Saturday 28 September 2019

Kiki Smith - Memory

Kiki Smith: Memory

at the Slaughterhouse, Hydra.

The old slaughterhouse in Hydra is an art space created by Dakis Ioannou, one of the most prolific art collectors in the world. (Ioannou is the owner of the 'cubist yacht' which was featured in this blog here ).

The structure hasn't been altered much at all. It is not far removed from its use as a place to kill animals. 'It's a slaughterhouse', Kiki Smith said. 'You can see all the apparatuses for killing goats. And so if you do anything in a space of that kind of physical harshness, you have to respond to it'.
And respond she has. She said she had adjusted to the site by hanging out on Hydra for two weeks before the opening, taking in the distinctive-out-of-timenesss of the island, where the only vehicles available are donkeys. As a result, the work in the show seems perfectly attuned to the surroundings, and reflective of the country's propensity for mythmaking.

Memory is Smith's offering to Hydra and the Greek sea. It's about roots: the lost link/bridge between people and nature; spiritualism and rationality; indigenous cultures and the relentless materialism of the West; mythology and urban reality; life and death. It's an homage to Hydra the island, as well as Hydra the sea serpent and largest constellation in the southern sky, whose tail lies between Centaurus and Libra. This constellation was first catalogues by Greek astronomer Ptolemy in the 2nd century AD. Despite its size, it contains only one bright star, Alphard, whose name means 'the solitary one'

The work is also an homage to the animals that were slaughtered on the site.

On the roof of the former slaughterhouse, sits Capricorn, or the sea goat - a creature with a goat's head and a fish's tail fluttering in the wind, which, if one is to believe the story, allows it to travel between both worlds, between the heavens and the depths of the sea, and stopping here on land as it moves from one extreme to the other, diving into the deepest wells of the imagination, uniting creativity with productivity.

Or is this a reference to the former function of this building, where the blood of the slaughtered animals turned fish/mermaids into hybrids? Half goat and half fish?

I walked into the exhibition space and went straight out into the terrace. The views were so fantastic, that I decided to sit on a bench and wait for Ken who had gone for a walk.

Always a lot of traffic on this stretch of water.

The Saronic Gulf at my feet, the Peloponnese in the distance

the rocks on which the slaughterhouse is perched on my right and left.

The slaughterhouse hut on the bottom of the treacherous rocks.

There is a small shiny crow on the outside of the building - Apollo's sacred bird in Greek mythology originally had white feathers.

This refers to a myth that is incorporated into the work where Apollo asked a crow to bring him some water. Long ago, crows are said to have been silvery white and have a beautiful song. The crow accepted the task, but along the way it came across a fig tree full of fruit. The fruit was not yet ripe, so the crow decided to wait a little bit. When the figs had finally ripened, the crow enjoyed a grand meal (which turned out to be its last meal). Its stomach full, the crow suddenly remembered its task, quickly filled the cup with water and hurried back to Apollo, making excuses that the water serpent had prevented it from getting near the water sooner. Apollo was not easily fooled and he punished the crow for its selfishness by turning its feathers black and its voice into an unpleasant cow. He then threw the crow and the cup up into the sky, onto the back of the water serpent, warning the serpent to make sure the crow is never again able to reach the cup and thus quench its thirst.

The imagery of the crow is a constant throughout the exhibition as it's part of the constellation of Hydra.

In the middle of this terrace, the first sculpture, a golden-metallic 'face' sparkling in the sunlight, its two eyes holes providing view of the sky and sea.

I then re-entered the main exhibition space which is bathed in a pink glow, reminiscent of the blood that flowed from the sacrifice of the animals in this space.

The work here is seeped with all of the mythological characters of Hydra. The celestial Hydra may be named after the Lernea Hydra, a fearsome serpent with nine heads that Hercules had to defeat as part of his twelve labours. In the sky it is depicted with only one head, presumably the immortal one.       This sea serpent in the sky and its adjoining constellations: the crow (corvus), the owl (Noctua), the cup or chalice (Crater), the sextant (Sextans) and the cat (Felis). Smith turned all the celestial elements to symbols in Memory. As she did so, Capricorn with head and upper body of a goat and lower body and tail of a fish came to her mind, and this comes in two different variations in Smith's installation: on the roof and in the 'cells' which we will see later in this post.

In the middle of the space a wide and shallow bronze offering basin, or crater, representing the chalice  -  strong religious iconography.

Filled with water,

at a certain time of the day, it reflects the pink window. 'It's animating the blood or just life'.

