ART / athens / interview

Interview with Costis: “Lightning is the message from the medium of life”

Stella Sevastopoulos catches up with artist Costis, during his solo show at Roma Gallery, in order to talk about the electricity of his artworks:

UPON entering Roma gallery’s exhibition ‘Conductive <=> Non-Conductive’, comprising works by Costis (Triantafyllou), one is immediately struck by the electric environment created therein. And when I say electric, I mean that literally, because each work there, is a creator of lightning bolts. The cracking sound from the lightning bolts dominates the atmosphere, and the unpredictability of its rhythm, surprises you every time, as it does in nature when there’s a storm. You stand in front of each of the works, many of them resembling a minimalist panel, with a textured surface of brown or black in the centre, waiting for the next lightning bolt to be created. Both fascinating and frightening at the same time, these works are odes to the miracle of life: electricity/energy.

‘3=1 or Aerial Choreography’, 1991

The exhibition, which runs till December 20, focuses exclusively on this artist’s well-known research of the lightning bolt via his art, and what lies behind it. The understanding of the elements of nature, (of which the lightning bolt is one), is Costis’s ultimate aim. He has been creating lightning bolts for decades now, in various art spaces but also in various public spaces and scientific or academic ones in order to develop his research on this subject. Like a mini, lightning art retrospective, the works in the Roma gallery’s exhibition date back to early examples but also include recently made works. Costis’s works will also be part of the upcoming group show at Roma Gallery (December 21-January 18), entitled ‘Dematerialisation’.

‘Through Matter, Lightnings Unify Chaos’, from the series Parallel Phenomena 2000-2016

Costis was born in Athens, in 1950. He is also known for his poetic works and for his publications and organization of art exhibitions and artists books. His works are found in museums and private collections around the globe. Up on the top floor of the National Gallery of Greece, where the contemporary artists’ works are to be found, you will also come across Costis’s lightning bolts. Costis has studied a wide range of subjects: from Economics and Political Science at the University of Athens, to Cinematography and Audiovisual Arts and Philosophy, at the University of Paris VIII. He has published many books, among them his energy poems in the limited edition ‘Eclat Éclair’. He was the editor in chief of the periodicals ‘Lotus’ and ‘Praxis’. Having realized over 24 solo shows, and having participated in over 100 group shows around the world, Costis is one of Greece’s most ground-breaking contemporary conceptual artists. From performances to publications, lead sculptures to lightning art, this prolific artist loves to cross boundaries between art and nature, art and science, and art and poetry (to name a few). His experimentations in the field of poetry led to new forms (e.g. visual poetry, electronic poetry).

‘Ex-plosion’, 2016

I had the honor of talking to Costis at the Roma Gallery about his lightning works. This is what he had to say:

Firstly, tell us how you came to create this form of lightning art

During the seventies, I was a painter, sculptor and poet. I remained a poet but not a painter. I continued until 1985-86 to do exhibitions with my ‘chromatographic’ works, at gallery XPlus, in Brussels, but that was my last exhibition as a painter/sculptor. In 1989, as part of the events commemorating the 200 years since the French Revolution at the French Institute, I honoured the French Revolution by creating a large environment which was called ‘Labyrinth or The Empty Monument’. In this exhibition, I asked others artists and philosophers also to create works. As part of this project, Cornelius Kastoriadis writes a critique about the modern architectural structures in the Place d’Italie, and we also collaborate to create a work. However I find myself dismayed in France, by the art I find there of the eighties, and what is considered to be post-modern. I felt that there was a need for a spark of some sort, and so I thought I would create one.  And so, the first spark was created in this ‘Labyrinth’. All those that visited, were trying to figure out where that noise was coming from and what exactly was going on. It intrigued them. Slowly, I developed this concept. I then created a work in the exhibitions that mirrors the space and also creates a spark. And that was the work ‘Vision’. Slowly, conceptually I start to get more into this, and create larger sparks. I had also gotten tired and bored of my painting process at the time and became enchanted with this whole new form of art. So I got into this trip. But this trip wasn’t coincidental. The experts at the Technical University of Athens told me that what I was doing was creating high voltage – a lightning bolt.

‘Archetype’, 2021

So here, basically you are creating an art form that combines science and art.

Yes, but not only, because it is also interactive, because the breath of the viewer (and its humidity), affects the work. When there is more humidity, the design of the lightning bolt is affected. I basically did a lot of research to create these works, they are not readymades. That’s a very important thing to consider. They are not assemblages from found objects. The whole structure of the work has been made by myself. In 1986-7 I started to do more research, and create my first circuit, together with the help of a specialist in electronics. When I printed my first circuit, it was ok, but then I perfected it and started getting interested even more in the concept of the lightning bolt, which totally fascinated me.

The lightning bold is indeed an enchanting thing, but also a frightening thing!

What I found interesting during my research, is how the lightning bolt is perceived differently in different cultures. About 80-100 thunder strikes, occur every second around the globe. Do you believe that this is just for the sake of frightening babies and cats? No of course not. This is the process that brings back the harmony, the order of the energy system of the globe. It was its positive role that I wanted to communicate, so I started creating small works, via which I wanted to reduce the lightning bolt to a more human scale, I explore the great  phenomenon of the lightning bolt, in a positive way, and not in the way that Western society perceives thunder and lightning as a destructive force. There are so many negative associations made with lightning, stemming back to antiquity, and the way it is used by Zeus.

‘Hurricane on Lighting Field’, from the series Parallel Phenomena 2000-2016

So what is it that you want to communicate to the viewer?

That electricity is everywhere, it is even in our brain. It is something that surrounds us and is in us. But we think of it as something bad. Last year in Greece, only two people died from lightning, 6 were injured, plus a few sheep suffered. The destructive character of lightning was created by those who sell lightning rods. Ι have been sponsored by the largest energy company and have talked with high voltage professors in order to complete my research. And here in Greece, the Technical University even built me a house, in 2000, for my research.

-What were some of the interesting facts you came across about lightning?

In Japan, it’s called ‘inazuma’ and it means the lover of the horizon. And that’s because if there isn’t any lightning on the horizon, we won’t have a harvest. In India again, they have a more positive view. There’s also a text I have written called ‘Active line of Lightning’, where I say that if MacLuhan said that “the medium is the message”, then lightning is the message from the medium of life. A Life time project!

How does your work differ from that of Greek artist Takis, who also merged art and science, and used magnets in his art ?

Takis, as the French art critic Pierre Restany said, was the “grand assembleur”, he’s an assemblage guy, the magnets he uses are readymades. He said himself that the first magnet he found, was at his grandmother’s house. He’s a great artist, and I love him very much. But what I’m doing is working with new technologies. Takis was considered a pioneer in the field of art and science, while British-French art historian Frank Popper considers my work to be eco art and new technology art. Because I’m the one that creates the printed electrical circuit, which includes nanocomponents from computers. I create the lightning via the circuits that I make, and then it’s the air and the humidity in the room that affects the kind of lines of electricity emanating from the works.

What I find the most enchanting about your work, is how it brings this element of nature indoors. It’s also like you’ve captured an element of nature.

Yes, it is, and I hope that people will love it.  

‘Perpetual Approach’, from the series Parallel Phenomena 2000-2016
  • Roma Gallery (5 Roma Street, central Athens), open Mon, Wed, Sat 10.00-16.00, Tues, Thurs, Fri 10.00-20.00.
  • ‘Art Scene Athens’ is written and run by artist/journalist Stella Sevastopoulos, who moved to Athens from London, in 1994. Since then, she has been following the Greek art scene, writing about it, but also exploring her own artistic practice. For examples of her art you can also visit her online portfolio

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