The work of Athina Ioannou manifests a classical approach to painting. It draws the attention of both artist and viewer on the arrangement of space, light, time and rhythm – almost as consistently as a music score, an architectural design, a Greek temple or a Gothic cathedral. Undoubtedly, it is principally grounded on the awakening of consciousness, which emerges alongside and in parallel to the concept of public space. In this way, artist and viewer meet in the heart of the polis. Whether involving the divine state or the human city, what makes consciousness familiar is the conviction that its existence is public, being a place of sharing, an incessant shift from identity to otherness. Whether the Other is present as a result of an encounter or as the medium of a revelation only concerns the approach to the creative act, rather than the essence of the artwork emerging from and alongside this multiple and open Other.
The presence of the artwork, whether in the heart of a church or in the heart of an industrial zone is only a matter of typology. Man puts his faith in the invisible with the same urgency as his trust in his own works. Art is testimony par excellence to this relationship between encounter and revelation, discourse and the ineffable, the rustling of the world and the language that constructs it. In this way, light, in the form it assumes in Athina Ioannou’s works, is the most fundamental element of reality revealed in the artwork; at the same time, it offers the viewer a specific medium through which to engage with reality: that which makes things visible and that which partakes of vision. The distribution of space thus takes on the twin facets of an architectural redistribution of the alternation of motion and stillness, on the one hand, and a music score of the pattern and duration of tonality and colour, on the other.
Athina Ioannou is a painter in the most accomplished sense of the word. With her works, she is not only acceded to the truest lineage of painting, which has nothing to do with the order of illusion, mimesis, representation or performance; she exists in direct communion with the only order of presence that otherness, insight and perception enable as patently manifest. It is by no means limited to the resinous event. From the Stone Age to Monet’s Water Lilies and from Byzantine mosaics and Gothic stained-glass windows to Klein’s monochromes, Pollock’s drip paintings, Toroni’s brush marks or Richter’s scrape paintings, the art of painting involves a constant process of distributing everything and nothing, line and what lies beyond line. Between the reality and the unreality of the world and things, the artist embodies a moment, or a space, which the viewer is encouraged to perceive either as a slice of time that allows time to coexist with the world around us or as a measure of space that evokes a place where the gaze can reach the other side of things.
Whether transparency or resonance, painting is the shift where things, and we, morph from the Other, given to us at first as a simple material element, through a ray of light or the span of a breath, into an experience of presence. This brief momentwhen space opens up around us, when we can exist collectively as humanity, whereas the nature of painting lies in the innermost experience of individuality, painting turns it inside out like a glove and reveals us in tandem with others.
There lies the true existence of painting, alongside and through its relationship with what is there, at the intersection of the experience of the field and the place, which from the purely physical existence of a construction, or a building,shifts towards a unique experience in the moment. Thus, the moment when the light that shines through them is no longer the light that comes through the window, but becomes the light in which the viewer’s gaze finds, through the artist’s work, a way to recognise the movement of the world and things in the most subtle nuances of living. Painting was described by ancient Greeks as zoography (writing about life, from Greek zoē ‘life’ + graphia ‘writing’) – and it is precisely this sense that Athina Ioannou conveys in her work: the sweetness of poetry mingling with the motion and stillness of light in the moment.
English translation: Dimitris Saltabassis
Departing from an idea of a painting that evolves depending on its context, Ioannou creates her work in relation to the exhibition site, observing the environment deeply and establishing ties between its materials and inhabitants.
Using raw material of local provenance such as architectonical and construction elements, as well as textiles, the artist recollects objects which - just as poetry- can exist without an utilitarian sense.
Ioannou observes and intervenes the exhibition space, questioning the way is usually used. Her compositions are apparently simple and reveal themselves little by little.
The light penetrating the site originates movement, depth and transparency in the materials, causing rhythmic alterations in this visual polyphony.
A characteristic practice in Athena Ioannou’s works is the manual repetition of certain resources in the search of aesthetic perfection through perseverance, exploring restlessly one subject, obtaining thus similar, but not identical pictorial results which demand certain sensibility from the spectator.
With her unique and very consistent style - which she has been capable of maintaining organically active through time - Ioannou’s oeuvre has evolved, moving towards satiety.
Her work reflects her international orientation, as in the case of her first solo exhibition in Mexico City and her latest work in Japan; in the new building designed by the world acclaimed architect REM Koolhaas New York office, in collaboration with Tokyo-based Art Front Gallery and the Hilario Galguera gallery in Mexico.
Athina Ioannou has been working and living in Rome and Düsseldorf since 1997, having been living and working in France since 2006 and Belgium as well.
The artist set up recently a second base in Athens, where her work is showcased permanently in public and private collections, which among others the Perianth Hotel S.A. and the Agricultural University of Athens, a site specific artwork in production with Onassis Stegi, curated by Locus Athens.
