Athens

View of “Nikos Markou and Kostis Velonis,” 2014. Foreground: Kostis Velonis, Who Might Rebuild?, 2014. Background, from left: Kostis Velonis, Model for the Prospect of Shipwreck, 2013; Nikos Markou, 02.03.2013.

View of “Nikos Markou and Kostis Velonis,” 2014. Foreground: Kostis Velonis, Who Might Rebuild?, 2014. Background, from left: Kostis Velonis, Model for the Prospect of Shipwreck, 2013; Nikos Markou, 02.03.2013.

Nikos Markou and Kostis Velonis

Alpha-Delta Gallery

View of “Nikos Markou and Kostis Velonis,” 2014. Foreground: Kostis Velonis, Who Might Rebuild?, 2014. Background, from left: Kostis Velonis, Model for the Prospect of Shipwreck, 2013; Nikos Markou, 02.03.2013.

The title of this exhibition of recent works by Kostis Velonis and Nikos Markou—“The Future Lies Behind Us: Two New Proposals Beside an Older One”—was explained by the inclusion of a work by Vlassis Caniaris, produced during his DAAD residency in Berlin in 1973–75. Caniaris’s Possible Background, 1974, was shown in a room separate from the one where works by Markou and Velonis commingled. Caniaris’s installation presents a background of sorts, made from a black plastic drop cloth, in front of which found objects such as a tattered suitcase, a tricycle, a couple of battered baby carriages, a shirt and trousers on a hanger are positioned. It evokes the down-and-out lives, including those of migrant guest workers, Caniaris observed during his time in the German capital—a period in which the artist began developing installation “environments” engaging with sociopolitical issues.

The inclusion of Possible Background in this show allowed for a juxtaposition of realities, from those Caniaris observed four decades ago to those of life in Greece today. Among the latter were the experiences articulated in Markou’s Life Narratives, 2012–13, a series of photographic portraits presented as a video slide show on a TV screen, accompanied by the recorded voices of each subject recounting his or her life experiences. These included the story of a man who came to Greece from India in 1996 and who, after marrying in 2005, fought for almost eight years to bring his family to the country before having to send them back again because of the economic crisis and increasing aggression against immigrants. Finding himself alone once more, he admits that he will soon leave Greece, even though after seventeen years he considers it his country, too: a poignant reminder of just how displacing displacement can be. As if to underline this idea, his was the only portrait Markou presented as a print in this exhibition. Simply titled 02.03.2013, 2013, the head-and-shoulders shot has been blown up to about four by five feet; the subject’s strained, bloodshot eyes stare directly into the lens as his wife gazes off into the distance behind him and his young son peers over his shoulder.

Looking back from Markou’s portraits to Caniaris’s installation, one realized that crisis was shown as a timeless condition. This was further articulated in three sculptures presented by Velonis, which drew out a clear narrative in his ongoing investigation into failed utopias through the construction of forms produced from found objects and scrap materials. Model for the Prospect of Shipwreck, 2013, resembles an overturned ship with a flagpole sporting a faded banner rising out from the hull, as if disaster had bleached any emblem that might have existed on the fabric, and with an improvised wooden fishing rod protruding, almost hopefully, from the ship’s stern. In Tout n’est pas fleur (Everything Is Not a Flower), 2013, a broken ceramic pot is filled with a lump of clay, thus highlighting—or containing—the artist’s productive, material gesture. The latter work acted as a precursor to Velonis’s largest sculpture, which expresses a clear message not only in the work’s title—Who Might Rebuild?, 2014—but also in its form: a thirteen-foot-long wooden plank lifted off the ground on blocks, with hammers of all kinds on it, most standing on their heads while others rest on the floor, emerging through holes in the plank, suggesting a mass of laborers symbolized by their tools. The question posed in the title recalls another seemingly eternal conundrum raised in this exhibition between “then” and “now”: What is to be done?

Stephanie Bailey