Aris Kalaizis

Sketches of a nachmodern aesthetics

A philo­soph­ic­al treat­ise of Max Loren­zen in whom the often seem­ing doubl­eg­ang­er-motive should be caught in the paint­ings of Aris Kala­izis, at the same time as a pos­sib­il­ity form for a double ground. An attempt of an interpretation

Aris Kalaizis, Detail: In the Night of Silence | Oil on canvas | 51 x 59 in | 2008
Aris Kalaizis, Detail: In the Night of Silence | Oil on canvas | 51 x 59 in | 2008

Amer­ica 2005

Kala­izis grew up in com­mun­ist East Ger­many, the son of Greek exiles. He has become a prom­in­ent mem­ber of the so-called New Leipzig School, and in 2005 he had his first exten­ded stay in the United States. The paint­ings cre­ated that year, prin­ted in the exhib­i­tion cata­log "Rub­ba­cord", com­bine Kalaizis’s typ­ic­al sub­ject mat­ter: mys­ter­i­ous situ­ations that allude to the pres­ence of some­thing eer­ie, some­thing not dir­ectly pro­nounce­able, with ele­ments of Amer­ic­an land­scape and archi­tec­ture. One under­stands imme­di­ately why these con­crete and glass façades, not cold but just smooth and sterile, have found their way so eas­ily into Kalaizis’s world of imagery; they meet his need for "pur­ity and clar­ity of the back­ground in order to provide a sup­port for the scen­ari­os which are not neces­sar­ily so obvi­ous. What I need is the per­spect­ive order of space, the inter­ac­tion of col­or, which includes the util­iz­a­tion of a strictly lim­ited palette” (inter­view between Jan Siegt and Aris Kala­izis, "Rub­ba­cord." p. 69). “Olentangy River I – III”, all in tondo format, show a river, strange con­crete shapes in front of it or reach­ing into it, and veget­a­tion in the back­ground, on the oth­er shore.

…the pres­ence of some­thing eer­ie, some­thing not dir­ectly pronounceable

The con­trast between two areas emerges quite dis­tinctly: in the first pic­ture of the series a clean con­crete or stone curb encloses a very arti­fi­cial lawn, where bright syn­thet­ic green, almost unreal, con­trasts with the water, the dark trees and the pale blue sky and white clouds. The two areas, arti­fi­cial and nat­ur­al, are in indir­ect ten­sion with one anoth­er; they neg­ate each oth­er. If one were to cov­er the lower part of the paint­ing, a rel­at­ively peace­ful piece of land remains, whose abyssal nature – indic­ated subtly by the dif­fer­ent col­or of the flow­ing water and the black edge of the oppos­ite shore – is accen­ted only by the appar­ent “pur­ity and clar­ity” of the fore­ground. It now seems strange how the fore­ground itself becomes some­how shady. Sud­denly one does not trust the clean­li­ness and the peace any longer, and becomes aware of a men­ace some­how eman­at­ing from this foreground.

"An der Oper" [At the Opera]: a bright street, again a neat lawn, and the stone wall of a build­ing with five rect­an­gu­lar open­ings, one per­haps a door, the oth­er four win­dows in which, entirely unex­pec­tedly, a dark forest is reflec­ted. A path of sand leads up to the door, some­what orange in col­or (intro­duced into the scen­ic com­pos­i­tion like an extract from a piece of pop art). One would not quite dare to pass through it, for it may lead to an elu­sive twi­light zone, like the entrance way in "Der falsche Weg" [The Wrong Way]. Does this dark area actu­ally lie with­in this build­ing, do the reflec­tions show not what is without, but rather what is with­in, behind the façade?

This asso­ci­ation is surely not wrong, though it may be mis­lead­ing. Behind the smooth façade of con­scious­ness, under the sur­face of the ego-shell lies rejec­tion, ready for any kind of aggres­sion – as estab­lished by the psy­cho­ana­lyt­ic­al approach. We Europeans are ever quick to the draw when tra­cing down the viol­ent poten­tial of the reified Amer­ic­an soci­ety. Per­haps we make use of a the­or­et­ic­al con­struct which has long since become the sub­ject of doubt. Per­haps Kala­izis plays with it without fol­low­ing its pri­or con­di­tions. Let us take a closer look. The traces of a lawn mower on the grass in front of the opera lead dir­ectly to the win­dow panes; as if the machine had driv­en into them, pen­et­rat­ing into the realm of the woods, so to speak. But this realm is not behind the paint­ing, the paint­ing itself is this realm. If we suc­ceeded in per­ceiv­ing the reflec­tion on the panes, which in the first instance refers to a space lying out­side the pic­ture and then pos­sibly to anoth­er one behind it, as its sur­face on which light and dark meet, we truly would turn into its behold­ers and would not any longer look for hid­den objects in or behind it.

