Exploring the Aesthetics of Horror and Ethical Encounters: A Conversation with Curator Dinos Chatzirafailidis on ‘No Self Control’

Exploring the Aesthetics of Horror and Ethical Encounters: A Conversation with Curator Dinos Chatzirafailidis on ‘No Self Control’

Dinos Chatzirafailidis, a curator based in Athens, a PhD candidate at the Athens School of Fine Art  and his research is fundamentally interdisciplinary and revolves mostly around affect theory and psychoanalytic aesthetics, with a particular interest in the uncanny and the subjectivity of horror met Ana S González Rueda, an art historian with a focus on contemporary art curation, holds a PhD in Museum and Gallery Studies from the University of St Andrews.

This interview is a follow-up to the group exhibition at Space52 with the curator Dinos, titled ‘No Self Control‘.

Installation view of the exhibition “No Self Control”, Space52, 2023 (photo by Stathis Mamalakis)

Ana S González Rueda: Could you tell me about the starting point for this exhibition?

Dinos Chatzirafailidis: The starting point for this exhibition can be traced back to my ongoing research on the aesthetics of horror and the uncanny, a focal point of my PhD studies at the Department of Art History and Theory of the Athens School of Fine Arts. This venture marks the third chapter in a series of curatorial projects that collectively serve as a vital component of my practice-based research. Within this context, I am bringing together artistic practices spanning various mediums, soliciting a very specific kind of affect. Through this undertaking, my main goal is to challenge conventional approaches to exhibition-making and contribute to the evolving discourse within the field.

In my doctoral research, I am researching the element of horror in contemporary art, seeking to identify an aspect that transcents the “visually horrific”. Through a combination of art historical analysis and close readings of contemporary artistic practices, I am investigating a type of art that does not aim to horrify the viewer, but which is able to induce an affect associated with a sense of an “invisible horror”. In this process, I have identified several artists’ work as case studies for my research, including that of Christoph Büchel (born 1966), Mike Nelson (born 1967), and Gregor Schneider (born 1969).

The ultimate objective of the thesis is to act as a comprehensive investigation of the historical evolution of the aesthetics of horror within visual art and to critically assess its potential for reading key works of art, and thus the relations of contemporary art to horrific histories. Given the nature of this research, I employ a trans-disciplinary approach, where I bring to my research theoretical resources and approaches from different disciplines such as art history, film studies, and psychoanalysis.

AR:  Your curatorial statement starts with the premise of conflating two seemingly opposite ideas: intimacy and inaccessibility. These work as a point of departure to propose a different kind of encounter with the work that deviates from the norm (the prevalent mode of ‘entertained consumption’). Is critical spectatorship a central concern within your research/curatorial practice?

DC: Indeed, critical spectatorship holds a central position in both my research and curatorial practice, a principle echoed in No Self Control. Attempting to position the viewer in the pivotal role of an ‘active participant’ versus that of a passive recipient is key. Embracing a trajectory toward a post-representational and experiential curatorial paradigm, it is important to me to foster a shift from an on-looking to an engaged audience.

Post-representational curating, as described by Nora Sternfeld, perceives exhibitions as spaces of agency in which unusual encounters and discourses become possible. No Self Control aligns with this approach by embracing the idea of an exhibition setting where things are taking place, instead of ‘being shown’. In my curatorial work, I recognize the significance of replacing (re-)presentation by experience, as the emphasis is always on the affective and emotional relationship that is built between the artworks and the spectator.

By juxtaposing two seemingly disparate concepts, I intend to prompt the viewer to not just witness through mere observation and consumption, but to adopt a reflective position when confronted with the exhibited works. This approach invites viewers to explore the complexities and nuances embedded within the diverse forms of artistic expression that are present in the show.

Installation view of the exhibition “No Self Control”, Space52, 2023 (photo by Stathis Mamalakis)

AR:  Does the title No Self Control allude to a disruptive or unsettling encounter with the artwork?

DC: Arguably, having no control over one’s emotions and actions is a genuinely frightening realization. As humans, we often tend to believe that the more we are able to control, the better. And when this pervasive belief proves untrue, indeed, a profound sense of disruption occurs, causing considerable unease. Confronted with artworks that verge on abjection, one cannot control the visceral associations the human mind naturally forms, and that can affect them on a psychosomatic level. So yes, the title provides a clue for the type of experience awaiting the viewer as they navigate through the artworks and pay attention to their details.

AR:  The exhibition also touches on the ethical dimension of the encounter citing feminist theorists concerned with contemporary art’s engagement with trauma. Could you expand on this theoretical framework?

DC: The profound idea of the affective and ethical power of art builds upon feminist contributions to trauma studies. The exhibition examines theoretically the relations between affect and ethics, as well as critically engages with that legacy of writing, testing out its relevance to the works chosen. My goal is to map out some elements from the genealogy of the affect in the cultural sense and explore art that reciprocates a certain kind of encounter, soliciting an ethical position.

