Monday, July 27, 2015

How I escaped the circus: Jeff Koons' Popeye and Frederic Tuten's Odysseus

Jeff Koons Popeye, 2003
Then I made me way into the tottering house itself and found it all in shambles. A clothesline freighted with frilly red underwear, not mine, and three pairs of long johns, not mine, stretched across the living room. The bathroom reeked of men’s after-shave and colognes – Brute – and was littered with gum stimulators, nose-hair scissors, moustache trimmers, nail cutters and other implements and toiletries that I never use.

The bedroom. The bedroom. It stabbed me heart. Men’s boots and shoes of various sizes and shapes, quality and age were lined along the wall. But not one pair of mine in the lot.

“What! That you?” She said, pulling down the edge of her slinky black negligee.

I was charged with great emotion, seeing her spread out there in our old bed, seeing her unchanged not a jot in all the years I had been gone. Not one wrinkle, not one gray hair, not one bump or wart or blemish. She was her old skinny self with a few new appealing curves, her tongue still as sharp as her pointy elbows.

Before I could answer her, Nestor with all the juice of his youth dried out of him, limped into the room – where was his forth leg? – and gave me a steady look and a short sniff. Sniff sniff, like a sneeze that had fallen asleep; then he turned about and limped out the door as if I were not there, had never lived there, would never again live there.

“Nestor,” I cried, “It’s me.” 

Not a glance me way. He may be deaf, I thought, seeing him slouch off like an old man with a missing leg, en plus. Age and loss. Twin themes I had thought would never visit me.

“Yes, it’s me come home,” I said, as she rose from the bed and wrapped about her a great green house coat which covered her from foot to neck – her head sticking out like a white bean squeezed from its pod.

“Returned home like the faithful sailor you are. Away for a thousand years and never a post card.”

“It’s a long and odd story, my dear, and one I’m eager to tell.”  

Jeff Koons Triple Popeye, 2008
 “The world may be all ears but I’m not,” she said. “Your berth’s been taken, sailor, so cast off.”

She was her same wonderful biting self but with a decidedly new and attractive twist. Her once long and sharp toe nails were now trim and shaded rose. Her feet, peeking out from under the train of her robe, usually rough and dry like barnacles, were presently smooth and, dare I say, creamy. Dare I say, fetching!

She glowed in her new soigné self. Or is it soignée self? – I have never mastered the niceties of French grammar. In short, she looked swell.  I had a strong, sudden rise of feeling for her, which caught her eye.

“That broken mast of yours? That midget sea worm? That slack line, here again?” Her chuckle frozed the furnace in me heart.

She brushed by me in a breeze of jasmine and swept into the kitchen, where I followed in her wake. She poured herself a mug of java, black and without refinements.

“And me?” I asked, wishing so much for a cup of true American coffee, spiced with sugar and cream. And maybe some slices of Wonder Bread or a Kaiser roll with a few patties of butter and jam on the side. It had been so long.  

“There’s the diner across the way,” she said pointing with a hand loaded with glittering rings.
Jeff Koons Popeye Train (Crab), 2008
 I sank under this humiliation, me, the descendent of Hercules and the sometimes master of my fate. I looked about me to conceal the sad unfairness of my welcome. The open shelves were bursting with canned goods, mostly pickled meats and exotic soups, but not one tin of spinach. And above me hung hams and sausages of all nations, garlands of garlic and fierce red peppers, and cheeses, too, hanging in the morning breeze and sun of the open window. I could smell the sea outside and hear its salty churn mixing with the rumble of voices and their medley of languages. 

“I suppose,” I said, at last, “I’ll grab me tackle and be on me way.”

She softened at seeing my unhappiness and in a kindly voice said, “Pour yourself a cup, then, but don’t be all day about it.”

I sat in a block of stone, granite I think, unable to move, until she said, “Look here, I’ll do it for you, as you seem out of sorts.”

“Forgive me,” I said, “I have not been in a house or at a table or with a spoon to stir me cup for many years, and I came to believe that I never would again.”


