As part of the KiSSiT: Shakespeare and the State of Exception conference, the uncanny Filippos Tsitsopoulos will display his video installation in the Studio of the Rose Theatre, Kingston. The installation is entitled: ‘What! art thou, like the adder, waxen deaf? Be poisonous too and kill thy forlorn queen.‘ It will be displayed on Saturday December 19, from 10 am to 7 pm. It is free and open to all.
During the long afternoon coffee break in the conference, Filippos will have some brief words about Shakespeare and the connection with the State of Exception regarding this visual installation and will put some points about why and how his art is related with the Theatre and directly to Shakespeare from an autobiographical point of view. This is the second time, Filippos is at Kingston Shakespeare, he also gave a performance, K for Kott, at the Jan Kott -conference in February 2015.
To preface his work, Filippos has written a reflective essay, a true exemplum of thinking through Shakespeare.
Even if I’m not working now with painting I consider myself a painter, who decides to use as a canvas other artistic disciplines, like video, theatre, installation, traditional repertory theatre, and performance. I have worked in the field of interactive theatre installation, exploring the limits of performance as well as in painting, since 1990. My practice engages the spectator/participant as part of a new theatre, or rather a system of including theatre as a catalyst of our daily life: how theatre can change our reality and ourselves.
I use concepts that belongs to the theatre, traditional theatre and modern theatre (the fourth wall, the precise point, the mimetic point, Defamiliarization effect – Verfremdungseffekt used widely by Brecht – and so much more). These concepts are applied to visual arts observing the effects that they produce in the “image” as plasticity behaviour.
With the use of self made masks, made from living materials and animals or plants, I construct parallel equivalents that enclose and juxtapose temporally disproportionate elements.
The dialogue with the history of Art is always alive in my works and in my life, also due to the fact that I was part of the external collaborators of Educational Department of the Prado Museum in Madrid from 2005 till 2012, where I held – almost daily – workshops related to drawing and art with the theme “Irony in Art”.
“Irony in Art” was also my research theme during my Doctorate studies in Fine Arts at Complutense University of Madrid from 1990- 1996. Before that I studied in Greece, as my name indicates, painting in Aristotle University of Thessaloniki in the Faculty of Fine Arts from 1985-1990.
The relation with the theatre, with the history of Art, with a big personal loss, combined with my childhood memories, makes me create a system of works as independent ways of thought and reflection on concepts derived from the performance and the theatre.
I perceive the process of my works as a Dogma, with strong guidelines, self-discipline and very precise rules of filming. An actor on the stage (myself), is combined with video actors in projection (that are also myself quoting and interpreting texts), creating a polyphonic theater, where the interpreter interacts with his projections.
An installation of video theatre and live art performance is the result. But something strange happens here.
The theatrical interpretation and the performance monologues are getting together with strange elements and absurd masks wanting to give us an idea of what a person might feel in the house of my artist father: Giorgos Tsitsopoulos (1929-2006), a professional repertory actor, who at home combined the emotion of testing his roles and his theatrical texts, with the daily reality of household tasks.
Anthropology research: In old traditions, in the Pacific Ocean as well in Africa, the aboriginals tribes create similar masks. Believing in metaphysical answers, “wearing” animals as magic elements of communication with their relatives who are no longer alive, using the mask as the vehicle. Believing that human beings in other “lives” are turned into fish, scampi, jelly fish, prawns, octopuses, squids, whales, and return in this form to their paradise, the sea. People having or hanging things, like beautiful flowers, animals, guts, horns, fruits, roots, hearts etc. – perhaps due to their attitudes or misfortunes – accounts for me adopting forms of the earth, as a juxtaposition to shamanism – using theatre and texts as the medium of liberating the senses, creating personal rituals.
I see the beautiful white clouds that go adrift and across the sleep of a deep, calm and beautiful blue; And I feel as if I am already dead. Blessed with eternity and freedom between the spaces
The impossibility to talk and communicate issues that happen to me was the main reason for combining performance and video. Although I studied painting, theater came up – it was inevitable – and all the love about the masks, “the layers of an onion of an actor`s visible visibility or invisibility”, made me jump, through painting to performance. The “nearest bus stop before the Theater”.
