New York.- By Maria Eftimiades
For the artist Kalliopi Lemos, the opening of her latest show, Perpetual Transitions— a fleet of 15 boatlike forms in plaster–held special significance. Suspended high over a cascading water-wall in the Olympic Towers Atrium, the exhibit marked her first foray into the New York art scene and a chance to present her sculpture in a city connected to the experience of Greek migration.
“It’s symbolic of Greeks coming over,’’ she says. “New York has been a destination for so many people for such a long time. It is a place with a unique energy and the openness to embrace new ideas.’’
A September 16th reception of the site-specific installation, on view through Fall, 2009, kicked off the Olympic Cultural Center’s Fall-Winter 2009 season.
“I am very moved,’’ says Lemos. “I feel people here get the message. The work is not easy—you don’t see it every day.’’
For Lemos, boats have always been poignant images. “As a symbol, it signifies a container such as the womb or the cradle, but also the coffin and the grave, and from the grave the passage into another life,’’ she says. “When I use the boat, I also see the human being and the journey through the experiences of this life, the strife and the wisdom that we are enriched with by living, and that we carry to the next life.’’
The artist refers to her white “bean boats’’ for their pod-like shape, and suggest they can also be viewed as houses turned upside down, wombs, repositories of seeds or reliquaries emblematic of the cycles of birth and death, transitions and salvation. Lemos prefers natural materials and has used clay, salt, sand, wood and crystals as well as metals. Her idea is that the materials are vulnerable, subject to change“Reeds and plaster are natural and uncomplicated, yet they are also sensitive and fragile,’’ she explains. “They have a life span similar to a human being—they will not be around forever. It is like they are trying to tell you a secret. You have to make an effort and listen to it today because it might not be there tomorrow.’’
Since 2006, Lemos has been hard at work on a trio of sculptural installations of authentic Turkish boats used to ferry illegal immigrants to Greece from Turkey. The boats have already been received in Eleusis and Istanbul and an exhibition, called At Crossroads, is planned in Berlin in November at the Akademie der Kunste. The nine boats will be erected in front of the Brandenburg Gate to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the reunification of Germany.
The triangulation marks the typical route of migrants, from East to West, as they searched for work, and for a better life for their families.
“Crossroads is, for me, a very sacred and powerful point that we find ourselves occasionally during our lifetime, where we need to decide which way we will go,’’ Lemos says. “Taking the right direction is crucial to everything that follows.’’
Her work, she adds, “raises some poignant questions that have to do with migration as an international humanitarian problem. It urges us to think about responsibilities of the situation with the distraction of the planet and the change of the climate, the wars and the desolation in the countries that migrants come from. At the same time is also helps to connect our own feeling and position when in similar crossroads and the importance of taking the right direction.’’
Lemos studied painting and printing at the Central Saint Martin’s School of Art in London, and did post-graduate work in painting. She lives in London, with her husband, Christos, who also attended the New York reception.
At the opening, Ambassador Loukas Tsilas, executive director of the Onassis Cultural Center, said that Lemos’s work has been well received. “People are very enthusiastic,’’ he says. “It’s symbolic, certainly.
The boats and psyche of the Greek people and Hellenic Civilization have always taken human beings from one place to the other. This can be geographically, or abstractly. We felt that the little boats hanging over the water was a better combination, certainly symbolically. It’s abstract but a very elegant expression of art.’’
Addressing the opening ceremony, Onassis Foundation president Anthony Papadimitriou said “Lemos’ works has a 100% Greek color. It’s 100% Greek and 100% modern. And that’s exactly what the Onassis Foundation is trying to underline, that the archaic Greek Civilization, the Classical Period, the Hellenistic Period and the Byzantium are not bygone, but remain contemporary and have great significance”.
Speaking to the Press, Papadimitriou expressed enthusiasm about the messages included in Lemos’ boats.
“They remind you the Boat of Acheron, but also the boat of life, or the boats that brought here the immigrants”..
Notables on hand at the opening included H.E. Ambassador Anastassis Mitsialis, Permanent Representative of Greece to the UN; The Honorable Aglaia Balta, Consul General of Greece in NY; The Honorable Andreas Panayiotou, Consul General of Cyprus in NY, The Honorable Sophia Veve, Consulate General of Greece in NY Ambassador and Mrs. Andreas Jacovides. Members of the Onassis Foundation Board attending the reception included Anthony S. Papadimitriou, President, with his wife Mrs. Eleni Papadimitriou, John Ioannidis, Vice President, Ambassador Michael Sotirhos, Vice President, with his wife, Mrs. Estelle Sotirhos. Other important guests were Peter J. Goulandris, Orion and Global Chartering Co. Inc., with his wife, Mrs. Karen Goulandris, Mark S. Johnson, Global Advisory and M&A, DVB Capital Markets LLC, Kyriakos Tsakopoulos, President & CEO, AKT Development, The Honorable Demetrios Boutris, Former Commissioner of Corporations for the State of California, Dr. John Brademas, President Emeritus, New York University, with his wife, Dr. Mary Ellen Brademas, Milton Esterow, Publisher – Editor, Art News, Dan Kershaw, exhibition designer, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Stephen Antonakos, Artist, with his wife.
As she worked the crowd at the reception, Lemos gestured to the hanging sculpture and said, “my work is very meditative. Not tonight, with all these people in the hall. But there’s a moment of peace and tranquility and looking inside.’’