Andri Michael , Art Historian
cotaloge for the exhebition at Louvre Museum 2008
“the artist who thinks like an architect and feels like a poet”
Cells is the title Theodoulos has chosen for his work made for the Louvre, as it exactly defines the heart of the matter which rules his entire work. The cell, working as a symbol in his mind, crystallises and underlies his work and justifying it calls for a new way of understanding Aristotles’ Physics where by : “ matter carries in itself the origin of movement and of change, but takes shape and builds up as a picture through the mind”. In his “video sculptures” and his “expanded paintings”, Theodoulos conjugates diachronic, archetypal forms, such as: spheres, cones, cubes, in various cellular combinations on which projected pictures come to life by slides and video pictures that, by definition, pertain to the world of immateriality which for him is equivalent to the immateriality of the thought (figs. 6, 7, 8, 9). This kind of work finds its achievement in the installations he created for the Biennale of Venice in 1990 (Aperto) and in 1997 (fig. 6). The video incorporated into the spheres made of metal or of cement, transform the materiality of the sculpture that becomes a hybrid form oscillating between matter and non matter. His works make forms and temporalities echo among themselves in his quest for balance while tending to reconcile contraries. He also toys with the difference produced among various materials, as in: the cement cubes and the waves of the sea or waves of fire, the cone of cement in the earth which emits luminous signals. As a creator, Theodoulos tests the efficiency of his hybrid blends. His entire work can be viewed as under the sign of transformation, as the passage of one state to another, as the result of magical power that charges the chosen material with a poetical aura. Yiannis Toumazis used the term of alchemy to speak of the work made on the archetypal raw materials (fire, air, earth) and their association to more contemporary ways pertaining to mental activities which mediate in the process of transformation of matter.1
This alchemy also interferes in speech, in language. The appearance of Cypriote proto-syllabic scripture signs, inscribed on a terra cotta small plate in Engomi (fig. 3), on his earlier works and rendered by luminous signs and made by the use of cathod screens, progressively takes the shape of “a free electronic analysis”, to be transformed yet into a picture (fig. 4). Naturally, Theodoulos makes no use of a strictly scientific method but rather uses an empirical and intuitive approach. The picture obtained gets amazingly closer to the structural rhythm of the creation of the ancient city, as it can be observed on an aerial photography of Engomi (fig. 5).
Ten thousand years after Khirokitia, the cell becomes, once more, the basic module in the creation but, it exists as well, as an electronic field which, in turn, translates visible reality by means of a simple code. The metamorphosis of the cellular unit moving from the structure of the inscribed alphabet to the urban topography and electronic language, come to form “temporality strata” which the artist uses freely in his works Cells I (pp. 10- 17) and Cells II (pp. 20-23). Transforming/ transcribing this electronic language – picture of the contemporary world – testifies to his will: having ancient heritage, remote in time, made into terms and vocabulary of our time and attempts to find the similarities or rather to seek the link which ties the past to the present.
The archaeological sites - of cellular structure of Khirokitia, of the Neolithic period, with its circular plan to the site of Engomi, of the late Chalcolithic period, of orthogonal plan - seem to fascinate him as they answer, by their organisation, to the archetypal forms he has developed in works such as Cells. The extremely reduced means by which he renders everything serving an infinite number of possibilities is indeed the core of the matter in Theodoulos’ creative activity where he uses minimal forms in his sculptures associated with natural materials, such as : earth, ochre, iron or copper oxides which he always finds near a copper mine where he spent his childhood. This copper mine in activity since the Antiquity marked him significantly (fig. 2). Such an image was obviously not indifferent to the artist who, still unaware, experimented what is now known as land art, of a colossal and natural earth work. To his eyes, this was really not art but had to do with new artistic fields which he experimented later on. When asked what his relation to land art is, as one may see in it a certain similarity with land art works like in Michel Heizer in his Double négative, of which he speaks with respect and appreciation, to add immediately though that what counted for him was the traces of his own life experience of the landscape left upon his unconscious. He adds that he believes there is a clear and major difference between the information one receives and the experience directly felt in life. When he heard of land art, as an artist, he was confronted with his own intuitions which this art enabled him to verify, but his very own route lay elsewhere as he does not share the same problematic and experiments land art artists have.
