The 9 Books

Delicate Adonis is dying

Anna Juchnowicz

Delicate Adonis is dying

Polish version: Delikatny Adonis umiera


site-specific installation

artist’s book

intimate work of modern art

Youla Boudali, Ioanna Lioutsia ٠ voices

Maciej Bączyk ٠ audio

Installation titled “Delicate Adonis is dying” is a result of several ideas made into one. The first, was to assemble the shortest fragments of Sappho’s poems into a story, fictional, but holding to a few believable facts. Second, was the “intimate work of modern art” – a playwright contest, which I found and decided that it will be a great opportunity to write something like this. The “play” came out to be a little too short and apparently not very modern, but the idea of it sticked to this work.

The most interesting discovery was what hides in the poem about “delicate Adonis” – it’s a trace of a celebration called adonie, which existed on several islands of the Aegean Sea, and Sappho’s poem is the oldest evidence for it. Other poems suggest that the goddess Aphrodite is a character very familiar to Sappho, something like an “imaginary friend”. If this poem was a comment to the legend about the love story between Aphrodite and Adonis, resulting in a tragic death of the latter, I see some irony in it, which also appears in many other poems (often as self irony).

Adonie was a periodic celebration, where there was more emphasis on the love story, than on the death. This is how Sappho comments upon the young boy’s passing, or perhaps not his own self, but his youth, which had to be a disappointment for the immortal goddess. That’s why I interpret the latter part of the poem (“what should we do? / strike yourselves, maidens / and tear your garments”) as an encouragement for celebration, which has some melancholy in it, but as it is a repetitive event, it is to be expected that the ritual of “tearing garments” will be happening again, and the Adonis will be just as young and delicate during his annual death.

In modern times there could be a yet another interpretation of this poem; the so called “crisis of masculinity”, among elusive points of reference, makes it easy for delicacy to die, if it happens to be on the wrong side of binary division of genders.

In my artwork, the character of Adonis is based on Sappho’s younger brother, who seems to be closer to her on a daily basis, than the two older brothers (who were sailing away more often, while the younger brother was there at the parties and celebrations). Adonis is also inspired by an authentic person – a very colourful transvestite, whom I met on Lesbos and he happened to be wearing women’s clothes already in the morning. It seems, that the younger brother of the most famous poetess in ancient Greece, who’s artwork served mainly to grace the parties for local upper class, could have been someone like this.

But the art installation was only a side product of my work on this Sappho book – which was supposed to be an audiobook mainly. For this reason I found two Greek actresses, who recorded all these poems, reading them in original. Listening to an audiobook created in this way gives us a rare opportunity to focus on a hardly understandable language, which rarely happens on a daily basis, and even if, these are usually songs in foreign languages, not speech (unless we are in another country). I was hoping that in this way, one of the books will be able to transmit the melody of the aeolic dialect, which perfectly suited the “sapphic stanza” – one of the most recognizable trademarks of Sappho.

The place to exhibit this work, together with a site-specific installation, was a destroyed kitchen at the top floor of Książ castle in Wałbrzych, Poland. The kitchen inspired me from the first moment – despite its devastation, it seemed to be strangely in order, even more so thanks to its large size and complicated architecture. Although dusty and not equipped, the kitchen was somehow clean and perfect; just as the nonexistent fragments of Sappho, there was a trace of their ancient order and logical plan. There was another “kitchen connection” in the adonie celebration – the ritual of growing plants especially for this occasion. These plants were raised using warm water and exposed to strong sunlight, so they would grow and die quickly, just like Adonis. It is even more enhanced by the fact, that there was a general idea of passing away quickly, which is not to be regretted too much, if the whole process can be repeated. I like the somewhat ironic, distanced reflection (“what should we do?”), with which Sappho comments upon this phenomenon in her poem, not giving up anything from her power over such world – while today the so called “cult of youth” makes some people unsuccessfully chase the ideal, instead of finding or creating it, and then admiring.

Apart from the transvestite, there is another element of this work inspired by a memory from the island of Lesbos – the bags of water, which one owner of a hammam on Lesbos used to hang up on his terrace. The hammam and a small farm that surrounded it were in the central part of the island; there was a small pool with vulcanic water, the landlord’s house and a guest house, and a grave of a Turk who was to be the first inhabitant of this place. Bags of water around the terrace (among ripening melons) were supposed to chase away the flies, which circled them aimlessly, forgetting about their usual annoying behaviours. We used to come to this place prepared for cooking a big dinner for the landlord, who seemed to be the happiest man on earth.


  • Przestrzeń Heterogeniczna, a joint exhibition of 2nd year PhD students at the Eugeniusz Geppert Academy of Art and Design in Wrocław. Curators: Renata Bonter – Jędrzejewska, Anna Juchnowicz. Opening: 8.06.2016, Książ Castle in Wałbrzych.Karolina Balcer – painting
    Maciej Bączyk – multimedia
    Jakub Biewald – ceramics
    Renata Bonter-Jędrzejewska – ceramics
    Roland Grabkowski – sculpture
    Marcelina Groń – painting
    Anna Juchnowicz – artist’s book
    Agata Nartowska – design

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This entry was published on 9 June, 2016 at 7:08 pm and is filed under The 9 Books. Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.
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