Critics’ Picks

View of “Laid Long, Spun Thin,” 2011.

View of “Laid Long, Spun Thin,” 2011.


Athanasios Argianas

Max Wigram Gallery
106 New Bond Street
October 6–November 11, 2011

In 1979 Umberto Eco defined the literary text as a “lazy machine,” a device that requires the active participation of the reader to produce meaning. The sculptures of the Athens-born, London-based Athanasios Argianas are static “machines” that function conceptually, in some sense, as examples of Eco’s theory—and not without a touch of irony. Song Machine 21 (thrice two, once one) (all works 2011) consists of a long, looped band of brass that snakes around a series of slender metal wall supports. Engraved into this curving metal band is a circular text, over one thousand words long, that obsessively juxtaposes measurements of different units: “ . . . a strand of the width of your arms unfolded, woven to form a sheet. A sheet of the width of the wingspan of a plane, a plane of strands of the width of your arms unfolded . . . ” The viewer who accepts the work’s invitation to participate must become not only a reader but also a performer: Perusing the passage along the twists of the ribbon gives rise to a small choreography. And presumably, those who follow the instructions implied in the work’s title even become musicians, as they intone the text’s hypnotic, songlike reprises. Though visitors in practice will most likely remain silent, such a performance is perfectly possible. In fact, on other occasions, Argianas has used his “machines” as points of departure for vocal canons that reveal, no less than the sculptures themselves, his taste for structures based on symmetry, repetition, and permutation.

Sound too abstract? In fact, Argianas’s mathematics of systems embraces more than a few of humanity’s existential concerns. The two-part wall piece, titled A variation on the classic model of free will (geometric, inverted), refers to the eternal dilemma between free will and predestination (apparently without favoring either one). Meanwhile, With Her Hands Where My Feet Were poetically combines a cast of the artist’s leg with another cast, set inside it in negative, of the arm of his companion.

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.