Ahead of the Greek War of Independence bicentennial celebrations, the DESTE Foundation for Contemporary Art has commissioned Greek artist Kostis Velonis to conceive an immersive presentation of eight funerary masks of the Greek Revolution heroes from the National Historical Museum of Athens’ collection. The exhibition, titled 199, was inaugurated on June 27, 2020, and will be on view at the old Hydra Slaughterhouse until November 1, 2020.

The “199” show is an emblematic memento mori based on juxtapositions and unexpected associations of this special historical material in the setting of the old slaughterhouse and the distinctive topography of Hydra. Steering clear of the traits of a strictly celebratory exhibition or the conventional and moralistic approaches and ideological constructs around the subject, the artist invites viewers to re-examine their relation to the historic event and restore the role of art and artists in the social and cultural processes as well as in the re-evaluation of historical research.

If 1821 marks the start of modern Greece, the “199” show explores some of the consequences and implications of this prospect, the contemporary significance of artistic representation, the allegories, as well as the questions and emotional turmoil triggered by such a historical event. Thus, the exhibition repositions the relation between inner experience and collective self-knowledge, identity and alterity, reality and imagination, man and animals. As Kostis Velonis puts it:

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View of the Hydra Slaughterhouse with Kostis Velonis’ Receiver, 2020
Photo: George Skordaras

“The mourning of Cyparissus –whom Apollo turned into the evergreen cypress tree out of pity when Cyparissus was devastated by the loss of his beloved stag– is equated here with the loss of hundreds of animals in the Slaughterhouse and the sacrifices of fighters in the Greek War of Independence”.

“The phantom that hovers over a rebellious Greece seems to set off from Pontikonissi, Kerkyra, which is almost the archetype for Die Toteninsel, the 1880 painting of Arnold Böcklin. The famous picture of the islet at sunset contributes to this peculiar time machine, traveling to arid Hydra and bringing some particular vegetation into the Slaughterhouse. This temporary sojourn brings together such contrasting concepts as the accessible and the inaccessible, the endless and the finite, the perishable and the eternal, paying tribute to the specters that seek their new place.”

masks1 rszBrass funerary masks of fighters of 1821 from the collection of the National Historical Museum;
From left to right: Konstantinos Lagoumitzis, Theodoros Kolokotronis, Panagiotis Giatrakos, Friedrich Eduard von Rheineck
Photo: George Skordaras | Courtesy of the National Historical Museum

Kostis Velonis (born 1968) is a Greek sculptor who lives and works in Athens. He holds an MRes in Humanities and Cultural Studies from London Consortium (Birkbeck College, ICA, AA, Tate). He also studied Arts Plastiques/ Esthétiques at Université Paris 8 (Maitrise, D.E.A) and earned his Ph.D. from the Department of Architecture, N.T.U.A University of Athens. His work, which spans across media to include sculpture, installation, and painting, examines the borders between artistic practice, social reality, and politics. Velonis is known for challenging the primacy of the material and reinventing new forms that move freely among media and techniques. He is recognized for combining existing objects to create new sculptural forms and installations. His quest for innovation is supported by in-depth research into the historical, architectural, cultural, and social parameters of artistic concepts and ideas. Recent exhibitions and residencies include among others: Cranbrook Art Museum, MI, USA; Belvedere 21, Vienna; Akademie Schloss Solitude, Stuttgart; Documenta 14, Fridericianum, Kassel; Antwerp – National Museum of Contemporary Art; Casa Maauad, Mexico. Padiglione Arte Contemporanea, Milan; Städtische Kunsthalle, Munich. Whitechapel Gallery, London; Museo Tamayo, Mexico. ΒOZAR, Brussels. Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourn et al., NEON, and Onassis Foundation.

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Kostis Velonis, Indestructible, 2020 | Marble, wood, stones
Photo: George Skordaras

More info about the exhibition: visit DESTE’s official website ; 

More info about the artist’s work: visit Kostis Velonis’ solo exhibition “Ghost Beggar” (curated by Efi Falida) at Kalfayan Galleries (10 June – 26 September 2020);

Visit also: “Greece 2021” Committee’s official website

See also on GNA: The National Archaeological Museum celebrates the Greek War of Independence bicentennialThe works of the “Greece 2021” Committee are launched; Celebrating the 200th anniversary of Greek Revolution with Playmobil figurines