…does not lead into anoth­er area, but con­sti­tutes – togeth­er with the house front and its blue windows

The paint­ing refers to its own sur­face, hence to itself. Thus, the entrance in “Der Falsche Weg [The Wrong Way]” does not lead into anoth­er area, but con­sti­tutes – togeth­er with the house front and its blue win­dows, the patch of grass, the street and the double fig­ure of the girl with the anor­ak – its space on which or with­in which – its con­trast­ing com­pon­ents meet. And "Die Nacht an jedem Tag" [The Night on Every Day], that con­tin­ues to play and elab­or­ate on the dop­pel­gänger motif, already points out in its title that the night, the omin­ous clouds, the second, smal­ler house with the empty win­dows and, of course, the woman dressed in black stand­ing in front of it, call forth the pres­ence of dark­ness and mys­tery under the light of day, and sub­sequently do so for the inner eye. The inter­twine­ment of con­tra­dic­tion presents itself as a com­pos­i­tion of its own: The pic­ture does not con­sist of painted objects but of lay­ers and struc­tures that form a “place” which pro­duces “the occur­rences" or the fig­ures on which the atten­tion focusses at first (inter­view, in: “Rub­ba­cord”, p. 71); point­ing to itself by means of its con­tents is an essen­tial ele­ment of the picture's reflec­tion. There­fore it does not mean any­thing else, for that which wishes to isol­ate itself as mean­ing with­draws and becomes part of its own exist­ence. The paint­ing thereby cre­ates its own spe­cial real­ity. Of which kind? That will require fur­ther examination.

Aris Kalaizis | The Wrong Way | Oil on canvas | 23 x 35 in | 2006
Aris Kalaizis | The Wrong Way | Oil on canvas | 23 x 35 in | 2006

"But all works of art have only aver­ted the total pre­val­ence of bes­ti­al­ity, they have achieved noth­ing else.” (inter­view 1997, in: “Of gradu­al recon­cili­ation”) – but how do art works accom­plish this? Kala­izis gives the fol­low­ing import­ant note: “Art is always a joy, wheth­er or not I depict some­thing cheer­ful or some­thing tra­gic" (inter­view, in: “Rub­ba­cord” p. 75). This joy arises, it comes with, no, it is the cen­ter of the inspir­a­tion­al pro­cess which struc­tures the space of the pic­ture: “wait­ing for that moment of celes­ti­al tran­quil­lity when things finally fall into place" (inter­view 1997, in: “Of gradu­al recon­cili­ation”). At this moment, to be con­cise, the "Inbild", (ib.) the picture's inner image, has aris­en. For what can be seen on it is cop­ies of the concept whence its exist­ence arises.

The inner image emer­ging at the moment of tran­quil­lity is the com­pos­i­tion itself, the space in which it con­fig­ures itself. We have already seen that for Kala­izis this inner image con­sists of an inter­twine­ment of con­tra­dic­tion. Thus, the threat­en­ing and gloomy aspects have an essen­tial func­tion: without them there could not be any intern­al ten­sion, no sim­ul­tan­eity of the appar­ently pre­clus­ive. Con­sequently, one may not imme­di­ately equate the idea of the noc­turn­al and black with the idea of the bes­ti­al. Rather, it calls forth the hid­den pres­ence of a realm of danger without which there could be no art at all. Paint­er or behold­er, one who does not enter this realm by cross­ing a cer­tain bor­der, will only pro­duce pale cop­ies of real­ity or take their colored repro­duc­tion as pic­tures, even if one paints abstractly or uses subtly dif­fer­en­ti­ated art-his­tor­ic­al cri­ter­ia for the ana­lys­is. The com­pos­i­tion itself is invis­ible – it appears in the polar­ity of opa­city and mys­tery, form and the unspeak­able, as a sur­face or inner image of the paint­ing. The observ­er must attain this com­pos­i­tion as well, and one can only suc­ceed if increas­ing the intens­ity of one's obser­va­tion in order to take into con­sid­er­a­tion the equal­ity of both con­tour and ambigu­ous­ness, as well as fig­ur­at­ive com­pos­i­tion and its reflec­tion or self-abol­ish­ment. Indic­at­ing its sur­face, the pic­ture reflects upon its exist­ence and recog­nizes itself as the sim­ul­tan­eity of polarity.

