Traveling light, floating in space

It is often dubbed «frozen,» «solid» or «blue smoke» and is the world’s lowest-density solid. Silica aerogel consists of 99 percent air and is used by NASA as a spacecraft insulator and to capture comet particles. It feels like hard styrofoam but looks as ethereal and semi-diaphanous as a cloud. It had never been used as a medium for creating art until Greek artist Yiannis Michaloudis came across the material during his postdoctorate research at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) in 2001. Although a very sensitive material, Michaloudis molded airy-looking sculptures out of it. The first public presentation of his work was at the Museum of Cycladic Art in 2006 on the occasion of the museum’s 20th anniversary. This past fall, Michaloudis was awarded the Golden Phoenix at the 24th Biennale of Alexandria. Part of the installation presented at the biennale is included in «()topia,» the title of a diverse, dense solo exhibition of his work at the Athens Gallery. His «aer()sculptures» are also currently on display at the Palais des Arts in Marseille. Michaloudis has used silicon aerogel to construct small figurines – many of them inspired by ancient Cycladic idols – and sculptures that reference ancient Greek civilization. The sculptures are placed in plexiglass cases painted on a dark blue or black background and hung on the wall. Special lighting or shapes made out of mirror glass enhance the diaphanous, airy quality of the material. From certain angles, the material looks as translucent as water and resembles the solidified form of crystal-colored liquid. In another body of works, Michaloudis has combined silicon aerogel with other materials: bronze or stone. It is an interesting play between solidity and airiness. A gold-wired cage that hangs from the ceiling and is filled with silica aerogel is one of the most unusual and charming works. It brings to mind a child’s dream to capture a piece of the sky and is imbued with both naivete and vanity. The artist’s fascination for proto-Cycladic civilization and archetypal shapes is rooted in the precepts of modern art. Michaloudis brings into this tradition a space-age, futuristic dimension. He has envisioned a time when man will have to live on another planet other than Earth. In such an eventuality, the lightweight, easily transportable silica aerogel sculptures would be one of the few things that he could carry. They would be a reminder of human civilization on Earth, an eternal trace of man’s cultural accomplishments. The Athens Gallery has organized an open discussion with the artist at noon tomorrow. The exhibition will run to February 23. An educational program for children is scheduled for the same day. Athens Gallery (4 Glykonos Street, Kolonaki, tel 210.721.3938,