Griselda Pollock, among the referenced writers, addresses the ramifications of trauma in the realm of visual arts, specifically emphasizing the potential re-victimization that may occur through artistic expression. Her insights highlight the delicate balance required in depicting traumatic narratives.

By deliberately making a selection of works that ethically refuse to exhibit overtly horrific or abject subject matters or events, my intention is to engage with the complexities of trauma in a nuanced manner. This approach steers clear of sensationalism or exploitation for artistic purposes. Rather, it prompts the viewers to reflect on the ethical considerations surrounding the portrayal of sensitive narratives.

Abstraction, as an artistic form, allows for a more subjective interpretation, providing a space for viewers to engage emotionally and intellectually with the artworks without the potential re-victimization associated with explicit depictions of trauma. The curatorial choice to include more works that rely on abstraction, therefore, contributes to the exploration of the affective and ethical power of art, as well as the delicate balance required in depicting traumatic narratives, as discussed by Griselda Pollock and other referenced writers.

AR:  Jill Bennett’s conception of empathy as ‘a mode of seeing’ underlying the capacity of art to transform perception, her relational understanding of trauma as ‘always lived and negotiated at an intersection’, and her attention to practices that address ‘the fluid boundary between “insides” and “outsides”‘ seem especially relevant in this case. I am referring to my own experience of the exhibition and the relationship between, for example, the force (even aggressiveness) of Atha’s Proliferation I, the fragility of Skov’s installation, and the sharpness/softness of Zorromono’s piece. Or, towards the back of the room, the tension between interior and exterior in Triantafyllidis’s, Skov’s, and Toumpouris’s works. How did you think about the relationality between the works during the installation process?

DC: The installation process is always an intriguing process for me; it is the moment when all works come together and an affective narrative has to be created. In No Self Control,  there is always this interplay between private and public, past and present, inside and outside, familiar and unfamiliar that adds an additional layer of tension.

I certainly wanted to emphasize and present different codes of abjection throughout the exhibition. As you mentioned, the works by Dafni Atha, Cecilie Skov and Carlos Zorromono, as the first works someone sees when they enter the exhibition space, make similar bodily connotations but through different artistic strategies and mechanisms. This group of works functions as a zone, and is followed by a subsequent zone at the back of the ground floor which, as you pointed out, features works by Corinna Triantafyllidis, Leontios Toumpouris and again, Cecilie Skov. Here, there is a sense of dislocation as the artworks’ peculiar combination of familiarity with unfamiliarity is addressed not just to the eye but also to the body of the viewer and its practices of space. In the end, all works collectively provide hints that in each of their cases, perception is not entirely ocular, but it is first and foremost corporeal, and this is probably the most major source of uncanny feelings and sensations.

Installation view of the exhibition “No Self Control”, Space52, 2023 (photo by Stathis Mamalakis)

AR:  The exhibition also demands an embodied response. I found myself and other visitors coming very close to the works, crouching down, looking inside or behind, around and in-between them (in the case of Komianou’s rubber installation upstairs). Did you consider the visitor’s movement across the gallery space as you planned the show?

DC: Absolutely. There are works in the exhibition that specifically engage with the invocation of the embodied spectator in their operation. I am always curious to see to what extent is the affect that is generated by the artworks an effect of proximity caused by the form of the artworks, as the viewer is allowed to walk around the pieces and pay attention to the details and sometimes it is exactly these details that agitate the viewer and create an atmosphere suggestive of uneasiness. Importantly, while these works encourage proximity, they avoid full immersion, intentionally preserving critical distance and further emphasizing the juxtaposition between inside and outside, familiar and unfamiliar.

Interestingly, I’ve also had people asking me what is the ‘right’ angle to view certain works, such as Cecilie Skov’s Spoon Spoon (2022), or Katerina Komianou’s Untitled II (2023). The fact that the viewer does not know exactly where to sit and from which angle to look at these works adds to the experiential aspect of the exhibition, emphasizing each visitor’s unique engagement with the show as a whole.






Dinos Chatzirafailidis

Dinos Chatzirafailidis is a curator based in Athens, Greece. He is a PhD candidate at the Athens School of Fine Arts, Department of Art History and Theory. His research is fundamentally interdisciplinary and revolves mostly around affect theory and psychoanalytic aesthetics, with a particular interest in the uncanny and the subjectivity of horror. He holds an MA in Art History from the University of Leeds, where he completed his dissertation under the supervision of Griselda Pollock. He has curated or assisted in the curating of exhibitions at several institutions and independent art spaces in the US, UK and Greece, including MoMA (12-Month Curatorial Intern, Department of Painting & Sculpture), Gagosian (Exhibitions Coordinator), The Tetley, MOMus-Experimental Center for the Art and Haus N Athen, among others.

Ana S. González Rueda

Ana S. González Rueda is an art historian with a focus on contemporary art curation. She holds a PhD in Museum and Gallery Studies from the University of St Andrews. Ana is currently Instructor in Art History at The American College of Greece.