Thus the necessity to create a flexible mask, to get one new face at a time, to liberate one’s senses, although that means to construct a lie from the truth that is one’s own face, and with this new “face – lie” to start by telling the truth.
The most unforgettable story for the development of this performance system was this one.
Long ago back in the year 1993, the day that my mother died, when I was still student, my father, the professional actor, was interpreting Polonius in Shakespeare’s Hamlet in Athens. I must say that this performance was memorable and imposing. That man, my father, was completely destroyed by the loss of his wife and, on the day of her burial, he dedicated his entire performance to her! It was obvious that all of his gestures that night on the stage were speaking about her. The climax was when Polonius had to say, reading the letter of the love from Hamlet to his daughter Ophelia, with the words “Doubt if there is fire in the stars, doubt if the sun doth moves, doubt if truth can be a liar, But never doubt about my love, never doubt my love never doubt the doubt about my love, my love…”
My father repeated constantly “do not doubt about my love, my love” so many times that the other actors in the stage remained astonished, and knowing the facts, that the very same day my mother was passed away, they decided to remain inert looking at one another. The public did not understand what was happening and they began applauding, touched by the text and its constant repetition and the emotion of the interpretation, so much that they finally had to stop the performance, for few minutes because the people were applauding non-stop! And without understanding why, this scene had upset them so much, as a kind of attack of an enormous wave to their nervous system, they kept on applauding.
Later on, at home, it was the first night that my mother was not at home waiting for us, and many nights more… and while I was heating his meal for dinner, my father told me, “- That goes for her [my mother], you know”. And he continued: “And you, like Laertes, [his son in the scene] please try, in your life to be honest with yourself and with it, as the night continues the day, you cannot be false to anybody …”
It was obvious that he kept on interpreting his role at home, believing or trying to convince himself that the reality we live in, the truthfulness of life, can be inverted into the theatre and is an extension of art. The reality we live in, we bring it to the theatre; the theatre is presented back to life. And all our belongings are part of the big stage and scenery of life.
A few years later, in 2006 when my father died, I have decided to see all of his videos and his performances, read and remember all the roles, study all the monologues, as a kind of obsession, to understand my infancy and adolescence in my house full of theatre and interpretation and constant essays from Harold Pinter to Gombrowicz to Albee, and from Berry, to Brecht and Beckett, to Peter Weiss and Marat/Sade and to begin to articulate an enormous body of work of more than 72 videos of monologue performances.
And I have begun, by interpreting Polonius, for my father. I transformed my head with living elements, creating a flexible scampi mask, according to the face muscles and the movement of the mouth, imitating the red beard of Danish Polonius. And I played the text, my first text for him, saying exactly the same words as the ones he said for my mother. I transformed myself, to exorcise and communicate with my deceased father. The conclusion of a lifetime, the impossible answers to questions of our zeitgeist, how can you play or act in life and in theatre – and what if these roles could be inverted? Is the starting point or the beginning of my father’s philosophy as an actor and person – and my philosophy too – about life, religion, death, and love?
I consider my art as a “Sabotage of my own reality” and other people’s reality too. I use my face and my body in a concise and clear forefront. My face is the vehicle that serves to transmit the message. And the message is a question, or perhaps many: What would had happen if the theatre could be used in our life to replace the reality? What would happen if our everyday life was transforming into tragedy?
I refer, with all physical and mental consequences of the tragedy, including the sacrifice, to the blindness of Oedipus: To “see” will make you go blind? And the most important: How might we continue a stage play if one of its personages goes crazy, or simply that they are not necessary, or the zeitgeist in which we live has replaced them or overcome them?
If there is an absence of tragic figures in our life, why then do not we do Oedipus’ tragedy, without Oedipus?
Is theatre, and its necessary archetypes, sufficient to reply to the current human existence and its questions? Or is it only theatrical archaeology?
I don’t care much, let’s say, about Euripides life, but I m a passionate about Oedipus. This became the purpose of my work.
As Jan Hoet, director of the Documenta IX in Kassel, said about my works “Filippos is working with art as a subject. Art itself is capable of creating Art.” To speak and express myself with borrowed words brings me near to the behavior of an actor who learns and studies an already observed and analyzed reality and embodies someone else’s face, but under my face the background of reality remembers. It is like hiring a lifestyle for a minute to help you see and/or as in tragedy to let you go blind.