The painter’s joy, which comes from such a self-know­ledge of his or her cre­ation, res­ults from the per­cep­tion of a cer­tain par­al­lel­ism of diversity, on the one hand exclud­ing itself and there­fore, on the oth­er hand, com­mu­nic­at­ing with­in itself. Indic­at­ing this sim­ul­tan­eity dur­ing the act of paint­ing means to delve into the inspir­a­tion space of the inner image with an increased con­cen­tra­tion and alert­ness and being present to what hap­pens in an act­ive-pass­ive activ­ity: "Am I the one doing the paint­ing? Do not the ocean or the fire, the earth, my gender, the nation, the his­tory, all speak through my work?" (inter­view 1997, in: “Of gradu­al recon­cili­ation”) "Glee" and "tragedy" both are neces­sar­ily ele­ments of the joy that accom­pan­ies the birth of art works. With­in the devel­op­ing era of the Nachmo­d­erne that gen­er­ates plur­al psy­cho-social struc­tures, liv­ing with­in par­al­lel situ­ations becomes increas­ingly pos­sible: today it is no more a dif­fi­culty for one to regard one­self as both free and con­strained, reli­gious and scep­tic, emo­tion­al and ration­al, optim­ist­ic and frightened at the same time, indeed it seems the con­cur­rence of con­tra­dict­ory feel­ings only fit the exist­ence feel­ing of the present. Kalaizis’s paint­ings not only reveal the basic com­pon­ents of this feel­ing, they arise in its inner space and par­ti­cip­ate act­ively in the cre­ation of the meta­phor­ic­al world where this feel­ing expresses itself.

…they arise in its inner space and par­ti­cip­ate act­ively in the cre­ation of the meta­phor­ic­al world

In approach­ing Aris Kalaizis's paint­ings, ini­tially some import­ant com­pon­ents of the real­ity cre­ated by his pic­tures come up. Their ambigu­ous ele­ment is no longer to be deciphered as an unmask­ing of an exist­ence defi­cient and self-ali­en­ated; it is on the one hand evid­ence of a neces­sary trans­gres­sion of lim­its, on the oth­er hand part of a tense rela­tion­ship. As a whole, these form the area of nachmod­ern inspir­a­tion: intense joy, as impar­ted by the arts, is not the oppos­ite of mourn­ing – one who feels this per­ceives life as a par­al­lel struc­ture in which affirm­a­tion and deni­al, desire and pain, beauty and ter­ror all sus­pend them­selves in pro­found sim­ul­tan­eity. The “celes­ti­al tran­quil­lity” that arises when the “char­ac­ters find their home” with­in the “inner space” of the pic­ture (inter­view, in: "Rub­ba­cord.", p. 72) is noth­ing without its oppos­ite, the con­stant threat of lim­it-trans­gres­sion, (it is the oppos­ite of “civil gen­i­al­ity”, "Rub­ba­cord", p. 63). The real­ity of the pic­tures which Kala­izis paints is integ­rated into the one of nachmod­ern struc­tures both con­tain or are jux­ta­pos­i­tions of fright, "bes­ti­al­ity" and affirm­a­tion of exist­ence. How can such con­trasts exist in such an undi­min­ished sharp­ness at the same time – in the present? One tak­ing this into con­sid­er­a­tion is look­ing at the mys­tery of nachmod­ern life itself that con­fronts him or her in the images pro­duced by this life.

The new paint­ings, painted in 2006, largely neg­lect Amer­ic­an imagery, except for in “Das Holzhaus” [The Cab­in]. But there has been a change in the com­pos­i­tion which per­haps has benefited from the exper­i­ences of Kalaizis's stay in the USA. Though the artist’s wife and daugh­ter are his pref­er­en­tial mod­els they are staged in a mat­ter entirely dif­fer­ent to the works of 2004. Since we know now, that the fig­ures are yiel­ded by the space in which they are loc­ated, we first lay our eyes on the space and only then on the fig­ures with­in it.

…both con­tain or are jux­ta­pos­i­tions of fright, "bes­ti­al­ity" and affirm­a­tion of existence

“Am Ende der Ungeduld" [At the End of Impa­tience]: a room with high walls and like­wise very high win­dows, covered by cur­tains, a light to the left and right of them, and below each a radi­at­or; at the left wall a queen-size bed with rumpled sheets – everything dipped in an intense green light of an uniden­ti­fied source. Except for the bed, everything exists twice, so the bed cre­ates a dif­fer­ence in the double spa­tial struc­ture. There­fore the almost naked young girl lying on it calls for a coun­ter­part that restores bal­ance and, at the same time, in appar­ent con­tra­dic­tion, marks her own nul­li­fic­a­tion. The dop­pel­gänger of the fig­ure lying in prone pos­i­tion is stand­ing on the right by the wall, absent-mindedly star­ing at the radi­at­or and the wall.

At the Opera | Oil on wood | 23 x 35 in | 2005
At the Opera | Oil on wood | 23 x 35 in | 2005

The title of the pic­ture sug­gests first sexu­al con­tact. The fig­ure, sep­ar­ated from her coun­ter­pole, the soul of the still-sleep­ing body, muses about what has happened to her; in the future, this girl will exist in dual­ity, with her phys­ic­al-emo­tion­al needs and desires and the vague memory of some­thing irre­triev­ably lost. Behind the stand­ing fig­ure, a threat­en­ing shad­ow looms, pro­duced, unsur­pris­ingly, not by dif­fused day­light but by an unreal source of light, situ­ated by the bed. Mel­an­choly and a cer­tain ini­tial las­ci­vi­ous­ness, which the observ­er believes he must res­ist, like­wise char­ac­ter­ize the picture’s atmo­sphere. We are con­fron­ted with a scene of utmost intim­acy and are appalled by the pictori­al rig­or­ous­ness with which it is presen­ted to us. To a much great­er extent, com­pared to earli­er works, some­thing entirely per­son­al (though not, in this sense, bio­graph­ic­al), the body-soul, is dis­closed to open access and trans­formed in paint­ing. "Am Ende der Ungeduld", the Nike-pic­tures, and a for­tiori "Am Mor­gen danach" are clear trans­gres­sions of lim­its: they use some­thing for­bid­den in order to pro­duce a realm in which the ques­tion about the con­di­tions of nachmod­ern art presents itself can­didly. The ques­tion becomes a meta­phor of its own answer.

