Europe vs Europe, 2016 (Solo Project)
Installation view: Marie Laure Fleisch Gallery, Brussels
Golden Residencies, 2016, 3 mattresses 200x15x90 cm, bic pen on mattresses
L’Origine du Monde, 2016; bic pen on wooden panel 30×40 cm, red wall
Game Over, 2016, diptych: drawing bic pen on paper (Giuseppe Stampone), xylography colored by Hand, 1581 (Enrich Bunting), 45×35,5 each
Passepartouts, 2016; gold-plated cooper plate engraved 12,5×0,5×8,8 cm (particular)
Tentative Ecouchee d’une peinture utopiste, 2016; 10 drawings bic pen on paper (particular)
“… 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.
There are other names also. A passe-partout is a key able to open almost any door, an almost magical device that is activated on the very threshold of the door. Similarly, a passport is indispensable when travelling from one state to another; an emblem of the division of humanity into nations, with the consequential subtraction or attribution of rights and status. In Passepartout Stampone shows three simulacra of gilded passports form three different nations (Spain, Italy and Greece) which constitute the main destination in Europe for refugees from other states. These passports bearing their declarations of citizenship is automatically an instrument of exclusion: it opens doors to its bearer, and to possess one is a metaphor of something precious. Indeed, the right to enter some states can even be acquired through Golden Residence Programs by persons with sufficient financial means. In contrast to this sumptuous definition of residency are the masses of men and women with the single aim of a life to be saved, and who possess nothing more than a mattress for their sojourn in Europe.
Thus, in the beginning there was a name of a woman, indeed many names and many women, and an infinite number of voyages.
Another voyage is that of the Tuscan born Niccolò Arnolfini (also merchant, like the Phoenicians of Tyre) who travelled with his spouse to Bruges, another land of merchants and traders. The spouses immortalised in Jan van Eyck’s work are the quintessence of the revolution of values that permeated central Italy and Flanders in the 1400s with the birth of a market economy, international trade and banking. Giuseppe Stampone proceeds to disassemble and analyse the symbols and structure of the Flemish painter’s work, projecting it into a dimension that enunciates the unsaid, and extends the iconography of a promise of ideal bourgeoisie marriage towards a metahistorical interpretation. Tentative échouée d’une peinture utopiste [A failed attempt of utopian painting] highlights the presumed values of equilibrium and family perfection. Obedience and order between the couple is manifest in the hands and in the gaze of the characters, in the apparently casual objects, in the architectural conformation of the room, in the relation of the bodies and the surrounding space. Stampone observes the couple through a lens that reflects those causal historical relations that will be repeated. The graph paper support pitilessly frames a reality which is definitively subtracted from the vibrancy of nature. The subjugation of the wife, the entrepreneurial audacity of the head of the household, their middle-class luxury are metaphors of today’s Europe which constructs the supremacy of capital under its united banner. A well-founded couple in the form of the European Constitution and an economic and financial empire.