Charalambos & Vaso Sergiou, “Chrystalleni Loizidou (b. 1983)” (2014) [change ex change, 2014]

How (or in this case, as who!), does one write about the work of Charalambos and Vaso Sergiou? Their previous work is both dense and diverse, their fields of interest broad, and they have already fabricated everything they would like to be part of, or in relation to their work, as well as what they would like to have seen in the work of others (also see Unauthorised Histories [2010] and Do not feed the humans [2008]). They have done all this with such great imagination, inventiveness, freedom, and an irreproachable flippancy, that looking away from the playfully generative elements of their work in order to deal with it straight-faced seems like the less interesting direction to take. I will nevertheless dedicate the next few paragraphs to help the conversation around this work go a little further, perhaps, than it otherwise might.

For brevity the work is elsewhere described as a group show/interactive installation. More to the point, I suggest we think of it as an experiment in how we look at, and think about art, how we collect, behave, socially perform and generate value around it, and the ways in which we (don’t generally allow ourselves to) play with it or use our imaginations around it. Even while the artists strip the pieces hosted here from their contextual information, the first thing to note is that unquestionably, overwhelmingly, and unashamedly, in a single strike the exhibition does more than we are used to expect from an exhibition, an artwork, or an experiment. It simultaneously spreads across three overlapping categories of interest:

First there is the artists’ own interest in Cypriot art and its history, their lived experience of it as collectors and artists, their place and their connections within it, and their instinct to share their personal understanding of its development. Sergiou’s exposition of little-known artist histories, re-evaluations and details regarding developments and trends in Cypriot art is poignantly confounded by what I think of as a type of speculative time-travel: not only do the Sergiou develop an art-history (which comes to highlight a gap in historical documentation, and the wealth of disappearing first-hand knowledge and oral histories) but they produce alternative realities, alternative pasts and futures, mysterious creative twists that could (and may indeed) have been taken, and what-ifs or fictitious projections about other artists’ work that take us backwards and forwards in time (also note their emphasis on the artist’s date of birth which is the only contextual information provided, the temporal priority in exchange appointments in phase two, and the connection of this particular device to their previous work in The Butterfly Effect [2010]). The thrilling catch here is that during the first phase of the project (the Preview phase before the Exchange phase) the art-historical extensions of the project are only evident through conversation with the artists, in which I encourage you to engage. Only after a work is exchanged out of the exhibition and another has taken its place, will the former’s history and its intricate value come to light. This happens in an arguably absurdist process of certification, where the exchanged pieces are historicised and re-evaluated not in terms of their monetary value, but for the intimate details of their creation, their role in Sergiou’s and their creators’ lives, relationships and imaginations, or for what they reveal—often in a tongue-in-cheek manner—with regard to the art community. Details that don’t tend to figure in art history books, relationships, personal assessments and emotional connections that don’t tend to fit in formal accounts, information that the art system tends to obscure, and types of value, in short, that don’t usually make the record or influence the market. This is what Sergiou are bringing into the foreground here: these details, stories, anecdotal links and cross-references are brought into the record not through history-writing in any formal sense, but as part of an artwork, or for some of us, as the artwork.

Second, the fictive elements in the above raise questions and bring up challenges to notions of authenticity in ways which are rather more engaging than the art historian is usually faced with. One third (as far as I’ve been told!) of the works presented here are pseudepigrapha. In these cases the artists wilfully place themselves in the shoes of other artists, studying and engaging with their body of work, simulating and highlighting elements from it, adopting and building on certain aspects according to their own sensibilities, speculating as to other possible directions and influences. With their characteristic openness and intimacy, they toy with potential misreadings of other artists’ work, getting us to question our instincts and upsetting what we think we know, while appealing to our (and the artists’) sense of humour. The visitor may choose to spend their time with the piece trying to match names to works, never quite being sure, hypothesising around Sergiou’s skills in forgery, or questioning their knowledge and understanding of other artists’ intentions. Interestingly, this particular trap seems to lead to an overwhelming sense that all the pieces exhibited have been created by Sergiou, testifying to the versatility of their creative impulses, to the complex and layered nature of the experience they create for us, and to their incorrigibility in every sense: perhaps it helps to think of them as magicians endlessly pulling scarves out of their sleeves, one after the other. Even so, a good number of the works are originals given to the Sergiou by artists specifically for this exhibition, occasionally even being created for it.

Third, there is the element of participation, the opening of the work to renewal through exchange. We can see this way of inviting others into the work, this type of blurring between the roles of artist, participant, audience, and consumer/buyer developing through Sergiou’s previous work, a thoroughly enjoyable, benignly confrontational, occasionally scathing, but again always intimate and flippant exchange (see for example their Life is full of trade-offs / Η εμπορικοποίηση μικρών καθημερινών στιγμών [2001] where they invited people to buy umbilical cords, and their follow-up Venice Biennale proposal The Parasite [2003] where the body language of participants holding the umbilical cord sculptures became the subject of psychoanalysis). The possibilities here are endless, some (one wonders, will this be a majority?) may approach the invitation for exchange mainly motivated by the works’ estimated market value. Others may see the pseudepigrapha as more desirable than any ‘originals.’ Others may approach the exchange with an interest in the process of participation as such. Some may instantly grasp the accumulating value of the overall piece, and may accept the challenge to input something that will match it, either in quality in some way, or in playfulness, attempting to push the work’s and the artists’ boundaries even further.

I imagine this piece re-exhibited and renegotiated through future sets of exchanges, where more and more lines will be crossed, more approaches to art and its systems appropriated and questioned, more of our presumptions interrogated, and we, ourselves, delightfully confronted. I very much hope that the artists will see fit—that they will enjoy the process enough—to allow this piece to be exchanged again and again before they move on to their next outrageous and creative freedom affirming project, either within or outside of the bounds of the art system.

Chrystalleni Loizidou

1 May, 2014