National Museum of Contemporary Art Athens
EMST

Υ.Ζ.ΚAMI – BEYOND SILENCE

22/10/2009 - 10/01/2010

ATHENS CONSERVATOIRE

Y.Z. Kami

Beyond Silence

Athens Conservatoire

22/10/2009 – 10/01/2010

Curated By: Anna Kafetsi

Could painting today approach a spiritual, transcendental situation, visualize the beyond-the-visible, speak of the non-seen and/or the utterly Other? This is the fundamental question posed in Kami’s oeuvre. In an historical period where philosophy is deserting the threshold of metaphysics, painting is attempting to traverse it. It is fascinated by the mystic, ecstatic experience of religiousness, without however yielding to the “obscure” theological language or to the resurgence of religious dogmatism. Through this definitely heretic stance, it is seeking the redefinition of its boundaries in the post-avant-garde era and the formulation of a new creative condition for the age-old art of the paintbrush.

Anna Kafetsi

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Phénoménologie du visage: remontée nécessaire à Dieu,
qui permettra de reconnaître ou de refuser
la voix qui dans les religions positives
parle aux enfants ou à l’ enfance de chacun d’entre nous,
déjà lecteurs du Livre et interprétes de l’ Ecriture.

 Emmanuel Lévinas, Totalité et Infini 1

“The thing which keeps its secret”, writes Emmanuel Lévinas, referring to the façade of a building, “is exposed, enclosed in its monumental essence and its myth, in which it gleams like a splendor but does not deliver itself. It captivates by its grace as by magic, but does not reveal itself. … It is the face; its revelation is speech” 2. In phenomenological terms, the face, “a language before words”, according to Lévinas, constitutes a concealed closedness of the self, which reveals itself only through its relationship with the Other, a transcendental openness of being, the viewing of which transcends the perceptible reality of form. The phenomenology of the face, to which are dedicated many pages of the book Totality and Infinity (1961), could be seen as the par excellence philosophical starting point for the painting of the Iranian artist Y. Z. Kami –who, furthermore, studied under the French phenomenologist– in its effort to express the impenetrable human mystery. Both silence and its transcendence.

Could painting today approach a spiritual, transcendental situation, visualize the beyond-the-visible, speak of the non-seen and/or the utterly Other? This is the fundamental question posed in Kami’s oeuvre. In an historical period where philosophy is deserting the threshold of metaphysics, painting is attempting to traverse it. It is fascinated by the mystic, ecstatic experience of religiousness, without however yielding to the “obscure” theological language or to the resurgence of religious dogmatism. Through this definitely heretic stance, it is seeking the redefinition of its boundaries in the post-avant-garde era and the formulation of a new creative condition for the age-old art of the paintbrush. It is shifting the boundaries bequeathed by formalism, whenever it turned to the conception of spiritual situations, mostly through abstraction, in order to transpose them outside the visual field, by seeking spiritual inspirations and experiences in sacred texts, mystic rituals, poetic writings and symbols of the three monotheistic religions. At the same time, it is trying to bestow a new meaning to the painterly image, hence “legitimizing” it, which, with the development of other art forms, genres and media, found itself excluded from a particular cultural framework.

Portraiture offers Kami a privileged space for the reception of the Other, for the revelation of alterity. The artist has been cultivating this historical painting genre for the last two decades through continual repetitions which transcend the creative process itself in order to assume the character of spiritual exercise and meditation on a particular existential situation, similar to the one suggested by the circular formations in Endless Prayers, which allude to the ecstatic techniques of dervish Sufism. Faces that are captured in frontal immobility and introversion by the artist’s photographic lens, before being enclosed in a state of mourning or meditation within the monumental painterly image, are staring in front of them without looking at us, or, with their eyes closed, they turn their gaze inwards, in a sort of inner retreat. Familiar, everyday human faces, which are rendered with verisimilitude in their individual singularity, silently bring out the beauty of their gender and age, as well as an impenetrable existential depth through the traces of time, having at the same time clothed themselves in both the timelessness of the Fayum portraits and the sanctity of a quasi-Byzantine hagiography. Cut off from the outside world and surrendered to absolute inner peace, without any mediations of the actual space, they emerge, as foreign presences, as metaphors of otherness, from the transparent painterly surface which connects every human figure with its secret. With that unseen aspect that penetrates it, transcending its boundaries and the boundaries of the picture.

Portraiture, in its dual intramundane and transcendental, visionary dimension, becomes a habitat of the self and at the same time a gate of egress from it. The borders between nearness and distance are muddled and removed completely. Openness becomes another side of closedness. Familiarity embodies “foreigness”. Portraiture opens an in-between space for the continuous passage from the visible to the invisible, from the apparent to the hidden, in search of an inner knowledge and communication with the Beyond. It is a place of transitionality and translation which makes the visual transposition of a personal and unmediated spiritual situation an open creative process. Viewing is an integral part of it. Under the ecstasy of sublime meditation, the represented face that resists silence, and yet remains unheard and unspoken, invites us to speech. It attracts and frightens. It controls us and calls us into question. Through our own introspection, our own experiences and projections it unveils itself to us. The viewer/Other is a co-creator. His relationship with the object of viewing gives birth to meanings, interpretations and images. It is the word.

Anna Kafetsi
1. Emmanuel Lévinas, Totalité et Infini, Essai sur l’extériorité (Preface to the German edition, January 1987). Paris: Le Livre de Poche, 2008, p. III.
2. Emmanuel Lévinas, Totality and Infinity. Translated by Alphonso Lingis. Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press, 2001, pp. 192–193.

CATALOG

Editor: Anna Kafetsi
Includes essays by Anna Kafetsi, Vali Mahlouji, curator, critic and writer, and Dr. Evangelos Venetis, Senior Researcher of Islamic and Iranian Studies in the Department of Arabic, Persian and Turkish at the University of Leiden in the Netherlands.
119 pages., 30 x 24 cm, Athens 2009
Bilingual (Greek / English)
With reproductions of the works
ISBN: 978 – 960 – 8349 -42-1

Available for sale: price 20 euros

 

Rumi, The Book of Shams e Tabrizi (In Memory of Mahin Tajadod), 2005
Courtesy of the artist and Gagosian Gallery
© Photo: Rob McKeever, courtesy Gagosian Gallery

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