"Nike" and "Nike II" repeat, para­dox­ic­ally, the dop­pel­gänger-motif of "Am Ende der Ungeduld", by alloc­at­ing it to two pic­tures. The first pic­ture again shows the exhausted girl present­ing her skinny body in an unwit­ting ges­ture, appar­ently sleep­ing; it is the body of a pubes­cent girl as not only the small breasts reveal, and yet it seems some­what worn or wasted, and, at the same time, some­what old. Eros appears at once as youth and as time. The left hand – and the left foot – pro­trude into the fore­ground. This hand seems worn out, the skin is reddened in places, the fin­gers those of an adult rather than of this child. The observer's gaze will nat­ur­ally flit over the neth­er region, espe­cially when try­ing to avoid it, and the girl's crotch is not so much hid­den as emphas­ized by the lone gar­ment cov­er­ing it. But more than that, and more than the almost-crude facial fea­tures with closed eye­lids, that give an idea of the inan­im­ate eyes through a nar­row gap, as it some­times is with chil­dren in deep sleep, this very hand pro­vokes a deep feel­ing of shame. To me, there seem to be two reas­ons. On the one hand, the raw, irrit­ated skin evokes the thought on an early sexu­al­ity in the girl and thus arouses the asso­ci­ation of an inno­cent cor­rup­tion of the nat­ur­al, which com­bines in turn with an asso­ci­ation of exploit­a­tion and abuse; on the oth­er hand, the blunt depic­tion of the ugly or at least unpretty appears strange in a sub­ject which should, from a clas­sic­al mod­ern point of view, express the oppos­ite – if not beauty, then at least innocence.

The paint­ing reveals itself as inde­cent in more than one respect. At first glance its coun­ter­part, "Nike II", rather ful­fills the demands of tra­di­tion­al aes­thet­ics. The girl seems to look for pro­tec­tion and secur­ity in the small arm­chair, appar­ently absorb­ing her. But at the same time she allows a view of her unwit­ting nud­ity. If one looks closer, one remarks that there is no con­nec­tion between the rest­ing body and its sur­round­ings. The dark leath­er of the arm­chair shows not a dent; the girl – body, head and arms – does not leave any impres­sion. The mater­i­al remains as if untouched. One is con­cerned: One starts to feel sorry for the child, who in fact is not a child any more; appar­ently that which should grant her pro­tec­tion poses a threat. But then is not her calm, relaxed pose all the stranger? Either she does not feel the cold­ness of her sur­round­ings, or she is unim­pressed by it. Any­way, close­ness and dis­tance are presen­ted in an unusu­al rela­tion here. They seem to coex­ist in a most para­dox­ic­al way oth­er­wise regarded as impossible.

The sleep­ing and yet appar­ently pon­der­ing girl, the double of the exhausted one rest­ing in a naïve las­ci­vi­ous pose, seems lonely, but not at all unsettled or hurt. She rather seems com­posed, her face show­ing some­thing unap­proach­able or self-reflec­ted. Sud­denly one under­stands that this fig­ure does not at all rep­res­ent the inno­cence lost by her coun­ter­part. Her mel­an­choly does not res­ult from any kind of harm, be it of an abhor­rent nature or oth­er­wise. She rather seems to express an aware­ness of the cor­por­eal­ity of her own exist­ence. It is exactly this know­ledge, and less a remembered regret of the loss of inno­cence, that would befit the oth­er girl, the counter-image, as one can state now look­ing once again at "Am Ende der Ungeduld". This is no con­front­a­tion between a nat­ur­al state and the loss there­of, but it is shown that life – also and espe­cially in its early stages – already involves an ambi­val­ence. This expresses itself as a mys­ter­i­ous sim­ul­tan­eity of desire and liberty, drive and beauty, affirm­a­tion of exist­ence along­side a deeply mel­an­chol­ic ali­en­a­tion from it.

