“The World Channels of Philip Tsiaras” by Maurizio Sciaccaluga
Identical twins are little more than a freak of nature. Two different but complementary entities can give rise to a paranoiac and disquieting result, more interesting psychiatrically than literarily. True artistic invention is that which flings open the doors of imagination and ambiguity, of horror and delight– that of the equal and opposite couple. To be precise, individuals, objects, or universes, apparently related but contradictory, are linked but unpredictable. Siamese twins are those whose similarities and divergences are indiscernible, yet damned to ambivalence. These complex twins, who share the same features with irreconcilable characters, have so many seeming photocopies of shared attributes: strength and weakness, grandeur and misery, goodness and evil, logic and madness, order and anarchy.
Thus Philip Tsiaras, like Cronenberg in Inseparabili (Dead Ringers) and Lewis Carroll in Attraverso lo specchio (Through the Looking-Glass), or Ben Bova in Il presidente moltiplicato (The Multiple Man) and Plautus in Amphitruo (Amphitryo) has decided to address the splendid mythology of doubles and the parallel world. In using glass and mirrored bronze, Tsiaras has exploited their disparate characteristics, and has created a new series entitled, Transparent Mirrors. A dozen glass sculptures documents an elevated research into a world of kitsch, controlled, and muted images, which are concealed by the monochromatic and irreal folds of the material itself. Such a project could only be conceived and realized in Venice, island home of baroque and brocade.
The artist has given form to unexpected transparencies capable of disorienting the viewer, hiding at first sight the true meaning and shape of the work, with shapes born of his study of traditional Venetian glass, at times pushing the anthropomorphic limits of Muranese glass production. Harmonious curves, controlled alternation of solids and voids, and the liquid consistency of the material keep one from immediately recognizing the subjects of the work: weapons, shoes, animals, and human heads in transparent shapes. Airplanes traverse titanic heads to become eyes and a mouth—like a contemporary Arcimboldo — faces which transmute into the snout of a rhinoceros, snakes coiling around faces that turn into an erotic scarf.
Tsiaras’ works, however, reveal themselves to the attentive observer for what they are: traps; merciless instruments of captivity. Perfidious, as well, in their inverted kitsch-ness lurks a mad and obsessive analyses of fetishism (women’s shoes being the prime suspect) and genetic mutation. They tell of a complicated world dominated by images and icons that melt into themselves to produce phantoms, ghosts, and disturbing new creatures. Revolvers and high heels figure prominently, and, despite the elegantly balanced composition, one feels instantly the notion of wounds inflicted by gunshot or seduction. Human faces melt into animal snouts, hair becomes spires, a pistol blossoms on the head of a gorilla as if by an evil spell. The objects come alive, and thanks to paradoxical tail fin, a shoe becomes the perfect accessory of an aspiring mermaid.
Tsiaras employs zapping like a TV viewer holding the remote control switching from one channel to another, one image to another, combining the distant and incompatible, inventing creatures composed of objects trouvés and spare parts. Only he is not looking at television but at the world, observing with acute interest its stranger aspects, those which arouse the darkest instincts. As if he were watching the World Channel deep at night when the oddest and most improbable programs are transmitted, the remote control of his art assembles the symbols of fetishism and vices, icons of illegality and violence. He reveals illogical and absurd aspects in his objects using beasts to evoke the sins and baser instincts of man. The genetic mutation activated by the artist’s sculptures is no longer related to the natural, it is the fruit of a correlation between man, nature, and technology. Coercing and disquieting, the final result of the zapping-collage, however amusing, has a hard, indigestible core, difficult to metabolize. Despite their studied charm and beauty, these sculptures are playfully wicked and aggressive; feigning benevolence, they lead us into a trap, the quagmire that Tsiaras loves to create.Furthermore, all of the works of the American maestro are twin births, therefore out of the ordinary. Monozygotic in appearance but incompatible in substance. To every glass figure there corresponds an analogous and opposite one in chromatic bronze, seen and titled as if observed through the looking-glass of Carroll and Alice. Transparency corresponds to opacity, fragility to toughness, lightness to density, thinness to thickness. Where the works in glass appear ethereal and impalpable, those in alloy stand massive and impregnable, but the shapes of objects and creatures are instantly recognizable. The monochromatic dominance of the glass, the dazzling reflection of the silver and aggressiveness of the subjects seems to be muted and contained, reserved for a closer second look. The brightly colored elements which abound in Tsiaras’ work - vases, airplanes, horses, and shoes – especially in the ceramics and the paintings (Desert Storm 1991, Duel 1992, and Oriental Blue 1994 come to mind) undergo a seasonal change in the Transparent Mirrors series, exchanging their multicolor livery for camouflage perfectly adapted to the Venetian ambience of crystal and glass. The shining grey of the coloring veiled in gold thanks to precise illumination of objects, blends with the tones of Venice fitting in perfectly with its history and tending to ignore the aggressive will of the pieces. The twins, strange and different, lurk in their dens waiting for someone to surrender, to give in, to let down their guard, to be pulled into a crazy tale of imagination, whipped by horse’s manes, gorillas, airplanes, Arcimboldesque faces that only a visionary artist could marshal.
To exalt the still atmosphere of such an original show, precariously balanced between exaggeration and reserve, excess and economy, the music of Martyn Ware and Vincent Clark comes into play composed expressly for the Venetian installation of the twelve sculpted sets of twins. The dry, lean repetitive notes of the sound track composed of sharps and flats echo from the metallic floor and are absorbed by glass or rebuffed by the silvered bronze. The melody disappears in the transparent elements diving into their limitless depths while bouncing off the metal surfaces and returning to the spectator. The composition consists of disappearances and reappearances, echoing the textures and materials of the works, their velvet coolness and their hard sensuality.
The sensation of unity created by Martyn Ware and Vincent Clark’s music is typical of the ascetic, cool, controlled, and hyper technological ambience that perfectly matches the installation of the show’s dominant monochromatism (as in 2001) but it also battles with the subjects themselves: mutating snouts, anthropomorphic beasts, icons of the dark lady worthy of films like Carpenter’s La Cosa (The Thing) and Roger Donaldson’s Specie Mortale (Species).
The silvered installation is designed to conceal the danger of Tsiaras’ lethal images, which disguise the blow aimed at the visitor’s heart. The visitor who does not anticipate this experience will find himself haunted and hunted by works of art, which are mutating, luminous and darkly fascinating.