“And I did not think that I would ever again see your face although that was all I ever did wish.” 

“I did not recognize you at first,” she said, “with your rough beard and white hair, with your sunken cheeks and starved eyes.”

“It’s me all the same,” I said, brightening a little at the friendly tone in her voice.

Then she laughed and added, “Well then, if it be really you, say it for me.”

At first I did not know what she meant and I cudgeled me brain and all its rafters to bring it to proper recollection.

At last it hit me: “Je suis ce que je suis,” I said.

“You’re a fake, a fraud, trying to trick me like all the others out there!”

Non, non,” I protested, “un imposteur, moi!  ce ne pas vrai.”

She went for a broom and made to sweep me away like some old dust underfoot, “Clear out,” she said, “scuttle along you devious slug!”

But then, in a bolt of memory, I finally got my native language back and I said: “I am what I am.” 

Jeff Koons with Jeff Koons Triple Popeye, 2008. Installation view, Serpentine gallery, London, 2009.
 “There you are!” she said, pouring me another cup of java. But then, fearful it seemed she had gone too far in warming to me, she added, “And there you go, because nothing’s changed that you went away without a word and stayed away with a word.”

“Not my fault,” I said. But before I could continue, she said with a kind of xenophobic fury, “And what’s with the Frenchy stuff, anyways?”

I saw no point in more palaver? I did what any manly American man would do and went into action instead of talking more talk. I rose up and took the broom from her hand and planted one on her lips, a kiss to make up for all the lost years, a kiss to send stars spinning in her head.

 When we at last unlocked, she said in a voice throaty and sexy, “Take off your cap and let me have a good lookatya.”

I did so and flattened down me hair and licked me upper teeth for a brushing. She gave me another long look and said: “I know what’s missing, my dearie.” She went into a cabinet and drew out, hidden behind boxes of cereal, one of me old pipes, which she plugged with tobacco and lit with a match the length of an arrow.

“This is better than any dream I ever had when I was in me cage and dreaming of dreaming of returning home.”

“Your cage?” she said, alarmed for me in my past.

 “Yes, my dear, my iron cage,” I said. Then I went right down to it and told her how I had been drugged and shanghaied one night and sold to be the strongman in a traveling circus, l 'Odyssée the troupe s’appealait, for it was French straight down to every nail and peg.  

Jeff Koons Triple Popeye, 2008 and Acrobat, 2003. Installation view, Serpentine Gallery, London, 2009
“Oh! Dear!” she said, her eyes widening into saucers.

“By day, I was fed food laced with flowery drugs that kept me lazy and sleepy and content to stay in me cage, and at night, just before show time, they spooned me just the right amount of spinach to give me the strength to wrassel lions and bears and gorillas, to do tug of wars with elephants, and to break giant cables wrapped about me chest. The drugs kept me in a haze of forgetfulness of all I had ever lived or been, but sometimes your memory and our life together with our son would penetrate the haze and I would scheme to escape.”

“ Oh! Popeye.”

“But I was guarded day and night by a one-eyed man who slept on a cot by the side of the cage – he was the fire eater, one of the show’s main attractions and a partner in the circus, so he had every reason to keep me a prisoner – a slave – as I was a big money draw.”

“But weren’t you recognized by the audience?” she asked suspiciously. “The world knows you!”

“Not with the mask they kept over me head when I performed – a papier mache mask of me own head.”

“How clever,” she said! “A mask of you to mask you!”

“And,” I continued, “everyone from the grub man to the ringmaster spoke only French and after a few years I lost my own language and I spoke only French, but a debased  form of it that was mocked by all but the show animals, who I should say, came to love me as I did them, we being of the same captive stuff.  Even the singing eagle and the chorus of her ferocious brood loved me. So, too, the elephant family I taught how to play poker – jokers wild – and the dancing python, too, all friends under the same tent.”

 I was going on with my story, when I heard the voices out the window grow louder and more belligerent. She looked at me as if to say, “See what you have come home to?”

“Who is out there,” I asked, “in our courtyard?”

“The ones waiting for you never to come back, the ones waiting for me to fall into their lap.”

