CULTURE

An artist’s travels to the East

In the global village of the information age, time seems to move faster and distances often feel shorter. Traveling now includes the category of globetrotting, a faster and easier way of moving around the world. For a growing number of people in the West, traveling is indeed no longer a luxury. But the profundity of the experience that one acquires bon a journey is probably still a luxury, which, in a way, is threatened by technology, mass tourism or the constant flow of information that has made almost everything accessible. Fearing that art has become a commodity and its experience has – like traveling – become hurried and lacking in depth, Alexandros Georgiou has combined travel and art in a challenging and unusual open-ended art project. A few years ago, he embarked upon a journey that began on the shores of Turkey to Iran, Pakistan and India. Georgiou involved another 10 people in the project who, in exchange for the financial backing they provided, traveled vicariously along with the artist. Each day, each of them was sent a postcard, drawing or other small artworks that Georgiou made during his trip. Upon his return, all this material formed the basis of «Without my own Vehicle,» the artist’s solo show at the Eleni Koroneou Gallery. The experience was so fulfilling that Georgiou decided to make a second extended trip, this time starting in India all the way to New Zealand. The occasion was an invitation to participate, with this particular project, at the Auckland Triennale (art historian Marina Fokidi made the proposal to the organizers). In the second part of «Without my own Vehicle,» both the concept of travel as an experience shared with friends back home and the idea of art not as a commodity but as tied to life itself, remained the same. Like visual memoirs recording the artist’s perception of the lands he visited, the works Georgiou made in the course of his traveling were again customized for each of the four friends-supporters of the project on the other side of the world. They were his visual correspondence. From New Zealand, where it was first presented, the show has been displayed at the newly opened Dodo Gallery in Thessaloniki where it is on view for a few more days. Postcards that have been painted upon, drawings, photo-based works and writings by the artist comprise an exhibition that takes a different approach to contemporary art and presents it as a growing, unplanned process in which ideas are exchanged and relationships built. «I do not like the idea of art as a perfect, packaged commodity. I often feel that, just as in life, in art we act in a selfish way, as if alone in the world. In this project, I wanted to involve other people and share my vision with them, really try to make them seen the world in a different way,» Georgiou said. The initial inspiration came from India. When the twin towers collapsed, Georgiou, who was living in New York City at the time, decided to visit India. Disillusioned by the antagonistic and consumer lifestyle in the big metropolis and with the tales he had read in the Mahabharata, the Ramayana and other Hindu sacred texts fresh in his mind, he left for the East in the hope that he could gain a different understanding of the world. Driven not by escapism or any new-age trend, Georgiou sensed that in India he could find a way out of the impasse that, in his opinion, has caused the political, environmental and social problems in the West. India did not let him down. In Varanasi, the holy city of Lord Shiva, Georgiou ignored the advice of the travel guides and swam every day in the polluted water of the Ganges. «I treated the river as a holy place and in return it had a holy effect on me,» he said. It was a wonderful experience of inner calm and connection with nature. As he traveled, his misconceptions of India crumbled one by one. He saw poverty but not unhappiness, at least not in the major cities where life is indeed removed from traditional Hindu thinking. «Because in India, people have not associated their well-being with material things, they feel happy with almost nothing. This is probably why I did not experience misery in India as a pain of the soul,» Georgiou said. India, where his travels became an 18-month stay, was the point of departure for his second trip that took him from Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Australia and, in the end, New Zealand. «To me, this trip was a route from the East back to the West.» Except for his trip to Australia, the rest helped expand his vision of life, but also of art, even further. His projects have borne ideas for new ones. Georgiou plans to organize an exhibition on Iranian contemporary art in Athens and possibly in New York in collaboration with the Foundation for the Promotion of Iranian Art. He is also planning another trip to Varanasi. This time, the project will require that the recipients of his work back in Athens actually visit Varanasi and gain firsthand experience of the city’s spirituality. Yet Georgiou does not feel that to gain a different vision of the world, traveling to faraway places is a prerequisite. «Walking from one’s home to a nearby coffee shop can be an enriching experience, as long as one is open to what surrounds him,» says Georgiou, who is thinking of actually applying his correspondence-based artistic project in Athens. This time, he will send his visual memoirs both to the friends that he has made abroad and to the people that he meets in Athens. Traveling as a learning experience is, after all, not always a matter of distance. It is about a different sense of the flow of time and an openness to learning, a sophistication that enables one to see beyond oneself to life’s inexhaustible nuances. To sense all of this from art makes art all the more useful and challenging. «Without my own Vehicle» at the Dodo Gallery (4 Hapsa, 2310.522.079) through Saturday.