I use my face, destroying it with pixels and/or masks to recreate a natural disaster. The human suffering behind that mask and feeling of a nature passive to human suffering is inverted through dramatization and theatre.
In Greek vases, almost all of the figures are look sideways, except figures that should face death, who are the only who look straight ahead. So all my video portraits are figures who are mentally dealing with Hades.
In Ancient Greece, the actors didn’t come to act in a tragedy directly from the backstage, but the mythology says that, before a theatrical function, the Greek actors must first ask permission to play – from Hades, the kingdom of death.
This is where the Greek tradition is placing the actor before the play.
To find a specific image to respond to in one of my monologues is like juggling in the circus between nothing and everything.
The circus, by the way, contains specific images. Everything in the circus happens for real. The dancer dances with real risk on a real rope, and the bear tamer shows only the spectacle of the wild with domesticated animals.
When something happens really, it means that the image is a precise point or a thing. The actor’s face and the ‘garment’ is an image.
If the actor interprets himself, though he remains an actor, it is a precise point. But, if he identifies himself with the person he interprets the images produced is a mimetic symbol. Passageway between the actual time and theatrical time, imagined space with the real, in my aim.
It is very common for an artist to use his home ground as a canvas. Having a repertory actor as a father makes you inevitably a silent witness of his rehearsals at home. This fact can change you forever. Endgame, Hamlet and Othello, Berry, Bart, Beckett, from Jerzy Grotowski to Giorgio Strehler and from Ibsen to Calderon, to Peter Weiss, Suzuki Tadashi, Peter Sellars, Heiner Müller, Tony Harrison, and Thomas Murphy, to Kafka`s A cage went in search of a Bird.
If this is the conclusion of a lifetime with your father, then you must be close to a religion called “Ionesco” and the person is to swear, as Peter Brooks said, “in the name of the Bible of Jan Kott”. Theatre is the medium to understand the world. Jan helped me understand what it means to find the nonevident in the evident, and the evident in the nonevident.
Therefore, the project is related to a big forgotten: Jan Kott. A series of filmed performances in public spaces and monologues/reflexions is based on his two books (Shakespeare our Contemporary & Theatre of Essence), which are actually more closer to literature than to academic monographs. They will be used as theatrical texts for my monologues, to reconstruct an imaginary life of Jan in London. Like the Ulysses of Joyce who revisits ‘payments’ of a day time mythology, the personage who is acting Kott, who is myself, will revisit all his main theatrical subjects from Ionesco and Gombrowitcz, with the most loved subjects of Jan, which were the masks, his relationship with art and life, and his beloved and magical actress Ida Kaminska – well known for her Oscar prize but rather should be known for her Mother Courage, the awesome interpretation of Brecht’s play.
I had the luck to see a performance similar to this from the Greek actress Katina Paxinou when I was six or seven years old. Jan Kott knew Paxinou well and saw that play several times, including her in his specific book about drama. My father was acting the role of the priest in Brecht`s play next to Paxinou.
I barely remember Mr. kott now, but his smile, his black shirt, enjoying, like a small kid, the cakes Paxinou offered to the both of us in the backstage room left an enduring image. I remember him coming in the Paxinou theatre for some time. He spent time in Greece, in the Epidaurus Theatre quite often, as later I understood. Almost every night after school, I was in the theatre’s backstage doing my home work, watching Brecht’s play, enjoying especially my father’s acting, as every kid would do, till my mother, who usually finished her work would come later and take me home .
Well, this project starts mentally from my home ground and is transported to a theatrical ground that is London, where I now live, creating performances in public spaces, scenarios and monologues reflections about theatre and life, as if I was wearing metaphorically the skin of Kott who in my works now is living in London, walking the streets, watching galleries and Museums, sleeps on a boat by the river, approaching the strangers and talk with them, and uses masks – Kott’s favorite element of the Verfremdunseffekt.
Acting is putting on other faces and embodying someone else’s soul. I decide on Kafka to inspire this journey and A cage went in search of as bird became “Kage – where K for Kott”, which is the title of these works, and on Joyce to take care of the Ulyssean journey, of filmed performances and monologues all over London. The goal of this work is for a gallery to exhibit it as a photography and large scale multi channel video installation and it will have several such exhibitions when is finished. In the same way, London corresponds to a canvas for my performative works and monologues – as a theatrical ‘spot’ it is the most precious one.
