Bettina Werner

International Symposium
on Marble Sculpture

Thassos Island (Greece), 1993

Permanent installation, Thassos Island, Greece:
28 marble pieces, 30 x 30 cm.
(iron, marble powder, colour)


by Emmy Varouxaki

     The idea of a symposium of sculpture is not something new or unprecedented. It is a well known institution, which allows every kind of art and substance to come along with artistic creativity and mens' coexistence. The concept of "symposium" derives from the Platonic tradition, expressed through Diotima, and it means a communion, a contact between people exchanging thoughts and experiences, toward the goal of a spiritual union, created by distinguished individuals motivated by some common aspirations. The symposium of Thasos represents an opportunity to organize an original artistic happening, with the production of works of international monumentality, destinated to remain in the place of their creation. The first Symposium of Marble on this northern Greek island took place in Summer '92. The relation of this island with Europe has its roots back in ancient Greek Mythology: Thasos, the mythical hero who lent his name to the island, son of Aginoras, looking for his sister Europe, who had been kidnapped by Jupiter, has stayed on this island and established the first settlement. Later, Thasos became a well known island to the ancient world, due to its privileged geographic location, its climate, the rich vegetation, the excellent wine, the devine honey, and, finally, its marble, the most white marble of both the ancient and the modern world.
James Lee Byars, an american artist, praises the whiteness of the marble of Thasos, and comes here every summer for the last 6 years, to pick himself, from the heart of the island, the pure material for his valuable sculptures. The marble of Thasos is a coveted material for special constructions, such as moslim monument of Mekka, which is exclusively constructed of thasian marble. This legendary material, together with the attractive idea of summer holidays on a Greek island, has made a large number of international artist to accept our invitation two years ago, and come to Thasos for the first Symposium of Marble Sculpture, bringing an infinity of notions and propositions for in situ sculptural creation.
The most of those artists, as well as many more, who could not come but expressed their wish to participate in a future Symposium, are regularly visiting similar international events, such as in San Domingo, Seoul, Japan, Andorra, France (Oloron), Belgium (Avennes), Italy (Pietrasanta) and Yugoslavia. The major reason for them to come to Thasos was the curiosity to try its pure white marble, and the will to continue working with it after the first experience they could have in the place of its production. This situation created a considerable common interest among the artists, the critics, and the marble producers, which provided a solid base for the successful organization of the first Symposium on Marble Sculpture in Thasos.
The cooperation of the Union of Marble Enterprises of Macedonia and Thrace and the willing support of the Greek state allowed the dream to come true. Nineteen monumental sculpture works were created by as many artists from several countries, works that could have not come to life without the technical help offered by the Symposium. Cranes, loaders, every number of specialized tools, and above all the on site presence of marble quarries and skilled marble carvers, along with the generous offer of monolithic marble stones, up to 25 tones, all these made possible for the artists to consume over 100 tones of marble in five weeks, producing the 19 works, which are today exposed in the Sculpture Park of Chrisi Amoudia, in Panagia, Thasos, perhaps to be distributed some day to more appropriate sites of the island, according to the uniqueness of each sculpture and the spirit of individuality that rules the art.
The choice of the nineteen artists for the first Symposium has been made with a specific thought in mind. Neither all of them were professional sculptors nor were they already familiar with marble. The presence of many art critics allowed some impressions and opinions to be noted:

"The organizing plan has been born through a bet To make artists as different as possible some of them could only very arbitrary be called sculptors- to work on the purest material, on the very symbol of the art itself, if you put it this way. In this way a new Mediterranean point of reference could be created, an opening towards Europe, within the framework of international research."

Giuliano Serafini, "Terzo Occhio", Sept. 1992

"Eclecticism is a distinctive trait of the end of this century... The choice of the Symposium's curator, Emmy Varouxaki, to invite both, artists familiar with the material and others who show a rather chameleon attitude, usually tending to constructions, can be considered as an encouragement of the eclectic character of the symposium."

Ada Lombardi, "Segno", Summer 1992

Classicist marble sculptors, such as Thodoros Papagiannis, professor at the School of Fine Arts, Kostas Dikefalos, well known for his monumental works, Thanassis Alexiadis, a local sculptor from northern Greece, Jorge du Bon and Michael Warren, both well known in international Symposiums and Museums, the famous Lee Byars, the Belgian academic Willequet, exceptionally skilled with the extremely hard black stone of his land, Fabrice Pierot, a very young and energetic lover of marble, Lambert Rocour, a master of the chisel on monolithic stones, and Afroditi Liti, a multilateral artist with long experience with marble, met and worked aside with artists who had no or very little previous experience with the material, but otherwise had a special relationship with the Greek natural and artistic landscape, so they could participate in the "communion" bringing the dynamic of the current trends between conceptual art and the imitation of nature. By mixing all these people an explosive composition was achieved, which could produce surprising results through the juxtaposition of subtle artistic and human balances. It is correct, as some bewildered visitors noted, that this was not only a Symposium of Sculpture; it could also be called a symposium of marble, of Greek landscape, of Mediterranean communication, of bacchic aspiration and European stain.
The presence of Italian representatives of cold post-avantgardism, Marco Brandizzi, Bettina Werner, and Giorgio Cattani, who made their first-time contact with marble under the spirit of the place, of memory, and of the irony of history, was coupled with the presence of Angelos Skourtis, Haris Kontosfiris and Christophe Boutin. The elegiac raise of Varotsos's pyramid in front of the mirror-mosaics of Ascanio Renda, proposed the insertion of other material in the heart of marble, to coexist with the lights and waters of the surrounding space. The Arithmology of Nikos Tziotis demanded the taming of the hard undisciplined material in order to serve the < >. The same was true for the Stratification of Substance and History, of Renzogallo,, who, despite his skills, could not discipline the blacksmiths of the island to complete his magnificent work, falling victim to the shortness of time and to the sheer distance of the island from the bigger cities.
All these works of art, while keeping the individuality of their respective creators, represent an insight of the subject stated at the beginning of the Symposium, which was: "Original forms Archetypes of Mediterranean and Greek civilization." In this way, the historicity, the search for the roots and for the cultural identity, the local stain, and the modern creativity, have all found a common denominator, charged with an undisputed poetry and philosophical reflection: the marble and the light of Thasos, as they were born long centuries ago and as they continue to appear today.


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