‘A Puppet Sun’- an installation by Kostis Velonis
Cur. by Vassilis Oikonomopoulos
Commissioned by NEON
Neoclassical Residence at Kaplanon 11, Athens
Kostis Velonis began his career in the early 2000s, at the dawn then of the new millennium. His work, which spans across media to include sculpture, installation and painting, examines the borders between artistic practice, social reality and politics. Velonis is known for challenging the primacy of the material and reinventing new forms that move freely among media and techniques. He is recognised for combining existing objects to create new sculptural forms and installations. His quest for innovation is supported by in-depth research into the historical, architectural, cultural and social parameters of artistic concepts and ideas.
This new commission by NEON is the largest scale solo presentation of his work to date, in Greece. Drawing on NEON’s objective to re-examine the identity of Athens through the prism of contemporary art practices, while activating elements of history, urbanism and architecture, Velonis developed a project which is de ned by forms of relationships, between artwork and site, devising an experimental dra that responds to the unique space of the residence on Kaplanon 11, in the centre of the city.
The residence itself provides an unparalleled historical context. For over a century, through its occupants, it has been a space that witnessed the social and political evolution of the country. It came to re ect the development of the city’s urban character and a desire to abide by modernist ideas. It was a space that demonstrated a unique, burgeoning local cultural identity associated with progressive thought in connection to ideas that emerged in Europe at the time. The creation of modern Greece in the a ermath of the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, the implementation of monarchy, the two World Wars and their destructive impact, but also dictatorship and the transition to democracy later on, have all de ned the site, which played a crucial role in the unfolding of the twentieth century in Greece.
Within this context, Velonis focuses on the intersection of four unique narratives. The gures of Eleni Zouzoula-Kanellopoulos, and her husband Apostolos Zouzoulas occupy a central role. Eleni Zouzoula-Kanellopoulos was the rst female author of children’s literature in Greece. Her work, on the one hand re ects the conservative, Christian ideology that was characteristic of the nascent urban class at the start of the previous century. The quest for learning and perseverance against hindrances are crucial elements in her books, which included strong didactic in uences and an attempt to infuse ideas of civil morality to her young audience. The progressive tendencies of the author lead to the establishment of literary salons in the residence, which considered the new tendencies of the period.
It was herself also the one who reimagined the transformation of the space and initiated the creation of the Hellenic and Byzantine salons that still represent the boldest, most unique spaces of the interior.
Her husband, Apostolos Zouzoulas was a representative of the People’s Popular Party ‘Laikon Komma’ to the Parliament. His o ce was located in the ground oor of the residence, following a similar trajectory to Pavlos Kountouriotis, who used the residence as a meeting point for political gatherings.
In the ground oor, Velonis associates the formal references of these diverse uses of space to his sculptures and installations. The role of the white living room as both a place for o cial functions but also the core of a domestic environment is foregrounded in the installation of his sculptures. The presence of these works challenges the conventional understanding of space and aims at devising a dialogue around the production of forms, the contradiction of methods and schemes but also co-existence and continuity, elements that inspire and characterise his output.
In the Hellenic and Byzantine salon and the adjacent rooms, Velonis draws upon the tradition of religious reliquaries, inherent in the nature of the spaces. His aim is to rethink these traditions through minimal interventions, re ecting on avant-garde practices and materials such as concrete and metal, key aspects of the physical manifestation of these particular spaces. Furthermore, stories of con ict, war disasters and literary narratives that form part of the history of the space and its residents are also explored in the works on display in the ground oor rooms. References to children’s toys and sculptures that are based on twentieth century models and miniatures re ect the artist’s interest in the theme of mainstream education and the construction of civil identity, an element that became synonymous with the literary production and political ideology connected to the residence.
In the upper oors, the emphasis follows the more domestic aspects of the building and the many personal narratives and lives that related to it. The domestic scale and private nature of the spaces is represented in the artworks in the rst and second oors. The bedrooms occupied by the di erent families that lived there and which eventually became shared bedrooms for female students, signify for Velonis the private and the personal. The individual domain of each subject and the direct connection to ideas and notions of a progressive, advanced, civil society.
The basement oor has been a fascinating space, treated in a remarkable way by the artist. Coming to signify the foundational characteristics of the site, but also the functional features of the space and services at the time of its occupancy, Velonis has developed a series of artworks that enter a discussion with the space and include found objects that are being used by the artist. This form of installation, at the underbelly of the residence, initiate a critical view on social structures touching on a range of subjects such as resistance, revolt, compliance and disobedience.
The development of A Puppet Sun reflects Velonis’ desire to bring the multiple narratives of the residence back into existence. Exploring a symbiotic relationship with the site, Velonis embarks on a commission that encompasses a remarkable range of di erent media. His choices of material are not only meant to represent history, politics, or social developments but simply for what they are they become an opportunity to experiment with forms and examine the conceptual potentials of art.
Vassilis Oikonomopoulos Assistant Curator, Collections International Art, Tate Modern