Costas Tsoclis

Costas Tsoclis, Portraits, 1986, five videos, color, silent, projected on five paintings of acrylic on cloth, and Harpooned Fish, 1985–2000, video, color, silent, projected on acrylic on cloth, and metal, Collection National Museum of Contemporary Art, Athens (EMST), installation view, ANTIDORON. The EMST Collection, Fridericianum, Kassel, photo: Nils Klinger

Harpooned Fish was exhibited in the Greek Pavilion at the 42nd Venice Biennale, in 1986. The image of a living being, the suffering fish, provoked a reaction from certain animal-loving viewers who considered that the work violated animal rights and brought their demand that the work be withdrawn to trial. The magistrate assigned the case, Dr. Manuela Romei Pazetti, famously vindicated the artist, enriching the history of art with an important, unexpected, critical text:

“… In the half-lit room the visitor sees five large human figures, as if they were living portraits, the one set next to the other with a small dark space between them. Next to them is the image of the speared fish.

The iron spear, a body foreign to the background painting and stuck into the canvas, brings the viewer into the realm of reality, while the large painted shadowy vestiges, which owing to the video projection are charged with details and intangible movements, could tempt him into a reverie.

The figures have turned to look at the fish that has been speared and is still wriggling and presents to the viewer a living spectacle of death (which in actual fact does not occur).

Whatever the artist (Costas Tsoclis, the sole Greek representative at the 42nd Venice Biennale, the theme of which was “Art and Science”) may have had in mind, he has realized and presented each image separately, so the viewer indisputably takes away the image of a whole. The figures move about in a uniform enclosed space, a room that is unified by the darkness that dominates it. And whoever might connect the minimal movements of the portraits with the wriggling of the fish could take it as showing the indifference of human beings to the suffering fish. It is, therefore, humanity that can provide horror with its daily indifference, since this same suffering fish is seen on the stall in the market as being indisputably fresh (that is, freshly killed), whether it was killed by a spear or caught in a net.

Or are these large almost motionless figures, in which the slightest movement only underlines the hieratic solemnity, the ascertainment of the degree of pain, the anthropomorphic gods of myth? With merely a glance, they could help the fish, free it, and along with it, all cruel humankind. It is worth noting in any case, that the fish is not dead. An intervention is always possible in the vacillating imagination of the viewer between the myth and reality.

There is, therefore, no abhorrence, nor has an animal been used for immoral purposes, nor is there any cruelty for the purpose of entertainment …”

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