Christos Tzivelos was a Greek artist and architect active in the 80s and 90s. He lived in Athens and Paris and for many years was the assistant of Takis. Tzivelos was known to be a heartbreaker but is survived by no known lover. He died young of cancer and left behind a beautiful body of work; hundreds of drawings and photographs, and a few sculptures which today remain largely unexplored. He is best known for his site-specific light installations, sculpted works of iron, wax, glass and resin, sited in custom architectures and illuminated from within with electric light.
In his writings he engaged with material servitudes as dictated by scientific laws and observed phenomena, such as entropy and death, with poetic transgressions, refutations and rebellions gracefully evoked in descriptions of various ideas for artworks. “The point of no escape for the astronaut” he’s underlined in a copy of Hawking’s ‘A Brief History of Time’, is “a region of space time from which nothing, not even light, can escape because gravity is so strong.” A drawing found in a folio shows a black hole inside an egg. ‘Black hole’ and ‘egg’ are marked in Greek: “μαύρη τρύπα” “αυγό”. “Change…” writes Tzivelos “is the fundamental process that governs the universe and nature” and is best visible in iron which “shows its aging on the surface. “You can only change nature through fire.”
In his house I found books on ancient Greek mythology and on alchemy. His notes referenced Prometheus, Ephestus, Erebus and alchemic semiology conflating light with fire; light becoming a symbol for the vibrant heating agent that can transmute base metals into gold, that which can oppose death by manifesting the elixir of life. Acting as an alchemist, Tzivelos used light to affirm life. His sculptures shine with hope for love in the largest sense, and for self-fulfillment, joining the sun and the moon, the King and the Queen, the two proverbial opposites within one complete being.
“This light, the red light, is the moment I choose to represent, and with this moment I try to show the energy and time when matter becomes a work of art from a simple material” – Christos Tzivelos (1949-1995)
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The exhibition is sponsored by the Lithuanian Council for Culture
The show brings together documents, as defined by French librarian Suzanne Briet in the mid-twentieth century in virtue of their indexicality, i.e. referring to a relationship between two entities that can be exemplified by pointing. In Briet’s view, documents were not necessarily objective proof of external things, but associations. In a word, Briet demonstrated that context was inextricable from the document’s being and meaning. The documents in the show are photographs of works taken by Tzivelos, newspaper clippings, and a film from various openings he attended shot by artist Diohandi. The show is the outcome of my subjective involvement with the archive. It says as much about me and my emotions, thoughts, and interests, as it does about the work and its specific historical conditions. It is also worth mentioning that the archive included also drawings, notes and films which I decided not to show. I focused on Tzivelos’ own ‘documents’, photographs he took of his work before the first consumer digital cameras were marketed in the late 90s, before exhibition imagery proliferated the internet, which were likely intended for publications and also as a personal archive of the work which was site-specific and therefore dependent on its context.
There are photos in Tzivelos’ archive which suggest a more complicated relationship with documenting his work. On the occasion of a solo exhibition in New York in the late 80s, Tzivelos has taken his sculptures previously installed in the vitrine of a ground floor gallery and has moved them to the rooftop where he has photographed them against the skyline of the city. For me these photographs echo the fragility of the work, not only its physical fragility, but its evocation of fragile things: attempts at loving, at living well. In the show the material is displayed without captions and does not follow a chronological order. The show is an explosion of chronology. Cutting across what is usually merged together and connecting what is usually separated, the show recomposes possible narratives across associations between disparate fragments. How does our retroactive gaze bring Tzivelos’ works into view and recognition now?
With thanks to Bia Papadopoulou and Christophoros Marinos for sharing their extensive research on the work of Christos Tzivelos, to Diohandi for sharing her film, and to Giannis Tzivelos for generously lending us the works of his uncle.