As a Joycian Ulysses journey, where Homer’s Ulysses embodies the Joycian one and vice versa, as Marquis de Sade and Marat in Peter Weiss’ play are shifting one into the other, there is no theatre without a spectator. The only difference is that in the language of theatre we see things as opposed, as well as in my works, from the end to the beginning from left to right.
All this is like the classic theatre paradigm of the mirror, when Hamlet tell his actors to pull up a mirror so that they may view themselves, and if a theatre is a mirror then “the right is left in it, and the left right. In the mirror, our heart is on the right side, we cross with our left hand”. And if we ask ourselves, “what is real in the theatre” then probably we will answer “the chairs”. Yet these chairs when taken from the auditorium and set on the stage are no longer chairs but are representations of chairs, ‘spots’ in the language of theatre, like Ionesco’s empty chairs are waiting for the viewers to come. Also, an aim in my work is to convert the audience into actors.
The second part of this project that I am now developing in London is called “The Grimaces Competition Bus” and is drawn from an essay by Jan Kott about an incident that took place during the second World War in Poland. During one long night of constant bombing Warsaw two actors are trying, during this awful night, to fight and win a strange competition.
“The ugliest and most horrible grimace of the world made by the muscles of a human face”.
Finally, we don’t know who was the winner of this absurd expressionistic behavior, but it was used as an example by Ionesco later on to his students on how performance could push the boundaries and limits and how opposite the so-called theatrical truth is from reality.
The Grimaces Competition Bus is the digital and technological reconstruction and adaptation of that incident in a modern life and public art form.
In a #38 London bus 120 screens are installed in its exterior façade and lateral as well on the outside roof. People are invited to get in and describe with a grimace on camera, and give the reason for it in 10 seconds in the interior of the bus about the horror and/or the joy of their feelings, and/or personal or political disappointments.
Based on the essay by Jan Kott, this project wants to embrace the disappointment of the citizens to project it onto the actual social and human structures, by asking them to perform a grimace. In every stop of the bus new people will come up and new grimaces will be added in the timeline of the day. Every grimace will be filmed and streamed on the flat television screens in the exterior of the bus. This event will be collecting grimaces all over London. Older “grimaces”( from the days before) will be added in hard discs and streamed in some of the outer screens of the bus, while other screens will show the new ones live.
Some seats will be removed from the inside of the bus to include a space with one camera, waiting to record the reaction of a passenger to a memory or to something related, but always with a grimace. A video editing and streaming team of volunteers and other people explaining the action will be there to help and give the guidance points, where the artist is involved. The artist will perform also every day during two hours a sequence of grimaces streaming them directly on one outer screen of the bus. In several stops of the #38 bus,while the bus is moving, three teams will be collecting grimaces of people who are willing to allow their grimaces to travel along with the other people grimaces on the bus. When the bus stops at the stop, the hard discs will be given to the editors and will be streaming on the exterior TV screens of the bus.
The Grimaces Competition Bus is an adaptation of that Warsaw incident but in an outside inverted shape. It is a metaphor of the attack of the commercial markets, art markets, social markets, art war, “the constant bombing of the human rights and work”, as well the cuts of all type of benefits due to the new order of things which treats with indifference the unprotected citizens. This makes critical the reaction and activation of the series of primary feelings and interior nerve mechanics, spasms, and expressions, and the use of them as the possible theatrical utopia-answer or how collective reflection of the citizens performance answers or reacts to disappointment and to disagreement or agreement. In the exterior of the bus, as well as in Ancient Greece feasts, the Eleusinian Telesterion (initiation hall) and “Ex Amaxis” -events, this too will turn into a live structure of society in performance.
This can be considered as a collective, absurd comedy-drama to be viewed ‘live’ but in video, as an Ionescian puzzle, in the outside part of the bus in nearly two hundred or more connected and adapted flat television screens. In our modern theatrical theory, the fact of the two actors competing for the most horrible grimace under the sound of bombing Warsaw is translated into London reality.