The ungrace­ful pose of "Nike" refers, by way of omis­sion, to the pos­tures of female nudes in paint­ings, developed dur­ing antiquity and then par­tic­u­larly dur­ing the Renais­sance. "Nike II" com­mu­nic­ates with them more dir­ectly. The com­pos­ure of the painted body shows more than just a trace of beauty. But if the know­ledge of these youth­ful fig­ures: that of the pic­ture itself, con­tain­ing the par­al­lel­ism of the dif­fer­ent, as well as the par­al­lel­ism of beauty and its oppos­ite. Both meet in the com­mu­nic­at­ive under­cur­rent of the pic­tures: "Nike" and "Nike II" are in fact a dip­tych, whose imman­ent seri­al nature extends even fur­ther. For that which is plur­al in char­ac­ter and con­tains the sim­ul­tan­eity of ambi­val­ence longs to form self-ref­er­en­cing fields of meta­phors. The inner images of Kalaizis’s paint­ing com­mu­nic­ate with each oth­er by being mirrored in their dif­fer­ent arrangements.

Nike I | Oil on canvas | 36 x 43 in | 2006
Nike I | Oil on canvas | 36 x 43 in | 2006

The dop­pel­gänger motif which so fre­quently appears in these pic­tures, con­sequently expresses their inner momentum and not only an extern­al top­ic. It devel­ops com­mu­nic­at­ive struc­tures which extend into space and into time. The female figure’s pos­tures or ges­tures indir­ectly refer to those of the Renais­sance and the Baroque, which thus enter the pic­ture sur­face and pull it into a tem­por­al stretch­ing pro­cess, the coun­ter­part of the spa­tial stretch­ing pro­cess, which lends the series or fields of meta­phors. By this self-ref­er­ence, by point­ing to its sur­face and thus becom­ing reflex­ive, the pic­ture expands its sur­face: its real­ity does not cov­er only com­mu­nic­at­ive ref­er­ences to oth­er struc­tures of the present and to epochs evid­ently far gone, but also shares in a cer­tain way a decis­ive char­ac­ter­ist­ic of the nachmod­ern era – that which reveals itself to be a paint­ing by the par­al­lel­iz­a­tion of its polar struc­tur­al ele­ments, thus refer­ring to its con­tents just as such ele­ments, them­selves devoid of mean­ing, trans­forms its exist­ence into vir­tu­al reality.

It is real provided the per­man­ent indic­a­tion of exist­ing in a vir­tu­al space, as inner image or mys­tery (which in paint­ing and lit­er­at­ure is the same) of a para­dox­ic­al sim­ul­tan­eity of contradictions.

It requires con­cen­tra­tion, intense alert­ness of obser­va­tion, to bring forth the cov­ert sim­ul­tan­eity, the actu­al com­pos­i­tion in the con­fig­ur­a­tions of the pic­ture. "Deaf­con No. 1" (an untrans­lat­able title, appar­ently formed from the com­pon­ents of two lan­guages) makes the pro­cess of its emer­gence a top­ic of its own. The paint­er is appar­ently loc­ated in an ima­gin­ary room whose walls shine green as if from with­in, but look – not only because of this – like the set of a movie. On the right, the shad­ow of his left arm can be seen. The shad­ow of the oth­er arm lies appar­ently on an open door which, how­ever, reflects the bright­ness of a light source situ­ated out­side the room – but then the shad­ow cast on the door can­not belong to the man, whose raised arm forms anoth­er angle alto­geth­er. Thus, we are con­fron­ted with a dupli­city, its ele­ments ori­gin­at­ing from dif­fer­ent lay­ers: that which the paint­er wishes to find on the sur­face in front of him – his divided self – lies behind him.

The floor seems to swal­low the wall’s green gleam. Only next to the figure's naked feet, below dark trousers and white under­shirt lies a reflec­tion – some light breaks in out of the cor­ridor on the right, but oth­er­wise the par­quet seems like a black mass, not a sol­id base, but rather some dan­ger­ous void into which one may sink at any time. For the paint­er appar­ently the wall’s sur­face becomes that of an ima­gin­ary pic­ture which shall emerge in the light of the lamp he holds; he him­self, how­ever, has already approached it. Remem­ber­ing Kalaizis’s state­ment, it rep­res­ents what has not yet emerged on the sur­face and what the paint­ing trans­poses into its space. The two com­mu­nic­ate with one anoth­er. The apart­ment room thus becomes a place of ima­gin­a­tion which begs to col­lapse into a form and make itself vis­ible; this form is, how­ever, the paint­er who thus lets the interi­or of his inspir­a­tion­al pro­cess become a painting.

The sur­face, so intensely observed and scru­tin­ized, extends and becomes a space, which reveals itself in turn to be ima­gin­ary, there­fore in vir­tu­al real­ity. The actu­al real­ity of the pic­ture is its pro­cess of vir­tu­al­iz­a­tion. Its top­ic is the nachmod­ern con­nec­tion between inspir­a­tion and reflec­tion. The pro­duc­tion of this rela­tion­ship offers the observ­er an insight into that pro­cess of the mod­els of society's psy­cho-social struc­tures now form­ing. The nachmod­ern inspir­a­tion­al space just can­not be reduced to its tech­nic­al-instru­ment­al com­pon­ents. It rather puts con­tents into a com­mu­nic­at­ive rela­tion­ship on a shal­low sur­face which are para­dox­ic­al and appar­ently reflex­ively exclus­ive. One of the most import­ant tasks of con­tem­por­ary art is to make them vis­ible in their sim­ul­tan­eity of con­tra­dic­tions. Kalaizis’s paint­ing con­fronts the task by mak­ing it its imme­di­ate subject.

