Upon entering the group exhibition Bright File (June) at Haus N Athen you are greeted by a bouquet of dried sage by Chrysanne Stathacos, that has been ceremoniously wrapped in silk and hanged on the wall. At first glance it seems a peculiar welcome for a show whose purported theme is light inspired by Le Rayon X and Six Heures avant l'été by Christos Tzivelos (1949-1995), a legendary Greek artist known for his self-illuminating sculptures. But as its name suggests, the show is also about the month of June, or more precisely, as curator Maya Tounta explains, "those 30 days in 2018", which like an incandescent lamp glowed brightly before abruptly burning out. In this sense, Stathacos’ dried sage bundle can be interpreted as part of a purification ritual—in several ancient cultures sage is traditionally burnt to achieve a healing state or connect to the spiritual realm—which the works of the six participating artists are all products of. Although each artists has his or her own artistic language, they all seem to be engaged in a creative process whose aim is to attain, retain or negate a pure state of wholeness.
At the center of the main gallery space are two self-luminous sculptural installations by Tzivelos (Unititled, 1990, and Untitled, 1994), which not only embody the artist’s use of light as his materia prima but also poignantly function as the exhibition’s symbolic and thematic core. Both sculptures feature rusted steel logs or beams in the midst of which a luminous geometric object—a cube with one corner scooped out on the one hand and a cylindrical toroid on the other—warmly glimmers. The occult compositions bring to mind the age-old process of steel forging, thereby equating light with fire and by extension with the mythology of cosmogony. The pieces could very well have been forged by Hephaestus, the god of metallurgy and fire, or Prometheus, who not only gave fire to humanity but is also said to have sculptured man out of clay. Such themes are at the core of Tzivelos's work and in the context of the exhibition his creations take the dual role of a sun and a forge; the works of the five contemporary artists on display both revolve around and owe their presence here to Tzivelos's seminal sculptures, a notion further underscored by the inclusion of the aforementioned Le Rayon X (1985), a suspended luminous globe displayed in smaller, darker room that on closer inspection seems to be containing a few odd objects.
An artist who shares Tzivelos’s interest in symbolical constructions and his exploration of primordial geometries is Kostis Velonis, whose piece Cracking Love (2018) lies on the ground in the main gallery room next to Tzivelos’s work. Comprising several layers of elemental materials—ceramic, wood, steel, marble, plaster and plastic—Velonis's artwork may not light up but it sure seems to silently crackle as if the disparate materials are undergoing an alchemical process of fusion. Of course, as its name suggests, the piece could also be the artist’s interpretation of a broken heart, its cracked, beaten down layers a palimpsest of a torrent love affair and its destructive aftermath. Love is after all an archetypal element with as much mythical and mystical power of creation and destruction as light and fire.
Displayed in an adjacent room alongside two photographs by Yorgos Prinos, Velonis's sculpture Displacement of the Self (2018) on the other hand eschews the trauma/drama of Cracking Love for a figurative composure. Part metronome, part balance scale, the slender work conveys a tentative equilibrium that perfectly reflects the dynamic dialectics between the two scenes depicted in Prinos's images. In Man with hood, New York (2014) a hooded man in the foreground projects a sense of unease whereas the close up of the arms of two policemen in 5.13.2013 - 3.01 P.M, New York (2014), who also appear in the background in the first photo, speak of repressed affection.
Although the exhibition is centered on the allegorical rather that the physical properties of light, there are several work that literally or suggestively, light up such as Elena Narbutaitė’s Billy (2018), a LED spotlight that intermediately flickers in what seems spontaneous bursts, Prinos’s Hanging Rock, New Have (2010), an eerie photograph of a solitary street light glowing in the dark, and Rallou Panagiotou’s They were told they get burning hot (with leather trousers) (2017), featuring two floodlights, mercifully switched off, suspended above the titular trousers that morosely lie on the floor. Light also plays an important role in Iris Touliatou’s Untitled (Still Not Over You) (2018). Featuring a series of flickering fluorescent lamps at the end of their life, which have been appropriated from abandoned Athenian offices, the piece shares the emotional desperation of Velonis’s Cracked Love as it evocatively conveys the enduring feelings that linger on after a break up.
Similarly symbolic gestures of narrative power underpin Touliatou’s other four assemblages on display, whose bric-a-brac aesthetic brings to mind Velonis’s work. In Emotional Infinity (The Sound of Him Coming Back Amplified and Looped) (2016), a revolving fan adorned with several keys and key-chains ominously rattles as it moves from side to side uncannily conveying the title’s emotional narrative, while in Crash! (2018) a set of batteries mounted on a pedestal make a loose bundle of dried stems quiver imperceptibly, but only as long as the batteries last. Touliatou seems to be saying that our emotional turmoil goes on as long as there is something powering it, be that a subconscious force or an external factor, a preposition that is both comforting and vexing and which concisely sums up the exhibition's gist.