KOSTIS VELONIS – LONELINESS ON COMMON GROUND
11/05/2010 - 05/09/2010
Loneliness on Common Ground: How Can Society Do What Each Person Dreams
11/05/2010 – 05/09/2010
Curated By: Daphne Vitali
From its beginning the National Museum of Contemporary Art set, inter alia, a double goal. This was, on the one hand, to bring the Greek audience into contact with the international contemporary art. And, on the other hand, to present significant experimental and critical forms, which would allow us to showcase the international potential of the artistic production in Greece, connecting it with the dominant today discourse, for a multifaceted, open and decentred international art by creators from diverse geographical regions of the world. We continue to serve this initial goal with a broad programme of solo and group exhibitions that promote equal collaborations between artists and a creative dialogue between the local and international artistic scene.
Within the framework of this policy, we are organizing a solo exhibition of Kostis Velonis, one of the most significant Greek artists of the younger generation. With humanities and cultural studies in London and fine arts studies in Paris, Velonis is one of the artists who, coming from peripheral countries, remain in their native place, creating within the framework of international pursuits and attracting the interest and the recognition of an audience that transcends local borders.
Velonis’ sculpture, in the broad sense, and particularly the series shown in the present exhibition, is usually described as political. But, more than a return to political art, we discern the question about how art today can be political. The artist’s visit to and appropriation of heroic periods of the modern movement, such as the Russian one of the early 20th century, where the artistic and political avant-garde meet and intersect, do not promise a safe reunion. Through the rich intertextuality of his works, and especially through the aesthetic and conceptual transformations of the historical material in the translation process, we observe a hovering between nostalgia and transcendence of the collective vision. The rift between the collective and the individual that is revealed by the works in the exhibition may be a melancholic and at the same time open answer to the initial question, in an era of scepticism and lack of certainties, in the realm both of politics and aesthetics.
EXTRACT’S FROM THE CURATOR’S INTRODUCTORY ESSAY[…] Velonis, pivoting himself on the language of Modernism and the theoretical pursuits of the avant-garde, deals with both the significant objectives of the previous century and the impossibility of their realization. The title of his recent work, Memorial to Collective Utopia, condenses Velonis’ artistic pursuits, and also alludes to the Russian avant-garde, the Bauhaus, the May ’68 movements, and other particular collective Utopian moments in history and art, with which he deals in his work. In the artist’s own words, “Modernity in its collective Utopias is represented by international ideological failures”. The failures, the weaknesses, the fall of ideologies, and the Utopian actions of the past form the core of Velonis’ pursuits, since the artist seeks what we have lost in a new kind of ideal Utopia. His entire oeuvre is characterized by his persistence in sentiments such as desire, love, passion, failure, loneliness, loss, defiance, uncertainty and melancholy. Historical failure gains a timeless and global dimension in Velonis’ work, whereas its historical reexamination gives rise to new connections and meanings. […] The present exhibition, entitled Loneliness on Common Ground: How Can Society Do What Each Person Dreams, features a series of large-scale constructions and several smaller sculptures that the artist produced over the past two years. The exhibition investigates and showcases Velonis’ work, focusing on works with a political character which refer to the Russian avant-garde, Ancient Greek Democracy, and the artist’s working-class consciousness. The artist attempts to examine the ideologies behind the political structures and to make us think about notions such as the Utopian ideal, democracy and revolution. His interest, however, focuses on the way in which these notions, as well as the ideas accompanying revolutions and forms of resistance to the prevailing systems of domination, could be seen today. Velonis does not attempt to examine the Russian avant-garde and the Constructivist movement in their historicity, but rather, in a critical and investigative vein, seeks to examine several timeless social and political issues and to engage a dialogue between the ideas of direct democracy and social ideals. […] Making a comment on the way in which the artistic avant-garde responded to the ideological objectives of the new political system, Kostis Velonis produces, for the first time, large-scale architectural constructions, which directly allude to the (realized or unrealized) construction projects of the Russian Constructivist artists, such as Lyubov Popova and Gustav Klucis. Through these works, Velonis is referring to the contradictions accompanying the aims of both the artistic avant-garde and Communist politics. […] Gaining Socialism While Losing Your Wife (After Popova’s Set Construction for “Le Coçu Magnifique”, 1922) is, as its title suggests, a reconstruction in actual scale of Popova’s set for the performance Le Coçu Magnifique (The Magnanimous Cuckold), written by the Belgian playwright Fernand Crommelynck and directed by Vsevolod Meyerhold, for which Lyubov Popova had designed the set and costumes. On the basis of the aforementioned theoretical pursuits of the Constructivists, it is obvious that Popova’s construction, designed in 1922, actually resembles an industrial production unit, although the plot of the play is set in the interior of a house. Velonis has retained in his work the essentials of the original set design, using a color combination of black, white and red, in true Constructivist fashion. Apart from the interest that the industrial structure of Popova’s Constructivist set has for Velonis, the artist is also inspired by the play’s idiosyncratic plot, in which Bruno, the husband, doubts the faithfulness of his devoted wife Stella, who, because of her desperate love for her husband, satisfies his sick desire to offer her to all the males of the village.