He then talks about the enormous hole in the earth, the copper mine with its depth, its colour continuously changing and its inscription in the landscape, “his land art”, as he likes putting it, which follows him as a strong image in all his work. He evokes the marvel but also the fear facing this natural sight, the feeling of time awareness and the way it is printed in this sculptural landscape. This is how Theodoulos gains concrete experience of time continuity from a specific place. He stood facing this copper mine, standing in front of something which oscillated, to and fro between what was natural and what was artificial, between landscape and human interference. This explains the big size of his works, works dug into the earth, all work effected on the volume in negative, in void. With Cupola-matrix made in Nicosia in 1983 (fig. 1), he plunges back to “the maternal cavity of the earth”. Efi Strouza, the commissioner of this project which she has supported with eagerness, stresses the “natural” and “structural” character of these works in direct relation to the earth and the mine in Mitsero: “the walls of this cavity are erected according to the traditional structure of the dwelling made of stones, but at a certain point of the wall, the structure reacts and gives way to the inscription of some organic element, like a human figure emerging from the Earth breaking its stone structure and spreading itself on the ground”.2 The inversed cone in the earth made in Delphi in 1992, is also part of his works directly linked to the strong experience yielded from this site. The source of his work the void, volume in negative, is this place and it provides him with the materials he has always used: earth, stones, iron and copper oxide...
Environment, which is the mark of the place printed on the unconscious, according to Theodoulos, affects our way of thinking and this emerges spontaneously during creation. “Landscape, unconsciously, evokes a rhythm in us”, says the artist. Cupola and spheres evoke this undulating rhythm, no doubt, of the landscape which stretched under his eyes and which he recorded, having to reproduce it later impulsively. Theodoulos is obviously very sensitive to real space which he sees as metaphor of our own inner landscapes but he is also very concerned about space in which his works are set. He does not consider space as an empty frame but sees it as a dynamic element interacting with the work in order to create environment. Theodoulos behaves with space and with elements as a commander of shapes; always adopting an “architectural behaviour”, organising space and shapes, toying with the site he sets forward.
The use of steady and non temporal shapes, melt into cement, along with organic materials, stones, minerals and earth, presented in several piles, totally fleeing away from form, might give us the impression of an archaeological excavation in process and might lead us to ponder on the topic of ruins... Philippe Dagen, in his brief report he made, of an exhibition very important to the artist, an exhibition organised by Alain Mousseign in Toulouse3, rightfully, spoke of “Greek contemporary ruins”. There is indeed such a dimension to be found in the artist’s work. It is about rewinding time, not with the nostalgic intention to live it again as a past and bygone ideal, but with the ambition of “re-inventing” and re-linking it to the present, revealing thus the perennial form in shapes through time and space. Theodoulos goes well beyond the formal resemblance as his dialogue with the past is engaged at a higher level.
His works created for the Louvre evoke this dialogue in a compact way and it is also recalled in the very adaptation of the project to the specific space of the museum and more particularly to the hall where the works are exhibited. The artist, taking into account the reality of the given space and the archaeological objects exhibited, goes as far as to include the existing showcases displaying antiques in his own works. These are made of a pedestal, a surface of cement made of various forms, as well as a cube of transparent mirror. The latter, might give the impression of being used as a showcase, but it is only a “shell”, or sheath that is part of the work itself. The pure geometric form of transparent mirror has the capacity of multiplying the image from the inside to the infinite. This spatial infinite is not without functioning as temporal infinite, which would go far back in time to rally the time of the antiques with which Theodoulos seems to have started a dialogue. He made a dream he had for a very long time come true: it was to help rallying two temporalities, one as remote as Antiquity and the other, today our present time, in the same unifying place. Multiplying the image to the infinite is already experimented by the artist in one of his significant works, A Roof for Homo sapiens: an enormous transparent cube and inside a “floor” made of minerals on which flares a projected video image in movement – the one of a naked swimmer, “his poet”, as he calls him, who is revolving around himself. Space is locked yet multiplied to the infinite... The image in movement brings life to this otherwise inanimate space which combines once more the perfect archetypal shape, say the shape of the cube and the shapeless space it is enclosed by. Here, one might reflect on some words his professor, in the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, said about him more than twenty five years ago: “He thinks like an architect and feels like a poet”. His work, under the appearance of pure minimalism, might keep a secret content. The architectural dimension, the almost monumental dimension of this cube is not without concealing the poetic fragility of the swimmer confined in its interior. It is free movement indeed yet also confinement, it is purity of the line yet disorder on the ground. Is it not a metaphor of this non defined magma each of us carries within the heart of hearts? In this sense, Theodoulos’s cube, in spite of the minimalist feature of its shape, will never qualify as a minimal work, just like Tony Smith’s Die, for instance. Whereas the shape carried in minimalism is cool, in Theodoulos’ work, it is always clad in a more spiritual dimension, this psychological content Minimalists endeavoured to remove from their works.
