George Lappas


George Lappas’ exhibition was an expansive sculptural landscape entitled Mappemonde, derived from the Latin mappa mundi, which means “worldmap.” In medieval times, this map usually encompassed the entire known world, and differentiation between the celestial and physical spheres was often ignored. Lappas’ installation consisted of clusters of small figures and semiabstract shapes made out of iron sheeting, which were arranged on square metal sheets painted white to look like paper and spread over almost the entire floor of this large gallery. Located at one end of the gallery was a house made of perforated iron sheets–the matrixes for the figures. Lappas created these various objects over a period of three years, 1984–87.

Mappemonde triggered a wealth of associations, recalling ancient hieroglyphs, Alberto Giacometti’s tiny sculptures evoking Egyptian deities and Etruscan bronzes, and David Smith’s frontal “cutout” sculptures. But its open-ended composition—perhaps its most important element—deflected any traditional narrative interpretation and introduced instead a sequential and virtually limitless process involving strategies of exploration and choice. It is based on the notion of a passage through a landscape in which each explorer determines his or her own route, and thus a particular “mapping”—or constellation—of perceptions. Viewers were expected to make their visual way through the landscape and, like the medieval cartographers who walked the land to chart their maps, to experience surprises and discoveries. Lappas also conceived Mappemonde as a labyrinth, in which viewers need not lose their bearings if they mentally unwind a thread or scatter gems along the way, like Ariadne of Greek mythology.

Lappas’ sculptural landscape is a cousin to the panoramas of Hieronymus Bosch, whose dense and diabolical imagery portrays an enormous variety of private phobias and cryptic dramas, and of Pieter Bruegel, whose vistas about the business of living are, in fact, psychological studies of the Flemish peasantry. Like them, Mappemonde’s profusion of images presents a multiplicity of themes and has the effect of compressing time into a single plane (which, here, corresponds to the horizontal floor-arrangement of the sculpture). Memory, art, and knowledge are thus distilled and incorporated into a field of images that exist simultaneously in the past, present, and future. In this sense, Lappas shares some of the concerns of Jorge Luis Borges, whose writings reflect the notion of human thought as a labyrinthine and infinite concatenation of ideas and images, of causes and effects. In some of his stories, Borges invented roads and corridors that fork interminably. For both Borges and Lappas, human beings are invariably confronted with choices predicated on (inhuman?) chance, and on each person’s own subjective truth, which is colored by individual perceptions and desires. In the expansive visual tapestry of Mappemonde, Lappas has succeeded in weaving a host of meanings and a richness of literary allusions that suggest that the intricate game of life is played out in the mind, in reality, in dreams, in space, and in time.

Catherine Cafopoulos