L’origine du monde, 2016
Ball point pen on wooden panel,
30x 40 cm
Private collection London
The origins of Europe (or towards its end)
“… you would think the bull is real, and the sea.”
Ovid, Metamorphosis, Book VI
In the beginning there was the name of a woman.
Tale of people, of things and ideas have always conditioned the names attributed to them. Thus, the love-stories of the God Zeus with princesses – either deceived, preyed on or seduced – reveal the name of a distant key to unlock the remote past. The abduction of the Phoenician princess by the God who transformed himself into a bull is only a short episode in the tormented relationships of the civilizations born on the coasts of the Mediterranean. History is illuminated by myth. Mythology has given them many names such as Iole, Telephassa, Europa, Ariadne, Phaedra, and Helena. Either abducted or sometimes fugitive, or departed to find their lost ones, but all women that have triggered oscillations “between Asia and Europe: and with every oscillation, a woman with her a band of predators in pursuit, passing from one coast to the other”. Is this not history? At an undefinable point in this oscillation, Europa – the daughter of the King of Tyre – starts out on her journey on the back of her captor. Riding on a god in the form of a bull, she travels towards a frontier land, wild and unnamed. It is now that we should “remember that the same term Europa was the terrain to the west of Ancient Greece, where the sun hides in a land of shadows. For the Greeks, Erebus was the territory of the dead, of obscurity and the incomprehensible”. The name of a woman. A tale made of names; of men overwhelming women and of other men, but also a tale of this sea surrounded by territories of exchange, of abductions and of pillage of goods and culture, something still not resolved today.
In 1632, over two thousand years after these tales (or in the very same instant in which these myths took place, according to our understanding), Rembrandt added his interpretation to the many depictions of Zeus and Europa. The Dutch painter’s work is void of the sober eroticism of vase painting and classic forms (although dealing with a god and seducer), and free from that luminous and Arcadian heroism that Titian was to introduce into European iconography. A young and frightened girl, almost the only representation of Europa chastely dressed in a long sleeved robe, is depicted on the back of a white bull.
This is the starting point for Giuseppe Stampone depiction of the cultural suicide that the Western world is undergoing. Europa vs Europa is the chronicle of an on-going act of self-cannibalism: a flight from personal and collective responsibilities based on the destruction of memory. Stampone creates a series of works that reconnect to the origin of things and their consequences. Like scattered tesserae, the various pieces compose a background which is a declaration which regards firstly his role as citizen, and then as artist, and then as an individual. It is important to remember that artists are not invested with any special exemption, nor they are gifted with superhuman talent or abilities. The author’s focus on his own work reinforces this absolute dedication to time and history, and a certain responsibility towards one’s work and of the same.
Indeed, in the beginning there was a journey.
A lacerating and forced journey : a symbolic form of the uninterrupted migration of humanity to lands which is unavoidable for all of us (even for Giuseppe Stampone, the child of emigrant parents and who is constantly in transit). In his rendition of Rembrandt’s work Stampone conserves the geometry of the 17th century composition, but chooses to subtract Europa from her captor. There is nothing to be seen on the coast from where the two characters depart, no handmaidens or any other symbol that could indicate a possible return to her homeland. In his Rembrandt-like background, the image of Titus veering in the port of Flanders has been substituted with the skyline of a modern European city; the original dimension of the painting has been almost doubled, alluding to the different entity of the migratory phenomenon today. The petroleum-like sea, both opaque and waveless hinders Europa in her voyage, declaring that she was no longer being abducted but was fleeing. This lake of pitch absorbs all hope, as if no safe haven or destination exists.
In the beginning there was the name of things.
In Europe vs Europe the shadow of tragedy of the original voyage of Europa is presented through the material fetish of the present day; through those documents that consent or negate salvation; in symbols that arbitrarily define affiliation, access to resources, or to a reality of denied rights. The destiny of migration – writes Paul Ricoeur – is that of being intercontinental, and “space and time, geography and cultural history are destined to cross”. It is a process in which the logic of territorial exclusion creates both physical and virtual barriers, defining as a right something which is essentially an acquired privilege. In L’origine du Monde by Stampone an uncustomary banner of a United Europe recalls the first group of six nations, but with a geometry that is akin to the flag of a totalitarian state.