Wednesday, May 20, 2009
Ευγένιος Σπαθάρης και Σωτήρης Σπαθάρης
I intended to write a note about Eugenios Spatharis (Ευγένιος Σπαθάρης), since it is him that revived an ancient art for a new generation, including those who only saw the shadows projected on the television cave. But I though better to step back a few years, to understand where all this comes from and have perhaps a better idea of where it is going.
In his Memoirs, Sotiris Sphataris (Σωτήρης Σπαθάρης ) Eugenios's father, relates, with painful honesty, the events in his life and time that made him, what I consider, a master of one of the most important expressions of visual storytelling, since our beginnings as cave dwellers until this time of new media, convergence and interactivity, words and phrases which lose meaning as rapidly as a passing shadow.
Behind the White Screen is a perfect title for his memoirs. A screen which not only represents the canvas of the artist, but the medium through which art and life truly interact with those lucky enough to be entranced by its magic.
Sotiráki, as his mother called him, had a life worthy of a Greek tragedy or a Charles Dickens novel, of extreme poverty, abuse and misfortune, of daily beatings by a drunken father who used him as a beggar since he was 5 years old.
But then one day a white screen went up in town. Some oil lamps were lit behind and as the shadows danced and played and fought, a door opened in Sotíris heart that never closed again. And through it a whole spirit of a people came alive and multiplied in thousands of other hearts and minds.
In Plato's dialogue between Sócrates and Glaucon, the allegory of the cave represents a world devoid of ideas where fiction reigns supreme in lieu of reality, a perfect allegory for today, where virtual reality or VR is touted as the new world, where we, as the chained people of the cave, even farther away from the exit, are to spend the rest of our lives, our cones and rods tickled by the bits and bytes that illuminate our fool's paradise.
But from its royal beginnings in ancient China (Han Dynasty), shadow puppets brought stories to life, reflecting the wants and needs, the hopes and fears of people, from emperors to beggars. The shadows liberated people from the chains giving voice to the silent, joy to the sad and fear to the mighty. The cave was opened for the common people and like a virus spread all over the world.
They came to Greece during the Ottoman Empire and as is common with all theater arts, involvement with it was considered a disreputable profession, akin to prostitution whose practitioners were regarded as the lowest of the low, even though on the other side of the screen, people of all walks of life and fortune would enjoy their characters played and mocked, disrobed and challenged.
As a young kid in love with shadow puppets and its Karagiozis character, Sotiris had to suffer many a beating, simply for being them. In a time when a mother proclaimed that she would rather see her son dead and buried than becoming a puppeteer, Sotiris love for the art surmounted every obstacle in his way, in a truly odyssean fashion. And so a living legend was born.
His art did not die with his passing in 1972, it lived in his son, Eugenios Spatharis which carried the tradition until a few days ago, when he also traveled on, May 10, 2009.
The light still burns behind the white screen, waiting for the shadows to appear and the show to begin.