Thursday 5 January 2012

Review of Linear B: A Memorial Project Responding To Works In The Collection Of Greek Artist Nikos Alexiou at the Stephen Lawrence Gallery, University of Greenwich

Linear B: A Memorial Project Responding To Works In The Collection Of Greek Artist Nikos Alexiou
The Stephen Lawrence Gallery, University of Greenwich
17 November 2011 – 6 January 2012

Linear B was an ancient syllabic script which predated the Greek alphabet by several centuries, existing from ca. 1500 - 1200 BC. The Linear B project takes the notion of this script as the beginning, and seeks to create a new visual and conceptual language, and, with it, to propose a model of the exhibition as a dialectic in which artists are able to respond to one another and interact. The idea is to open up the questions prevalent on the contemporary art scene, regarding the roles of the artist, the curator, and the collector, and looking at how and where these inevitably overlap. Furthermore, questions are raised regarding the nature of personal and private collections, as opposed to public ones, whereby the former may still be driven by love and personal taste, without regard for the financial value of a work.

Nikos Alexiou was a Cretan born artist, collector, and curator, with a collection of over 200 modern and contemporary works, all of which he kept in the same building as his own studio, and which thus, in a way, became a part of his own oeuvre. In 2007, he represented Greece in the Venice Biennial by creating drawings and constructions for the pavilion, referring to the mosaics in St Mark’s. His work is meticulous, precise, and methodical, using repetitive patterns and designs.

The Linear B project was born in 2009, although co-curator and artist, Christina Mitrentse, had met Alexiou four years earlier when they co-exhibited in the first Athens Biennial and he began collecting her drawings. She initially invited him to exhibit his floor installation at the Celestial Contrakt group show in Hackney Wick in 2009, and, from this, a friendship and collaborative artistic relationship was born. Sadly, Alexiou died in February 2011 but, through the Linear B project, his work and his collection will live on.

For the project’s inaugural exhibition, also the starting point of the Stephen Lawrence Gallery’s 2012 Olympic Programme, seven contemporary London-based artists were selected to themselves choose a work from Alexiou’s collection and to respond to it in their own way. Upon Alexiou’s death, his collection was donated to the Benaki Museum in Athens, but many of the works are, nonetheless, virtually present in this exhibition, both in the videos showing, respectively, a film of an exhibition curated by Alexiou in the medieval tower on the island of Naxos, and an edited slide show, by the curators, of his entire collection, as well as in pages from a catalogue to his show The End (Once More) (2007), displayed on the window sills, and evidencing the microscopic detail of his own work. Additionally, one wall is hung with two giant sheets of an 11 sheet digital print – Alexiou’s last work – Grid (2010), intricately webbed, embroidery-like, dark, foreboding, but alluring nevertheless. This has been responded to by Mitrentse herself, whose Bed Constellation (2011) fills the main floor space like something out of a dark fairy tale, with that same twist of witchcraft and innocence, mythology and futurism. Decorated with over 200 printed stars, it represents all of the works in Alexiou’s collection, whilst a giant leather bound book, with the gilded cover text “only when its dark does the owl of Minerva begin its flight,” refers to his death.

Other pairings in the show include Jonas Ranson’s articulate Plans For A New Mausoleum At Halicarnassus (2011), a response to the similarly architectural Independent Landscape No. VI (2004) by Vassili Balatsos, and Alex Zika’s Find The Others (2011), a curious step-like construction, wedged atop a pile of National Geographic magazines, which somehow derived from a reaction to Adam Chodzko’s Meeting Here Everyone Welcome (2000), a text-based poster edition.

Perhaps the most obvious work in the exhibition is Marsha Bradfield’s What Does The Artist Do After The Death Of The Curator? (2011), a 10 minute video responding primarily to Bernhard Cella’s work of the same name (2007), but, more broadly, to Alexiou’s whole collection, where each picture, for her, represents a letter, and, together, they build up to create a new language. This work, and the exhibition as a whole, are to be seen as an experiment – a research project and a model – a way forward along a new pathway of interaction. The artists whose works are being responded to have all been alerted to the fact, and some have even been to see the show, provoking responses to responses.  Narrative networks, multiple dialogues: it is all an ongoing process. Further Linear B exhibitions are already being planned, firstly in Munich, and later in Italy, each time with a new selection of local artists responding to further works from Alexiou’s collection.

Linear B is very much a conceptual show. It is almost more interesting to read and talk about than to see in the flesh, much as is the case for much contemporary art these days. Whilst part of me regrets this loss of the celebratory aesthetic quality so integral to visual art, it equally ought to be recognised that it is precisely this quality which motivated the project in the first place – an investigation into the role of the collector who collects for love, not monetary value; a celebration of his personal taste and pleasure; and a study of his choices and responses to them, further inviting others to choose and respond themselves, thus becoming part of the collection, and extending it beyond its initiator’s death. Thus to suggest an answer to Cella’s and Bradfield’s question: the collector-as-curator never really dies. Or, as Mitrentse suggests, the collection itself becomes a performative work of art and takes on a life of its own.


Nikos Alexiou
Grid (detail) 
Digital print on paper, dimensions variable 
© KIPOS, Nikos Alexiou private foundation, 2010

Christina Mitrentse (responds to Nikos Alexiou)
Bed Constellation 
Silkscreen print on cotton, ed. 2, bed
© Christina Mitrentse 2011 

Christina Mitrentse (responds to Nikos Alexiou) 
Bed Constellation (detail: leather book)
© Christina Mitrentse 2011 

Jonas Ranson (responds to Vassili Balatsos)
Plans For A New Mausoleum At Halicarnassus
Silkscreen print on paper edition of 2
© Jonas Ranson 2011

Bernard Cella
What Does The Artist Do After The Death Of The Curator?
Limited edition print
© Bernhard Cella 2007

Marsha Bradfield (responds to Bernard Cella)
What Does The Artist Do After The Death Of The Curator?
Video still 
© Marsha Bradfield 2011

For further information please see Nikos Alexiou's website or the Linear B project website.

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