Stelios Karamanolis, review by Stephanie Bailey
What is history if not a phantasmagorical assemblage of real-time events collated into a narrative through which fact so often becomes mixed with fiction’ It is a question that arises boldly in Stelios Karamanolis’s solo show at Christina Androulidaki’s CAN gallery in Athens, in which two canvases form a conceptual centrepiece. In Grace, 2012, the two paintings appear the same at first: painted copies of a photograph depicting Monaco’s royal family - Prince Rainier III, Grace Kelly and their children Carolina, Albert and Stephanie - taken from magazine Paris Match in the late 60’s. Yet something is amiss in the second canvas - the infant Stephanie has been replaced by a dog, and the faces of young Albert and Carolina have become contorted as if in response; there is worry in their eyes, a sense of unease. It is as if the children know that despite initial appearances, all is not well.
The paintings beg the question: in looking back at the fragments of times past, be they archaeological remains, photographs, or witness accounts, what is to be said about their relationship to us, now’ Such questions are bolstered by other works that take another historical moment as a point of reference - Operation Market Garden, an allied military operation fought in Germany and The Netherlands in September 1944, recalled in a washed-down painting on paper - parachutes and planes and men falling from the sky, as if in a memory tinged dusk red. Other works continue this walk through a hazy 20th Century; scenes from a meeting in a darkened room, to moments in a cocktail party or champagne reception, brought back as greyscale documentation of documentation, holding as much information to the present as that dog in the arms of Prince Rainier III.
But beneath the surfaces, a plethora of details are at hand, beginning with the opening date of the exhibition, 29 May, somewhat symbolic in that the date marks the anniversary of Byzantium’s fall in 1453, giving rise to the Turkish Occupation of Greece that lasted over 400 years. This temporal frame extends materially forward, through the painted works to Karamanolis’s latest series, Battlefield, 2012, a selection of 3D digital renderings in which the artist takes spaces from war-themed video games and strips them of all distinctive markers. There is no discernable sense of place, no traceable human presence in these images’ only architectural features depicted within the spectrum of black and grey and traces of a cold, steely, metallic blue, temporally suspended in some unknown future or an as-of-yet-to-be-experienced aftermath.
Against these renderings, a large, paper-stencil nearby spells out ‘Last Flight To Hell’ against a heavy, matted black background. Inspired by titles of 80’s B-movies, in this print, history is not so much a white wash as it is a black void of erasures, absences and negative spaces that render history as unknowable. Two roughly-constructed black ceramic busts extend this notion of a void into the very faces of the historical figures Karamanolis is reviving, positing such figures as absent and as unknown to us now as the times within which they were living. Staring into these rough, featureless faces, we come face to face with ‘history’ as a wholly abstract notion; a spectre of something we do/will not/possibly cannot fully comprehend. Perhaps in this context, the idea of ‘the last flight to hell’ is not so much a metaphor for destruction as it is of surrendering to what we might never understand. It may even be an invitation to live history rather than observe it, and in doing so, even partake in its fabrication.
29 May - 7 July