The Greek-Italian artist Aris Marakis (1989) graduated as a sculptor at the Brera Academy of Fine Arts in Milan. His creations explore sculpture, sound and primitivism, mainly in ‘vasophones’: sculptures in terracotta that produce sound when one blows air into it. Erik wrote an essay for Aris’ recently published catalogue raisonné, edited by art history professor Mauro di Vito, of which a summary in English is presented here.
For the essay published in Italian, click here.
Sculptures that produce sound are certainly not a new phenomenon. When William of Rubruck and Bartholomew of Cremona in 1253 arrived at the court of the Mongol Khan in Karakorum as envoys of the French King Louis IX, they saw a silver mechanical fountain with an angel on top blowing a trumpet every time the fountain would flow with alcoholic liquids. The fountain was shaped as a tree and played an important role in the monarchic cult of the Mongol Khan, who was the representative of god on earth, as any monarch up until the modern era.
Trees in precious metal with mechanical angels were well known from ancient and medieval monarchic cults, examples are known from the palace of the Khalif in Baghdad and that of the Byzantine Emperor in Constantinople. The tree represented earthly Paradise and the angel blowing a trumpet the Last Judgment, reminiscent of the divine status of the ruler as well as of his task to secure peace and justice – ‘earthly Paradise’ – for his subjects, leading them towards Paradise in heaven. In this earthly Garden of Eden God blew life into his new creation from dust, Adam and Eve.
Analogous to earthly Paradise, the heavenly Jerusalem served as the eternal goal of humanity. As is visible in Dante’s Divine Comedy, the place consists of light and sound. This theology of light is visible in Gothic cathedrals like that of Notre Dame in Paris, which serve as earthly portals to this heavenly city built on light. Gothic architecture drew heavily from the idea that imperium and sacerdotium – earthly and divine ministry – go hand in hand, according to Dante and others in the person of the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire.
When Dante has his vision of the divine at the end of his Divine Comedy, he admits to understanding nothing of it. Stephen Fry, in an interview for the Irish broadcaster RTÉ One admitted to much the same, albeit for different reasons: why would a god be so unbelievably cruel to his creation? Fry renounces the Christian god and prefers the Greek gods, who are human in their appetites, strengths and weaknesses. Since the case for a god has become fatally weak, then from what do we derive meaning? Albert Camus wrote in his Letters to a German friend that he doesn’t believe this world has ulterior meaning, apart from that it must be humanity because it is the sole creature that insists on having one.
Time is a fundamental attribute of life; we invoke past, present and future to create meaning. Science by now has confirmed an ancient idea, that of Aristotle, that time is not something that exists in itself, but is created because humans observe it, for example with a watch. But only the present exists, not the past, nor the future. Aristotle also believed that the Universe is a single entity with a fundamental connection between all things. And as Kant wrote, it’s our minds that process and give order to the information of the world; it’s our minds that create the conditions for space and time.
Even though humans consider themselves the highpoint of intelligent beings, consciousness is distributed evenly throughout all living beings. Plants depend on light, especially the blue and red part of the spectrum, but don’t need the green part, which is why we humans see them as green. Similarly, the warmth of the Sun is nothing more than the acceleration of atoms caused by a – to us – invisible form of light. Besides this effect, light doesn’t have heat or luminosity; the Sun only emits electric and magnetic fields which in themselves do not have colour, yet we perceive a world abundant with it.
The eminent scientist Robert Lanza developed his theory of Biocentrism, based on the last 20 years of scientific discovery, which states that everything we perceive and everything that exists, does so because it happens in our brains: without our brains there is nothing. For Lanza, space is not a physical phenomenon but a projection inside our brain, and it shouldn’t be studied in the same way as for example chemistry and physics. But, Lanza writes, to the Judeo-Christian tradition the duality of the perception of reality is central, it’s about the relationship between the individual and nature and between the individual and the divine. Time as a concept is fundamental to this relationship, god only distinguishes himself through time, with a beginning of creation and an end in the afterlife, whether eternal bliss or eternal damnation.