Unfortunately, the Cells of the Museum of the Louvre, are deprived of image in movement, the immaterial projections, companions to almost all his works from Autophoto-Eterophoto up to Système Global and Système Urbain, Theodoulos compensates this constraint, linked to the specific space of his installation, and he creates, through the multiplication of the image, the movement which conscience sets in motion... These works betray the “architectural behaviour” Theodoulos maintains with things and places. His simplified architectural structures have the sober and denuded character these ancient cities like Khirokitia and Engomi display. In this experimental work Theodoulos tries to link the past to the present in a vivid manner; attempting to relate the trace or the print of the human thought in relation to everyday life.
Andri Michael Art Historian
1 Yiannis Toumazis, exhibition catalogue, Τheodoulos, The Nicosia Municipal Arts Centre, 1996.
2 Efi Strouza, «Introduction au parcours de Théodoulos», exhibition catalogue, Théodoulos Grégoriou, Système Global, 26 June – 13 September 1992, Midi-Pyrénées Centre of Contemporary Art, p. 55.
3 Philippe Dagen, «L’Été festival Labège Ruines grecques modernes Béton, terre et téléviseurs : étrange alchimie GREGORIOU THÉODOULOS à Labège-Innopole», in the newspaper Le Monde, 28 July 1992.
Dr Eleni Nikita, Art Historian
The monumental work “Cells – Choirokoitia” (222x444x12cm) by the Cypriot artist Theodoulos Gregoriou has, since August 2010, been part of the Patrimonial Collection of UNESCO and will be on permanent display in the premises of the International Organisation’s building in Paris. In the opinion of UNESCO’s Advisory Committee on Works of Art, the work, donated by the Republic of Cyprus, is the result of a successful combination of contemporary techniques and historic inspiration and fully complies with the established criteria of the Organisation for the enrichment of its collection.
“This world is not ours it is Homer’s”,1 says the poet. Living in a country, the depths of which reveal a palimpsest of successive layers of a civilisation thousands of years old, a country on whose surface today merges with yesterday, where ancient cities co-exist with modern towns, in a country where as you stroll you stumble over shards of ancient pots, funeral gifts and marble, paleontological fossils and primordial rocks, your mind cannot but engage, consciously or unconsciously, in a dialogue with time and fundamental archetypal thought.
Theodoulos was born and grew up in such a country, “where the miracle still works”.2 His constitution, like the image of a cross-section of the native earth, is that of a man who has lived, as he often says himself, from the Bronze Age to the present age of the technology of the three-dimensional image. Growing up next to a copper mine worked since antiquity, he played as a child with oxides of metals, ochre, rocks and the earth. He lived in the coolness and the warmth of a mud-brick house and as a child enlivened his imagination with the stimuli which his “archaeological findings” of funeral gifts or other remains of ancient civilisations gave him. As an adult he experienced and experiences another miracle, that of the technological and post- technological age. Inevitably, therefore, his work starts out from and traces the co-existence of different space-times and is an eternal dialogue of the past with the present and also the future.
From the beginning of his artistic career, the endeavour of man and the process of his passage from darkness to light, from ignorance to knowledge, was a definitive element of his creative act. Plato’s Myth of the Cave and the passage of man from the darkness inside the earth – the invisible – to the surface and the self-illuminating sun, was the basis of his inquiries for his series of works “Aftofota – Eterofota” (“Self Light – Reflected Light” ) which he presented in 1990 at Aperto, at the Venice Biennale. The fertile relationship between the invisible and the visible is expressed by the artist through the creative relationship of matter with form. With the intellect as guide, the artist – go-between gives form to the dark mass of matter, affirming its natural potential for mutation and revealing its ever-living power for continuous transformation. The action of intangible thought is symbolised in his installations in space by brilliant spotlights or by video-projections on the body of the structured material.