As Velonis points out, “The main character’s pathological jealousy represents the collapsing and paranoid course of the revolution”. The artist associates erotic passions with social passions, and more specifically he associates the destructive and tormenting love felt by the husband with the utopian and passionate objectives set by the artists of the avant-garde. He also examines opposing notions, such as revolution and the family, social consciousness and private life, as well as related notions, such as privacy and individual freedom. The main title of Velonis’ work, Gaining Socialism While Losing Your Wife, refers to the artist’s view that revolution and private life cannot coexist. In this work, Velonis deals with the relationship between domesticity and revolution, associating personal pathologies with social pathologies, and speculating about the way in which personal objectives could coexist with collective visions. Velonis’ work gives rise to a series of questions: How is the notion of the family defined in the Bolshevik Revolution? Which is the relationship between the Soviet ideology and domestic life? How does the collective political ideology shatter individual consciousness?[…] Aside, however, from socialist ideas and the relationship between the artistic avant-garde and Communist politics with which Velonis deals in this exhibition, the artist also treats the notion of democracy in several of his works by looking back at the great democratic revolution which took place under Cleisthenes. In How to Build Democracy Making Rhetorical Comments (After Klucis’ Design for Propaganda Kiosk, Screen and Loudspeaker Platform, 1922), the ideals of direct democracy encounter the ideas of the revolution and the Communist visions through the Constructivist practice.
Velonis conceives an architectural construction based on Klucis’ design for a propaganda kiosk, which was never realized. Klucis, like Aleksandr Rodchenko, Vladimir Tatlin, and others, invented apparatuses for public proclamations that would spread the message of the revolution. In this work, Velonis uses the propaganda methods of the October Revolution with the intention of foregrounding the ideas of ancient Greek democracy. The work consists of a speaker’s tribune, a screen for the projection of films, a bookshelf for the speaker’s publications, and a platform for the development of discussions around the notion of democracy. Both the design and dimensions of the tribune, as well as some individual details, such as the ladder, are reminiscent of Gulag architecture. There is also a direct allusion to history, since Klucis was sent as a political exile to “work camps”, where he was executed in 1938. In another work, entitled Portrait of Klucis in the Gulag Tower, the artist refers to this particular historical reality and to the dramatic development of the Russian Socialist Party.
The artist’s interest in ancient Greek democracy is connected with the direct participation of its citizens, as opposed to representative democracy. Velonis associates the notion of democracy with freedom and attempts to approach and highlight these versatile and interrelated notions. The platform integrated by the artist in this work is a place for the citizens, the Pnyx (assembly place), where decision making is carried out. Velonis’ work has a participatory dimension, since the “propaganda kiosk” that he sets up is an empty, practical construction directly intended for the audience, for expressing ideas around the notion of direct democracy and conveying the possible affinities between the early democratic system of government and its more modern incarnations.[…] As we have seen, the relationship between the individual and the community, and the relationship between individual and collective life, is a subject of reflection in many of his works. In some of the works presented in the exhibition companionship is juxtaposed to loneliness, love is juxtaposed to society, and the path towards the revolution and “life on the streets” are juxtaposed to the private and personal life of the individual. The artist is not upholding bourgeois and capitalist individualism, but is rather calling into question the preservation of individual identity and the promotion of individual creativity in mass societies. Velonis seems to be seeking a kind of “comradely individualism”. […] The artist’s relationship with the manual mode of working and craft-making is another significant aspect of Velonis’ oeuvre. In the exhibition are presented several works in which the identification with the material experienced by the artist in the process of making is discernible. Manual practice is identified, for Velonis, with working class consciousness. The artist associates artistic creation with the work of the craftsman, arguing that the artists who engage in manual works are workers, the vehicles of physical labor. He is also alluding to the precarious life and the desperate efforts of proletarians and artists alike to survive. The romantic idealization of the craftsman that is suggested by his work is akin to the well-known ideas of the revolutionary artists of the Russian avant-garde which celebrated the artist-craftsman-producer. The relationship between the artist and the worker, to which Velonis is referring, is explicit in the title of his work: Lissitzky Was a Craftsman Hero.
Each Person Dreams
Editor: Daphne Vitali
Texts by: Miltos Frangopoulos, Chus Martinez, Daphne Vitali, Florian Waldvogel
96 pages, 22 x 16.5 cm, Αthens 2010
Bilingual (Greek / English)
With texts and reproductions of works
Available for sale: 12 euro
Photo: Kostis Velonis, At the end of Demonstration Day, 2009