Dailogue between Philip Tsiaras and Francesca Alfano Miglietti

Francesca Alfano Miglietti
One of the problem of the art system is the need to compartimentalize the work of some artists into labels, typologies and places. Don’t you think that today the way to present art in this way is obsolete?

Philip Tsiaras
The need to categorize artists or anything for that matter is something more related to Charles Darwin than it is to John Ruskin. Humans have this predisposition or need to classify the universe. When that doesn’t work religion does the rest. When it comes to species, flora and fauna such inquiries are very useful - but in trying to quantify artistic energies much less so. I think that even in the artworld, most feel comfortable when they can label, identify, relate and recognize, put into a category or box what they think are meaningful relationships. Being outside that is less desirable. It is a harder road, as it goes against human instinct. We all have to make these choices as we go.

FM
The condition, real and as a methaphore, to be foreign, seems to me the most interesting thing of the last decade by opening the possibility of different cultures to live together. I think that the idea of a foreigner is present in a work which explores and investigates several theoric spheres. Do you feel a foreigner or do you feel to belong to some kind of territory (geographic or theoric)?

PT
I suppose to be foreign is to be strange. Camus’ The Stranger, was a book that fascinated me when I was growing up. Existentialism appealed to me at that age at almost an erotic level. But I think what we are talking about here is cultural estrangement. I was fortunate (although I was very unhappy at the time) that my parents emigrated from Greece to a cold, Northern Yankee, super conservative part of New England in the United States. This gave me permanent, foreign, strangeness status that I internalized negatively and pushed me to the arts where the uncommon was appreciated. In a sense, I have kept a part of that not feeling quite American, to fuel my search. for an identity elsewhere. Europe embraced me instantly as though I had never left. I have had a growing audience there over the past 20 years. For sure I am Greek first, whatever cunning awareness I have comes from that Odyssean upbringing. But I am very American in my appreciation of hard work, functionalism and order. These days I find myself also thinking in Italian. Who am I - I don’t know?

FM
You have always chosen a variety of materials and media. This has allowed you not to be categorized in one style. It is very interesting that an artist is longing for freedom without being subjected to any rule and to feel the need to constantly change. What does change mean to you?

PT
Change is for me fundamental. It is what cleans the head and clears the system. Change is a giant drill bit mining the unconscious. It provokes the artist· to discover and yield new reserves in what should be the limitless depths of the imagination. People fear change because it conflicts with routine, and routine or tradition, that big old bourgeois status quo has a soothing, comfort level. This comfort, however, is death to the artist, perhaps not commercially but spiritually. I work in many mediums because I enjoy the challenge of realizing my fantasy in any material. In the end, a strong artist will make any new material his signature, so regardless of a radical material change there still can be stylistic integrity. This kind of risky experimentation is not only intellectually healthy but necessary. If you love making art you must find ways to free yourself and keep the exploration fresh and interesting. The day your artwork becomes about filling orders for museums and collectors with the one type of work that the market wants from you only- you are finished.

FM
In your work often there is the presence of shapes, traces, almost like a human figure that changes and contaminates itself, from time to time, with nature, history, myth, and with the same art languages also visible in these last glass works. What is the body to you?

PT
I have never thought of myself as a figurative artist because so much of my subject matter focuses on non-corporeal archetypes like the vase, airplane, horse, head, high heel show, etc. But I suppose they are really all about the body. That, ·in fact, I interpret physicality though these objects, and make them erotic, sensual, multisexed, violent, passive, seductive and I guess ultimately human and figurative. This I have done over time more or less without knowing.

FM
Besides art, which cultural variance captivates you? (movie,media, encounters, travels … )

PT
Apart from art, in the sense of the plastic arts, I am interested and influenced by may things. Yes, of course, I could say music or literature, poetry obviously, wild boar hunting, rattlesnake taming, and alligator wrestling, human sacrifice, quality pornography and my favorite- bungie jumping over piranha infested waters. But I would have to say that conversation is critical above all these. Real conversation that gets somewhere deep and even dark, that clarifies and bonds you permanently to your friends, loved ones and family. That which remains in you and of them-this is better than any Tarantino film.

FM
What is the relationship between equilibrium, a characteristic of classicism, and excess?

PT
I believe I am rooted in a kind of excessive classicism or excess that is rooted in classicism which for me brings about the equilibrium. All this jargon can be summed up by : a dangerous artist is a lunatic with a formal education.

FM
How much has Venice and its mythology effected the works on this exhibition?

PT
It would be misleading for me to suggest that the mythology of Venice directly impacted on this exhibition, with the exception of perhaps the large golden bronze on the Grand Canal. Gold, that is, for the opulent conquistador. But I can say that I have had a love relationship with Venice that began as much as 20 years ago. I am one of those addicts that keeps coming back. I wear its seaweed in my hair, some of its turgid brackish water is in my veins, even its bad smells to others are sweet to me. Somehow it must have effected my work.

FM
What does the ceramic shoe represent in this installation? It seems to symbolize variuos ways of walking, of moving forward.

PT
I am not sure if this represents a change for me. I have never wanted to do what was current or fashionable. Installations, after you have seen several thousand of them, types like - one little machine in the corner of a cold, giant room making squealing, unbearable noises, quickly become more boring than most traditional painting. The arrogance of the installation is that beyond its
spectacle, show - biz atmosphere - it diminishes the viewers accessibility to it by insisting that it be bought in its entirety- thereby making it accessible to the institutionally rich. Where do all these installations end up anyway? I prefer the idea of an environment, which is what artists think of really when they are creating the final presentation of their work. This room of mine with 150 high heel ceramic shoes is just an obsessive moment squeezed into a little space.

FM
What does attract you to glass? Its fragility or its strenght?

PT
What interests me more than the fragility or power of glass is its immediacy and its transparency. The whole actualization of a serious piece of glass takes place in a few hours. But they are intense, molten hours, and always there must be three or four glass men working in internal concert, as though it were an operating room. This means that every minute is a challenge to turn the fiery blob of glass into something not only good or great but unique to you. Also, unlike ceramic which is tactile, dusty and opaque, glass is clean, untouchable (so to speak), clear, not only in transparency, but also in the way the different forms become fused. Extreme heat melts the traces of the juxtaposed elements making them smooth, organically unified, as if they were born perfectly into the world that way. Yes, I think that there is something fetal about the warm belly of glass.