Dimitris Papaioannou had opened Istanbul Theater Festival with “Medea” in 2000, however I could not attend “Medea” at that time. And long after I admiringly watched the opening ceremony of 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, I learnt that it was Papaioannou who designed and staged it.
As a person who watched all opening and closing ceremonies since 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, I can say that 2004 opening ceremony in Athens was the most creative one, followed by 1992 Barcelona ceremony designed by La Fura Dels Baus. Papaioannou's work was a contemporary work of art deriving its inspiration entirely from the past and culture of its territory and which managed to be universal without being folkloric like 1996 Seoul or pop like 2012 London ceremonies.
I continued to follow the works of Papaioannou from the videos he shared on the internet which contained some parts of his works, DVD record of his work called “2” and finally from opening ceremony of 2014 Baku Olympics.
That ceremony also had a brilliant balance and creativity; manifesting the grandeur required by the opening of the Olympics on one hand and showing epic and lyricism at the same time without losing humanity and human scale on the other hand.
I came up with an excellent opportunity while I was thinking that I should somehow watch Papaioannou live: Papaioannou was to stage his work before his second to last work “Primal Matter” in renowned Renaissance theater building Teatro Olimpico upon the invitation of feminist Emma Dante, the enfant terrible of contemporary Italian theater. Trip to Vicenza became a must considering the uniqueness of the venue and Papaioannou factor.
I finally had the chance to watch “Primal Matter-Special Edition” which was staged on 2-3 October 2015 on Saturday night, October, 3.
“Primal Matter” is a work of art which portrays, discusses and questions the relationship between the creator and the created in any sense from religion to art, human relations to medicine.
Wearing all-black (black shirt, black suit and black shoes), the “creator” of the work, Dimitris Papaioannou, welcomes the audience on the door of the hall, wishes “good evening” and checks the tickets. After everyone is seated, he moves to the stage from the auditorium, turns off the lights of the auditorium by unplugging a plug and then turns on the lights of the stage.
After this starting sequence, we watch various aspects of the tension between the “creator” wearing all-black (Dimitris Papaioannou) and the naked “created” (Michalis Theophanous) for 80 minutes as the artist and his model, sculptor and his sculpture, God and Jesus, Michelangelo and David, doctor and patient being examined/operated on a table, two different people who try to communicate in its simplest form (one the oppressor, the other, the oppressed), doppelganger of each other, human and his alter ego, one and the other.
The essence underlying all these dualities are presented in the sequence in the last 10 minutes of the 80-minute work. We understand only after we watch those 10 minutes that some scattered parts within the previous 70 minutes with a masterful fiction in fact constituted the components of this final sequence, the last image of which right before the lights go out whispers us that the “primal matter” of humankind is sexuality, showing that what guides humans is carnalism, not wisdom.
Papaioannou likes to break up, fragment and later assemble the tools he uses to express his problem (which can be human body or inanimate objects); but this time, he likes to assemble them with other tools (other bodies). The components which are the parts of a whole begin to have a meaning on their own as “distinctive” things when they are separated from the whole; later when they transform into another whole, they gain a different meaning. A meaning we, as the audience, associate with a part, transforms and propagates when the part becomes a component of a different whole. It is also the case for the whole; the meaning of a whole when we first met it is deconstructed, changed and transformed when the whole is broken up.
Papaioannou is constantly playing with the perception of the audience both while performing these fragmentation and assembling and to perform them. When you just get accustomed to a point of view, a situation/whole in a coordinate system, he suddenly turns everything upside down, presenting you a new coordinate system and a new point of view; a brand-new situation/whole.
Papaioannou generally builds his way of playing with the perception of the audience on the techniques of illusion and mystification; he successfully plays with surfaces and depth just like a magician. Papaioannou’s style of arranging stages is frontal, which inevitably means a two-dimensional design world. This preference might have resulted from the fact that he is a painter also or that he is intensively influenced by vase drawings which are the landmarks of antique Greek art. Perhaps, he feels sympathy to the frame stage of stratified Baroque theater that uses masterful illusion techniques, I do not know…
Although the stages which form the parts of the work are two-dimensional, the general of the work gains depth due to the coordinate/point of view/situation renewals I mentioned above; it becomes three or even four-dimensional. However, this depth seems to be nourished by middle age frescos, Baroque theater and cubism rather than perspective which was developed and turned into a fetish by Renaissance.
Watching “Primal Matter” in Teatro Olimpico which survived until today in its authentic form since its construction in 1580 was especially blissful. Teatro Olimpico is located in Vicenza, where Andrea Palladio, one of the key figures of Renaissance was born and produced his prominent works of art; it has a fixed stage (skene) inspired by antique Greek theater.
The unprecedented three-dimensional décor behind the doors in the stage consisting of antique city streets which was constructed in line with the rules of perspective was designed by Scamozzi who completed the building after the death of Palladio.
Papaioannou adapted his work which he normally limited with a blank wall at the rear surface of the stage to the architecture of the unique theater, making Palladio-Scamozzi’s fixed décor visible thanks to void pattern of a structure which looks like scaffolding. Of course, this décor of antique culture provides an excellent “background” to the work of Papaioannou both physically and ideologically. He associated “Primal Matter” both with the antique culture he is inspired by and with the general creator-created tension in arts. Papaioannou doesn’t confine himself to this; he also makes this unique background functional within the context of his own work by walking and getting lost in the streets of this three-dimensional décor.
In Dimistris Papaioannou’s 2016 calendar, “primal matter” dated 2012 will be staged in Vienne, Lyon and London. On the other hand, his newest work called “Still Life” dated 2014 started a tour this season in a wide geography ranging from Cyprus to Milano, Paris, Stockholm, Chile San Tiago and Bordeaux following its restaging in Athens and Thessaloniki. It will be visiting Portugal-Braga, Brazil-Sao Paulo, Antwerp, Belgrade and Montpellier within the next days. I hope to have a chance to catch “Still Life” in any of these cities