The Workers of the 21st Century
As life in globalised societies at the end of the 20th century became more and more difficult, artists at the start of the 21st century find themselves in a state of
obvious embarrassment: whereas during the last century creators of art engaged in all kinds of experimentation exhausting their every means of expression, they
are now in a position to repeat outdated formats in order to turn their hand once again to either large and universal issues – something that rarely happens – or
simple and trivial ones that do not really test the observer. The challenge of originality continues to exist, yet it is becoming increasingly difficult, leading sometimes
to the ultimate destruction of what we call art.
This is not the case with Sotiris Papanikolaou. At a crossroads of both his life and his artistic creativity this Greek photographer decides to look at the problem of
form by focusing first and foremost on content. After two successful works experimenting to good effect with both photographic and visual techniques, in his The
Worker’s Portrait of the 21st Century he has decided to focus directly on a surprising theme. Workers “who have built mega cities, who produce in industry and who
collect its waste” appear to look the observer straight in the eye reminding him of his deliberate idleness in the face of real problems to which they seek solutions
in vain. The Worker’s Portrait of the 21st Century is an honest piece of work; it does not hide the essence of the problem but instead bypasses “art’s external
beauty” speaking one single language that is both painful and moving.
A mosaic of images that are silent which yet speak volumes amidst this momentary collaboration between the artist and his model, a mosaic that captivates us in
the face of 50 black-and-white photographs, stirring up our guilt and reminding us of the essential and primary role of art. If Sander, Abramovic and Caniaris wished
to articulate the inexpressible by first casting their light into the darkness of their souls, Sotiris Papanikolaou demonstrates this same darkness of the collective
psyche by captivating us with his honesty and boldness so painful for us to behold.
In The Worker’s Portrtait of the 21st Century Sotiris Papanikolaou handles photographic material in such a way that it expresses his aesthetic and sociological
issues through the social role of art promoting the art of photography as an exponent of visual arts in their entirety. The portraits of the French kings of the Louis
dynasty that ended with the French Revolution constitute an intervention into collective memory while the model of the contemporary plutocrat comes to find its
archetype in Sotiris Papanikolaou’s portraits. Rulers of another era who, at a time of social self-determination and dramatic change like the French Revolution, gave
way to policies of social progress and liberation. The fact that the social struggles of mankind towards a better world and more human life for all workers have still
today failed to achieve their desired goals concerns the Greek photographer who fights his own struggles in photography and the field of visual arts. An inclusive
composer of an unsettled puzzle who years ago began with Tele-techniques and Black Boxes now continues his agonising quest as to the issue of innovative form.
In this work he uses quite traditional media which nevertheless wish to innovate to an extreme extent within this “agreed framework of representation”. With the
two corpses in the morgue that conclude the complete work and which extend Rembrandt’s anatomy lessons we have upturned the framework of representation
with content that overrides this framework agreed upon by the observer and the observed with the final result that it creates an impact upon us.
Obviously, art is not a painless event – it reveals realities forgotten and hidden, either intentionally or not. The works of this Greek photographer with their
distant legacy of ancient tragedy remind us that sometimes, albeit rarely, we can indeed call things by their names.