The Creatures Around Us
There is mythos in the air surrounding Hydra. It is in the water, the prickly cliffs, the polished stone pathways and the dry scrubby mountains with the Greek houses and their terra cotta roofs encircling visitors like a giant goddess protecting its beloved from some secret harm.
Kiki Smith’s “Memory” at the Deste Foundation’s Slaughterhouse exhibition space on the cliffs of Hydra overtly harnesses the latent energy of mythos and time, history and materiality in and on this magical island. The Deste project space hosts one exhibition per year with each show created specifically for the unique architectural and geographical presence that the Slaughterhouse in Hydra offers.
For Memory, Kiki Smith builds a multi-dimensional world that brings to life the bestiality of the building’s past doings and the memories of the living creatures sacrificed and sacrificing therein.
Let’s begin with her statement on this manifestation of merging:
The slaughterhouse connects the goats to the sea by their blood and entrails being offered. The Capricorn is a goat climbing a mountain whose snake-fish tail enters the sea. The milk is an offering to the goats and the sea. In the Hydra constellation, similar to the island and to the old island’s flag, sits the owl, the cat, the crow, the sextant and the offering chalice.
“When the sky comes down from heaven and the blood shall fill the sea.”
That has been happening for time immemorial.
A woman yesterday told me she remembers as a child summering in Hydra the sea being red as blood.
I was once on the Island of Bequia, of St. Vincent and Grenadines, where they hunted whales from small boats and slaughtered goats. One day a goat’s entrails floated in the water as we swam, and then washed up on the sands.
I made photographs and drawings of the organs, which got me drawing again after several years of not doing so.
Later that month, a hurricane came and took away two or three meters of the sand beach.
Bring an offering to the Greek sea from New York.
The rooms should be bathed in pink light.
The basin can have water instead of milk as it will catch the pink, also.
Rubio Pink glass is the heaviest glass as it is made with gold.
The sea goat appears 21,000 years ago.
Primordial god of the sea.
North Star to guide.
The goat insides offered to the sea or disposed of into.
Give the blood and organs to feed the fish.
The fish, along the way, acquired the body of a goat, to allow it to span both realms, where somewhere along the lines between heaven and the sea, the snake of the earth maybe visited.
Hydra, the water snake, is the largest constellation.
The crow (Corvus), the owl (Noctua), the chalice (Crater), the sextant (Sextans) and the cat (Felis), all accompany her through the sky.
I made films of the East River in New York in 2005 of glints of light on the river. I made them into cyanotypes this year and from them into flags to fly back at the sea on Hydra.
Small elements will accompany the travel. One donkey, one clowder of cats, one owl, one observation look-out to the sea, and hopefully a lighthouse of sorts.
Rose Golden Light
Kiki Smith’s testament to her poly-thematic exhibition, a singular work whose vast components, from glass and bronze to wax, fire and cotton enumerate a multitude of voices.
The Deste Foundation’s Slaughterhouse resembles an old bunker, perhaps a refuge for someone in hiding, a shelter and an utterance that bespeaks the challenge of Hydra’s topography with typical Greek heartiness.
It is precisely this element of spare and sparse hardness, the hardness of metal, the harshness of island living, and the cruelty of sacrifice that Ms. Smith seeks to illuminate.
And illuminate she does, with pink-hued lighting, with candles, and with the metallic reflections of the light of past cries for mercy.
Ms. Smith’s offerings to this hideaway include a bronze cat overlooking the sea, it’s metallic green silhouette complemented by the rose gold illuminations of the interior spaces. An owl is perched in one window while two abstract sculptures on pedestals bring to mind the interiority of the human heart or the making of some distant, fictional cosmos. It doesn’t really matter what the visual association or interpretation is.
The key is that we understand metamorphosis and materiality as they are integrated into Ms. Smith’s meditation on Greek mythology and the transference of time across souls and across the words uttered over millennia.
It is clear that Ms. Smith undertook this work with careful consideration for the creatures of Hydra. The cats of Hydra are everywhere. They may be the real protectors of this spectral island, one of stone homes and cliff beaches where a rocky ground and a complex spirit help prevent it from being colonized by the decadence of resort development and the soul-less encroachment of capital’s exoticism.
The Etymology of of Sacrifice
A metallic mermaid adorns one wall while a homemade light powered by candles yearns for an evolution into a functioning safeguard beam. This little votive offering may be the biggest surprise of the show. It is an expert touch, a trace of elegance one of feminine grace and perseverance.
The Greek word for animals is “zoon” a derivative of “zoe” or life. It is important to consider this etymology when embracing Kiki Smith’s work. Her iconography of living creatures includes animals of all kinds, undertaken with a certain degree of terror in both two and three-dimensional formats. For Memory, Ms. Smith has utilized the cold malleability of metal with a stern and firm commitment to form and context. This malleability is especially poignant when coupled with the batik fabric of the installation’s flags and the lower half of its sculptured mythical creature (a goat? A lamb?) whose upper body is crafted of bronze, perched atop the roof of the structure like a paraplegic offspring of Zeus, whose concealed lost lower half is betrayed by the island’s warm billowy breezes.
Were one to encounter Memory in a gallery or a museum space the strength of the work would not be diminished. When presented in such a dramatic and rich location however, the grace and subtleties of Ms. Smith’s vision and meditation of Hydra articulate the heart and the mind of a woman touched by death, tragedy and the past in a way no clean exhibition space could articulate.
This is more a phenomenon than an exhibition, exactly as it should be on this beautiful and mysterious island.
All Photos © 2019 by Directional Forces