Aemilia Papaphilippou: Liquid Sky @ The Onassis Cultural Centre, Athens

Liquid Sky is the permanent installation by Greek artist Aemilia Papaphilippou, located near the main reception and foyer area of the Onassis Cultural Centre building in Athens. The installation occupies the space with the tilted ceiling just beneath the in-house theatre.

By employing certain media and technology, Papaphilippou managed to transform the given area into a micro-environment of its own right, where light with its behaviour and properties dominate and interact. The implementation of led grid lighting in conjunction with the accompanying functional elements of the interior (curved benches, bar, stools) have a dramatic effect on the spatial perception; interference and diffraction progressively emerge concurrently becoming more evident. Surfaces reflect the generated light in a distinctive rhythmic fashion while the shape of objects gradually acquires a fluid hypostasis. The viewer, in turn, gently adapts to a new habitat and landscape, and increasingly becomes part of the locus by experiencing the evolving motion and positioning of light with the developing optical phenomena.

Liquid Sky is a timeless capsule travelling through the limitless horizon, invading endless space; gravitational force and the meaning of time are not applicable here. Papaphilippou and her playful work have successfully achieved to take us on a journey of illusion and navigate us into a cosmos where perspective and its occurrences seem more palpable and less concealed.

Aemilia Papaphilippou (www.aemiliap.com) talked to REVma -/+ about her work:
REVma -/+: Liquid Sky is an installation that emerges as an entire entity at a central public area of the Onassis Cultural Centre building. What was the initial concept behind the implementation of the project and how did you manage to conceive its materialisation?
A.P.: Liquid Sky emerges, as you point out, from accepting and dealing with the key parameters that constitute this building: i.e., its particular architectural characteristics and its intended usage as a cultural center. When invited by the president of the Onassis Foundation to propose an artwork for the bar area, I realised looking at the space given, that it had a tilted ceiling (due to the fact that his particular space lies beneath the theatre), so I decided to use this architectural characteristic to the benefit of my intervention.

By enmeshing the system of the work with the slope of the ceiling, a feeling of ‘perspective’ is set and reinforced. Referring the viewer to the ever eluding ‘horizon’, while at the same time being reflected on the marble floor, Liquid Sky, enhances the feeling of suspension in space, suggesting that gravity and the illusion of perspective, is a phenomenon of universal attraction. Triggering awareness of the ever changing Cosmos around us, the piece aims to initiate the viewer in the perpetual quest for meaning, i.e. the notion of culture as meta – nature.

Conceptually, Liquid Sky is based upon my ideogram of Chess Continuum (1992) where the chess map is designed in its entirety by a single line, implying perpetual change formed by complementary opposites.

REVma -/+: The integration of aesthetics with the objective functional values appear to play a vital role in the presence of Liquid Sky. How did you manage to accomplish a balance between these two key elements and what were the challenges that you had to face during its creation?
A.P.: The way I see it, challenges –beginning with the space itself– are springboards for solutions. All aspects are interconnected and the constraints –when respected– are blessings in disguise. In other words, the objective was an integrated experience where functionality and aesthetics, undifferentiated, would contribute towards a gradual understanding that the basics of everyday life hold meaning, waiting to be discovered in the ‘now’, by each and everyone of us. The very basic core of what makes us human lies in simple things, and aesthetics is not an extraneous mechanism but manifestation of our functioning philosophy. On the same note-although it may be not so obvious at first- is the following: by making, originally, the sculptural piece in a small scale I was able to imbue it with an organic feeling; a feeling of fluidity that came out straight from my hands. At the same time, I could control the piece as a field, and not piece by piece. Dividing the piece in its parts came later – at the stage of computer processing. This meant losing, in the process, half of the piece (since it was cut both horizontally, parallel to its surface, and vertically, across the surface) but it was imperative if I wanted to maintain the feeling of organic ‘oneness’.

The process of making, of constructing is not an extraneous procedure, but imbedded within the creative act itself – ‘balancing these two key elements’. Of course, maintaining the basic syntax, (that of an oscillation, a wave), while designing the entirety of the installation, including the functional parts (bar, stools, walls that serve as benches) was very important so as to create this feeling of ‘entity’, or ‘presence’ as you called it.

REVma -/+: How significant to Liquid Sky was the use of light, its application or even its manipulation in order to work with certain valuable aspects such as space and its arrangement, perspective, gravity and optical illusion versus reality?
A.P.: Very important. To continue from where I left off, the pulse, and core of this presence, (especially since it was to be sustained within the golden shell/womb of the architectural given), is very much the light it breathes. Meaning that fluctuations of colour and rhythm (which made me feel when editing the scenarios as if I was editing one of my videos) is differentiated from area to area of the piece, and simultaneously is the aesthetic as well as the functional light for the space. The changes of intensity and variations of light/colour are designed to be imperceptibly slow, to the point that some people may even miss the thing, unless they actually notice that, what appeared to be blue, a while ago, now seems to be orange. This, if not consciously, sets a mood where one gets attuned to change.

Liquid Sky, through light/sculpture/space, evokes landscape images and yet its reflective surface conjures images of liquidity. These seemingly opposite sides of natural phenomena illustrate the invariability of change and create an awareness of constant flux. We are all interconnected in an environment that we now possess the power to intervene, and recognising the homology and the homogeny that permeates all is imperative. Amidst constant transformation, humans seek out constants, inventing them as they dream and love.

REVma -/+: Having been involved with a number of projects in Greece, the US and elsewhere how do you see the arts world evolving in Greece? Is it possible to detect an influx of ideas travelling outside the Greek borders and/or vice versa?
A.P.: The way I see it, Art is technology of thought, where the works of art, being both the tools and the accomplishments, are nothing but working models of how we perceive ourselves and the Cosmos. Therefore, Culture, is an evolutionary strategy, bequeathed and altered from generation to generation, transforming its users. In that sense, ideas have always been travelling, and nowadays, more so – since ‘net consciousness’ seems to be emerging through the web. From Tahrir Square to Wall Street, or Syntagma Square to that matter, the ancient problem persists: “what is Man” and “how” to commune.

Greece is in a mess right now. And yet I deeply believe that within Greek cultural tradition –which is of course a shared tradition- the art of freedom, not as something tangible, but as an incessant quest for meaning through basically the awareness of the ephemeral, still runs strong. Of course, on the other hand, or the other side of the coin I should say more precisely, it is not by accident I guess (and I am in a teasing mood here) that the word ego is Greek, with all the negative aspects this entails. To say this through another route: although interconnectivity and complementarity of opposites is a law observed in the dual nature of light as both particle and wave, we humans, struggle to maintain a grip towards what we call reality, and we want to impose it on others. Basically we do not want to accept that all our models, including the model of selfhood, are nothing more than working tools in dealing with the mystery of nature, and they have a life span.

Navigating in the dialectics of the Universe, the tragedy, or comedy, lies in the awareness that, Logos as means and reason remains a mathematical expression of relatedness, a pulse. In this we dance the best way we can.