So, it was true. I was forewarned of all this by the fortuneteller at the circus. I would find me wife’s suitors and claimants at me home rioting at me door when at last I returned home, she had said, reading tea leaves drowning in a cup. I went out to the courtyard to see what was what. Fifty men were milling about, from ages twenty-five to sixty-eight, some bleary eyed and disheveled from having slept in a chair or in a sleeping bag, and some spanking fresh and ready to take on the world, each man the rival of the other and all the rival of me. 

Jeff Koons Popeye Train (Birds), 2009
 “Pipe down,” I said, “You’re disturbing the peace.”

“Beat it, Pops,” a lad a with biker’s helmet said, twirling a chain.

“Go home, grandpa,” shouted another wearing a tailored suit and creamy pink tie. I could see a pistol bulging under his coat. 

I realized then how old and worn out and weak I must have looked, like a beggar who has been wandering for years along dusty back roads. I realized, too, that with all the changes to me-self, I had gone unrecognized and was nothing but bones with a beard that had come to beg for shelter. I heard a piercing cry high above me and saw an eagle, my old friend from the circus, circling there in long strong loops, and it gave me a good cheer.

I said nothing to their jeers and returned to the kitchen to continue me story. To finish with that piece of business before going to another.

“Be patient,” I said. “We’ll get to the heart and matter of these people in a little while.”

She looked at me with a friendly pity, as if to say, I know you would do the best you could in ridding us of this trash but look at you, you seem too weak even to climb a ladder. I took her arm, touching her for the first time since I had come home. So soft her skinny arm, so beautiful. The noise out in the courtyard grew even louder than when I went out there, and this time there were shouts and calls for fist fights and battles with knives and baseball bats.

“Perhaps we should just disappear,” she said, “steal away and leave them to themselves while we sail elsewhere and chart a new course.”

“And give up the house and the garden and the wide veranda that fronts and hangs over the sea, give up me chumming rights and me clam beds and lobster traps, give up me dinghy with it’s one green mast, give up me son, whom I have yet to see in his grown years, give up me bed that I built with me own hands from the planks and beams of noble three-masters driven to the rocks in shattering tempests, the bed I anchored down to the living granite beneath me house, give up you, in whose eyes I will have become a mollusk without courage or a spine?”

I could see her brood on this a while, little ringlets of smoke curling about her ears as they did when she was given to serious thought or was about to grow angry.

“I see your point,” she said, folding her arms into several knots.

“Bear with me awhile,” I said, “because I have not come home without contrivances or hope.
Jeff Koons Popeye, 2009-11
I was about to return to my tale of how I escaped the circus, how I tricked my one-eyed guard to open my cage, and how I blinded him with one quick plunge of me pipe-stem and stole the keys to all the cages while he writhed about in the cold straw of me cell. To tell how I set free all my animal friends, including a giant tortoise whose shell glowed in the dark and sent weather signals to the mermaids at sea. But then I heard great roars of laughter and derision, and I poked me head out the window to see me old friend Wimpy in his great brown tweed suit being dangled by his ankles over veranda rail. His bowler was waiting for him, floating in the ocean below.

One of the men holding him spied me and called out, “Come out here old man and get some of the same.”

That did it. I could stands me no more. First I went to the bathroom and scissored off the greater part of my wild beard and lathered up what stubble was left on me face and shaved it down to the smoothest baby skin. Then I took off me shirt and sprinkled some water over me chest and stringy neck. The tattoo on me forearm was fading into the bowels of me skin but there was enough of the blue anchor showing to tell the world just who it was playing with. I gave me teeth a proper brushing until those pearls looked new- born from their shell. In all, I didn’t look a day older than fifty.

“Oh! Here’s my man,” she said, on my return to the kitchen. “Here’s the one I waited for and would gladly wait for again.”
“Yes, Olive, my dearie. I’m home at last.”

She rummaged behind a shelf of beef and soup cans, her arm sinking deep into its depths, until she drew out a musty old tin.

