What If

What If

All is about asking the right questions


Reaching the shores of Ithaca

Questions about makingPosted by Stathis Jun 03, 2016 23:43

But when the morning-star with early ray

Flamed in the front of Heav’n, and promis’d day,

Like distant clouds the mariner descries

Fair Ithaca’s emerging hills arise.

From The Odyssey

Why am I doing this? What does justify this struggle which comes hand in hand with making? Why going through this constant battle with materials and their nature, forcing, rejecting, compromising, restarting, losing or winning, accepting…

There is a different answer for every person.

For me, there is one intimate and deeply personal that keeps me going, trying and persisting when situations become precarious during making. It is the answer to the question whether this can be done.

Can the idea and design that my mind created take flesh and blood and become real and tangible? Can I get this moment of truth where I can lay my hands on the wounds and believe? As a sculptor, I feel like the doubting Thomas; I am not satisfied by the world of ideas and thoughts, by the world of the unconstrained and unlimited dreams. I want to touch, to see, to grasp, to caress, to smell, I want to sense the reality of matter. And only then I am happy, knowing that my ideas have transformed into material shapes, knowing that what I have made is out there in the imperfect world of reality. It does not matter if it is for only a fraction of a second. I long for a fugitive moment of a glimpse of the shores of Ithaca. This view of reality is enough to keep me going to the next adventure.

The installation of Dendrite was a bigger challenge than I expected, even after a month of thorough preparation, testing and planning. I knew that I would have to adapt to the conditions on site, but as in most things, experience is only gained the hard way. The first day unfolded mainly as expected and the foundations of the initial section were completed just in time before rain forced us to withdraw for a lovely dinner with our generous hosts and fellow artists. The surprises were kept for the second day. After raining all night, the ground was very damp and soft and took 3 long hours and lots of ingenuity to fix the central supporting leg. Then the race with the clock started as the fitting of the 2 branches should take place after the curing of the adhesives in order to avoiding stability risks. After 4 hours of wait I decided to remove the supports and see if the sculpture could hold itself.

It was a moment of splendour and horror. The first glimpse of the work in its entity was much better than what I had in mind. The real thing was truly there and so rightly placed. The angles were right and wrong in a perfect balance, the colours were strange but inviting and the arthritic form had the internal energy of a compressed spring. Hellas, this energy proved too strong for the joints where the adhesives had not fully cured, probably due to the wet weather. As the slow tension showed signs of opening joints, I had to stop the process and start repairs. But it was then that the rain started again and after a couple of miserable hours I realised that the materials were not setting and it would become messy if I continued working. I felt bad on the one hand because I would have to keep my good father in law another night away from home and on the other hand because I would have to ask Rinus for more time than initial planned for. But the understanding, support and hospitality of both Rinus and Aniet was exceptional and they kept us for another night making us feel as comfortable as possible.

All it was needed was time. The next day the structure has proved itself strong enough and within a gentle 2 hours of dry weather we managed to finish the repairs in the joints and complete the job. My heart was back in its place and the end of this journey was now within grasp. It was long and hard but wonderfully adventurous and full of exciting discoveries. Raising more questions than the answers it gave. Sowing the seeds for the next one to come.

The Kiln God

Questions about makingPosted by Stathis Apr 28, 2016 21:55

Resorting to divine intervention is not my cup of tea. I am a stranger to the world of spirits and superstitions. As a sculptor, I am more of a materialist; I have to touch to believe. Sometimes I trust more my hands than my eyes and I don’t worry about mistakes. I find the accidents from experimentation fascinating. A whole world of discoveries opens up when things go wrong. It’s a new world to me even if others have been there already. I usually set up my firings in a way that there is room for uncertainty, there is a precarious balance, an untested glaze mix, a window of surprise and hope when I open the kiln.

But with Dendrite, I am in a different territory. The parts need to fit, the glazes need to work, firings need to be completed successfully. There is no room or time for things to go wrong and I dread to think of any cracks or misses.

Many years ago, I have made a small statue of a kiln, very rough and primitive, with a long chimney and I named it The Kiln God. It was a tribute to the good luck charms used since antiquity by potters around the world. I thought it would be nice of me to make a small offering to this Kiln God, hoping he will keep my firings safe and prevent any disasters until this project is done.

