HIGHBREEDS

Opening: 18.09.2014, Duration: 31.10.2014

The ancient Greeks composed myths in an attempt to explain the obscure origin of the world and devise an ethical reference code for a mutually shared culture. The myths emerged originally in the oral tradition and subsequently in literature and the visual arts of the time – painting and sculpture. The oldest known literary sources, Homer’s epic poems Iliad and Odyssey, focus on the Trojan War and its aftermath. Two poems by Hesiod, the Theogony and the Works and Days, contain accounts of the genesis of the world, the succession of divine rulers, the succession of human ages, the origin of human woes, and the origin of sacrificial practices. Myths are further preserved in the Homeric Hymns, in fragments of the Epic Cycle, in lyric poems, in the works of the tragedians of the 5th century BC, in writings of scholars and poets of the Hellenistic Age, and in texts from the time of the Roman Empire by writers such as Ovid, Plutarch and Pausanias. One of the most innovative achievements of classical mythology is the invention of hybrids fantastic creatures that eloquently combine parts of different species into a single body, something impossible in real terms, yet convincing as a figment of imagination. Thus came into being such hybrids as the Centaur, Cerberus, the Chimera, the Dragon, Echidna, the Griffin, the Harpies, Hermaphroditus, the Lernaean Hydra, the Medusa, the Mermaid, the Minotaur, Pegasus, the Siren, the Sphinx, and Typhon. The climax of hybrids may be considered to be Alfred Jacquemart’s Dragons masterfully created around 1860 to guard by earth, water and air either side of the Fontaine Saint-Michel in Paris . All the aforementioned creations are but inventions of human fantasy stretching its limits and spectrum. Although existing only in the realm of fantasy, they are spoken of and discussed as actual challenges to classical norms and rational conventions, which probably best explain the term’s etymology. The word hybrid is derived from the ancient Greek term hubris (ὕβρις), meaning an insult or outrage, with special reference to lust, hence, an outrage on nature, a mongrel (Encyclopaedia Britannica). Humans invented the hybrids as a means to provoke in them hitherto unseen extremes of fear and awe, with a final aim to restore order and confirm authority over the balance of power. Regardless of their awkward appearance, however, they are often inspired by everyday life – the human relations, the animal kingdom, the natural phenomena and the technical advances or visions. Despite their metaphysical quality, the hybrids are vulnerable and ultimately succumb to human wit. It took male demigods or gifted human heroes like Bellerophon, Hercules, Jason, Odysseus, Perseus and Theseus to tame or vanquish them. With the fall of antiquity and the rise of the Christian world, the Latin term hybrida was formed to be applied particularly in biology, as the offspring of two animals or plants of different breeds, varieties, species, or genera, especially as produced through human manipulation for specific genetic characteristics (Oxford English Dictionary). However, the hybrids’ classical root, as meaningful composite of imagination, was rather subversively revived in modernism. In a world striving to break free from the classical tradition and forge its own mythology, the hybrid turned to signify anything derived from heterogeneous sources, or composed of elements of different or incongruous kinds. The avant-garde’s new tendency to reify hybrids markedly emerged with the often-quoted simile in Comte de Lautréamont’s 1868 Song VI describing a young boy, “beautiful […] as the chance meeting on a dissecting-table of a sewing-machine and an umbrella” (Lautréamont 1938:256). This erotic verse, which Man Ray illustrated in 1933 was often used by André Breton as a paradigm of Surrealist dislocation and had a major influence on modern art, especially as Marcel Duchamp’s ‘ready-mades aided’ exemplify. This modernist experimentation endowed hybrids with exciting new life and conceptual dimension, which still feeds the avant-garde. Postmodern culture promulgates hybridity amongst the discourses of anti-racism, postcolonialism, identity, multiculturalism, and globalization. Today, every aspect of art has been hybridized, from its form and medium to its site and mode of address (Kelly Baum 2009:94). The content of art too is likewise radicalized to become subject of inter-discursivity and inter-disciplinarity (Ibid.). Artists themselves demonstrate marked signs of hybridization, doubling as something extra to their creative identities (Ibid.). At the same time, while the archetypal hybrids have lost their original meaning. They still survive as remnants of a powerful culture that once formed the basis of Western civilization. Most characteristically, they featured from the start in the cinema, which developed into the 20th and 21st centuries’ mass entertainment industry, and they still appeal to filmmakers, as an easy way to capture the broader public’s imagination and become blockbuster hits like Desmond Davis’ Clash of the Titans of 1981 , remade in 2010 and sequeled by the Wrath of the Titans of 2012. Their presence in films testifies to the insistence of the film industry, in particular, to revisit the ancient legends; and this reveals, on the one hand, the lasting influence of classical mythology and, on the other hand, the crisis in contemporary culture. Owing to their supernatural qualities, the hybrids become victims of exhaustive exploitation today rather than be fruitfully used.This is why the theme of hybrids was chosen as subject for the present exhibition – to recuperate their status, so that they may be appropriated with a more suitable intent. The exhibition’s main title “Highbreeds” is a pun that homophonous echoes the meaning of its progenitor term. This newly coined term connects to the Duchampian ethos in the work of both participating artists – Johnston Foster (b. 1978) and Dionisios Fragias (b. 1971) – both tinkerers and manipulators of different methods and materials. Moreover, the title hints at the refreshing new way in which they incorporate mythology into their works. It may also conceptually suggest another meaning with reference to their work, that their own creations are bred from superior stock. Johnston Foster brings a long-lost sense of handcraft to his sculptures, which are created out of discarded, cast-off materials he finds strewn across highway medians, tossed into dumpsters, and abandoned in alleys. They are allegories for survival, ironically demonstrating how the essential materials of nature can be transformed to support human existence, but then are often recklessly consigned to the waste bin. In resurrecting these materials and transforming them into exaggerated and distorted creatures, Fostercautions us that disrespect for our environment can lead to some very unusual and unexpected consequences. Dionisios Fragias’ multimedia works, which are oil paintings on top of cut-out surfaces or assemblages, combine cultural, social, and political iconography from various phases of human history to comment upon human nature’s cyclical and competing tendencies toward creation and destruction, focusing on how today’s push toward technological advancement, while full of promise and hope, can be fraught with peril. His works often juxtapose elements from vastly separated time periods to indicate how throughout history various symbols, by which societies measure and represent their respective ideals, reveal the conflicting duality of mankind’s nature. The participating works in the Highbreeds exhibition – an equal number by both Foster and Fragias – are envisaged to present on the one hand a contemporary take on archetypal hybrids and on the other hand newly devised hybrids inspired by our time. These works exemplify the latest international trends in fine art production – appropriation of discarded industrial material for Foster and state-of-the-art water-jet cutting technology combined with traditionally painted reportage for Fragias. They re-think contemporaneity by way of old myths that yield new elements of comedy, satire, parody and farce. Thus, the archetypal hybrids may be reborn in a way that may truly concern us and regain currency in real life today. What are these techniques? And how are the at-odds techniques related to what you write below? The connection is hinted but never quite discussed.

By Megakles Rogakos, MA, MA – Art Historian & Exhibition Curator

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Dionisios Fragias

Based in New York City

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