“I’ve saved this for you,” she said, opening the can. “Do you want it on a plate or will you take it straight?”

I downed the spinach in two swallows. And could feel me strength returning to me in a warm current.    

“Now, be my champion!” she said.

I planted another one on her, smack on the lips until little moons spun about our heads. I stepped onto the veranda and looked up to the sky and signaled the spiraling eagle, who sent out a cry summoning all the circus animals who were waiting nearby to help me retake my home. The tortoise lumbered along sending signals to the mermaids to swim to our aid. The elephants blew their great trumpets, calling the waves to fearful heights; the lions breathed mighty roars that split clouds; the python hissed with a cold slicing sound that melted rocks; the gorillas beat their chests and cursed in gutter French. I watched as my allies gathered force, and then I sallied forth with my naked arm to set the world to right.
Book cover for Jeff Koons: Popeye Series (London: Seprentine Gallery and Koenig Books, 2009)

The story L'Odysée by Frederic Tuten was first published in Jeff Koons: Popeye Series (London: Serpentine Gallery and Koenig Books, 2009) and can be found on The Center for Fiction website, here

You can also find a great video of Tuten reading his story at The Center for Fiction on the author's website, here

Images of all of Jeff Koons' Popeye works can be found on the artist's website, here.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Breezy Euschēmosunē: Flailing Socrates, Upright Eudicus & Prickly Hippias


SOCRATES But at this point I’m suffering an episode of brain fever, so to speak, and those who of their own free will go completely wrong in some way in fact seem to me to be more fitting persons than those who do so unwillingly. The blame for my present suffering I place on the arguments set out before, with the result that at this point it’s plain that those who unwillingly do each of these things are a more worthless sort of people than those who act willingly. Therefore, do me a favor and don’t begrudge putting my character in a better state. It’s really a more excellent piece of work for you to relieve my character of this ineptitude than to relieve my body of disease. If you wish to deliver a long speech, however, I warn you that you wouldn’t heal me that way, because I couldn’t follow you. But if you wish to answer me as you did just now, you’ll help me comprehensively, and I don’t think it will harm yourself either. And with justice I appeal to you, child of Apemantus, as you induced me to have this exchange with Hippias: so now, if Hippias doesn’t want to answer me, ask him on my behalf.

EUDICUS Oh, no, Socrates, I don’t think the situation demands, or maybe I should say, that we demand this of Hippias. What he said beforehand wouldn’t indicate that: on the contrary, he said that he wouldn’t run away from any gentleman’s questioning. Isn’t that right, Hippias? Isn’t that what you stated?

HIPPIAS I did indeed. But Socrates is always making trouble in the course of discussions, and it’s almost as if he’s up to no good.

 - Plato Hippias Minor, 372d-373b - translated by Sarah Ruden for the book Hippias Minor of the Art of Cunning. Badlands Unlimited and DESTE Foundation. 2015. 

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Good Form: Paul Chan's Hippias Minor or the Art of Cunning

Opening this weekend is Paul Chan's new exhibition Hippias Minor at the DESTE Foundation project space, the Slaughterhouse on the Greek island of Hydra.

I have been honoured to have been a part of this exhibition in the form of the new book Hippias Minor or the Art of Cunning, published by DESTE and Chan's Badlands Unlimited press.

My work as one of the editors (along with Paul Chan and the brilliant Karen Marta, who has been involved in several of Chan's previous projects) and as contributor (my essay is called 'Socrates 420') for this book has been one of the proudest moments of my career so far, especially in terms of my exploration of the dynamic between Classics and Contemporary Art. In many ways, this project is precisely what I set out to achieve with Minus Plato and my general approach to collaborations with contemporary artists. The fact that an artist of the stature and significance of Paul Chan decided to work with me on a project involving a deep and novel reading of a Classical text is, to my mind, ample proof of the importance of the dynamic I work hard to promote and engage. Furthermore, by inviting the incredible talents of renowned translator Sarah Ruden to create a new version of this under-read dialogue, in terms of Chan's innovative and fresh reading of the text, we now have an English edition of the text for the contemporary world (and one that is slightly more classroom-friendly than Chan's previous project on Plato's Phaedrus - Phaedrus Pron!).

