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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 23 June 2018
OPINION 24 THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 23 JUNE 2018 DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM ‘Phos’ exhibition at Hellenic Museum shines light on troubled waters DEAN KALIMINOU "A little farther, we will see the almond trees blossoming the marble gleaming in the sun the sea breaking into waves." Giorgos Seferis There is a common narra- tive within our culture that seeks to reduce the discourse of Hellenism into its elemental constituent parts. With Seferis (1900-1971), this was marble, sun and sea. Nobel Prize-winning poet Odysseas Elytis (1911-1996) identified other significant elements: "If Greece is completely destroyed, what will remain is an olive tree, a vine and a boat. It is enough to begin again." When one views the photographic collection ‘Horizons’, a subset of works in an exhibition by Nikolas, the son of the former king of Greece now at the Hellenic Museum titled ‘Phos, a Journey of Light’, one is immediately reminded of that narrative, and is left in no doubt that the artist is partaking in it. In a darkened room, a series of haunting photographs of dawns and sunsets are taken so that the dividing line between sea and sky is distinct and level; instead it brings to mind, not so much the identification of the elemental components that comprise our identity, something that transcends them. Greece and the natural world are at one, the archetypal process of creation itself: "And the earth was waste and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep: and the spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters, and God said, Let there be light: and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness." (Genesis 1:2). Though our lowly terrestrial position may circumscribe our perspective, inhibiting us from our surveying the broader aspects of our identity, the artist descends from on high to illuminate us beyond narrow conceptions of Hellenism. As a world view, there are higher powers at play here. The artist as light bearer beams these cryptic messages in their infinite permutations upon the waves of his creations. The entrance to the exhibition is marked by a video installation depicting an animated silhouette of the artist executing a zeimbekiko dance behind a luminous Greek flag. It is easy to be immediately transfixed by it. On the one hand, the piece appears to replicate every single western stereotype there is of modern Greece. It suggests, at first glance, a person, much like most of us here in the Antipodes, who has spent most of their life outside of Greece and thus primarily engages with Greece from the perspective of the stereotypes have imbibed in the countries of their sojourn, identifiably, in a visual vocabulary that is not Helladic, but contrived. Viewed from this perspec- tive, the installation serves as a powerful and poignant postmodern critique of orientalism; its effects upon concepts of identity in a globalised but nonetheless imperialist world, and the search for an emancipated Greek identity, on Greek terms, whatever these may be. The reason this installation has a deeper, intriguing meaning is because it convinces the viewer that it serves as a parody of stereo- type. The lines on the Greek flag assume the role of jail bars. The artist executing the zeimbekiko is trapped beneath a heavy corpus of stereotypical symbols and the meanings that derive from them, blue waters, a ghostly figure stirs. The monocular visage of a spectre, part-Cyclops, partrobotic nightmare, suggests that light not only liberates, but also reveals depths within; menaces that lurk undisturbed. It is for to us to determine whether such fault lines that subsist through our culture should be addressed. Viewed at an angle, the Cyclops seems to be screaming the identity of he who has caused his pain: "No-one." Because in the entirety of Nikolaos' exhibition, full of pregnant pauses and fleeting nuances, there is no-one ever there. A still from the video installation in ‘Phos’. PHOTO SUPPLIED stifling space that overturns the concept of freedom that both it and the Greek flag are supposed to connote. The bars on the flag, which are traditionally held to represent the syllables of the words Ελευθερία ή Θάνατος (Liberty Instead, if one is to satisfactorily ‘prove’ their Hellenic credentials, they must funnel their actions within a pre-determined and pre-approved time loop, and replicate these for legitimacy, over and over again. Consequently, Nikolaos' is a An intense and unbearable sense of loneliness and isolation permeates ‘Phos’. It suggests that Nikolaos’ work must be interpreted through the lens of a Greek abroad. and already expectations are laid out as to how one is to appreciate these, that control the manner of his identity and its expression. The silhouette dances the dance of free men, ostensibly unscripted, but according to tightly choreographed steps. These are dictated by tradition: a myriad of movies, posters and an evolved Greek political culture that demands that those holding the reins of power prove their virility by becoming Lords of the Dance. It is a closeted and or Death) further illustrate the paradox. According to the popular discourse, one must choose one OR the other. One is NOT FREE within the parameters of this banner of freedom to explore the nuances in between the two absolutes. Nor is one, presumably, able to comfortably traverse the varying gradations and facets of the Hellenic paradigm within the increasingly polarised zeitgeist within Greece and its diasporan communities. profound and vastly subversive discourse. Except for his very personal appearance, trapped behind the flag, and a print of his wife's heavily stylised silhouette, like a regal postage stamp, over that most Seferic Greek elemental medium, marble, no other humans people the artist's creations. Does this betray an intensely personal interaction with the constituent elements of identity that must be resolved by each person alone, without the impingement or intervention of others? Nikolaos' other 'Greek' seascapes, generally reminiscent of other artists' renditions of the genre, may, superficially at least, appear to be eminently generic. Yet the seascape entitled Phantom is immediately arresting, deliberately shattering the beguiling placidity of the other vistas framing it. From the unnervingly deep An intense, unbearable and crushing sense of loneliness and isolation permeates ‘Phos’. It is this sense of dislocation, masterfully rendered, that suggests that Nikolaos' work must be interpreted through the lens of a Greek abroad, a diasporan, who, though his artistic syntax may not be 'Helladic' per se and who references western-derived constructions of Greece, but is able to articulate highly emotive artwork which challenges these very constructs. He raises interesting questions about the nature of the Greek identity, its antipodean permutations and the manner in which these are received and extrapolated within diasporan communities, mythologised and ultimately, stereotyped. And throughout, a remarkable homage to the elemental discourse of some of the most profound thinkers on the subject of Greek identity that ever existed. Poet of the Sea, Zisimos Lorentzatos (1915-2004) once wrote: "Just like the kings, on coins worn away in the hands of the people/ the face of Empedocles emerges/ observing blood upon the bay … Dark and wild power, reveal yourself/ an enemy of classical Greece/ and save me from its white column/ that closes me in." Nikolaos' attempt at mastery over the elements offers him and so many others, a bridge over troubled waters, to destinations undisclosed. ‘Phos, a Journey of Light’ is showing at the Hellenic Museum (280 William St, Melbourne) until 29 July.
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