In reality, what we perceive as ‘I’, our consciousness, is the 23 Watt energy our brain consumes to produce all our sensory interpretations. The algorithm of our brain creates our idea of ourselves and of reality. We could have all memories erased and still feel alive, a person. It has to do with the wave like nature of everything; all matter consists of waves of electrons, which don’t have an existence in reality, which don’t possess movement or position until they are observed. By our brains: there is no universe without perception. As Einstein wrote, about his deceased friend: ‘Now Besso has departed from this strange world a little ahead of me. That means nothing. People like us… know that the distinction between past, present and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.’ Mix that with the teaching from the Baghavad Gita and the Vedas that the universe being a single entity, including the divine and people’s sense of self, and becoming aware of the goal of life: enlightenment, salvation in other words. Everything exists because we observe it, and because we observe we exist. Within that frame the unity of all can be experienced.
Dante expressed himself in a similar way in Paradiso XXVI 76-84, where he wrote – translation by Dorothy L. Sayers and Barbara Reynolds –: ‘So, from my eyes, al matter that defiles / Was dissipated by her radiant gaze, / Whose splendor shone more than a thousand miles; // New clarity was mine and in amaze / Of the new light I begged to know the state, / For where there had been three, now four did blaze. // Beatrice replied: “Therein doth radiate, / In worship of his Maker, the first soul / That ever Primal Virtue did create.”
Aris’ art invites us to unify
Aris Marakis’ art invites us to unify. From his hands he creates sculptures, on which we can place our mouths, to animate the sculpture. To create waves with our divine breath that reach other brains, other observers who create themselves, with the other statues, to produce the song that expresses everything we observes, because we are utterly, utterly human. Marakis’ art is a meditation on what it means to be human, to be conscious, to be able to perceive other human beings – society – and our relations with each other, often expressing himself in the visual language of the ancient Greeks who understood the very essence of our human existence so well. As we have seen, the essence of the monarchic cult – with its animated statues of angels and birds – was not the admiration of the monarch himself, but of his task: creating peace for his subjects, as a Christ like figure on earth. We now learned that the eternal peace is in the essential, profound knowledge that everything is one and connected. Perhaps you know the expression: ‘art will save the world’. Engaging in Aris Marakis’ art, in the physical way he offers, combining the rational with the physical, the rational being physical – waves, electricity in our brains – does exactly that: it unifies, and from unification comes peace. The road to this state of being was not started with ‘fiat lux’, but with the creation of mankind, from dust and breath. As Stephen Fry noted: “I think Eros should be dirty. In Greek legend, as I’m sure you are aware, he fell in love with the minor deity Psyche. It was the Greek way of saying that, in spite of what it may believe, Love pursues the Soul, not the body; the Erotic desires the Psychic. If Love was clean and wholesome he wouldn’t lust after Psyche.” Something Dante realized very well, going from Beatrice Portinari to heavenly Beatrice, his expression of eternal love, from earthly Paradise to that in Heaven.
All is one.
About Aris Marakis
Aris Marakis (1989). In 2014 he trained as a sculptor, at the Brera Academy of Fine Arts in Milan, where he graduated. The artist took part in the international exhibition “Laguna Art Prize” (2017), at the Arsenal in Venice. He was invited to present his statue “In_vaso_re” in the exhibition “Contempora Langobardorum” at Pavia’s Visconti Castel Museum. Drawing on two main sources of inspiration – his Greek roots and sound sculpture – Aris Marakis’ creation explores sculpture and sound with primitivism and seek to coalesce genuineness and immediacy into artwork. When one blows air into his various installations, they produce interesting sounds, given the interaction between form and vibration. They are thus called ‘vasophones’, meaning: sound vases. The artist currently lives and work between Pavia, Milan and the Greek island of Naxos.