I leave now a jelly heart in his mouth every time I put the kiln on. Even if Jill, my studio mate, complains when the jelly melts and smokes, I still think it’s a good sign; he is satisfied.

Dendrite, the journey

Questions about makingPosted by Stathis Apr 28, 2016 21:53

As the work progresses mixed feelings of satisfaction and stress emerge. One by one the pieces of the puzzle start matching and as I move into larger rings there is an element of wonder and a sense of achievement. Objects of unfamiliar big scale start filling up the small studio and I find myself surrounded by these remarkable tubular vessels. They are all individual with their personal form, texture and colour though they are part of the same story; they need to talk to each other. Their imperfections should be complimentary, and when the day comes to meet each other it should feel as they were meant to be together. But it's a long way to Ithaka and a million things can go wrong. As they transform from mud to stone there are temptations and dangers and these clay characters have such volatile personalities.

Iacta alea est. Since the journey has started, there is no way back. I should hope the journey is long and full of adventures and experiences and this kind of wealth is what I should be hoping for. The wise words of Kavafis will keep me company.

What if casting is the only way of appreciating an object?

Questions about makingPosted by Stathis Jan 22, 2016 22:19

What if casting is the only way of appreciating an object?

I think it was back in the city of Syracuse where Archimedes shouted Eureka when he realised that he could measure precisely the volume of his body by weighting the water that was displaced when he submerged in a full bathtub.

Doesn’t that say that you can not easily tell between two people of similar size which one is larger? And to take the point further, it becomes fiendish to compare people to other animals even if their sizes seem similar. Unless you submit them to the Archimedes experiment you will probably stay forever in doubt. Does the eye cheat? And how scary is this when we use it a lot, or better, way too much? And how often do we miss as kids when we are asked to match an outline to a picture? Or maybe we get it wrong because we already matched the outline and then tried to fit all in? Does the mind play this dirty game of trying to convince us that the things we see match the things we know? Wait a second; does that mean we should throw everything into the bathtub before deciding what is what?

Or do artists have a better way of doing things, maybe by knowing the hard way that you never ever trust your eyes? Isn’t casting the same thing with the filled bathtub being the mould? Aren’t you creating a negative of the form so you can fill it again and reproduce its volume? So taking a step back, you observe closely the object, you give it your whole attention, you perceive its outline with your fingers, you absorb its qualities and then...you dip it into plaster. As the time ripens fruit, it dries plaster too and then when the harvest comes your mould is ready and void. What do you make now out of the contained space? Was this what you remembered? Was this what you expected? Does the emptiness equal the pain of absence of the object? Is this that you feel when you want to bring back the object to life, and cast it again, and again and again? Did you replace it? Do all these replicas look the same as the prototype?
Or will you keep casting until you find your first love?

What if I break the mould and start casting?

Questions about makingPosted by Stathis Jan 06, 2016 22:47

What if I break the mould and start casting?

There are attractive elements in casting, starting first with the perception of negative space. Isn’t it exciting when you start thinking about negation? Give substance to something which is absent? Give body to the space surrounding the object you want to cast? How would the space look if the air was solid and the object was thin air? That thought travels me to Argia, the invisible city of Italo Calvino which has earth instead of air, most probably the city of dead; and in that sense the mould becomes the coffin of the object, suffocating it, depriving it from being seen, keeping secretly it’s imprint, it’s void form. But as morbid as that may sound, it actually holds the key to an eternal life. This is a brilliant way to freeze the form forever and bring the object back to life again and again as you would please. Another divine power to the hands of the artist! After creating forms from nothing and giving life to ideas, well now, it’s time to resurrect forms from the past, casting them back to life.

As the excitement builds up, the question remains. How can you design this time capsule for the object? Wouldn’t you first pick the right moment? How would you make sure the object stays still, keeps smiling and doesn’t close his eyes – a useful advice: do not use flash! Will the mould be truthful to the object’s beauty? And how long shall it stay still? Does waiting fades the beauty or fuels the desire? In fact waiting plaster to dry involves usually a substantial time passage. And when mould and object become one how do you separate them? Feeling so close and intimate as they know every inch of each other’s body, how would you break this bond without tears? Will not the object feel objectified? No more needed, replaceable as of now...

And where does that leave you, the artist? Does it leave you glorified in your power to immortalize, reproduce and replicate? Or a bit empty knowing that you couldn’t just make another object as similar as the first one without going through the tortuous discipline of repetition?