While such a scale of engagement and commitment to ancient philosophy and literature on the part of a contemporary artist is unprecedented (see my earlier posts on Chan's work, especially the monumental New New Testament), I very much hope that this is only the beginning of a rich and exciting collaboration between the Classical and the Contemporary.

As we editors note in our Acknowledgments to the book, one of the key points of reference for the project - and a major (if rather covert) presence in my own essay - was the radical television series by the late, great Chris Marker called The Owl's Legacy.

Marker's 13-part series of 1989 explore the legacies and complexities of ancient Greece in the modern world with this artist's well-known devious skill and intellectual flair in creative documentary-making. Paul Chan made direct homage to Marker's dual avatars - the cunning cat and the wise owl - in his recent exhibition Selected Works at the Schaulager in Basel with his new work Teh Cat n teh Owl (here is a very brief clip of the two-screen installation):


In the Hippias Minor project, Marker's influence permeates Chan's conception of art as a form of cunning and the cat and the owl fight it out on the specially created logo of the project:

Yet, beyond the tribute to The Owl's Legacy, perhaps the most satisfying aspect of this project for me, as a Classicist, was how Paul Chan's work and thinking about the idea of cunning (polutropia) between Homer's Odyssey and Plato's Hippias Minor not only generated his conception of art's cunning (following Marker mixed with Adorno's Aesthetic Theory), but also allowed me to consider the striking possibility that Hippias Minor has more to say about aesthetics than has previously been thought by scholars. During the writing of my essay, I discovered the significance of Socrates' use of the term 'gracefulness' (euschēmosune) when discussing the athlete's body amid a general account of whether the superior athlete is one who performs badly willingly. This term, which could be translated 'good form' or 'elegant figure' became, in Plato's Republic, a key term for the philosopher's discussion of art. And it was thanks to Paul Chan's insistence of the aesthetic quality of cunning that allowed me to make this connection.

As part of the exhibition in Hydra, Chan has installed three 'breezies' (first seen in his recent exhibition at the Guggenheim in New York) to represent the three participants in Plato's dialogue: Socrates, Hippias and Eudicus.

I cannot wait to see them in the flesh and in action first-hand and, when I do, I will be thinking of this concept of euschēmosune and about the endless possibilities for an engagement between ancient thought for contemporary art.

For more on the exhibition in Hydra, visit the DESTE Slaughterhouse website. For the book, see this page on Badlands Unlimited.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Petrifying Danger: Chris Burden's Medusa

On hearing the sad news of the artist Chris Burden's death, I wanted to dedicate a post to his work and, for obvious reasons, his monstrous 1990 sculpture Medusa's Head seems to be the most fitting choice for Minus Plato.
Chris Burden, Medusa's Head, 1990. Plywood, steel, cement, rock, model railroad trains and tracks
Margalit Fox's obituary in The New York Times begins by listing the various ways in which Burden has put himself in all kinds of danger for the sake of his art:

Chris Burden, a conceptual artist who in the line of duty had himself shot, pierced, starved, crucified, electrocuted, cut by glass, kicked down stairs, locked up, dropped from heights and nearly drowned, though by no means all at once, died on Sunday at his home in Topanga, Calif. He was 69.

Chris Burden, Trans-Fixed, 1974, performance.
It is this element of danger in his performance work that, back in 1991, Roberta Smith (also writing in The New York Times) alluded to as a way of making sense of his 'turn' to sculpture via the specific case of Medusa's Head:

"Medusa's Head," which took two years to make, is one of the few to meld the sense of imminent danger of his performance pieces into a truly powerful sculptural form.

Smith locates the danger of Burden's sculpture not in its representation of the snaked-haired Gorgon of mythology (her review is called 'Medusa's Head, Without the Snakes'), but in how it replicates the effect of Medusa's petrifying gaze.

