Rebecca Camhi Gallery, Athens, Greece
In this four-part installation Nikos Alexiou pulled together the various strands that have run through his work for more than two decades. Perhaps his most obvious signature is the use of fragile, lightweight materials - bamboo shoots in his early work and now semi-transparent paper - which he combines to form geometric patterns. His use of such ephemera enhances a feeling of playful vulnerability and lends his surfaces a warm, evanescent quality.
Alexiou often returns to early ideas and reworks them. For example, almost a decade ago he visited the Iviron monastery on Mount Athos, inspired by an album of mid-18th-century drawings of the religious community by the Russian monk Vasiliev Grigorovich Barsky. Alexiou traced these images on to rolls of toilet paper, which he then pieced together to form a curtain before presenting them as the set design for a theatre adaptation of a folk tale. A few years later he reworked the drawings on to kitchen paper. For this most recent show Alexiou took as his starting-point his drawings of the monastery and surrounding landscape, employing a cut-and-paste technique to transform the original images into abstract, interrelated motifs.
Each part of this installation is like a link in a chain. Images are deconstructed and then reassembled, suggesting that art is a self-sustaining, orderly, closed circuit. In the first part of the installation banners made from pastel-coloured pieces of lama li paper from Nepal (made out of wood bark) created a heraldic yet ethereal effect that was enhanced by the light streaking through the patterns cut into the paper. Each banner is divided into three barely distinguishable separate panels; on each Alexiou cut out the shapes he copied from the Iviron monastery floor, some with Byzantine references.
The other three parts of the installation were made from the pieces of paper that had been cut out of the three panels. A table was covered with small mounds of the differently coloured confetti-like paper, while wall-mounted motifs and structures also made from the cut-outs recalled boats or sails, decorated with mosaic-like patterns. In the final room a curtain-like installation was made from threads of paper hanging from the ceiling; it looked breezy and translucent.
While the installation evokes an aura of religiosity, the toy-like cut-outs and the paper curtain introduce a playful element to the more ceremonial feel of the first room. Balancing solemnity and mildness, Alexiou also combines geometric order with a sense of flowing energy. But a New-Age undercurrent detracts a little from the work’s vigour, raising the question of whether the artist’s approach might be both nostalgic and sweeping in its approach to tradition and religion. Alexiou has avoided direct references to the Greek Orthodox religion and uses the motifs that he saw in the Iviron monastery as visual symbols that are independent of religious dogma or practice. Seeking something universal, he isolates his subject from its historical and cultural context but in the process weakens his work’s intensity.
A more powerful aspect of Alexiou’s work is the way it draws a parallel between art and ritual (both in terms of artistic process - particularly the attention to repetition - and the viewer’s response) which may be unintended, but is part of the work’s intellectual complexity. Ultimately, however, what mostly stays with the viewer is the serene environment the artist has created.