PANAGIOTIS VASSILAKIS / dit: TAKIS (Greece, Athens b. 1925 / act: Athens & Paris)

Takis Vassilakis TAKIS: Takis is a case of a post-modern artist who - along with other artists of his generation in the 1960s - instigated a new expression in art. He gave up traditional means of artistic production in an attempt to combine the creative act with the so-called 'new art history' (a history of art whose theory is exclusively founded on the spirit of one's time; i.e. society, politics, economy and science). Consequently, Takis created art anew and communicated ideas afresh.

THEORY: Takis' art is the manifestation of the fact - observed since the time of Thales - that electromagnetism belongs to all bodies. Takis is further inspired by Anaximander's observation that nothing can be absolutely neutral, and that everything exposed to the earth's magnetism is charged. To accept that everything is more or less charged, is to recognize that all bodies relate to one another; which echoes Einstein's Theory of Relativity.

CONTRIBUTION: The artistic genius of Takis is what was described in the Renaissance as 'homo universalis'; the interdisciplinary polymath who assumes in the same person a multitude of roles; those of architect/engineer, seer/philosopher, priest/magician, poet/musician. Takis is the first artist to explore and work with anti-gravity. He made art with suspension works, with magnetism, with games on magnetic fields and on lines of force. Takis is the author of the Magnetic Manifesto of 1960, whereby he set the earliest rules for body-art; by incorporating a human being in his work, suspending him in space and having him recite a poem. In 1959 Takis instigated the series so-called Télésculpture / Télépeinture; terms coined by Alain Jouffroy for art which includes the phenomenon of magnetic attraction. In 1961 Takis instigated the series so-called Télélumière; the fabrication of art using the mercurial cathode device, by which to form unusual light effects. In 1969 Takis began his electromagnetic games that invited audience participation and initiated them to magnetic attraction.

MATERIALS: Takis brought the electro-magnetic space at the centre of artistic attention. He took electro-magnetism - an existing but invisible force inherent in nature - and turned it into food for his thought and material for his art. Takis' preoccupation with the possibilities of electro-magnetism opened a new approach in art; the display of material is made to hover by means of natural forces. This phenomenon expands our understanding of physics and evokes the sensation of metaphysics. Takis is likened to a maestro that choreographs material to produce a cosmological dance.
In his interview with Pierre Restany, Takis said "space is to free oneself from the earthly gravity. [As such] it is the dream of the whole humanity." [Takis Monographies p.72]. Takis' greatest contribution is an art that "binds together in space, objects, metals, roaming particles of the cosmos" [ibid p.110]. By magnetic suspension Takis enabled inert material to relate with external factors, such as intermediary bodies or natural elements. This inspired Takis to say: "The iron came alive" [ibid p.110].

ART: Takis made the electromagnetic field the distinctive feature of his art. He began delving into the cosmic mysteries of electro-magnetic fields from just before 1960. His central preoccupation was electro-magnetism, to construct art that is composed of material suspended by means of electricity exerted from magnets. After mastering electro-magnetism, he conducted audacious experiments with mercury cathode lamps, aiming to make invisible energy visible. One of the most striking features of his art is the appearance - depending on the size and bulk of it - which calls for a particular display environment and an initiatory mood.
The art of Takis is great for being ambivalent. While being reminiscent of ordinary living forms (plant or animal), this art is a world of its own. Though being uniquely peculiar, Takis' expression is naturally perceptible by everyone for evoking the higher essence of life; familiar experiences like genesis and thanatos, eros and martyrdom.

CONCLUSION: Looking at his entire output (telesculptures, telepaintings and telelumieres), Takis always arrives at unexpected results and surprising experiences. With his art Takis inspires a new understanding of the relationship between the four dimensions; the continuum of height, width, length and time.

