Polys Peslikas, The Future of Colour

Cyprus pavilion at this year’s Venice Biennale makes a strong argument for The Future of Colour.

The Berlin-based artist, Polys Peslikas, is representing Cyprus in the 57th Venice Biennale of Art. The exhibition of the Cyprus Pavilion comes to life through the medium of painting and also acts as host to a number of contributions and exchanges by these guests: artist group Neoterismoi Toumazou, artist writer Mirene Arsanios and ceramist Valentinos Charalambous.

Contemporary art critic, Jan Verwoert is the curator while London-based designer, Micheal Anastassiades, devised the exhibition space.

Polys Peslikas discusses the Future of Colour and the 57th Venice Biennale for Ex_posure.

Your participation in the 57th Venice Biennale representing Cyprus pays homage to the medium of painting. Could you discuss this choice you made further? 

I would rather say it is a strong reference to the practice of painting and not the painting as an idea. Painting is vibrant and strong as a medium. The use of the pictorial language is essential to my practice, very familiar and at the same time difficult to work with because of its extensive use and particularly placing it in the context of a biennale. It was a challenge. And at the end painting and colour has been my first interaction with what I call art, as a young person living in Cyprus during the 70s and 80s. It is a primal language.

Taking as a starting point the role that pigments and colour binding agents played in the past in the Mediterranean, you wish to make a strong case about this area’s future; could you talk to us about this idea?

Historically colour was once key to politics and trade in the Mediterranean. Fabric manufacturing, medicine, painting and cosmetics alike depended on pigment supplies and colour binding agents like alum. The main alum resources lay in the Eastern Mediterranean. So Rome banned alum imports to curb Constantinople’s influence. Yet, despite the embargo, around 1500 the agent was still in circulation via the Venetian trade network, including Cyprus. The Future of Colour takes this story as the point of departure for invoking the spirit of unstoppable exchange —in the key of living colour. Today’s political imagination seems to be stuck in apocalyptic scenarios of cultures at war (West vs. East). We rarely ask what it could mean for life to continue and our exchanges to create a future. The show invokes the spirit of the Eastern Mediterranean as a zone where routes cross, travelers meet and trade in a poetic knowledge that may render past and future in fresh colours.

What is the future of painting as an artistic medium?

Painting as a medium would continue to perform the same way as it always has, to posses the welcome property of easily turning complex issues into a more simple and comprehensive way and at the same time to create a space that evokes other real spaces as well as fictive spaces and places.

You have selected a number of contributions and exchanges by guest artists to take part in the pavilion during the exhibition; what is the role that each event will play in order to enhance the main concept of your exhibition? 

We have three contributors at the exhibition and all three are present through the form of a newspaper in the exhibition space a series of cartoonish oversized newspapers provide the platform to form transactions, conducted by the three parties. Nicosia-based, internationally active, artist group Neoterismoi Toumazou (Maria Toumazou, Marina Xenofontos, Orestis Lazouras) are named after the local novelty shop of one member’s grandfather. Importing and exporting influences, they trade in many languages: poetry, performance, design, music and fashion. On the occasion of the exhibition opening, the Cyprus pavilion hosted a special night. Neoterismoi Toumazou preside over the event and set its theme: Πολλοί ξένοι— Many Strangers. The night will see. They curated and invaded for the night there own guest and performers in an intense and vibrant night and at the same time they included in their journal an epic poem they wrote as a collective. In her stories, Beirut born, New York based writer Mirene Arsanios interlaces biographies and histories. Her new piece of writing, Emergency Kids, finds her revisiting memories of Cyprus where she briefly lived, before returning to Beirut at the end of the civil war. Places and words, remembered from childhood coalesce into one another, and the time is always now. She performed reading in the pavilion the first days of the opening together with Neoterismoi and the curator Jan Verwoert. And last the Legendary ceramic artist from Famagusta, Valentinos Charalambous joins the conversation. Having travelled, made and taught art, for decades, in Baghdad and Limassol, he has been an inspiration to many, with stories to tell and a love louder than bombs for the arts of ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia as said from the curator in the long conversation they had infront of the Nefertiti statue in Berlin the two of them which is included in Valentinos’ paper.The texts are present in the space to be read in front of the works, we do make connections; language interacts with paint.

Christine Macel ‘s Viva Arte Viva unfolds over the course of nine chapters, nine “trans-pavillions” as they have been named by her; one of them is the Pavilion of the Colours, for which she comments: According to well-known neuroscientific studies, colours do not exist in themselves but are the result of a cognitive function performed by the human brain and eyes as they decipher reality. Colours thus appear to be a particularly subjective source of emotion, which calls to reconsider the relevance of the phenomenological approaches of art… How close is this perception, regarding the function of colour in art, to yours? 

I believe in the need we have as humans to live with colour, so I do not know if we invented it or not. It is a perspective for our own sentimental existence. I also know that in my practice the interest is not the specific colour I use, but the incapability of not using some other. It s a kind of an ongoing struggle of acceptance of sentiments.

Which are your favorite participations of the 57th Venice Biennale and why?

The sophistication of the French pavilion by Xavier Veilhan who transformed the pavilion into a recording studio. The generosity of Phyllida Barlow at the British pavilion, it is inspirational to see this woman at that age to work the scale and her ongoing connection with the material. The Polish pavilion by Sharon Lockhart for its strong silence and Geoffrey Farmer at the Canadian pavilion for the way he uses personal references to a collective symbolic identity.

Polys Peslikas, The Future of Colour, http://www.cyprusinvenice.org

Polys-Peslikas The miniature painter 2017
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