Entering the exhibition space of The Breeder, the mood is immediately dominated by a dark shell formed by the overpowering black walls, especially customized for the show. Into it, images of freshly culled game hang on the walls, building a deliciously haunting atmosphere of a Last Supper quality, which brings into play the mystified viewers as guests.
The installation is comprised by a series of oil paintings on irregular planks of wood. The motifs refer to the Flemish still lives of the Counter-reformation period, as well as to the psychological Spanish portraits and genre painting of the 18th century. Papailiakis, while collecting elements from the emblematic late Renaissance world of Cesare Ripa, identifies similarities throughout the history of modern art, in areas where the irrationality of the contradiction between mind and matter, the sacred and the profane, is humanized onto the living objects, who carry the marks of an underlying, and mute in its anguish, struggle.
Visually reinterpreting Lacan’s deconstructive thought, Papailiakis set the ball rolling for a universe occupied by contemporary furies who feed on various hedonistic excesses of a nouveau plutocratic and deeply idle society, such as designer eating disorders, or bizarre psychosexual deviations from what is considered socially necessary and safe, marking the beginning of the end of ideology and history. It is a state of affairs that straightforwardly addresses the Baroque semiology of the agony and the ecstasy, and ultimately goes back to the origins of human soul, as something inherent to it, and impossible to explain through empirical reason.
All these traits are ingrained into the works, and unfold the moment the animal has just died, when the last drops of blood dry out under the skin, which, when touched, gives out that familiar yet unworldly warmth, on the exact moment of the surrender of the flesh, the time of transition, of passing.
The richness of their ideological background makes the works easy target for further psychoanalytic interpretations. However, the austere Cezannesque architectural grid they are built upon (a recurring constituent of Papailiakis artistic input), the temperate colour tonalities, the lack of representational detail, and the subdued, underlying light instead of a more dramatic use of chiaroscuro, prevent the appearance of immediate symbolism and spare the paintings from an intentional, self-obsessed theatricality.
At the same time, the hyperbolic synthesis of the superimposed images causes a sense of intense movement, and the breaking down of forms creates a strong feeling of vertigo, the work without being glossy, or logo-ridden, retains a serious ambiguity, and is capable of multiple readings, via many levels of meaning.
For the artist, the mystery of life cannot be solved. It does not even need to. It just exists as a question for art. The only way we could possibly conceive it, is to experience it as a distant, unexplained, enchanting delirium.
by Faye Tzanetoulakou, is an Art Historian and independent curator working in London and Athens. She is a regular art critic for Time Out Athens.