This work will perform and criticize, with a grimace and absurdity, the world of today. This theatre bus will not stay hidden but will reveal the expression of the inner protected or unprotected presence of territorial freedom and the mechanics that arise in the human being in order to defend himself psychologically and physically from an external pressure, defeat the fear, as well as the sadness. Grimaces are the weapon to face the impossibility to formulate coherent actions and thoughts.It does exactly the opposite if we invert it. The coherent language may lose sense if it becomes polyphonic but criticism will be performed in everything and to everyone.
The idea of the Opposite, mentioned before, is the matrix of this project. The work will start from galleries and institutions (such as The Serpentine Galleries, The Whitechapel, Freize art fair and a lot more), filming myself there with my masks and will end in a social project where the bus will be the final destination. When this overall work will finish it will be exhibited one more time in several galleries. At this moment a map is being created to get all the locations from Museums, galleries to theatres and pubs that are taking part in this journey. To work with the opposite, to bring the end and the purpose of something in the very beginning of your investigation or a project, is philosophical. Every end embodies every beginning. This reminds me of Gotthold Ephraim Lessing (1729-1781), how prophetic were his words about how art shapes are translated, and with this I would like to finish: “Poetry finally is spoken painting, and painting is poetry who remain in silence” (from Laocoon).
An extract from Henry the IV from where the title of the work is from.
QUEEN MARGARET Be woe for me, more wretched than he is.
What, dost thou turn away and hide thy face?
I am no loathsome leper; look on me.
What! art thou, like the adder, waxen deaf?
Be poisonous too and kill thy forlorn queen.
Is all thy comfort shut in Gloucester’s tomb?
Why, then, dame Margaret was ne’er thy joy.
Erect his statue and worship it,
And make my image but an alehouse sign.
Was I for this nigh wreck’d upon the sea
And twice by awkward wind from England’s bank
Drove back again unto my native clime?
What boded this, but well forewarning wind
Did seem to say ‘Seek not a scorpion’s nest,
Nor set no footing on this unkind shore’?
What did I then, but cursed the gentle gusts
And he that loosed them forth their brazen caves:
And bid them blow towards England’s blessed shore,
Or turn our stern upon a dreadful rock
Yet AEolus would not be a murderer,
But left that hateful office unto thee:
The pretty-vaulting sea refused to drown me,
Knowing that thou wouldst have me drown’d on shore,
With tears as salt as sea, through thy unkindness:
The splitting rocks cower’d in the sinking sands
And would not dash me with their ragged sides,
Because thy flinty heart, more hard than they,
Might in thy palace perish Margaret.
As far as I could ken thy chalky cliffs,
When from thy shore the tempest beat us back,
I stood upon the hatches in the storm,
And when the dusky sky began to rob
My earnest-gaping sight of thy land’s view,
I took a costly jewel from my neck,
A heart it was, bound in with diamonds,
And threw it towards thy land: the sea received it,
And so I wish’d thy body might my heart:
And even with this I lost fair England’s view
And bid mine eyes be packing with my heart
And call’d them blind and dusky spectacles,
For losing ken of Albion’s wished coast.
How often have I tempted Suffolk’s tongue,
The agent of thy foul inconstancy,
To sit and witch me, as Ascanius did
When he to madding Dido would unfold
His father’s acts commenced in burning Troy!
Am I not witch’d like her? or thou not false like him?
Ay me, I can no more! die, Margaret!
For Henry weeps that thou dost live so long.
Filippos Tsitsopoulos (Athens 1967, Act. London) A multidisciplinary artist, he studied painting at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki and later earned a doctoral degree at Madrid’s Complutense University. His works include installations, video-theatre and media art.
He has worked in the field of interactive theatre installation art, exploring the limits of performance art, as well as in painting since 1990. His method is to get the spectator/participant involved in a new kind of theatre or rather a system that seeks to include theatre as a catalyst of our daily lives. In his work he applies concepts belonging to the theatre—both traditional and modern—to the visual arts, observing the effects they might have on the image, depending on their plastic behaviour. Using the masks he has made with materials as diverse as organic substances, animals and plants, he constructs parallel equivalents that contain and juxtapose elements that are temporarily out of proportion.
Since 2005 Tsitsopoulos has also been an external collaborator at the Education Department of the Prado Museum, where he teaches Drawing and Art Aesthetics, focussing on the subject of irony, which he researched extensively for his doctoral studies in Madrid. He has recently performed in Liverpool of which you can read here and here.