Speech by Laureate Christodoulos Panayiotou at the Award Ceremony of the Nemitsas Prize for Visual Arts, on October 8, 2015

I would like to talk about the syntax of success and the grammar of distinction. You see, it is with some unease that I am standing here before you. That is because through my art I always seek to discover, and therefore, reveal, the points that have not been manifested, the words that have not been spoken (at times because they cannot be uttered and at times because they are not allowed to be heard). I am trying, after all, to uncover that which the absolute say of power levels and what the dominant rituals repel. However, since whatever can be distinguished can also be seen and can therefore be prioritised, distinction calls into question that valuable transparency which my own, parenthetical, speech seeks to accomplish. I am using this sharp prefix “dis”, as heavy as it may lie on words, separating people and their actions, prioritising everything in the sliding scale of good-better-excellent.

Distinction, though, is also, paradoxically enough, our ability to produce meaning. How else would it be possible for us to perceive passion had we not been able to distinguish between infatuation and love? Without this analytical capability, Euripides could never have conceived the function of love and thus create the monster known as Medea. That would leave us all unable to identify with her, or even simply to understand her, while distinguishing how close can far away be. Without the distinction between responsibility and morality, Sophocles could not have written Antigone nor we have been able to understand where power ends, where freedom begins and how these two come in conflict (in this case, let “sacrifice” be discerned as collateral damage).

Allow me to express a wish. Let’s imagine arbitrarily (superficially even) that ideas can be released from their CVs and that the character of this distinction aims merely to make us understand. Thus, it is with this distinction between distinction and distinction that I would like to accept the honor that is conferred on me today. As this applies solely to my ideas. Mr President, Ms Louki Nemitsas, Mr Takis Nemitsas, dear committee, thank you.

On the other hand, I am fonder of the word “success”, as here the “dis” that distinguishes, is replaces by a parasitical “in” (as in “successful in” or “succeed in”), even if I prefer parasites to swords. You see, “in” is a parasite upon words, wearing them out, merely to emphasise their meaning. So here is another paradox, as I like to refer to the parasitism of being in luck as my second point – which lies on the fact that I am “in luck” to have the support of an exceptional family, meaning my parents and my sister, as well as the constant companionship of exceptional friends-of friends who are here now, or of others who are unfortunately far away and of those friends who will always be far away-and of a wider community of imaginary and real fellow travellers who have helped me doubt the obvious and pursue a less absolute filter for approaching reality.

I acknowledge the limits of tradition within which I move – the tradition we have awkwardly and “timelessly” named “contemporary art”. I often hear about the difficulties of understanding the language that I have chosen to use alongside many others, a language that I think can be justifiably considered self-referential or even “self-consuming”. I will not speak as an apologist of contemporary art – I have never worshiped it anyway, I hate doctrines, I changed directions several times, as well as ideas, sensations and aesthetics – but I take this opportunity to explain exactly where I believe its importance lies: it stands against the insecurity caused by the sense of the incomprehensible as well as the convenience of the reasonable and acknowledges the need to support complications. The world we live in is bewildering. So I think that contemporary art is one of the most flexible rituals that help one understand the vicious circles of our time. Indeed one could certainly say: “Yes, but isn’t precisely this very inclusiveness what allows so many misplaced incongruities?” I am not a cynical, however I do believe that we must allow space for incongruity as meaning cannot be realised without its opposite nor can experimentation emerge without relaxation.

These are not glorious times we live in. On the contrary. We are going through tragic and painful processes so as to defeat once and for all the ”glory” that we inherited through a series of rigidities and brutalities. If we ever succeed in that, the victory will certainly be important. Although we are now fifteen years into the 21st century, it seems that we are not done with the 20th yet, and the “glorious past” is one of the most dangerous links in our endless regression. Within this framework, “contemporary art” is still an admirable and useful genealogy, parallel to the “glorious past” and its own history. Consider, for instance, the hopes pinned on the future by the movement of Futurism and all the desires of the other pioneering acts at the time. Avant-garde is by definition a parachronistic concept, as it is manifested in a given present as a reaction, projecting its contributions in the future. Now, a century later, we all know that this future never happened and it never will. Therefore, there is nothing left for us to do other than be done with it once and for all.

I despise nostalgia because it is nothing but a caricature of the past. In any country I have been to, in any society I have been over the past few years, from Asia to Europe and the Americas, I saw people being nostalgic of their “glorious past”, through a series of choices and misfires that placate and idealise the past. Thus, unlike the futurists and the nostalgics, I would rather focus all my thoughts on how to win both the present and the responsibility that we have in this present. I do not wish to sound pessimistic, quite the opposite. Pessimism is valid where there still remains some fear that something may be lost, but now when everything is lost, there is nothing left for us to do but be optimisticwχοντας τιςε ένα δεδομένο παρόν, akomi fovos oti kati mpori na chathi, e se ena dodimeno paron antidrastika alla provalli tis wχοντας τιςε ένα δεδομένο παρόν, akomi fovos oti kati mpori na chathi, e se ena dodimeno paron antidrastika alla provalli tis ς. So I think that contemporary art can function dynamically in this charged field as it rests on memory and imagination, past and future, those two abstractions that the concept of “restoration” dangerously coordinates. I like to think that my work serves our responsibility to have a voice against “restoration”, to reconcile with the past and to capitulate, even now, with great delay, with the present.

Thank you.