A critical essay by Katerina Koskina, curator of the exhibition
“This wonderful nothing…” of Kostas Iraklis Georgiou.
( Zoumboulakis Gallery, Athens 15.1.2009 – 7.2.2009 )
‘NOTHING’… IN SEARCH OF FULLNESS
After several years of silence, Kostas-Iraklis Georgiou returns with a series of works as products of a contemporary methodological and technological approach to artistic writing, but also as evidence of a visual approach to philosophical questions. In this series he deals with one of the most obscure and misunderstood notions of civilisation: the concept of nothing, of zero, of void – a concept which appears in different guises in Philosophy, in Science and in Art.
Science these days accepts in general that everything emerged out of nothing – to be precise, out of the violent eruption of an infinitesimal bubble of void, assuming, of course, that something which can explode is really empty. Today, even the meaning of the term ‘void’ has changed. ‘Nothing’, or ‘zero’ –if that makes it more accessible as a concept– literally powers the world. Suffice it to remember that computer bytes are nothing more than endless arrays of zeros and ones.
It is obvious that the title chosen by Kostas Iraklis Georgiou for his exhibition does not invoke non-existence, and certainly does not imply a devaluation of the image. It is meant simply to trigger a revision of the viewer’s gaze; to have the image reactivated by the viewer. This may be because the artist himself seeks to perceive the concept as a viewer, having realised the lingual failure (alekton) to understand the being in relation to the non being.
As we know, such issues have been debated since antiquity. The Atomists Leucippus and Democritus, who propounded the theory of the atom, saw the void as a space without matter, whereas the Eleates believed that what has no presence –the non-being, the void– does not exist. Aristotle1 explores the differences between the two theories and then claims that the existence of the void is absurd and the world is a full and finite space. The concept of the void precludes the idea of motion. Parmenides comes to build on this theory, placing logic above experience. According to his theory nothing can arise from a true nothing, thus making a ‘prophetic’ introduction to space-time.
Yet how feasible is it for us art people to approach or even discuss such issues? Why would an artist venture to use such a complex notion as the subject for an exhibition? How can one ‘enlist’ the visual language to answer philosophical and scientific question? One explanation could be that where the concepts are inaccessible by reason, the image may have a place as it can function independently to some extent. Given the ontological elusiveness of nature, for an artist the intellect may create patterns. This seems to be the case with Kostas Iraklis Georgiou.
A pre-existing but well-hidden order of things seems to have served
as the starting point for creation. Consequently, the origin of art les within that same nothing. Moreover, before starting on a work the artists often come against a sort of ‘zeroing’ of information and ideas, as if everything must begin from scratch. It seems that this was how ‘nothing’ became the starting point for the creation of these visual compositions which, despite their digital underpinnings, retain an unbreakable bond with the visible world and the traditions of imagery and handicraft.
Through the hidden logic of his compositions, ‘nothing’ becomes for the artist a pattern of ignorance and enquiry, a question in perpetuity or the starting point for further questions, such as ‘after knowledge, WHAT?’ or ‘after the image, WHAT?’, which make him to turn to the past as well as to the future.
The specific works seem to draw their inspiration from a universe, yet it is a mental universe rather than a physical one – which is why the emphasis in these particular compositions lies on being rather than signifying.
Yet there is a paradox we must note: the relation between artwork and tool. The choice of the ‘electronic pencil’ of the computer as a tool/extension of the hand does more than reflect a desire to adopt modern media and experiment with technology; it also betrays a dependence on a traditional way of writing and expression. The ‘electronic pencil’ and the computer are obviously selected mainly for the advantage afforded by modern technology: that of speed. Suffice it to think the time it would take to draw by hand the millions of lines in a single painting. Otherwise, the approach to the work and the process for the acceptance of the image –by the artist himself, first and foremost– remain traditional. The intervention of the random element does not annihilate the aim.
The question that arises at this point is whether the machine has superseded the artist, subjecting him to its ‘logic’ and painting in his place? The answer is a categorical ‘no’: The artist has not capitulated to the medium – he employs it.
The use of a single tool, the stylus, in these works attests to the painter’s long-standing affection for this medium but also to the identification between artist and viewer. Perhaps he limits himself to this archetypal tool of writing in order to turn the viewer’s attention to the essence of the image he proposes, in the way in which he thinks it will be accessible to all.
Drawing has played an unwaveringly decisive role in the artistic career of Kostas Iraklis Georgiou. This can be seen in his illustrations for short stories in To Vima tis Kyriakis in the ’80s, in his large portraits of the ’90s and also in his current compositions, which result from the synergy between traditional drawing and the mathematics of computers.
In the present works the line intensifies the fragmentation of the form and ‘obliges’ the viewer to reconstruct it in order to read the image. In a way, the line assumes the role of what we would call an elementary particle in Physics.
The ‘assembling’ of the image is left to the individual viewer. The work unfolds according to each particular gaze and its preconceptions. The eye of the viewer and the oscillations and dissections of the line generate relationships, universes and finally an image. And the image is not just one. In this series of works by Kostas Iraklis Georgiou, given the subject and our difficulty in forming a concrete perception of the concept, each part of the image can also function independently as another work, another universe. The creation of the works adopts the logic of fractals, a process of successive divisions down to the minimum indivisible fraction. This minimum unit is ‘translated’ into writing on the canvas from which the image is derived. The line in these works demonstrates the hidden relationship between mathematics and image.
The artist attempts to present the things he carries inside through the beauty and the harmony of sober science. Ludwig Wittgenstein2 wrote that the limits of language mean the limits of our world. In the endeavour of Kostas Iraklis Georgiou it is the combination of sensation and intellect through a idiom which allows the work to alternate between a symbol and a wordless image. This potential for a twofold depiction has been a constant aim throughout his career, and is what links him to the principles of conceptual art. Also indicative is his decision to avoid giving descriptive titles to this series of works. His titles are free of words and the properties they bear, and thus he avoids the emotive element that language may convey. The numbers with which he designates the works are like the ID numbers of a technocratic identity which, in addition to everything else, is in tune with our present age. Should viewers feel the need for a title with more information, they are free to furnish one themselves. The artist supplies the work just with its production data, which reveal how it came to be. The numbers in the titles are similar to the barcodes on consumer products.
So let ask the question again: Why would an artist attempt to turn such a complex concept as that of ‘nothing’ into the subject of an exhibition? It may be because this question arises every time an artist finds himself one step before creation: a painter before a blank canvas, a sculptor before a mass of marble. The artist is called upon to give shape to the void, to nothing. This void, this ‘nothing’… in search of
fullness, of the reason behind existence, may be the necessary nothing which starts him on his personal and universal journey.
Katerina Koskina Art Historian – Museologist
1. Aristotle, Physics 2. L. Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logicophilosophicus, 1922
_______________Technical description: _______________The hand and computer drawings in wacom tablet, are converted _______________to a vector graphic and printed ( ink-jets ) on archival Fiba mat paper 280 gr.