The concepts of flux and change, the relationship of the material to the immaterial and the theory of the ancient philosopher Aristotle that matter is the primary substance and that it carries within it the origin of motion and change but takes form only with the intervention of thought, will be the constant essential outcome of his artistic research. Geometry as the acme of logic, as liberating the luminous energy of harmony, determines his artistic vocabulary. The circle, the square, the triangle, the sphere, the cube and the cone are the constants of his artistic vocabulary.
The work of Theodoulos is also linked conceptually with the archetypal thought of another great philosopher, Heraclitus. His saying “you cannot step into the same river twice – everything is in a state of flux” describes completely the essence of the artistic creation of Theodoulos, who attempts the conception and representation with artistic values of the continuously changing world. The artist also aspires to reveal the obvious but rather more the hidden harmony which results from the dialogue of opposites: of light with darkness, full with empty, concave with convex,
internal with external, angle with curve, primary materials with manufactured ones, matter with the immaterial, material with virtual reality. “Opposites agree and from their differences the most perfect harmony is born and everything comes into being by way of discord.” It is “Logos” which gives coherence to the constantly changing world of Heraclitus, as the self-harmonisation of the opposites. Logos is identified, as those who study Heraclitus surmise, with thought, with the help of which “all things are directed”. Thus, in the process of realising his works, Theodoulos intervenes intellectually, organising his work deterministically on the basis of the rules and principles of artistic creation.
In 1997 the Venice Biennale hosted work by Theodoulos for a second time. This was “Système global”, with which he represented Cyprus, a work which gives form to a philosophical interpretation of the world and in which its inspiration meets the saying of Heraclitus “Everything is one”. The sphere, a geometrical shape which characterises the post-technological era, an era which, according to the artist, gives for the first time indications of the re-connection of the image of the world and the creation of a spherical system of thought, dominates as a basic geometrical shape in his installations.
The work which Theodoulos installed in the UNESCO building in Paris has the title “Cells – Choirokoitia” and is the sequel to another important work which was exhibited in the gallery of Cypriot Antiquities at the Louvre Museum from December 18th 2008 till September 30th 2010 and entitled “Cyprus, from the Neolithic Age to Theodoulos”.
These creations start out from the settled approach of his artistic research on the symbolics of geometry, its relationship to logic, measure and harmony, and proceeds on the basis of an element, emblematic for him, the cell. Analysing the cell-like structure of the Cypro-syllabic and Cypro-Minoan script, the circular structure of the Neolithic settlement of Choirokoitia and of the rectangular structure of that of Engomi, he reveals to us their total relationship with the cellular structure of the modern electronic landscape.
In the specific work at UNESCO, the artist is inspired by the architectural circular structure of the archaeological settlement of Neolithic Choirokoitia. This archetypal cellular structure has survived unaltered through time and the artist encounters it in the electronic environment, where once again the cell is the main constituent element of creation. In the realisation of the work, he uses in symbolic vein, and in relief, primordial, diachronic materials such as earth, ochre and copper and iron oxide. The archetypal ideas, structures and materials are for the artist the thread which links him with the past. Discovering the past, he discovers himself at the same time as an infinitely small cell of the world on which co-exist layers of the past and the dynamics of the technological miracle of the present. Of a cell which has been blessed by the potential of using “logos” to shape the future.
Theodoulos is possessed by a “poetic”, in the Heraclitan sense of the word, vision of the world. He seeks through conflicting elements to reach perfect harmony. The manifest and the hidden: of form and of content. Throughout his career as an artist, “poiesis” has been the inner motivation of his creation, the ever-living power which starts out from the old and generates the new, producing works which radiate a never-failing light.
Dr Eleni Nikita, Art Historian
1. George Seferis, “In the Environs of Kyrenia”, from the collection of poems “Logbook III”. 2. George Seferis.
Translation: Christina Georgiadou