Mod­ern trans­gres­sions of lim­its have always aimed to break taboos. At the begin­ning of the twen­ti­eth cen­tury, this was made espe­cially clear, as exem­pli­fied by expres­sion­ism and abstract art. The trans­gres­sions of today, how­ever, fol­low a dif­fer­ent rule. Just the con­front­a­tion with the pro­hib­i­tion of incest, cen­ter pil­lar of the social struc­ture of ages past, does not aim to attack and over­throw a cen­ter of the struc­tures of social order any more. Con­cen­trat­ing intensely now on the para­dox­ic­al sim­ul­tan­eity of the mutu­ally pre­clus­ive, one crosses a line, break­ing off from the mod­ern age's remov­al from the present, from this age's inhib­i­tions and pro­hib­i­tions. To under­stand real­ity in a way that no longer strives to achieve some good and just uto­pia, we turn away from all eth­ic and aes­thet­ic prin­ciples of mod­ern­ity. We acknow­ledge the same valid­ity in viol­ence and in the desire for peace, in fear and in joy, in the pur­pose under­ly­ing our exist­ence and in the lack there­of. The danger the paint­er depic­ted in “Deaf­con No. 1” exposes him­self to is no longer just get­ting lost in the unbound Dionysi­an ener­gies of the uncon­scious; it is to look some­thing mon­strous in its strange eye, namely that this world is infin­ite and does not have any exit, inex­haust­ibly dynam­ic in the bound­less com­bin­a­tions of its struc­tures; and con­front­ing this rich­ness of pos­sib­il­it­ies is a mer­ci­less death, mak­ing any thought of sal­va­tion impossible. To with­stand such para­dox and to put it in paint­ing is the task which the artist has to face – a task which requires utmost concentration.

The most dis­turb­ing paint­ing in the series is doubt­lessly “Am Mor­gen danach”. Pink and green tones dom­in­ate it, mod­er­ated almost to the point of being tol­er­able only by the brown par­quet floor­ing. A girl dressed only in under­wear is look­ing for pro­tec­tion from a woman, per­haps her moth­er, who does not, how­ever, even raise her arms, remain­ing coldly dis­tant. Her poin­ted face and closed eyes lead to a slightly pro­trud­ing mouth and a bony chin, a tense cheek muscle in the clearly accen­ted right side of her face, deep­en­ing the crevice that runs across the cheek: clearly, the dis­tant atti­tude either takes a great deal of energy, or it is so deeply ingrained that it turns the face into a mask. The girl’s face recalls that of "Nike II". She seems wary, as if she wants to remain col­lec­ted at all costs, not to let out whatever it was that happened to her teen­age body and soul over the night before this morning.

In front of the two kneels a man in a brown jack­et, his shirt the same col­or as the under­wear of the child, who is, per­haps, his own. The strong eye­brows and the down-turned mous­tache, and, moreover, his eyes, fix­ated on his hands in hor­ri­fied fas­cin­a­tion, make him look some­what diabol­ic­al. One might sup­pose this is the per­pet­rat­or, who has wronged his own daugh­ter. On the right, a strange beam of light, some­how double or crossed, falls through an open door onto this scene, in which an intensely cold and life­less atmo­sphere harshly meets one of intim­ate warmth. Again, we are in an interi­or, look­ing dir­ectly at the extern­al­ized emo­tion­al tex­ture of its characters.

It seems the painter’s access to his child-cum-mod­el, cul­min­ates here in ruth­less obscen­ity. Kala­izis puts his own fam­ily into an inces­tu­ous situ­ation and clearly intends to artist­ic­ally util­ize the taboo which has grown stronger yet with the decline of the mod­ern age, and which soci­ety has erec­ted against child abuse. If one can­not suc­cess­fully use the inter­pret­a­tion described above to ana­lyze this paint­ing as well – if its graph­ic­al themery remains untouched by the inner inten­tion which it strives to integ­rate – then the attempt to inter­pret Kalaizis's work as the expres­sion of nachmod­ern intern­al images has shown itself to be mis­taken. How­ever, there is indic­a­tion that the top­ic of incest gives rise, in turn, to anoth­er one.

