How One Can think Freely in the Shadow of a Temple
Kostis Velonis (*1968, lives in Athens) is represented for the first time in Germany in an institutional solo exhibition at the Kunstverein in Hamburg. With his sculptural settings created in the exhibition environment, he occupies the upper floor of the Kunstverein. His works, largely made of wood, make use of a constructivist visual language with specific reference to the architecture of the 1920s. In keeping with the bricolage concept, his extensive installations serve as settings for smaller sculptures or objets trouvés. The focus is always on political utopias and the consequences of their failure. His sculptures seek to uncover the ideologies behind societal and political power structures in an effort to save utopian thinking from the reality of political practice. This positive aspect is common to all his works.
This is particularly apparent in the central work How to build Democracy making rhetorical comments (after Klucis’ design for propaganda kiosk, screen and loudspeaker platform, 1922). It is a copy of the Propaganda Kiosk of the Latvian artist Gustav Klucis. The sometimes portable agitprop kiosks he designed were set up in various spots in Moscow for the celebrations accompanying the fifth anniversary of the October Revolution. The kiosk adapted by Kostis Velonis, in contrast, is to be understood as an empty, utilitarian tool for articulating various ideas and which addresses the public directly. Visitors to the Kunstverein are invited to take action themselves. The work consists of a raised stand with an integrated screen for projecting films, a bookshelf with publications on Greek democracy, and a platform for lectures or concerts. The work thus becomes an integral part of the Kunstverein’s communicative programme.
The stage-like element in his works is given direct expression in the sculpture Gaining Socialism while Losing your Wife. It goes back to Lyubov Popova’s stage set for the 1921 play “Le cocu magnifique” by the Belgian playwright Fernand Crommelynck, in which the husband has doubts about the faithfulness of his wife Stella. Raging with inward doubts, he calls on her to betray him scientifically to give him a sense of security. His wife – in desperate love for her husband – goes along with his wishes. But Bruno thereupon offers her to all the men in the town. Having lost hope, she deserts him for a new lover and in the end Bruno is left behind in solitude. The pathological jealousy of the main character stands for the decay of the revolution through the weakness of human nature. Velonis transfers the stage set to the exhibition hall, thus taking it out of its real context. The geometric form of the set contrasts with the private interior that intrudes at certain places in the form of flower pots, ornaments, a yellow curtain, or romantic novels. While Popova’s design recalls the cool and efficient worker’s dwelling, the intrusive objects introduce a sentimental and decorative element, calling in question the radical aesthetics of Constructivism.
Endless Construction (victory over the sun) relates to the cubo-futuristic opera “Victory over the Sun” premiered in 1913 in St. Petersburg, for which Kasimir Malewitsch designed both costumes and set. The work, which uses a non-linear language, is a parable about the struggle between new and old. The sun, a symbol for rationality in the Western world, is to be captured and destroyed. This reveals a Messianic faith in the new world order: the visible world is to be superseded by a greater consciousness and a better world in the future. Kostis Velonis is concerned not with historical reconstruction but with personal evaluation. For him, victory over the sun is above all a metaphor for changing dominant structures.
The work Life without Democracy raises the question of the ideal democratic building. The small scale amphitheater – as a recourse to the traditional meeting place – reflect the coexistence between public and private and broach the central issues of democratic systems. In what sorts of place can we conceive of the future? And if museums are now the new temples, how can one think freely in the shadow of a temple?