CULTURE

An artist fascinated by the act of breathing

For more than a decade, artist Nikos Navridis has been occupied with turning something as intangible as breathing into images and in making sculpture out of something as non-concrete as air. His works – mostly video installations and photographs – use the routine, automatic and life-essential act of inhaling and exhaling as a metaphor of feelings and psychological conditions, communication and human relationships. Comparable to how movement turns music into a rhythmic succession of shapes, his art makes the invisible become visible and also draws a sensitive awareness of our breathing, its rhythm and sound, as an expression of our emotions and an extension of ourselves out into the world. Navridis’s videos and photographs are mostly known as spare and carefully staged depictions of people inhaling and exhaling into latex balloons, a recurring motif in the artist’s works. Variations on the same theme have earned Navridis an international reputation and participation in prestigious art exhibitions and biennales all over the world, including those of Sao Paolo in 1996, Istanbul a year later, Santa Fe in 1999 and Venice in 2001. More recently, his one-man, retrospective-like show presented in Madrid was one of the best exhibitions on Greek contemporary art organized in the context of this year’s Spanish ARCO art fair in which Greece was the honorary country. (The Navridis exhibition was a Spanish initiative and was curated by Rosa Martinez.) The exhibition showed the course of his work, from the very first videos showing the breathing into the latex balloons works right up to his most recent series of «Difficult Breaths.» This series of videos and photographs is currently being presented in the artist’s one-man show at the Bernier/ Eliades gallery here in Athens. Unlike his former work, «Difficult Breaths» does not show people blowing into latex balloons nor does it follow the continuous flow of inhaling and exhaling. The series is about extreme forms of breathing and unusual circumstances. A yoga master mediating, a street juggler breathing fire, a peasant blowing into the hide and flesh of an animal or the life-giving breath of a lifeguard are some of the instances that Navridis has captured in his videos and digital, color photographs all set against a black background. The works focus on a single, big and extravagant breath rather than on continuous, normal breathing. The videos capture a moment rather than a continuous flow and, contrary to the «latex-balloon» works, they are based on an immediate effect rather than a feeling that gradually builds up as the viewer watches the balloons inflate and the breathing becoming more difficult. Less insular than his former works, «Difficult Breaths» seem to carry fewer psychological connotations. However, the fragility of human existence, which is a concept that defined his former works, is also part of this series. These extreme breaths are also dangerous breaths, moments that can prolong life or put it to an end; the juggler exhaling fire or the lifeguard breathing life into another person are examples of this cutting-edge sense. Another point that carries through into this work is Navridis’s interest in making breathing visible and an element through which we become aware of space. Trained as an architect, Navridis is intrigued by space, not just our physical space but also that space which remains empty. Our breathing occupies part of this seemingly empty space which the work of Navridis renders us so sensitive to. The artist’s skill lies in revealing the non-physical aspect of life, the things that do not become manifest in shape and form but are crucial to our existence. It is a simple yet moving realization. «Difficult Breaths» at the Bernier/Eliades gallery (11 Eptachalkou, Thiseion, tel 210.341.3935) through Saturday.