A Word on Worlds
To be able to fit you in, one must be a world.
One must have some place for you to stand, some thing for you to drink, something for you to look at, something to hear you.
We enter often - sometimes imperceptibly, sometimes explosively - into each other's lives, so much so that we forget that we are worlds.
Great art reminds us of this as it makes and unmakes the world before our eyes. This explains why great creators have their own compasses, their own north and south, their own migratory birds, their own countries and languages, their own celestial bodies. One has to have a bit of everything to be able to make worlds. One coordinate is not enough, it takes all of them to find the place. Just as one language is not enough, it takes all of them to have logos. Art never translates anything - it makes its own dictionaries.
Entering the exhibition of Hadjiaslanis, you enter a world. A world with its own languages to speak and be silent in, its own coordinates to be lost and be found again, a world with its own creatures and its own celestial spheres. This happens every time in Hadjiaslanis’s work, but in his latest work, Visitations, there is a difference. This time the material of the world that Hadjiaslanis sets up is other worlds: Worlds that have been lost, worlds that are gone or have been erased, worlds whose fragments can only be found in...museums. Hadjiaslanis sets up his worlds like Borges and asks us: what kind of north and south can one have in a world made of erased worlds? What kind of countries and languages? What kind of creatures and celestial bodies? Where is the figure from the old spelling book in relation to the ancient statue? How is the battleship Averoff translated into the sculpture by Yiannis Pappas? What life does an x-ray of a knee take next to fragments of an old doll? How does the fossilized fish mirror the old table of the popular household?
Through Hadjiaslanis' photographic lens, the exhibits exit the museum, the institutional framework that presents them to us as much as it hides them from us. Each exhibit takes on a second life in the photograph. It shakes off the institutional dust, finds other fragments-photographs and begins its second life within a photographic group. The photographic groups are sometimes playful and sometimes contemplative. Sometimes philosophical and sometimes political. Sometimes metaphysical and sometimes ephemeral. Their titles are written in black on gold plaques in a way that reminds us of flags more so than labels; they fly next to the exhibit-photos like banners of glorious struggles against institutional mnemonics. They each tell the story of a great river of life. Sometimes in valleys-drawers and sometimes on high mountains-shelves, the countries of Hadjiaslanis delineate geographies, form new contingencies of where. And as we pass from one country to another, trying to translate their cryptic names, we become the time of this world ourselves.
For as the philosopher would say, to be language is to be translatable1, it is to be lost in one language and found again in another. Language means languages and the world is the worlds in and out of which we move. So that time means times and the pasts go in and out of the futures and the presents.2 If the great thinkers of the 20th century are right and if (wo)man is made of language3 and time4 , then into the other (wo)man we can go in and out. Then the (wo)man into whom the other can enter and exit is us. Then we and the other are like the worlds of Hadjiaslanis: we die and are reborn as possibilities, as universes of worlds.
Only a sensitivity like Hadjiaslanis' could touch a piece of museum life with its lens and turn it into a living discourse about what a world is, about how it is made and how it is erased, and about how the people, the creatures, ourselves, are each of us a world.
It is rare that in Athens we have the opportunity to witness, not great art, but great art in the making. Here, in Yiannis Hadjiaslanis' exhibition Visitations, we have the opportunity to watch just that: art that is slowly being born as it gives birth to us, its viewers.
Assistant professor of Practical Philosophy at the Philosophy Department of the University of Patras, Greece
1 Donald Davidson.
2 Sigmund Freud.
3 Ludwig Wittgenstein.
4 Martin Heidegger.