Hellenic American Union, Hadjikyriakos-Ghikas Gallery,
Athens 27.2 – 31.3 2018
The Summoning of the Bodiless (Asomatoi)
Silent witnesses of the centuries-long history of a city
“The Angels of the Sosthenion”, whispered in my head the voice of my
professional perverseness as soon as I heard for the first time Kostas
Irakles Georgiou talking to me about his artistic concept and its
realisation. A route, a journey; not necessarily or exclusively a journey
in a manner of speaking, but instead a literal and multivalent
transference into space and time. My thoughts went back to Isaac II and
Constantinople; a Byzantine emperor of the Angelos dynasty in the end
of the 12th century, who envisioned the collection and exhibition of the
most renowned and beautiful icons of archangels brought from all
around his vast empire on the basis of purely aesthetic criteria. He
housed them all in the Monastery of the Archangel Michael at the
Sosthenion on the Bosphorus shore and he thus realised the first
monothematic exhibition/collection of angels in the history of western
art 1. The “Aggelographies” follow centuries later in order to co-ordinate
a different gathering of these subtle bodies.
The works were created as part of a series of events organised in the city
of Kavala to honour Apostle Paul that took place in May 2017. For this
occasion, the Angels were reproduced in monumental scale and were
placed on carefully selected buildings-monuments, markers of the urban
landscape of Kavala. These buildings, silent witnesses of the long
history of the city and of their own micro-history, became the artist’s
canvas in order to orchestrate a mental journey in space,time and the
local collective memory with the guidance of angels-messengers.
In the classic film by Wim Wenders Der Himmel über Berlin, the
director follows the journey of two angels in the city of Berlin.
Suspended from building to building, they move in-between snapshots
of life, overhear the buzz of inner-most thoughts, contemplate on
mortality and flirt with it. Invisible almost to all, they move their black-
and-white gaze over the coloured life and the sufferings of mortals, most
willing to abandon the heavenly hosts and defect into the status of
The Angels of Kostas Irakles Georgiou are installed as silent observers
in the heart of the city of Kavala but their sacred status remains
unspoiled while their mission is different. The aim of the artist is not the
fall of the heavenly creatures but the elevation and transcendence of
humans. The Angels of the “Aggelographies” are visible to everybody
and they hope to become visual stimuli and motives, to capture and
mobilise contemplatively the unsuspected gaze of the citizens of Kavala.
The people walk around their city and live their everyday routine unable
to identify instantly with the current situation. They ‘slide’ over familiar
images, memories and experiences and in the end they remain unable
to identify with their own life and to surpass it.
In Athens, in the gallery of N. Hadjikyriakos-Ghikas of the Hellenic-
American Union, in February 2018, the originals of the artistic event in
Kavala follow a different route. They abandon their public and
monumental function in order to assume a purely internal and potentially
personal dimension. This time, the aim of the artist is to trigger a more
personal relationship in-between viewer and work of art, a relationship
both reciprocal and interactive.
Diachronic and universal symbols that have been stripped off from
narrowly-defined religious stereotypes, his Angels remain recognisably
Byzantine as regards their inspiration, and metaphysical in essence. The
artist does not feel compelled to disguise the visual inception of his idea
but converses effortlessly with the arts of his familiar past and
consolidates a harmonious and fruitful dialogue with it on a
morphological level. When I first saw his work I was astonished by
the lack of colour. Stripping off Byzantine painting from its colour bears
high risk as this deprives it of its most substantial advantage. The lack of
colour is undoubtedly compensated on the one hand by the choice of
the models and on the other hand by their treatment by the artist. The
Angels of the “Aggelographies” – emblematic illustrations of the long
Byzantine artistic production and irrefutable witnesses of the dialogue
that the Byzantines themselves maintained with their own artistic
tradition of Late Antiquity – are transformed through the sketching
virtuosity and the idiosyncratic visual script of the artist into original and
dramatic compositions; they give form to the immaterial and
metaphysical and they transform it into a reflection of cosmic order and
natural perfection. The disintegration of contours and the flowing folds
of garments into perfect and complete fragments neither dissolves the
figures nor diminishes the vigour of their expression, but instead it
accentuates the impression of fragility and subtlety, all inherent qualities
of the angelic essence.
The intention of contemporary artists to ‘revisit’ tradition, whether
familiar or not, to update it and to re-invest it with new meaning and
experiences is legitimate and welcome, but at the same time it exposes
them into risk as it cultivates great expectations and challenges.
Essential prerequisites for such endeavours to succeed are the thorough
knowledge of tradition per se – in our case Byzantine tradition – and
refraining from unproductive imitation and effortless mannierism. I reckon
that the work of Kostas Irakles Georgiou satisfies all these. His personal
drawing idiom, which appropriates the electronic pencil of graphic
and digital arts, transcribes unassumingly these recognisable icons
into the drawing canon of today’s ephemeral visual culture without
compromising their sacred status and essence. The discreet use of gold
in tiny geometrical details functions on the one hand as a visual
reminder of the immaterial light that surrounds the heavenly creatures
and on the other hand as an implicit reference to the immaterial nature of
the products of contemporary technology that the artist employs.
In the end, I would like to put forward some thoughts on the dialogue in-
between images and sound, an aspect that complements the visual
experience in this exhibition. The journey of the Angels is completed by
the sonic composition of Chrysovalandis Ioannidis who edited and
performed a selection of Byzantine hymns. On a metaphysical base-tune
that combines human voice and natural sound (man and nature joined
together) we listen to keywords unfolding periodically. To my ears these
sounds contribute to the trans-substantiation of the angelic images into a
personal verbal journey that in its turn, translates/transcribes the
ideogrammatic script that inundates the background of several
compositions into meaningful speech. ‘Overhearing’ this idiosyncratic
writing, I recognise the fragile whisper of prayer; the ineffable word that
the Angels convey as comfort and promise; in the end, the contemporary
existential fears that the Bodiless are expected to listen to and unburden
us from; to alleviate the darkness of each one of us …
I cried out
All breath ….
reduced to ashes by fear
Hold silent …..
for night is within me
By an invisible force …..
I receive mercy
Mystically depicting …..
We entrust care …..
Alleviate the darkness in me …..
Assistant Professor in the History of Byzantine Art
Athens School of Fine Arts
_______________ 1Titos Papamastorakis, ‘The Discreet Charm of the Visible’, in Christine Angelidi (ed.), Byzantium
Matures. Choices, Sensitivities, and Modes of Expression (Eleventh to Fifteenth Centuries), Athens
2004, 111-127, esp. 117-118.