index | speakers | video | art | registration | accommmodations

George Magalios
Saturday May 19, 9am 10am

Carnegie Mellon University, USA

Unconcealment of the Ground Palette An Alternative Paleontological Investigation of a Subtle Technique

Paleontologists and archaeologists are still baffled by the mysterious geometric patterns of earth tones painted by the earliest known painters on the walls of Lascaux, Altamira, and other chambers. These rectilinear blocks of red ochres, burnt siennas, blacks, burnt umbers, whites, and yellow ochres seem randomly placed among the many bison, bears, lions, and other animals depicted.. How may one begin to look at such imagery?

In a detail from a section of a cave painting in Lascaux, two hooves are seen inserted into two sets of blocks of color. This curious image is often overlooked in studies of prehistoric art, ignored because it cannot be easily explained within the paradigms of the traditional art historical distinctions between "representational" or mimetic works and "non-representational" or abstract works. These distinctions are both inadequate and historically inappropriate given the pre-historical nature of the works involved. It is my contention that these blocks of colors I will henceforth call "ground palettes," function as a kind of genetic code to the body of artistic and ritualistic production of cave painters.

My paper and presentation would propose an alternative history of the origin of painting (art) and an alternative approach to paleontology by positing the ground palette as one the first visual techniques of symbolic identification. That is, I will maintain that the ground palette functions as both a code or key to painting from the Magdalenian Era up to the 21st century, and that this function illustrates an awareness of symbol-making that collapses the traditional distinctions of mimetic and non-representational painting in art history. I am proposing a creative interpretation-projection of this curious image, repeated throughout many caves in Spain and France, that is supported by the use of the palette in contemporary design, from newspapers and cereal boxes to software such as Photoshop. In this light, the palette is the grammar of all painterly and design languages. The ground palette, as the oldest-known of all keys, functions as the harbinger and root of this mysterious language.


George Anastasios Magalios calls himself a site-specific philosopher. He makes images, objects, and performs in order to explore a number of questions concerning our relationship to our organic, social, and technological world. Each question is specifically uttered according to the confines and constraints of a particular site. Magalios defines a "site" as particular historical moment and space, the interplay betweem time, space, and local history. Past sites have included the Carnegie Public Library in Pittsburgh, an abandoned dam in Santomera, Spain, hunting grounds in western Pennsylvania, a forgotten alley in Montreal, and the construction site of a Costco Wholesale store in San Francisco.

In these attempts at site-specific philosophy, Magalios employs a number of materials for his installations and actions. They have included ground pigments, unfired clay, joint compound, sheetrock, sticks, stones, seaweed, plastic toy deer, and wild rosemary.

In "Unconcealment of a Holocene Librarian's Studio, Circa 2000," Magalios attempted a meditation on the relationship between the collection of knowledge exemplified by a public library's collection and the curious, and sometimes, violent will to learning. In this installation and its performance, entitled "Animal Coupling," Magalios asked "Why must librarian's be timid keepers of the written word in the popular consciousness? Why can't they be sexual, animalistic beings who constantly tame the beasts they interact with, be they their husbands, or the unruly nature of the printed word?

These and other questions typify the investigations of Magalios's work as he hopes to problematize our relationship to new media, hyper-immediate gratification culture, and our collective roots as creative beings.