Roman Pictural

Dimitris Condos’ “Roman Pictural” revealed to me something more than what we were taught by the scientific myths. There is another truth, much more substantial, which deserves to be rediscovered. It is the aspect of writing which is “un-recognizable”, visible and yet occult; it is something as insignificant as the direct expression of the gesture. The hand exists as a unique and inimitable tool and it traces and records the human sense and experience.

In my opinion, any attempt to read this illuminating narrative through the recruitment of coded knowledge afore the valuable assistance of the pure sense would be doomed to fail. Such an observation might seem aphoristic even illogical, but it originates from my belief that the story and deeper meaning of Dimitris Condos’ narrative is the writing itself in its authentic and “archetypal” form. The writing is presented as a ritual gesture, a physical experience, a sense and a rhythm.

I could dare to formulate just one more “paradox” concerning the “roman pictural”; it has helped me understand some of Roland Barthes’ thoughts which, when I had first read them some years ago, had seemed more or less unfamiliar. The French semiologist and writer considered the separation of the two writing systems, verbal and visual, as a necessary and inescapable consequence of the western way of thought; a separation which is not after all irrevocable. The true essence of writing should not rely neither on its communicative nor its socio-economic function, but in the future it could be “revealed” through the formation of a holistic system, a “holistic semiography”, which will be unreadable and will be directed to the eye. These thoughts were presented in the 70’s, during a symposium for the painting and writing of signs – this is a time when semiologists and a lot of contemporary artists show great interest for the comparative analysis of the systems formulated by the West and the eastern cultures.

The relationship between word and image, the explanatory or misleading function of the text (word or phrase) in an artistic composition, the activation, the coming to life, in other words, of the narrative, using the complementary function of the image, all these serve as a well-known agreement between the two systems of writing which they (traditionally) support and at the same time undermine each other. In the 20th century art followed the general perspective of boundary elimination among different artistic and cultural expressions and attempted a frequently bold disruption of the autonomy of the word and the artistic expression. However, apart from really few exceptions – among them Klee’s wonderful pictograms or Masson’s pseudo –ideograms – along with modern art, these two systems of writing functioned, perhaps not autonomously, but submissively one to the other. If we were to add to the above considerations the doomed to fail achievement of automatic syntax, the inevitable coding of gestural art and a lot of artists’ fruitless effort to apply writing types of the East, we should come to the conclusion that the western civilization failed in its effort to apply a type of writing unburdened from the logocentrism and the utilitarian communication model.

Dimitris Condos’ «roman pictural» encapsulates several of the 20th century artistic pursuits, without being trapped by the ideology and illusions of an allegedly revolutionary and subversive writing. Condos’ dense and meandering graphism seems to recall through a ritual of indefinite introspective formulations, memories of pre-cultural rhythmic drawings. This covert and, at the same time, revealing reference to a latent area of the conscience – before the writing acquired meaning and before pictorial encoding – is unrelated to automatic writing – anyway nonexistent – the pseudo naïve audacity of the so-called «original» art.

I could not avoid thinking that Henri Michaux, even though it may seem incongruous, so as to accomplish the doubtful in my opinion results of his own “holistic writing”, resorted to the solution of fake paradises, halluciongens and mescaline. On the other hand, the graphism of “roman pictural” is a process of transcendence through meditation and knowledge. Condos’ artistic proposition attempts a release from the dogmatic commitment or hasty overthrow of any writing system, at a time when this model tends to become a trend or even an institution. “Roman pictural” asserts everything writing should reveal and not hide. I would suggest that the reading were done with the mentality of a willing writer, as if in a kind of communion with the gestural movements and experiential history of the artist. Condos used the repetitive, almost physical following of the spiral, scrambled line, which till its final enigmatic recycling, continually mutates into moving colonies of forms. The space, erratic but also solid – a piece of paper and a canvas surface, at the same time – does not preexist, but is defined by the episodes, the blockings of the narrative. The framing of specific morphous episodes in geometrized straight frames does not intend to the isolation of the detail or an aspect of the narrative flow, but exactly the opposite. The perceived “moving” tectonic frames are based on a concept that seems like a mental game or a puzzle; they project the innumerable versions and the innumerable combinations of the same and undivided substance. I would like to mention incidentally the wall constructions “Toys for big children” (1965) which preceded the “roman pictural” (1967) but are based on the same idea. “Toys for big children” realized constructively – through the freely shifting cubes where abstracts of the same writing were drawn – a concept that opens up new horizons of thought to the player-creator. This was a game of initiation to the geography and ethnology of our esoteric world, destined to circulate under the painless and misleading label of “knowledge and imagination exercise”. Through an elaborate combination of the modern production concept and the serial object, the project was intended to come out in multiple versions and become available in the wide consumer market – pursuing a diachronic study over the possibilities of this amazing and magical toy that is the writing.

However, “roman pictural” constitutes a version of this visual proposition which expresses more intensely the artist’s personal reflection. In this project the writer-artist defines an evolution of the narrative, a beginning and an “end”, which one could suggest that they function barely as to emphasize the pervasive feeling of ambiguity that characterizes this project. Roman re-establishes – without defining conclusively – what the co-existence of verbal and visual writing could signify, when they are not dominated and “absorbed” by one another. The narrative structure controls without inhibiting the flow of a dense and twisting graphism, offering the feeling of a perpetually gestating image.

I consider that the final pages of the narrative submit the whole essence of Dimitris Condos’ worldview about art and life. This process of conclusion is that raises the most questions. Is it a symbolic reminder of the finite of the creative adventure, a simple conception of a narrative conclusion, or a contest between the artist himself and “zero number” writing, the challenge of the absolute target which is the white paper surface? Is the conclusion the empty surface, which grows menacingly or the orientation of the narrative towards an advancement to the point of self-consumption? What is the meaning of “end” or beginning in a project that brings to life, in a most revealing way, the age-old dialectic relation between the verbal and artistic writing?

I left last the version or rather the reflection which could probably be more appropriate to the artist’s intentions. I would say probably because I am not certain and because exactly this lack of “modest clarity” gives the dimension of aperto, the diachronically renewable project, which can be flexibly interpreted. The process of the ending is dictated by the plot itself, the style and if I may add the ethos of writing; a deep almost fatalistic sense of economy, a sense of measure that should distinguish any originally creative adventure. The seemingly declining development should not be considered as shrinkage, but as narrative concentration into an exemplary model of self-sufficiency that seems to have it all. The end of this protean narrative is a point where everything can start all over again.

Aware of the danger that could involve any kind of associative literary reference I am tempted to admit that “roman pictural” recalls to my memory the conquest or more likely the blissful purification of Flaubert’s two heroes, “Bouvard and Pecuchet”. After an impasse of nightmarish copying repetition of all the registered “wisdom” and “knowledge” of the human culture, they discover the joy, the almost sensual pleasure of the simple gesture of writing, the ritual of drawing and rhythmic movement on a white piece of paper. But in order for someone to get there, one should know a lot and discard much more.

Finally, I would like to point out this: Dimitris Condos’ roman does not narrate; it studies exactly these sides of writing we should be trying to discover. “Roman pictural” explores the margin of writing, where the sense, the rhythm, the desire and the gestural adventure are engraved as “traces” of the same and undivided substance.

Nickie Loizidi
November 1991