: ‘Where are you? […] Do you think it’s started? […] Is this the space?’ asks you performer and collaborator Anne Bean in (2018) as permanent questions revolving around live art works but also relevant to your on-going exploration of authentic identity versus performed identity. You have been researching this topic through live art, video theatre, theatre re-thinking Shakespearean characters such as Hamlet and Macbeth, and music working with the Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra for example, while also involving in your exploration visual art installations and elaborately constructed masks. How are you developing those multidisciplinary lines of research on identities these days? What does the future hold for you?
Filippos: Anne Bean is in this project in several parts that are still on-going, was marking the borders. The beginning of something is also a border. Is this the space? Is this the space for art? And when did it start?
It started when I saw for the first time kabuki theatre when I saw repetition with my father saying the same text and then I recognized how he was placed on the stage.
To understand how someone is behaving it is to understand what he likes others to see on him.
Choosing parts from yourself and make them visible belongs to a primal theatricality and is performative.
When you impose yourself to perform, it is to adapt to a role and to play.
The performing identity and the reason for doing it are both blended at the same channel.
A performer can choose whether to perform or not. The nervous system gives the order. A real performance where the order is permanent with no way out and without any type of theatricality would be, one of my aunts, that with a great sense of humour because of her Parkinson said to me:
“My hands are trembling but there is something good on that. I could perform the finest vibrato with a violin!”
Classical texts can work as a metaphor to our daily lives, especially when we don’t want to face or admit or say aloud the real words to express ourselves about what is happening to us.
We use borrowed words to grieve that it’s an absolutely logical reaction of the brain, to help the body and the mind to deal with the feeling but not being exhausted by the facts itself and the reality that those feelings belong to.
I have sometimes that dream, when I sleep at night, that I’m a broken glass, that I talk. A tiny tear in pieces bottle that every small broken part has a voice and a tongue. Every work I’m doing has its own danger, and the danger is another word for border and when I finish the piece, my mind is separating the grain from the husks, and puts everything in the right place.
Then I am once again sure that not all creative madness is sacred and not all loves leads to a secret bonfire. Not in any wine you can find an inspiring god who is traveling and not everywhere you can find the Music in person. Not every colour is painting and not every mountain is sacred!
To invoke beauty when the horror is not unknown, is the border, to sing in the fragile boat of our existence, is the border, to put this boat into the sea, in the midst of the waves unleashed, to swim on bladders when, not far away, the great ships in which the things we loved … burn in Bed of desolation, to laugh in the hells … is not this what the true art proposes to us?
Is not this the program offered from the hidden place in which the artist attends to his creative delirium?
The musician, the painter, the poet the performer and to whom is inviting us that is another border perhaps?
A work of art is a pond in heat, a groove full of everything that we are unable to mention without trembling.
A work of art is a bonfire made of lost vineyards, of stranded dreams, of black milk held in the bosom of the night.
A work of art is what warns us of the drift of our mind and is the music that our anguish can compose while our daily routine mocks our flight and messes our hours. To sing in the fragile boat of our existence.
Filippos Tsitsopoulos. Born on 1967 in Athens, he started his studies in Higher School of Fine Arts of Thessaloniki and continued in Madrid, where he completed his PhD (1996). He is an artist that moves in the fields of painting, digital art, video theatre as well as installation art. He has also worked in the field of interactive experiential theatre, video theatre and artistic theatrical performance exploring the limits of theatre and painting since 1990. Filippos Tsitsopoulos video installations have been presented in many exhibitions and shows. He lives in London and Madrid where he worked at El Prado Museum for ten years. His installations and artistic theatrical performances are widely known in many exhibitions worldwide, as well as his performative interactions in institutions such as The Serpentine Gallery, FACT Liverpool, Bluecoat, Frieze Art Fair (London), Alte Nationalgalerie (Berlin), twice in Tate Modern, Toynbee Studios and Artsadmin, CGAC de Santiago de Compostela and Chelsea Theatre (London) among others. In 2018 his project “Is art Lonely?” was exhibited In Ostend, Belgium, selected by Jan Fabre and Joanna De Vos as part of the big exhibition Het Vlot. Kunst is (niet) eenzaam / The Raft. Art is (not) Lonely by Jan Fabre as “salut d’honor” to Jan Hoet that Filippos Tsitsopoulos was collaborating with him twice in the past. https://filippostsitsopoulos.com
Featured image credits: Filippos Tsitsopoulos