Introduced through a conversation between the artistic duo “The Callas” (Aris & Lakis Ionas) and curator Nadja Argyropoulou
“That Night I Dreamt I Vomited Light”
I am earth the soil the clay
I am light
It has been decided for the majority that reflections are best
Recently we receive reflections of reflections of reflections of reflection
Reflections of what was
Reflections of what was real
Reflections of what was really there
Inside and out
I received the flash
YELLOW GREEN BLUE
and then in the other RED
And the light filling my eye was joy
I speak in ultraviolet flashes
I had just seen the flash
The blast of colour
The stones glistened
The forms became alive
To build a house of light
Reflections he answered
Reflections of our light
And the play of forms
I refuse to be grey and muted
Nadja Argyropoulou: We enter our conversation through the passage created by Liliane Lijn’s visionary verses that you chose and use as lyrics in your video work. When I asked you to join this project you were immediately drawn to her work which you have been admiring for a long time.
Then you focused on this unique copy of her artist’s book, “Crossing Map”, which she donated to ACG in 2006 and I found in the collection; a glorious mixture of word and color which reads like divinatory poetry, fiction, philosophy, epic song, memoir, flow and flash of images.
The Callas: It was a kind of revelation for us this unexpected kinship. Lijn’s breathtaking book is actually a record or can be ‘heard’ like one. She speaks for the process of its creation like this: “Instead of illustrations to the text I found myself creating a visual score, as if the writing were lyrics which I found set to music, and the music could be seen instead of heard”. We read how she orchestrated the coloring, the flow of inks in printing, so that each book is a thing that sings.
This is how our own, The Callas, universe emerges, like a visual score where sound, lyrics, rugs, publications, sculptures, films, clothes, parties, paintings, performances, objects come together. Her journey, described in the book – a voyage of exploration and transformation through womanhood, relationships, telepathic communions and unexpected discoveries – is totally trippy, psychedelic and yet real, grounded, solid.
NA: Indeed. A Promethean move that involves a dragon fire and the writings of Artaud through which we meet the Mexican Indian tribe of the Tarahumaras and a Heraclitian contradiction of opposites. A move of transmutations, where she continuously enters the skin of others towards balance, pure light, energy: She says that light as it “‘flashed and floated” from her mouth made every kind of transportation possible because “matter was no longer an obstacle”.
Vomiting light is her overwhelming, convulsive metaphor that has sent me from William Blake to Thanassis Totsikas, to a host of artists who have called forth emesis, who have digested, incorporated and thrown up wor(l)ds. And it all starts with lucid dreaming, dematerialization, the female. “The artist, at all times an outsider, is a woman, an outsider among artists”, she writes. Your work has evolved around this male-female communion by keeping genders in focus and sexualities free-roaming. You have also placed the artist amidst things.
The Callas: This book of lyrics is a suspenseful storytelling and a fabulated confession structured in songs and flowing colors, based on Lijn’s own notes and on her attempt to turn multi-disciplinary scientific knowledge inwards and so unleash the full human potential. She moved through writing and rewriting, she became the songs and their analogies. She studied the interaction of colliding particles in physics, she charted the process along with memories and intuitions, she imagined an event horizon, a new Time Zone, a four-dimensional continuum, and a space-time traveler. She created a dazzling mix of reflections and she urged the reader to read the book aloud, with a friend. She could have been writing for our “Lust” magazine, which is all based on female contributions. We sensed a kindred spirit there. We tuned in. And we listened carefully.
NA: And your work came about as a tribute that deviates to its own paths. I am once again reminded of this beautiful Fred Moten quote about how we are “being sent” to things, to people, to works, to times, to one another. Tell us about the nature of and nature in your video.