BODY-ART: In the fall of 1960 at Galerie Iris Clert, Takis gave a performance entitled L'impossible, un homme dans l'espace (The Impossible: Man in Space), whereby he held Sinclair Beiles, obliquely suspended in space between ceiling and floor with the help of powerful magnets from a distance, and had him recite a poem written by the performer himself, which included the following excerpts: "I am a sculpture […] I would like to see all the nuclear bombs on earth turned into scultpures." This exhibition established Takis as an avant-gardist offering a solution to the man-in-space problem. Takis gave an artistic answer to the scientific question of how to turn space as a place for anti-gravity. Takis' performance L'homme dans l'espace was well before the Russians launched their astronaut in outer space. In essence, Takis privileged himself by making a particular kind of art possible; by entering the magnetic field to defy gravity. By means of appropriating magnetic forces to his ends, Takis conquered cosmic energy.

SIGNALS: Takis' Signaux (Signals) are his most renowned trademark. They are an ongoing series of tall rods springing from a base on the ground and tapering towards a finial at the top. Generally speaking, these finials are of particular symbolic significance and consist of either sculptures or found-objects. The sculptures are various elements, whose form and shape evoke primordial symbols. In response to their interpretation, Takis said: "I am responsible only for manufacturing the symbols. Their meaning depends for interpretation on each and every one of us." With regard to the found-objects in particular, they are either machine parts (i.e. batteries, carburators, radiators, ventilators) or parts of war-time equipment (i.e. bombs, guns, bayonets) that Takis transforms according to his needs. Speaking about these found objects, Héléna and Nicolas Calas remark that "Takis cannot identify the hardware nor does he seek to, for the pieces were merely required to serve as anchors appropriate to the composition" [Takis Monographies p.36]. Takis' signals are wonderfully ambiguous; somewhere between organic (reminiscent of botanical stems) and artificial (reminiscent of labarums used at war). In actual fact, Takis' signals are either discarded street and railroad signs from municipal depots, antennae from discarded war-time vehicles. As Héléna and Nicolas Calas observe "Takis found an alternative to the utilitarian use of safety signals" [Takis Monographies p.182]. In Calais early in the 1960s Takis writes "The station was a huge feral center, a forest of signals. Monster-eyes went on and off, rail, tunnels, a jungle of iron... I drew all those phenomena... man constructs for his own use tunnels and exits, symbols for his evasion of death... For a long time now my Signals had been transformed into rockets, antennae and radio receivers." [Takis Monographies p.182]. Some years later he recorded "A frequent traveller by plane, I was always enchanted by aerodromes and their great radars... It is as if they were monster instruments recording cosmic events... My last Signals took the form of electric antennae, like lightning conductors. But they still remained symbolical, they constituted a modern hieroglyphic language which had to be translated to be understood. Radar was a great active signal..." [ibid p.182].
Thinking about Takis' entire production of signals, there is an entire forest of them - differing from one another in terms of height and form - and they all vary on the theme of energy emission and code transmission. The unique character of each signal is fundamentally due to the randomness in timing and/or orientation. This feature makes every signal stand on its own. It is worth noting that Takis creates 'other' signals, which transmit messages of an existential value, at a peculiar frequency, and of cosmological significance. Such signals function on an emotive plane than on an instrumental level. And they are as much there to stand on their own - independently of humanity - as they are there to salvage the cosmos.
The Signal of 1974 from the ACG Collection is a triadic cluster of rods emerging from a mutual base. Each rod is tapering upwards at different heights, the highest rod reaching seven meters from the ground. The rod which is between highest and lowest is crowned by 'contassanter', a found-object that was once used for radio-transmission. The other two finials are what Takis calls 'symbols'. The symbol which is highest is of a form that looks like a bulky antenna with forks on either side, while the other is of a sphere that is pierced with a hole. In response to their interpretation, Takis said: "I am responsible only for making the symbols. Their meaning depends for interpretation on each and every one of us."

LIGHT SIGNALS: Takis' Signaux lumineux (Light Signals) began to appear in 1966. The rod which is familiar from other signals, capitulates in various elements; either disks or panels with light-bulbs. Héléna and Nicolas Calas observe that the light-bulb - though seemingly an extraneous feature - serves as the focal point on the composition [Takis Monographies p.36].

