Bianca Phos & Yorgos Stamkopoulos at ZellerVanAlmsick / Vienna

Bianca Phos & Yorgos Stamkopoulos
Touch Me, Don’t Touch Me

14.03. – 15.04.2023

Franz Josef Kai 3
3rd Floor, Top 16
1010 Vienna

Images courtesy the artists and ZellerVanAlmsick
Photos: kunstdokumentation
In utero touch is the first sense that we develop as humans. From a young age we’re told “don’t
touch the stove” and what do we do if we wake up in the middle of the night? Grasp around in
the dark. Throughout our lives, touch is a moment of physical connection that gives us a greater
understanding of the world around us. What does it then mean when these enticing moments of
touch lead to additional confusion instead, and the act of touching is warped from a process of
learning to one of unlearning? It is precisely this subversion of expectations that both Yorgos
Stamkopoulos and Bianca Phos play with in the materiality and conceptualisation of their work.
Since Giorgio Vasari introduced the idea of disegno during the Renaissance, the idea that the
artist can transpose his abstract genius by the touch of his pencil or paintbrush to canvas has
been a core principle of Art History. However, in the process of making his works, Yorgos
Stamkopoulos turns this idea on its head. Unlike the Renaissance genius who can control his
creation by the careful placement of his brush, Stamkopoulos can never fully determine the
outcome of his efforts. Methodically applying layer upon layer of paint, he undermines his own
agency by peeling away the top layer of paint once the canvas is completely saturated. It is a
way of working Stamkopoulos likens to the process of casting a sculpture rather than painting; at
the end of the day, the final work can never be fully controlled by himself alone.
Like peeling away a second skin, Stamkopoulos intentionally lays his artistic practice bear.
Exposing the indeterminate messy underlayer is of greater interest to him than presenting a final
perfected piece. It is no longer just the visual but also the visceral aspects of his work that are
now equally important. With no recognisable figures or objects depicted the viewer is left to make
up their own associations. However, in addition to the usual questions posed by abstract
painting, the mystery shrouding Stamkopoulos’ process further avoids an easy answer or
explanation. All the viewer is left with is their subjective encounter with the work, how it
individually touched them.
Bianca Phos on the other hand, considers touch more abstractly as one of the many stimuli that
affect how we embody our environments. Her sculptures are formally inspired by illustrations of
neural pathways in animals and humans, but Phos chooses to materialise these internal
structures with a playful materiality. At first glance, the works teeter on the edge of violence;
sharp steel discs come dangerously close to cutting soft leathery tendrils. However, upon closer
inspection, these disks bear the scars of weathering caused by rain or exposure to fire, whereas
the seemingly soft leather has been shrunken and hardened by exposure to boiling water.
Touched by external forces, all materials have inherently changed.
Yet this is not a process Phos can fully control either, which is why her sculptures perfectly
embody how we internalise the world around us. Our bodies are persistently exposed to stimuli,
but the significance of these forces vary from person-to-person and are in constant flux. The
touch of a friend one day, can become that of a lover the next. Likewise, how this information is
processed and once more externalised by the individual is unpredictable. In this way, Phos
considers bodies as porous membranes into which information constantly flows, is translated,
and then regurgitated. Every action has an indeterminable reaction leaving us not only
vulnerable to the outside world, but the outside world also vulnerable to our response. The result
is an infinite number of unpredictable entanglements between us and not only other living
organisms, but also our surrounding environment.
And yet, rather than shying away from this unpredictability, Yorgos Stamkopoulos and Bianca
Phos both place it at the centre of their practices. Touch me, don’t touch me; understanding is
both important and not important when encountering their work. As artists, it is impossible for
them to fully predict how others will respond to their creations. It can lead to deeper associations
– a way of understanding art or even oneself – but at the end of the day, both artists invite you to
relish in the questions themselves rather than any clear answers.
Hannah Marynissen