The Callas: Liliane reminded us of the Attic landscape – she speaks of the Gerovouno hill where she lived with Takis and their son Thanos in the 60s; she speaks of experimentations with magnetism and fireworks along with an immersion in local flora and atmospheres; she sings and draws trees and hues, the countryside and the city, the love and desire that she shared. Things that are all too familiar to us. We often visit the patterns born out of fragments, the paths constructed by Dimitris Pikionis around the Acropolis. Another visionary “peripatos” (walk, stroll) that the architect and painter who was most familiar with light, has made. We retraced these fragments that he gathered and pieced together echoing his own effort to bring order into chaos. We considered mosaics and byzantine halos and auratic objects and the cacti we call “athanata” (immortals) next to olive trees and cypresses; rocks next to water springs, and sun next to shadows; and moments of climax, release and flow, like emesis and ejaculation: our film responded to your invitation as an invocation of all these things channeled through Lijn’s poetics.
She is not Greek, and yet, very much like our friends and music collaborators Lee Ranaldo and Jim Sclavunos, she conveys things Greek because of her distance from them; a distance that she abolishes and preserves at the same time, a distance walked and escaped.
Aris Ionas: We are born out of this landscape and, as it stands with its flows of life under the Acropolis, it feels to us like Iggy Pop performing under the Madonna principle.
Lakis Ionas: As you well know, from “the Lustlands” event that we organized together at Thermisi, our Peloponnesian family retreat, we approach nature via its less exotic segment, the garden. One that is seemingly tamed but in reality, remains elusive, wild, anarchic, as things grow and die and move despite all human intentions and purposes.
ΝΑ: Well I can see the “pagus” there – the small piece of land, the partition of ground, space that lies at the root of the word “pagan”, and hosts rustic divinities.
LI: Urban and non-urban are an interchangeable living reality for us. We recorded our last and urban in character LP in a barn in the countryside. When we are here we long for there and vice-versa. It is this tension that we enjoy, we cannot see a bad contradiction but a primordial feeling and a process of affiliation and adaptation.
Our experience of nature has never been that of a separate object. It blends with our childhood memories, it equally involves cement and tree leafs.
We also think of the urban landscape through the Radical Design architectural tradition of the ‘60s, a time when hope was a revolutionary weapon and imagination was given free reign. The Superstudio, Archizoom and Archigram groups abroad, Dimitris Pikionis and Takis Zenetos in Greece, they all elaborated ideas of “continuous monuments”, of evolution and disruption in one flow; they had a democratic take on the core experience of space.
NA: Almost a kind of anti-design which is very relevant to today’s ecological shift to another kind of design ethics. Speculative Design, the designerly ways of knowing that welcome artificiality, ambiguity, humour, contradiction, joy, contestation, dreaming, celebration and mistake, are, I believe, closer to your practice and processes.
LI: True. The glitch in the digital images of our video is quite natural, almost archaic. The shimmering colours and sliding camera shots – in both vertical and horizontal movement – are pretty much “rock” and “roll” as we understand it far beyond the music genre.
When we see the humble fragment we immediately visualise the gesture, the choice, the love, the labour behind it. A gut-sense of the performative in small gestures.
NA: Quite recently Timothy Morton developed this idea of “subscendence” where “wholes and parts are just as real as one another. It is simply that the whole is less than the sum of its parts”. He describes subscendent wholes as “fuzzy and ragged”, with humankind being one of a kind, one that “includes and implies other lifeforms, as a part of the also subscendent symbiotic real”. It is an effort of de-scaring, avoiding transcendentalism without turning to immanence. A way to think of life’s evils as less than the total of the horrible parts that make them into a seemingly insurmountable whole. In this way parts are also conceived as non- replaceable by one another.
LI: The “whole” is an illusion in any case. Things erupt, escape. They cannot be controlled and we think that true heroism is in this un-heroic engagement with the level of the particle, of the resisting piece that we have to fight and love and caress into a relationship, into form. If you think about it, vision is haptic, corporeal, “visiting”: it moves from one fragment to another, triggered by variations and fueled by desire to explore and weave.
AI: And this is why things are always left open-ended. We are not interested in conclusions and grand gestures.
LI: We are also not interested in nostalgia, a glorious past and a tradition that is to be honored through some grandiose work. We pull all these strings from the past and intuitions of the future towards the most troubling “now”. To the present that is too close and yet so far from us. In the process of making a movie or a record we mostly concern ourselves with the core element of relationships, the incomprehensible mosaic of people involved, the things they each carry in, the entanglements that are being shaped, the friendships that bloom and wither away.
