The eighth (if I count well… ) artist’s book about Sappho again has the character of spatial installation. It was created within the framework of the Open Platform of the 7th International Festival of Ephemeral Art CONTEXTS. It consists of delicate materials, exceptionally intensively exposed to the forces of nature; during the installation of them (on the hedge of the former Astronomical Observatory in Sokołowsko) there was a heavy rain all the time, which seemed to intensify even more, the longer I worked on this piece.
The title, as usual, appeared in the course of preparation, and as always is one of the fragments of Sappho’s poetry. In Sokołowsko I always feel impressed by the many very old, very tall trees growing everywhere; even more so this time, now that I had just returned from Iceland; which is almost completely deprived of these plants. There I read Peter Wohlleben’s “The Hidden Life of Trees”. Festival of Ephemeral Art always provokes creation of many spatial installations, often closely tied with the surrounding flora. All Sokołowsko is full of all sorts of interventions, sometimes also traces of actions from previous years. For this the constant movement and bustle of festival visitors wandering along the trail of successive events, interspersed with the daily life of the town. In all this, my attention was drawn to the rocky hillside, or rather quite large pile of boulders, covered with moss and ferns. Perhaps it was another fresh association with Iceland, where volcanic and glacial boulders are scattered everywhere. It amazed me that among these many activities – more or less artistic – the stones could so easily lie on a very busy (during the festival) road, being slowly covered by moss. How did it happen that no one interfered with it? No one moved them, or commented on them?
Then I found fragment 145 of Sappho’s poetry: “do not move stones”. All we know is that it is certainly a part of something bigger, which – if we knew it in its entirety – would maybe sound less enigmatic. In this form, however, it resembles a piece of paper, which attaches to things left by, packed, put off – “do not move”, “do not touch”, “carefully”, etc. Is it an enigmatic statement from a few thousand years ago – “do not move these stones”? Or perhaps an ironic hint, that if such a piece of paper were to stick on rocky boulders, perhaps mosses and ferns would not help, because from pure curiosity we would like to move them, change them; stones would be noticed. A mechanism similar to the ban on smoking, drinking alcohol, taking drugs… and many other things.
However, it is not certain that 145 is a fragment of a sentence in imperative mode. Maybe it was about something else, some larger, more powerful force (like, for example, the frequent earthquakes on Lesbos Island), able to shake such boulders, but which it does not? Maybe some specific, special stones these shall be, ones not to be moved? Maybe there are things that should last? Or perhaps it is a completely pointless commandment, between the orders that we can justify. What would the 10 commandments look like, if somewhere between “do not steal” and “do not commit adultery” was “do not move stones”?
In case of my “ephemeral artist’s book”, a certain turn of action was caused by the fact that no such material was used in it. It consists of a paper rope hung along a hedge, where pieces of my abstract drawing (made with pencil and charcoal) are suspended. In one part of the installation there is also a gauze, which somewhat cuts the drawings out of the dark green background, and marks the center of composition. The least noticeable element is brocade, which I sprinkle “Safobooks” with, for pure joy, justified by Sappho’s famous fondness of luxury. The glitter fell from the gauze under the influence of rain and wind, but remained on the leaves growing underneath.
I thoroughly enjoy sprinkling my Sapphic artworks with glitter, so I have to find a valid excuse for this. Often it is the most discreet of actions, hardly noticeable for the naked eye, but at the same time the most persistent; this type of brocade is hard to remove, although it does no harm (it only “likes” to label people who interacted with it).
The last element was the various other short passages of Sappho’s poetry, written by me on the street, along the artistic hedge. There, some fragments made their first appearance in the “Sappho books”, but there are also many of my favorites that have already been repeated. There was no place in this work for any other instruction except “not moving stones”; among other passages are only nice wishes, fragments of some forgotten songs, reminiscences of dreams, mysterious “props”… so what does this one message, that stones are not allowed to move, mean? Is it an invitation to interact with the whole installation, since it consists entirely of other materials? But there is also no explicit consent to this; although this work has been severely battered by wind and rain in the first two days, it is a different kind of interaction than the direct intervention from the audience… the more so, a conscious and educated audience, as that of the Festival.
The installation will stay on the hedge for perhaps the time it will set for itself; depending on how it will “behave” and what will be done to it, by the forces of nature (or visitors). For me, it was a possibility to discover another way of creating a “Sappho book”, using her own words (in my favorite translation by Anne Carson), to show only what is known today, while opening the way for many different associations that this sort of text can trigger. Fragment about stones, if found in such a context, quickly goes in different directions. There are other passages for which Sappho is much better known; such as the only complete, so-called “hymn to Aphrodite”, which we can treat as any other verses known in the whole. But even this one will not tell us the truth about the reality of a few thousands of years ago; just like the one where Sappho (?) says, “I loved you, Atthis, once long ago”…
All fragments are from Anne Carson’s book, “If Not, Winter: Fragments of Sappho”.