MAGNETIC WALLS: Takis' first Mur magnétique (Magnetic Wall) appeared in 1961. ACG's Mur magnétique of 1976 is a complex work of felicitous grace. A bright yellow canvas screens magnets, which at minute distance from its surface hold five objects in suspension, each attached by a separate transparent wire to the ceiling. Although concealed, the magnets obtrude upon the canvas surface, forming irregular swellings which cast shadows, especially pronounced when the canvas is viewed from an angle. Takis insists that his 'walls' be also viewed in profile for only thus the complex interplay of color-field, canvas surface, suspended objects, becomes manifest. [Takis Monographies p.152]. Structurally, Mur magnétique can be viewed in terms of color-field art, serving as target for magnetic energy with its component parts; magnets, magnetized objects, and their tethers.

PARALLEL LINES: According to Takis, his Lignes parallèle (Parallel Lines) were inspired by Naum Gabo's Standing Wave of 1920. However, Takis' lines run horizontally to emphasize the defiance of gravity. Works from this series vary on the theme of vibration. Cables of finely woven wires oscillate and hum when put into motion by altering current.

MUSIC: Takis has a long obsession with sound, and achieved a mastery over electromagnetic music. For him music is a sacred artistic expression. In particular, he recounts how Erik Satie's Gymnopedie left an indelible impression on him. In his art Takis uses sound as a revelatory experience. "If only with an instrument like a radar I could capture the music of the beyond. This thought made me forget all the laws of art. If this object could capture and transmit sounds as it turned, my imagination would be crowned." [Takis Monographies p.210]. Takis had these thoughts in 1959, when he perceived of a radar as a 'magic instrument', and materialized his thought in 1965 with the emergence of his Télésculpture musicale. His idea was to string needles on stretched musical wire, as the needles target on magnets. Later he was to add a music-box and sound-amplifiers. He felt he was capturing "the music of the beyond". On the occasion of Takis 1974 exhibition at the Espace Cardin in Paris, Pierre Restany writes "Takis' instruments generate chtonic sounds that challenge Prometheus to speak out with a poetic diction forged in agony and rebellion". [Takis Monographies p.214] For his musical sculptures on exhibition at the Festival d'Automne in Paris, Restany wrote: "Beyond the apparent verbosity of visual and sonorous discourse, beyond the cacophony and the disorder, once the first shock is overcome, one reaches a second perceptive state, a kind of ecstasy akin to serenity." [Art Press #13, 09-10/1974].

GONGS: Takis made his first gongs in 1974. They were small and - to his dismay - melodious. Over time Takis experimented with the materials and the dimensions until he finally reverted to steel sheets of monumental size. Héléna and Nicolas Calas wrote "Takis' gongs re-awaken the spirit of antithesis, of a conflict between demoniac interruptions and heavenly percussions." [Takis Monographies p.236].
The Gong of 1995, that Takis intends to lend to ACG on the occasion of the Art Center's inauguration, is the original sculpture with which he represented Greece in the Venice Biennial in 1995. This gong reaches to a height of nine metres. It is made of a single steel sheet wedged tightly between ceiling and floor to create the necessary tension and produce the desired clang when the hammer suspended in front of it strikes the curved sheet. At the time of the Venice Biennial, Takis described this Gong's clang as 'a Pythagorean sound'. Takis is thrilled at the prospect that students may want to record the mysterious music this gong produces.

SPHERES: Takis has always been attracted to the sphere, as an archetypal form. The Spheres of Takis are multi-referential; as seeds, as planets, and as magnified biological organisms. In their capacity as sculptures, these Spheres seem to encapsulate either the origin or the destination of nature. Displayed in the open as a group, they appear to relate to one another, and to be at one with nature. Still as they are, they seem to incubate cosmic energies that are to be released at any moment. Takis saw his bronze spheres of the 1950s as "a manifestation of a centrifugal force through swelling, akin to a pregnant woman's belly" [Takis Monographies p.80].

[Megakles 12/2004]

CALAS, HÉLÈNA & NICOLAS Takis: Monographies 1984 Editions Galilée, Paris
ANTHOLOGY Takis 1993 Galerie nationale du Jeu de Paume, Paris