Christodoulos Panayiotou

Christodoulos Panayiotou talks about Emma Kunz

View of “Emma Kunz: Visionary Drawings,” 2019, Serpentine Galleries, London.

For the show “Emma Kunz: Visionary Drawings,” artist Christodoulos Panayiotou performed a role somewhere between those of a curator and a collaborating artist. Here, he speaks about his interest in Kunz’s pioneering abstract work and the questions that arose for him while participating in the exhibition’s development. The show is on view at the Serpentine Galleries in London until May 19, 2019 and will travel to the Muzeum Susch in Zernez, Switzerland, from July 26 to November 10, 2019.

I INTUITIVELY DEVELOPED a fascination with Emma Kunz’s mythology before ever seeing a single drawing. I heard about her trip to Philadelphia and her efforts to follow an unfulfilled love, which I found deeply moving. Years later, I went to the Emma Kunz Zentrum in Würenlos, Switzerland, with an artist friend—Trevor Yeung—and we spent time in the grotto and visited the little museum. I’ve returned many times since.

I can understand why people would want to pair Kunz with Hilma af Klint. There are many interesting analogies. One is the conscious projection of the reception of their work in the future. It’s something that retrospectively disturbs, in interesting ways, the generalities of the history of modernism, especially abstraction. Both of these artists had a conscious realization that their work would not truly be viewed until the twenty-first century.

But the differences are also important and need to be addressed: af Klint trained as an artist and produced a body of work that was elaborated and organized on the premises of an artistic corpus. On the contrary, Kunz’s practice results from an alternative system that she invented. In that context, she defined her drawings as instruments for healing and divination. They were not conceived to be hung on the wall and appreciated aesthetically. And I am not intending to propose strict dichotomies between art and the rest, as dichotomies don’t exist in the holistic perceptions of Kunz. But it is important to consider these specificities.

I believe that for her drawings to function as therapeutic or divinatory instruments she needed to be there. She is the necessary bridge between the work and the patient. I have a strong feeling, though, that the two books she self-published at the end of her life constituted a reflection on the future of her work, when she would not be there anymore. I see them as directly connected to what we are doing with this exhibition.

What has been most challenging and interesting for me is how to position myself and define my responsibilities toward her work. The formulation of my role in the exhibition was the result of a process of elimination. It was important to understand what I should not do. I was involved in the selection and installation of the show with Melissa Blanchflower, its curator. Even though I was invited as “an artist,” I don’t consider the benches I made using the stone AION A, which was central to Kunz’s healing system, as sculptures in this case. I see them as having been interrupted at a stage before becoming a work of mine and primarily as scopic devices from which you can view the exhibition. The show has been constructed in a meditative yet dynamic way, comprised of almost cinematographic constellations, of possibilities to zoom in and out on. I like to see the benches as part of the general construction of the exhibition.