Arte e Critica by Elisa del Prete

How do we narrate history? When Man wants to transmit a social condition to his time, report an event that has happened, recall a political plan and when he wants to do this for those coming after him, what kind of representation does he use? What is the function of images in translating historical narration, what is the role of the narrator who writes it? Stefanos Tsivopoulos, Greek artist born in 1973 and living in Amsterdam, investigates the mechanisms of construction of history, the ambiguous meaning of the document, the progress of the technological medium used for reproduction, in order to elaborate autonomous works on current society.

Using video, Tsivopoulos shows direct representations in which reality and fiction slide apart and overlap. The initial interest for the drama on show, in which the care for the image and its editing verges on the manic precision, then gives way to a sense of disturbance and enquiry: the characters embody archetypes but are also endowed with psychology and tell us of a socio-political condition which they themselves take part in, while the moving image, which encompasses reality, cinema and theatre, speaks of the medium itself. In a work like Untitled (The Remake) (2007), where the success of television in Greece under the military regime is shown, the gaze loses itself in savouring the objects, gestures and light of a masterfully conceived scene. It then opens up to the historical narration, to military parades shown in the filmed sequences, lastly zooming in on narrators, television journalists getting ready to go on air, but also performers putting on some make-up for the set. So, the artist moves from one level to another, as well as from a language to another, from filmic narration to a documentary representation: “The narrative structure – he says – borrows elements from cinema but at the same time uses them with an aim that is bigger than history itself. My goal is to make films with various layers in multiple relationships, in which different stories, some more obvious than others, interweave.”

Despite using the codes of cinematographic language, Tsivopoulos never arrives at a filmic solution, concentrating instead on the a-temporal dimension of myth, through which he presents the questions of Man today like those from time immemorial. Untitled (In Plato’s Cave) (2008) takes us back to the myth through which Plato questions nature and the discovery of reality. By comparing an editing lab used by the German Propaganda Ministry during Nazism with a production studio of a contemporary reporter, the artist shifts the attention from the images produced in the studio to the video camera and those using it, namely, to the vision of those who rework history: “Technological progress – the artist explains – has provided the image with the power, formerly inexistent, to take part in the development of our perception and our life. So, it becomes interesting to investigate the hyper-reality which images create through the media and the enormous power that these achieve.” This sometimes achieves cognitive, demagogic and psychic forms of experimentation. In works such as The Interview (2007) and Reverse (2008), Tsivopoulos analyses the process in which personal and collective memory develop, showing how the media strategies are able to distort individual psychology.

Through the characters on stage and the double level of reality, the viewer sees with his own eyes how the cognitive process develops and he becomes an aware observer of this process and how it is subverted. In his recent film Lost Monument (2009), it is the persuasive strategy of politics that drives this process. Referring to the disruptions occurring in Athens after the choice to erect in the city (in 1963) the statue of the former American president Harry S. Truman, who gave economic and military aid in order to subdue the communist forces of the country during the Greek civil war, Tsivopoulos starts from the historical fact in order to then reveal the inherent paradox in a means of political communication like the “monument”, its public role, as well as its supposed artistic value. As a personage in decline, the “monument” becomes here an allegory of history itself, of a history whose fiction is mocked, a history that becomes a-temporal mythological narration whose level of truth matters little, of a history that the Greek artist revives in a Tragedy.

Arte e Critica, n.61, Dec 2009 - Febr 2010