As with the Medusa of myth, the sheer ugliness of Mr. Burden's new sculpture may stop some viewers in their tracks. 
Caravaggio, Testa di Medusa, 1597, oil on canvas mounted on wood.
It is no mistake that Smith folds her description of the effect of the work on the viewer with the description of the work itself, as she makes clear the precise difference between the Classical myth and the contemporary artwork: 

You almost can't get close enough to it. Instead of snakes, this Medusa sprouts yards of model-railroad track crisscrossing its ravaged surface with ferocious industriousness....On the tracks are dozens of model trains hauling all kinds of raw and refined materials, from wood and iron ore to steel girders, across numerous bridges and in and out of soot-covered tunnels. The trains, which come in five different scales and use seven gauges of track, are not actually moving, but they create an illusion of ceaseless activity. The suggestion of a big festering skull encouraged by the work's title never entirely disappears. Nonetheless, once the myriad railroad details pop into focus, the work's scale jumps from the merely enormous to a panorama of Spielbergian proportions. Suddenly the crags and crevices become mountains, valleys or man-made roadbed cuts. The meteor becomes a planet being strangled by an unsettling combination of human ingenuity and human neglect, and both are enumerated with the technical flair of a movie set designer. One almost expects black smoke to rise from the surface or to hear a thunderous crack of Dolby-driven doom. 

Medusa's 'big festering skull' becomes Burden's 'meteor/planet' in which the 'strangling' railroad tracks replace the Gorgon's head of snakes. Yet the most consistent correlation between the myth and the sculpture seems to be that of how the danger of viewing (being literally petrified by the returned gaze of the myth) is exacerbated by the semblance of movement within the object itself. Smith's allusions to cinematic fanfare aim to make sense of how Burden's seething object creates 'an illusion of ceaseless activity', not just from the trains, but from its depiction of the explosive activity of 'human ingenuity and neglect'.

It is precisely this association between danger and activity that permeates ancient accounts of the myth. For example, consider the appearance of Medusa's head in painting described in the ancient Greek novelist Achilles Tatius in his work Leucippe and Clitophon. The painting depicts Perseus saving Andromeda from the terrifying sea-monster, using the Gorgon's head as his weapon:

In his left hand he held the Gorgon's head, wielding it like a shield. Even as a painting, it was a frightening object, with eyes staring out of their sockets, and serpentine hair about the temples all writhing and erect: a graphic delineation of intimidation. 

Wall painting from Pompeii found in the Casa Dei Dioscur, c.50CE.
Here Achilles breaks the frame of his ekphrasis (a literary description of a work of visual art) by conflating the danger of the object (Medusa's head) with the painting itself. Furthermore, like Smith's review of Burden's sculpture, it is precisely the unnerving sensation of movement that creates this effect. Classicist Helen Morales, in her brilliant study of vision and narrative in Achilles Tatius' novel, points out that, even though Medusa's head (and, by extension, the painting depicting it) is lifeless, the language of the description is suffused with movement, not only of the 'writhing' snakes, but of the Gorgon's eyes.

Morales notes that the word that Achilles uses to describe her eyes (exepetasen), meaning 'spread out', 'unfurl', 'stretch out':

is a gestural term, connoting movement and protrusion...[giving] the impression that Medusa's eyes are actually penetrating through the painted plane of the picture's surface. Breaking through the two-dimensional structure which houses her, Medusa's gaze ruptures the fundamental boundary that the surface of the picture constitutes and invades the viewers space.

When read back onto Burden's sculpture,we don't necessarily need make the direct identification (with Smith) of the mythical snakes and the sculptural trains. Nor do we need to see the later sculpture as somehow 'petrifying' the danger embodied in Burden's earlier performance works. Instead, with Achilles, in Morales' reading, we must take responsibility for the way an artist intervenes in the space of the viewer (or reader) to the extent to which their perception of the world around them is changed in the process.