NA: And how does the clash between material and the immaterial, real presence and live streaming come into your life of 2021? Parties, gatherings, DIY shows and events at your studio were the constant highlight of the Athenian art scene. You did the same in New York and Nisyros in our joint projects, as in the Velvet Bus tour and your worldwide concerts. Presence is a very palpable demand in the lively arts of the Callas. How do you cope now?
The Callas: There is no gap, or lack or absence that we feel. The real is far more than the material and in this sense, we find a lot because we look for layers and connections. The experience of the virtual is bringing this sense of a folding-unfolding reality into the fore. Things pop-up, interfere, happen and are recorded on the skin of the screen. There is something eerily sensual in this too. The internet is lumpen, a working-class tool that is the same for all – it is in this respect that we embrace it. We obviously do not endorse some of its uses – a war is waged out there. We do not like distancing either but we welcome the chance to explore more of this experience of connected remoteness. We all feel like we need to go back to the familiar rituals as soon as the ordeal comes to an end, but we most probably will come out with scars that make return impossible. We had lost sight of uncertainty and the pandemic reminded us that uncertainty, entropy, change is what we are made of.
During the first quarantine, a year ago, we made a long-distance movie and it gave another twist to our visual language. At the same time, we visited once again the writings of Nicolas Calas and the ways that his thinking avoids the canonical and relates small and big, exceptions and norms, exceptions and currents.
This interplay of affinities can become evident via the VHS-like tremble in our movie, the ‘70s coloration, the arrhythmic montage, Liliane’s lyrics from the 80’s.
And yet they all transform through our voices and sounds into something made now, in the heat of your call to think, “is everybody in? the ceremony is about to begin”.
NA: There is an overflow in the mingling of bodies as Michel Serres, the philosopher of skin-stories, remarked. I love how he propagates his ideas through poetic writing, and your practice, including this last work of yours, reminds me of his sweeping take on joy. Jumping on a trampoline is the image he offers for a soaring feeling that is also grounded to earth and always different. The divine device of the trampoline he says is “a lesson in circumstances”. We fly and fall differently every-time, every-place, every-one, every-thing. There is no proper where, things must be forgotten in the process of their making so that this loss can elaborate other things, new objects, bring into being new subjects. He dreams of rebirth as Liliane does in this book of crossing maps, as you do with your Callas physics.
The Callas: We very much appreciate this meeting of science and philosophy in the everyday. While making the movie we thought again of those people that encountered ruins ages ago, without the tools that explain and demystify them. They were in awe and at the same time they smuggled parts and sold them to the highest bidder. There is a mingling of aesthetics and profit, a sense of cunning and survival that fascinates us there. Joy is part of it, indeed; a strange feeling that partakes of the oddness of the real. We have an example that we often use in this context. We live near Kallirois street, the small church of Agia Fotini and the cruising spot next to it. In our everyday walking ritual, we encounter the waters that come from the ancient, mythical spring of the sacred river Ilissos and through a plastic pipe are spilled out next to a Christian temple and the cruising grounds a little beyond. All this is our own Parthenon, the Acropolis that we cannot really fathom.
NA: And under the light of what we said and under the light vomited, let us invoke again Liliane Lijn’s oral, freed from punctuation marks language:
“And their meetings were many and strong
The many lines crossed between them
Forming the everchanging weave
Of the tribeless tribe
The ultimate family
Of those who interchanged
With no choice or distinction
Recognition being Acceptance
“That Night I Dreamt I Vomited Light”
HD video, 5’ 14’’
created by The Callas (Lakis & Aris Ionas)
Based on the book “Crossing Map” by Liliane Lijn (Thames and Hudson, ΝΥ, 1983)
– The Callas with Lee Ranaldo / Trouble and Desire, LP (Inner Ear records)
– The Callas / “Half Kiss Half Pain”, LP, Produced by Jim Sclavunos (Inner Ear records)
Vocals by Chrisanthi Tsoukala
Edited by Lakis, Aris and Chrisanthi
Work commissioned by curator Nadja Argyropoulou for the project:
“Is everybody in? The ceremony is about to begin”