An artist’s vision of Mount Athos

In recent years, local traditions and those aspects of a culture that make it distinctive are often used as a theme in art. In a multicultural world, understanding otherness and coming closer together via an appreciation of cultural differences is a prevailing notion that may account for this tendency to evoke culture in contemporary art. The idea is to maintain cultural uniqueness while also creating a global language. The recent work of artist Nikos Alexiou, an installation that evolves in four parts and is based on the subject of Mt Athos, seems to partly derive from this notion of shared experience. Unlike most artists who explore this direction, Alexiou makes no direct (in his case, religious) connotations and avoids «folklorish» elements. But the fascination with tradition, history and the past that a globalized world seems to have inspired is there, as is the notion of seeking out the shared values in the idiosyncrasies of a culture, in this case, the spirituality of the Greek Orthodox religion. Indeed, Alexiou’s installation has a soothing, calming effect of the kind that, in the contemporary, new-age lingo, is broadly termed a spiritual experience. It is most likely that this is what the artist himself experienced when he visited the Iviron Monastery on Mt Athos almost a decade ago. During his stay, he made drawings of the monastery’s architecture, decorative motifs and surrounding landscape; it is from these drawings that Alexiou has isolated the abstract, geometric motifs that recur in his current show. In a mosaic-like effect, the motifs have been cut out from pastel-colored pieces of paper that hang like banners in the first part of the installation. The remaining three parts of the installation have been created using the pieces of paper cut from the large banners in the first room. In the second part, which is shown in another room, the cut pieces of paper have been placed to form small mounds on a long table. And in the third, they have been reconstructed to form wall-mounted motifs and decorative, paper constructions that resemble boats or sails. The installation ends with a curtain made out of threads of paper. The recycling of materials is an important aspect of the work. It suggests Alexiou’s appeal for materials that carry the burden of time but also his interest in the process of creating art. Just as he recycles his materials, Alexiou often returns to old ideas and reworks them in new versions. His interest in Mt Athos, for example, stretches even further to the artist’s visit to the Iviron Monastery where Alexiou came across a book with reprinted drawings of Mt Athos made by the 18th century Russian monk Vassiliev Grigorovich Barsky. Alexiou copied those drawings for the set design of a theater play (he has worked extensively for the theater, especially with the Omada Edafous dance troupe) and, in a second version, for a solo exhibition of his work. He now returns to the subject of Mt Athos through an installation that takes on the issues that concern contemporary art but can also be seen as irrespective of them in a pleasant, visual experience. Nikos Alexiou at the Rebecca Camhi gallery (23 Sophocleous St, 210.321.0448) through Friday.