My favourite example of this, back in Columbus, Ohio, where I live and work, is Burden's subtle but devastating installation of the building of the Wexner Center for the Arts:

Whenever I see the building now, I cannot help but recall Burden's playful additions that, like Medusa's Head, make the viewer both think about the past (i.e. the Medusa myth and the architecture of the castle) and understand the ambiguous claims of human progress and industry (i.e. the railroad strangled planet and Eisenman's deconstructive architecture). For Burden, there may not be a better description of his pioneering vision than Achilles' phrase: a graphic delineation of intimidation.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

'I remember Plato told me and I didn't pay attention': Two Pseudo-Classical Drawings by Roberto Bolaño

Post Credits:

Title: from Roberto Bolaño 'The Robot' from The Unknown University (New Directions, translation by Laura Healy), to read the whole poem, visit here

Images: from visit to ARCHIVO BOLAÑO 1977-2013, Matadero, Madrid, April 2015, for more information, visit here.

Disclaimer: for why these drawings are 'pseudo' Classical, read Bolaño's The Savage Detectives and 2666.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Overreaching Rome: Welcome to Club Caligula

So much for Caligula as emperor; we must now tell of his career as a monster...

Installation View: CLUB CALIGULA
Stefania Batoeva, Club III, 2015, Oil on canvas, 230 x 180 cm
After he had assumed various surnames (for he was called "Pious," "Child of the Camp," "Father of the Armies," and "Greatest and Best of Caesars"), by chance overhearing some kings, who had come to Rome to pay their respects to him, disputing at dinner about the nobility of their descent, he cried:
Installation View: CLUB CALIGULA

"Let there be one Lord, one King."
Stefania Batoeva, Club II, 2015. Oil on canvas, 230 x 180 cm

And he came near assuming a crown at once and changing the semblance of a principate into the form of a monarchy. But on being reminded that he had risen above the elevation both of princes and kings, he began from that time on to lay claim to divine majesty;

Ilja Karilampi, Bcoz I haven´t reached the pinnacles I´m supposed to reach, 2015, Adhesive vinyl, Dimensions variable
Installation View: CLUB CALIGULA

for after giving orders that such statues of the gods as were especially famous for their sanctity or their artistic merit, including that of Jupiter of Olympia, should be brought from Greece, in order to remove their heads and put his own in their place

he built out a part of the Palace as far as the Forum, and making the temple of Castor and Pollux its vestibule, he often took his place between the divine brethren, and exhibited himself there to be worshipped by those who presented themselves; and some hailed him as Jupiter Latiaris.

Stefania Batoeva, Club IV, 2015. Oil on canvas, 230 x 180 cm
He also set up a special temple to his own godhead, with priests and with victims of the choicest kind. In this temple was a life-sized statue of the emperor in gold, which was dressed each day in clothing such as he wore himself.

Installation View: CLUB CALIGULA
 The richest citizens used all their influence to secure the priesthoods of his cult and bid high for the honour.

Detail: Leslie Kulesh, Snuggie - The Gray Escape, 2015. Quilted nylon fabric. Dimensions Variable.
Ilja Karilampi, Riffing SB, 2015, Adhesive vinyl, dimensions variable, Chair installation by Stefania Batoeva.
Installation View: CLUB CALIGULA
The victims were flamingoes, peacocks, black grouse, guinea-hens and pheasants, offered day by day each after its own kind. 

Installation View: CLUB CALIGULA

 At night he used constantly to invite the full and radiant moon to his embraces and his bed, while in the daytime he would talk confidentially with Jupiter Capitolinus, now whispering and then in turn his ear to the mouth of the god, now in louder and even angry language; for he was heard to make the threat:

Stefania Batoeva, Club I, 2015, Oil on canvas, 230 x 180 cm

"Lift me up, or I'll lift you!"

But finally won by entreaties, as he reported, and even invited to live with the god, he built a bridge over the temple to the Deified Augustus, and thus joined his Palace to the Capitol. Presently, to be nearer yet, he laid the foundations of a new house in the court of the Capitol.
(Selections from Suetonius Life of Gaius Caesar (Caligula) Chapter 22 and installation views of Stefania Batoeva's Club Caligula at Supplement, London (with Ilja Karilampi, Leslie Kulesh, Isaac Lythgoe) - for more information, click here.)