The hands the man is look­ing at belong to a paint­er: it is them that cre­ated the paint­ing in which they are shown. The cross of light on the floor surely indic­ates a long tra­di­tion, in which the pas­sion of the cru­ci­fied and that of the artist are par­al­lel­ized. This cul­prit, who makes his child his mod­el – whose moth­er, hav­ing suffered the same fate, can­not help her – is at the same time one suf­fer­ing from his own guilt, which is, indeed, the pre­con­di­tion of his work. The hor­ror and fas­cin­a­tion in pro­du­cing such a work, expresses itself in a meta­phor that inev­it­ably con­tains the core of nachmod­ern taboo­ing. By becom­ing the imper­son­a­tion of the worst con­tem­por­ary soci­ety can ima­gine, the artist reaches the area of utmost danger and exposes him­self to it. This is what an inspir­a­tion­al fig­ure could look like in today's para­dox­ic­al present. It com­bines ele­ments most con­trast­ing and gives a sur­face the space in which the mys­tery of life paints and reflects upon itself. If such a par­al­lel situ­ation appears, the most intens­ive joy, beauty and fright meet in view of the greatest breach of taboo ima­gin­able – its con­stel­la­tion becomes a com­pos­i­tion for the expres­sion of the meta­phys­ic­al (though not at all onto­lo­gic­al) truth of the twenty-first century.

(Addi­tion. Look­ing at the door once again, the met­al bar as well as the indent­a­tion on the lower edge stand out, which, moreover, floats a bit over the ground. Kala­izis cla­ri­fies this to be a refri­ger­at­or – obvi­ously one of the large vari­ety very com­mon for Amer­ica – in which some­thing is hid­den; the daugh­ter seems to know about it, the moth­er sus­pects the deed. "But there isn’t any hint to a morn­ing, a morn­ing light and no awak­ing and thus no solv­ing…" This note indic­ates a dif­fer­ent though related paint­ing-real­ity. Both can def­in­itely coex­ist, and neither that of the inter­pret­er nor that of the paint­er must call for the sup­plant­a­tion of the other.)

The inspir­a­tion-space is a vir­tu­al­ized one. The meta­phors of truth which were por­trayed in Renais­sance art as appear­ances of beauty and which in the mod­ern age, sur­vived as dis­tor­ted meta­phors, in which the long­ing for the oppos­ite con­cen­trated in its ugli­ness, have been sub­jec­ted to anoth­er meta­morph­os­is. To Marsilio Ficino, the great Neo­pla­ton­ic philo­soph­er of the fif­teenth cen­tury, vis­ible beauty was the appear­ance of the invis­ible divine beauty. This long­ing for vis­ible beauty actu­ally aimed for the lat­ter – without even being aware of it. Erot­ic desire, spurred on by the mater­i­al­iz­a­tion of the ideal, revived and escal­ated up to the search for the ori­gin of this beauty. What once was called Muse, has con­sequently been the pic­ture of an incarn­a­tion which steered the inspir­a­tion­al cap­ab­il­ity of the artist to his cen­ter. Does this rela­tion still exist, which pre­served itself through all trans­form­a­tions, includ­ing those of the twen­ti­eth cen­tury, or has it changed so fun­da­ment­ally that one can no longer say of it that it has changed its shape, how­ever radically?

Aris Kalaizis | Deafcon No. 1 | Oil on canvas | 39 x 47 in | 2006
Aris Kalaizis | Deafcon No. 1 | Oil on canvas | 39 x 47 in | 2006

"Psemata": A naked woman sits in front of a mir­ror and looks at her­self. No, this is wrong. When look­ing more closely it becomes clear that what we see before us is a staggered paint­ing. The first one shows anoth­er one; the mir­ror turns out to be anoth­er paint­ing, for one gets the impres­sion the arrange­ment of the oval area sur­round­ing the head and upper parts of the woman’s body and the open win­dow can not actu­ally por­tray the fore­ground of the pic­ture in which the nude back is situ­ated. Pic­ture or mir­ror – or both? When this ques­tion arises one under­stands at the same moment that the dif­fer­ence is only appar­ent; the mir­ror is painted as well. Arm and hand of the nude reach out to an enamel bowl as if she wanted to wash her­self; but with­in the bowl, the sides of which one can­not see through, there seems to be sand. Kala­izis says, Psemata sig­ni­fies "some­thing like: a lie, not the truth…” – the pic­ture is not, and there­fore is, what it shows.

It is namely the demon­stra­tion of the state­ment char­ac­ter­iz­ing it: being a pic­ture and being a pic­ture once again, hence the reflec­tion inten­tion­ally turned towards itself. It says, I am not a thing which refers to an object­ive real­ity, or rather assume such a real­ity ref­er­ence and rein­teg­rate it into my being, which is appear­ance. The naked body, sim­ul­tan­eously show­ing itself to the obsever and refus­ing to, being vir­tu­al­ized, shows its face in pictori­al reflec­tion look­ing at us – no, at first not at us but at the paint­er – with a look of attent­ive insist­ent scep­ti­cism. The fig­ure asks her cre­at­or by what means he stages her. She is giv­ing her­self away and yet with­holds her­self, just like Kala­izis says of him­self in anoth­er con­text: "One gains strength by nev­er fully reveal­ing one­self, by a cer­tain reser­va­tion." (inter­view, 1997). In the older works, the black dressed woman hold­ing a black bag before her belly and thus before her neth­er region stands for such a unity of expos­ure and deni­al. How­ever here, in the new­er paint­ing, anoth­er com­pon­ent is added in, which forces open the earli­er scheme. Not only the mod­el, the pic­ture itself, its inner image, ask the one who cre­ated it for its form of exist­ence – the paint­er who so raptly stud­ies the wall in "Deaf­con No.1" would find the explan­a­tion he seeks in this look.