She is the recipient of the atelier Cité des Arts, Paris, the Jubiläumsstiftung der Sparkasse Neuss, the Stiftung Insel Hombroich foundation, and the Kunststiftung NRW among others.
Her work can be found in the following public and private collections
- Tenjin Business Center, Fukuoka, Japan
- Perianth Hotel S.A. Athens
- MRAC Musée Régional d’Art Contemporain Occitanie
- L.A.C. Lieu d’Art Contemporain, Narbonne, France
- Deutsche Bank AG, Paris
- The Benaki Museum Athens
- MOMus—Metropolitan Organisation of Museums Visual Arts of Thessaloniki, Greece
Who is Afraid of the Walls?
Interview with the artist on the Italian radio RAM. www.radioartemobile.it
I have always been interested in the language of the image, moved by this work, the presence of which can raise certain questions. More than exhibiting an artwork, I prefer to observe, to act, to intervene in such a way that the result is truly something minimal but of the utmost dynamism; and by utmost dynamism I mean the utmost opportunity for one to be able to be present. You are exhibited opposite him (the viewer) who must discover this place, by giving a sign,working in a space that is truly emphatic. Thus, as one musical note follows another, the eye is directed slowly, slowly there, to where there is a small marvel of a something, which is not seen outwardly and which is to reveal itself.
In addition, the title of the exhibition holds more questions; the restlessness of the artist, of the painter, which have to do also with personal stories; in relation to art itself. I believe that what deserves our attention today more than ever, is the unique; by this I mean a particular human mark, something someone made and left. However, I do not mean for one to come across a masterpiece, a work of art.
The Walls, for example, are not a work of art; they are a demarcation, a monumental construction which defined an era, as well as a notion, a historic moment or a moment in history. The Walls are the setting of the limit and of course we can be either inside or outside them. I do something different, something that does not serve, as does the other.
I think that mine are but words; something which, like poetry, can exist without utilitarian meaning (in the sense of usefulness) for that which I think may be art itself. What interests me is another kind of need, even a personal one; also, my questions in relation to each specific exhibition space, which interests me in one sense, whereas in another, it shouldn’t interest me at all. I mean to say that what probably concerns me, is a setting, a topos, which does not necessarily have the exhibitory identity beforehand and where, I believe it is possible for us to exhibit (to be) in also another way; that is, to realize an artwork that too is different because the condition of the “exhibition” is different. When I visit a place I coexist with it, thus a relationship is established. Afterwards while traveling, from a distance (a process that lasts several months) the relationship continues and in time, the idea takes shape. I usually begin working by sketching, noting, so that I am able to contemplate the space and the work to be done. The truth is that I never do something defined, so it changes repeatedly. There are certain ideas that return and then there is time that rolls on by. At some point you have to make a decision and the final decision is always in relation to the (exhibition) space and materializes from within it.
In the beginning there was the personal space, the atelier, where, starting from the given confines of the picture (as in the sense of painting), some significant questions arose through my personal needs and experiences and in relation to art itself; questions which preoccupied me for a long time afterwards. Somehow, in this way, progressively, by expanding on this thought, this contemplation as to painting, and also through the field of art itself, by observing and questioning the conventional exhibition space, my questioning became increasingly more compound in a sense. Because I began to understand that there was almost always a condition, a way of exhibiting which was in general established and which (to some extent) either prevented us from being otherwise, or which forced us to exhibit in the same way more or less the same thing. At some point I realized that I was beginning to choose the site because of my desire for a work to be more or less born from this relationship: it would then become for me a way of expanding the work, the potential for something else to come about as well, something different; a necessary shot at differentness. In this sense, I believe that the ‘given’ exhibition space could be very interesting when viewed critically. After that, it should be necessary to discover other possibilities as well, where something could change ever so slightly, where it may still even be almost impossible to exhibit.
The truth is that what I desire is not answers, rather the opposite, namely, to generate questions through presentation. I like to work in a way that is direct, transparent, seemingly simple, almost letting things reveal themselves, that’s what interests me most. Furthermore, history concerns me deeply (in relation to its making a statement on current reality), that particular kind of human record, of this (via art) continuum: To make so as to be able to see, that is, to be able to take the risk of beginning something without knowing how it will turn out in its final form.I perceive painting in the same way as I feel poetry, as something that we should not try to explain, to comprehend with the sense of educating. It is essential to live it, to feel it. And this is the relationship.
Personally,I do not care to render an artwork that describes something with the pictorial concept of descriptiveness, that of being educational or illustrational. It is the language that interests me; that a thing, an action, an intervention, a presence, a site can become language and indeed why not, a new language. To be able to be read and written, to be, to exist. It is one thing for something to be born on site, as is born a tree; it is another for it to be transferred. It’s like sowing the work. Now, today, I’m beginning to see it in this way; it is not that I do much. I do that which I feel is necessary for me to be able to speak.
*An interview by Athina Ioannou on
Italian radio RAM. www.radioartemobile.it