Vicky Tsirou, Curator – Art Historian
Researching notions of human identity (personal, societal, political, historical and cultural), Dionisios Pappas summarizes in his work concepts that concern our relationship with history, our material and immaterial surroundings, with others, and finally our inner self. A predominant element in his work is paper with which he creates installations, sketches, collages and paste-up murals out of digital prints.
“I woke with this marble head in my hands; it exhausts my elbow and I don’t know where to put it down”, said Greek nobelist poet George Seferis a few decades ago, describing his relationship with Greek history. How well can we stand today against a story that transcends us? How unequal is the battle between the present and the glorious past? Today, the burden of this story is unbearable on our shoulders, and we are embarrassed about not knowing how to manage it.
In the same concept of renouncing the finality of History the series of works Aphrodite Figures is formed. The idealized body, with its perfect features and proportions, has always been the subject of admiration and study both in antiquity and in the modern era, but especially in the mid-18th century, during the period of neoclassicism. Today it continues to inspire and be the subject of deep reflection. But in this case, in the works of Pappas, it is not about an ode to feminine nature.
In this series of works, the concept of immaculate and eternal beauty is contrasted with that of decline/decadence, impermanence, and ugliness. It also contrasts the once glorious past with the current declining state of affairs. There is no eternal beauty. There is solely a fluid state of being that cycles in perpetuity – from glory to decay, to death and over again. Thus, the dark-skinned images of flawless classical forms constitute a straightforward and critical commentary on the relationship of the individual with its history and identity, whether it bears a dimension of national identity or is perceived by a personal prism.
A series of children’s Dolls clothed in a collage of multiple black and white photocopies are a reference to human transformations and the necessity of adaptability in this age. We are constantly making an effort to adapt ourselves to an ever-changing set of social values and standards and this requires us to adopt new habits and dress up a “foreign skin” that will meet the expectations of others. The plastic dolls – our miniatures – become objects worthy of attention as they assume the importance of museum objects, having been placed on black marble pedestals.
At the same time, the exploration of the notion of identity for Pappas begins from within – by investigating the self and all of the essential elements that surround it. Consequently, the concepts of ‘face’ and ‘veneer’ are predominant throughout his artistic practice. Pappas considers the first to be the true manifestation of the primary characteristics of a person, and the second to be the artificial and exogenous element that forms one’s identity.
Pencil and charcoal drawings feature blurred and indistinct faces, underlining the growing demands of modern society that push the individual into alienation.
The depicted figures are faintly recognizable, almost indistinct. Perhaps these human-like faces on his sketches are what we envision ourselves as, seen through someone else’s eyes. Once the veneer has been removed (all the fake additions to one’s pure self), we are brought back to our shared sense of being, i.e. all of our shared traits are visible without the cloak of an identity.
His work Hourglass is an installation formed by 40 digital prints depicting anthropomorphic figurines with faces intersected at the center of an imaginary funnel. As these figurines fade into each other, the illusion of a time-tunnel is created. This illusion creates a sense of eternity, or it evokes the surreptitious glance that peeps out through the keyhole.
To sum up all of the above series of works draw their material from the same tank, the human appearance. What is it that characterizes us, what do we recognize as a person and most importantly what is behind what we create and bear? How do repetitive regulatory practices inadvertently or unintentionally shape a person’s identity? Paraphrasing Judith Butler, identity is not something one is, it is something one does. This is not about “being” but about “doing”. So through applied artistic research, and having first approached the image of the self, artist Dionissios Pappas touches on important aspects of our social contexts, and sharpens our capacity to understand and empathize with one another.
However, considering whether we should preserve the past in the present or whether we must save the present from the past, we will always use a semicolon.
Curator – Art Historian