Efi Strousa:
Mythologies of the Book (page 1)


The exhibition "Mythologies of the Book" is a first attempt to examine the many-sided relations Greek artists developed with books and the concepts of speech and writing at different times from the early twentieth century to this day. Our aim was to bring together and showcase some of the outstanding and most worthy examples of this intrinsic tendency to explore the huge area of interaction between language, writing and image. The works shown in this exhibition constitute parts of various independent bodies of artistic research; in these, the appearance of speech or writing –incorporated in books or in other reading and communication media, such as video or sound– reflects a consistent method of approaching the significance of the visual language or represents some major landmark in the evolution of the artist’s lingual identity.

At a first ‘reading’, this collection can reveal the particular traits in each oeuvre, which point to the different perceptions of language and the different aesthetic and theoretical foundations for articulating a new visual language which, in each case, touches upon a different aspect of the core of each era’s contemporary ideologies. The artwork as a text and book incorporating speech and writing points clearly to the dual nature of art, as physical and tangible space but also as a predominantly intellectual and spiritual space.

At the same time, the issue of books and the way they were dealt with throughout the later period of Greek art provides new information on the many paths followed by Greek artists in their quest for the aesthetic and theoretical points of reference each of them chose to adopt.

The illustrated books section, curated by art historian Irene Orati, focuses on rare editions executed by eminent artists of the first half of the century and constitutes an introduction to this exhibition. This selective review of some of the most outstanding examples of the arts of engraving and printing by Greek practitioners attests to the remarkable proficiency in using these traditional skills as a form of training which set the solid foundations for subsequent experiments with the various artistic techniques.

The perception of visual arts as a language for representing thought informs a wide range of Greek art, especially from the early-1960s onwards. In quest of the deeper roots of their complex cultural character as well as the interfaces with the rest of the world, Greek artists fertilized their visual idioms through the old tradition of traveling and emigration. Steadily in tune with the restless wandering of 20th-century humanity and the contemporary quests, they continued to mould their own myths in new, different places. This show promotes as their genuine identity their ability to carry on the writing of an epic without an end. Besides, how could a myth fit into a single book, a closed work of art? This question springs out of the images produced by Greek artists through their work, while also stating their awareness of the great question which occupied modern art and still concerns, in fact, a major part of contemporary artistic production.

In the world culture of visual communication the old rivalry between word and image is turning into an alliance which triggers the constant transmutation of communication codes in contemporary art. And those of the Greek artists who continued the renewal of their field of vision and still do, urged on by the constant intellectual shifts and the critical view of contemporary world, found themselves increasingly closer to their sources of origin, to the odysseys each of them wanted to experience and narrate in a renewed visual language.

Speech and Writing in Space

If during the first half of the twentieth century the book goes into artistic production, executed according to more classical trends of expression, the next phase of artistic interest in books, from the 1960s onwards, goes into an entirely different plane. The broader issue of the crisis in communication codes in the 20th century, the resultant transformations of the visual field and the experimentation with combinations of new vocabularies and multiple writing media produce some interesting responses among Greek artists and an enrichment of the tools of expression through the use of new materials. 

Yannis Kounellis
Untitled, 1963
enamel on canvas, 270x240 cm.
Private collection (not included in the show)
Among the pioneers in focusing specifically on speech and writing, on art as an open-ended text, on the work of art as a universe of words, tenses and mutating rules of syntax were certain Greeks of the Diaspora who were artistically shaped abroad and lived permanently outside Greece; among them, Yannis Kounellis, Lucas Samaras, Chryssa and Constantin Xenakis.

In the late 1950s Yannis Kounellis makes his series of paintings with words and phrases borrowed from the culture of everyday experiences. In the early 1960s Lucas Samaras produces the books which will later evolve into his famous and much-admired Boxes; a universe of word-objects spills out of his Book #3 (Beginning French) (not included in the show). 
Cycladic Books, 1957-1962
Chryssa’s entire method for restructuring a new visual and formal vocabulary was inspired by the giant inscriptions which abound in Manhattan; the structure of her sculptural language is made up of the letters of the alphabet. 

Lucas Samaras
Book #3 (Beginning French), 1962
pinless book with clean garbage
Portalakis collection (not included in the show)
Constantin Xenakis
Boustrofydon, 1987
mixed media, 72x61x61 cm.
(not included in the show)
Constantin Xenakis
Quatres Livres de la Vie
Since the mid-1960s Constantin Xenakis works systematically on an exploration of the language of signs; the road signs he uses initially, either in his environments or on the flat surface of his canvases, will subsequently evolve into elements of a personal alphabet of ideograms. Books were the field which Xenakis challenged more than any other into constant transformations. 
Bibliothèque, 1965
In 1963 Pavlos engaged in an ingenious dialogue with printed matter, using strips of paper cut from books and posters to construct his works. Included in this exhibition is one of his most important works from that period, the Bibliothèque, in which image and material coincide. 

HOME Efi Strousa
Mythologies of the Book.
Contemporary Greek Artists
Irene Orati
Origin and Evolution.
Greek Illustrated Books 1900-1950
Efi Strousa
Speech and Writing
in Space
Artist's books
List of Works
Short biographies