Aris Kalaizis

The Arrival of the Pope - the painting "make/believe" by Aris Kalaizis

Aris Kalaizis, Detail "make/believe" | Oil on wood | 24 x 32 in | 2009
Aris Kalaizis, Detail "make/believe" | Oil on wood | 24 x 32 in | 2009

Mrs. Prof. Regina Radlbeck-Oss­mann is teach­ing sys­tem­at­ic­al theo­logy. In her essay she approaches the com­pact paint­ing of Leipzig paint­er Aris Kala­izis "make/​believe" from 2012. In the face of the angel she recog­nizes scep­ti­cism towards the Ger­man pope Bene­dikt. This paint­ing is still far from every stig­mat­iz­a­tion. Hence, she demands the view­er to become act­ive independently.

The doors of the audi­ence hall are open. A fig­ure dressed in white whom insiders would be able to recog­nize the cur­rent Pope, Bene­dict XVI, walks through the door. The Pope approaches an ima­gin­ary audi­ence; his raised arms are exten­ded wide in a ges­ture of greet­ing. He is fol­lowed by two car­din­als of advanced age, a some­what young­er sec­ret­ary, and sev­er­al body guards. The Swiss Guards­man salutes; the light­ning storm of pho­to­graph­ic flashes is about to begin.

The scene appears quite famil­i­ar, but is in fact rather unreal. After all, the view­er is not look­ing at a screen or at a magazine, but at a work of art. The appear­ance of the pope is posi­tioned in the left half of the paint­ing and thus cre­ates a con­trast­ing image oppos­ite to him on the right. This area shows a young man in a rather rumpled suit, who would appear to be almost com­mon­place, were it not for the two wings which extend up high out of his back. By now the viewer’s gaze fal­ters and his eyes begin to wander back and forth between the two main figures. 

The con­trast between the two fig­ures could not be great­er. A church dig­nit­ary is placed next to an unknown per­son; we find the lead­er of a group next to a sole indi­vidu­al, a bright fig­ure next to a dark one, and an old man next to a young man. His out­ward appear­ance shows that he intends to make his own way out­side of con­ven­tion­al social norms. With his long hair par­ted in the middle and his beard, he would be able to pose for a paint­ing of Jesus as painted by the people of Naz­areth. – How­ever, this is not a gentle Jesus! His face reflects dis­ap­prov­al; his body is slightly twis­ted and turned away, as if he intends to exit the scene out of protest. His right hand with an out­stretched index fin­ger points toward the ground. With his left hand the young man is undo­ing the knot of his tie, as if he were gasp­ing for air as a res­ult of what he is observing. 

There they stand, oppos­ite each oth­er: the Pope, com­pletely con­cen­trated on the per­cep­tion of his rep­res­ent­a­tion­al duties, and the crit­ic­al angel who rejects all out­ward appear­ances. Such a con­trast is not new. The ref­er­ence to Jesus as an endur­ing bench­mark forms part of the church’s core self-image, and cri­ti­cism of the media-friendly orches­tra­tion of pon­ti­fic­al appear­ances has often been expressed. 

…is more than just a work that is crit­ic­al of the church

How­ever, this paint­ing, which Aris Kala­izis, the son of Greek immig­rants born in Leipzig, has cre­ated, is more than just a work that is crit­ic­al of the church. It resounds with the state­ments men­tioned above, yet it refrains from provid­ing one single, simple, and uni­ver­sally known answer, attest­ing to the irre­con­cil­able oppos­i­tion of office and cha­risma and plays the media-friendly orches­tra­tion (MAKE) against piety (BELIEVE). Kala­izis provides both of these fig­ures with light from above, the Pope as well as his winged adversary. The white cas­sock of the church dig­nit­ary even seems to cap­ture more of it than the earth-toned suit of the Jesus figure. 

How­ever, does this light really give the scene a sense of bal­ance? Is this light, which shines through an open­ing in the ceil­ing, a sym­bol for the pres­ence of God, or is it itself part of a media orches­tra­tion? And why is the Swiss Guards­man salut­ing with his left, rather than his right arm? Is MAKE BELIEVE indeed an orches­trated event, inten­ded to trick people?

Kala­izis provides no defin­it­ive answers. He asks the view­er to seek these answers for him­self without tak­ing any short­cuts that lead to easy solu­tions. That is why we can find such a myri­ad of nuanced shades! – The fas­cin­a­tion which eman­ates from this image grows out of these nuances. Just as one believes one has under­stood this work, the impres­sion turns yet again. One’s own inter­pret­a­tion begins anew to oscil­late between MAKE,BELIEVE and MAKE/BELIEVE and one hes­it­ates before form­ing an ulti­mate answer so that one can con­sider it all once again.

(Source: Lebendiges Zeugnis, Bon­ifa­ti­uswerk (Ed.) Magazin 1/2012)

©2012 Regina Radlbeck-Oss­mann | Aris Kalaizis

Prof. Regina Radlbeck Oss­mann, born 1958 in Schwan­dorf (Bay­ern) has a chair for Sys­tem­at­ic­al Theo­logy at the Mar­tin-Luth­er-Uni­versität Halle-Wit­ten­berg (Ger­many). She is liv­ing and work­ing in Halle and Schwandorf.

© Aris Kalaizis 2024