If he will stand up to this stare – and exactly this is his task – a com­mu­nic­a­tion would be enabled between the inspir­a­tion and its inner object that could not be more intense. The object asks the inspir­a­tion to leave it be; the paint­er would thus become a tool for the cre­ation of his pic­ture. Its con­trast­ing ele­ments – the drive to devote and the drive to refuse – ask for the cre­at­ive aware­ness which helps them both to achieve expres­sion. Dis­tance and close­ness do not can­cel each oth­er out in it but enter into a rela­tion­ship of ten­sion. And now it is as if the painted eyes, in their scep­ti­cism, reflect the alert­ness which they require. If the dis­tance can seem as naked and bare as the close­ness does, then both will become a sign of a last intim­acy without mer­ging in any way. In its emo­tion­al space, exist­ence reveals its love for us and its irre­voc­able strange­ness. Both look at us out of the paint­ing; under­stand­ing this, the naked body, its skin shin­ing in crude but warm yel­low light, with its accen­ted bones and ten­dons as well as the traces of welts – left behind, per­haps, by cloth­ing – become an appear­ance of nachmod­ern beauty. This beauty is not based on an extern­al cen­ter, it is rather quite present and thereby real as well as vir­tu­al-reflex­ive. This moment intens­i­fies the oth­er moment although there is no har­mony between them.

So in turn there is a pos­sib­il­ity of an intim­ate encounter with exist­ence itself. In this encounter, exist­ence con­tracts into an exper­i­ence of beauty and in par­al­lel that of dis­tor­tion and destruc­tion. Kalaizis’s paint­ing grants us access to both by its surface's abil­ity to stretch into inter­me­di­ate lay­ers, those of the ima­gin­ary space of inspir­a­tion, whence appear the con­fig­ur­a­tions and shapes of the nachmod­ern world in which we live. Today, no art can imme­di­ately rep­res­ent the codes of beauty as in the Renais­sance era.

But also the attempt made in the last cen­tury to sur­vive the ruth­less dis­tor­tions which have happened to it in the his­tor­ic­al pro­cess, the uto­pi­an inclin­a­tions for its regen­er­a­tion, can­not be con­tin­ued any more. The aim it envis­aged revealed its clear total­it­ari­an poten­tials – which is the real reas­on why that impulse does not carry on any longer. Thus it is the task, to offer beauty in exist­ence and in the arts (both are mutu­ally depend­ent) a new place – but the one it chooses itself – under fun­da­ment­ally changed con­di­tions. The paint­ing of Aris Kala­izis is not merely seek­ing for it any longer, for it has already dis­covered this space and is now going to pop­u­late it with the para­dox­ic­al con­tents it calls for.

Aris Kalaizis | Am Morgen danach | Oil on canvas | 59 x 71 in | 2006
Aris Kalaizis | Am Morgen danach | Oil on canvas | 59 x 71 in | 2006


©2007 Max Loren­zen | Aris Kalaizis

Max-Otto Loren­zen, born in 1950, was a philo­soph­er and writer, as well as the founder of the Mar­bur­ger For­um. He died in Mar­burg in 2008.

Ib. For a while, Max Loren­zen has been work­ing on the paper “Philo­soph­ie der Nachmo­d­erne”, a philo­sophy of Nachmo­d­erne. The term Nachmo­d­erne does not refer to the post­mod­ern era. Nachmo­d­erne is the era fol­low­ing the post­mod­ern age, while accor­ing to Lorenzen’s idea post­mod­ern­ism itself is yet a part of mod­ern­ity. Then, nachmod­ern aes­thet­ics sig­ni­fy aes­thet­ic par­al­lel exper­i­ences which are symp­to­mat­ic for our age.

Nachmo­d­erne can be defined as new soci­ety struc­ture that has been devel­op­ing since the nineties of the last cen­tury, increas­ingly embra­cing the psyche of man. What would be deteri­or­a­tion from modernity’s point of view, cre­ates fields of meta­phors with stand-alone mor­als such as the par­al­lel­iz­ing, co-exist­ence or sim­ul­tan­eity of the appar­ently pre­clus­ive, of polar­ity or con­tra­dic­tions. Cent­ral struc­tures that have been val­id up to the end of mod­ern­ity are now replaced by plur­al psy­cho-social struc­tures that do without a core or cen­ter. The con­sequences for mor­ale and eth­ics, as well as for an aes­thet­ic of the present time, are incalculable.

© Aris Kalaizis 2024