Smith transformed the slaughterhouse itself by replacing the clear glass windows with pink rubino glass. This striking stained-glass effect radically alters the interior as the light through the glass projects vibrant pink tones on the floor, wall and ceiling and immerses the visitor in a radiant glow.  'I thought it was a little bit like the blood of the slaughterhouse. I spoke to one woman and to Dakis and they said they remembered the blood in the sea when they were slaughtering the goats'.

At this point, the extremely helpful exhibition guide took us back to the terrace and showed us the pipe that allowed all the blood of the slaughtered animals to flow into the sea. She said that people who lived in Hydra at that time said that the colour of the sea turned into the same kind of pink that reflects into the chalice.

We returned back to the main exhibition space. To emphasize the sacrificial element of the basin, and to remind us of the previous purpose of this space, Smith made a cast of goat organs 'because they are what slips away in the sea'. 

In search of navigational tools to complete the constellation's inventory, Smith discovered a sextant and a lighthouse at the Museum of Hydra and decided to loosely copy  the lighthouse. 'These two big Fresnel lenses look like eyes, or like a snake looking at you'. Placing two beeswax candles in the eyes of the lighthouse, she is happy with this sort of physical manifestation of the spiritual world.

All the hooks that were used to hang the carcasses are still there, intact.

Furthermore, there are cats placed around the exhibition rooms. The cat constellation doesn't fit into myths as do the other adjoining constellations, but 'in this synagogue of different animals' she thought it would be nice for children to have 'things that entertain them or secrets that perhaps no one else sees, but they do and are excited'. Cats are also, the mascot of the island: they are everywhere.

She also placed a little donkey on a steel beam. Again, a reference to the donkeys that are to be found everywhere on the island.

To represent the owl, Smith created a small bronze sculpture and secluded it in what looks like the perfect hideaway inside the slaughterhouse.

We then went outside to the entrance and to our right are three small cells which where the actual slaughter went on. Two more figurative Capricorns cast in bronze, half human and half animal hybrids, with a woman's face, a woman's chest, goat's hooves and a mermaid's tail inhabit the spaces.

Did the gallons of blood from the slaughtered animals that were poured into the sea, turn mermaids into hybrids, mermaids with goat's hooves? Very powerful imagery here.

One takes up two of the cells,

her knotted fish's tail coiling through the iron bars.

A cat sits in the window.

The second Capricorn/Mermaid inhabits the third cell.

Outside the slaughterhouse, Smith 'wanted to make a waving to the sea, with the sea waving to the reflection'. So, she drew images of the smaller attendant constellations and printed them on white flags that fly from seven flagpoles installed on the route above the slaughterhouse. It is difficult to look at the flags properly because they are pushed by the wind, but they reveal a crow, a chalice, a cat and a sextant. On the lower part of each pole, two blue flags also fly in the wind - cyanotypes of photographs Smith took back in 2005 of the sun shining on the East River.

Thursday 26 September 2019

On the way to the slaughterhouse in Hydra

We left the town of Hydra behind, on our way to the old slaughterhouse which is situated on the coastal path between the town and Mandraki.

Our aim, to see Memories by Kiki Smith.

We turned the corner, old houses perched on top of the rocks on our right,

and the sea with the last views of Hydra on our left.

Canons on either side of us, Hydra's old fortifications

The white boats providing a contrast to the vibrant blue of the sea.

We soon came upon the sign for the exhibition which is organised by DESTE. DESTE, (the Greek word for 'look'), the foundation for Contemporary Art, a non-profit institution established by collector Dakis Ioannou, is an international organiser of contemporary art exhibitions and a supporter of arts-based projects and publications. Incidentally, Ioannou is the owner of the 'cubist yacht' which was featured in this blog here .

In 2008, the Municipality of the island granted DESTE the slaughterhouse space, a building that was once used to kill goats and sheep. The structure hasn't been altered much at all.

Even the pipe that would let the blood of the slaughtered animals to drain into the sea, is still here.

It's a very pleasant walk, (even though at mid-day the sun can be a touch unforgiving)

and gives one the chance to admire the island's architecture.

The flags alerted us to the fact that we were approaching the slaughterhouse

and we soon saw the building

on the roof, a goat with a mermaid tale, encapsulating one of the themes of the exhibition.

The Slaughterhouse is literally in the middle of nowhere, in an unforgiving landscape, perched on top of rocks. I took this photograph from the boat as we were coming back from Mandraki.