“Beyond Antiquity” exists between the past, the present and the future; the ephemeral and the everlasting. Spanning more than forty drawings, paintings and digital artworks by architect and artist John “Yanni” Fotiadis, the exhibition, on view at the National Hellenic Museum, delves into the lasting influence of ancient Greek architecture on the modern world. In a conversation, Fotiadis discusses how classical Greece birthed foundational concepts that transcended mere functionality; his “Metaphysical Landscapes” that combine cutting-edge technology and design software with ancient ideas, allowing him to create imaginary environments that evoke the spirit of the ancient world; and his unceasing pursuit of truth, beauty and virtue. Exploring the fascinating interplay between ancient Greece’s rich architectural heritage and its enduring influence, Fotiadis offers a fresh perspective on classical antiquity and an opportunity to consider its impact on our shared human story: “By looking back, I feel we can look forward to moving beyond antiquity, and toward a better future.”
Can you talk about the ancient past informing the future beyond the physical boundaries of Greece? How do Greek ideas concerning architecture still influence the world today?
In the timeline of human intellectual development, the classical Greek civilization acted as one of humanity’s fiery crucibles. The reasons are too complex to go into here, but out of that crucible came broad ideas and systems of thinking such as mathematics, politics and philosophy. While the world has vastly changed in two-and-a-half millennia, those foundational concepts have not disappeared, rather, they’ve been built upon and expanded to create the world we inhabit today. The legacy of classical Greece in many ways is the world’s legacy.
Many of those seemingly abstract ideas were utilized to create the architecture of classical Greece—specifically utilizing mathematics and geometry in order to create buildings that spoke of a society’s culture as seen through its myths. This was the magnificent intellectual fusion in the built form of Greek architecture. The Greeks taught us, among many other things, that architecture can transcend simple utilitarian needs for shelter, as it can be encoded with much deeper meaning. Architecture has acted as a mirror of who we are ever since.
During your trips to Greece you explored the architecture of antiquity and its relationship to nature. Where did you find common ground?
As one of my guides I re-read a wonderful book I had read in architecture school by the scholar Vincent Scully, called “The Earth, the Temple, and the Gods: Greek Sacred Architecture.” Scully posits that Greek Temples were not standalone alien objects arbitrarily placed in the landscape. Rather, they were very carefully and deliberately sized and oriented toward important natural landmarks that were considered sacred in antiquity. Landmarks such as hills, sacred springs, valleys, etc. that were associated with the spirit of the deity as much as the temple itself. Traveling throughout Greece and visiting these sites, Scully’s theories became evident. I marveled at how these buildings were in an ongoing dialogue with their natural surroundings that was still evident even in their ruined state. A beautiful amalgamation of gods and nature, as envisioned and rendered by the human mind.
Tell me about “Metaphysical Landscapes”: in what ways have cutting-edge technologies and design software helped you bring your vision to life and how has that process affected your critical appreciation of antiquity?
The “Metaphysical Landscapes” were created with Rhino design software, a software that I’ve used in the past to design buildings. In this case I used Rhino to design and create imaginary environments that I built in Rhino and then rendered with a plug-in called V-Ray. The software allowed me to quickly test scales and compositional arrangements, as well as lighting and atmospheric effects that would normally require weeks of sketches and drawings. It also allowed me to do so with a level precision that drawing is just not capable of. Nevertheless, all my “Metaphysical Landscape” ideas begin as conceptual sketches—utilizing good old pencil and paper—in my sketchbook. All the platonic solids I built in Rhino for example, that feature prominently in the “Landscapes” (and which are also vividly described in Plato’s “Timaeus”), I drew again and again by hand in order to understand their inherent structure and geometry. In a way I’d like to think I’m using very modern technology to illustrate very old esoteric ideas.
What are you hoping the viewer will take away from this exhibition?
My hope is that they can see classical antiquity—particularly in the context of its birthplace, Greece—through a new prism—a prism that strips away stigmas, assumptions and the many political and social associations it has acquired over the centuries, to see it with fresh eyes and reconsider the lessons we can learn from it. At its core, it is a world and time in our collective history that considered and explored ideas such as truth, beauty, virtue, and our place in the cosmos. It also reminds us of what the human mind can create and contemplate when it is allowed to think and flourish under the right conditions. By looking back, and seeing what we were once capable of, I feel we can look forward to moving beyond antiquity, and toward a better future.
“Beyond Antiquity” at the National Hellenic Museum, 333 South Halsted, on view through September 30.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org Website: www.rigouvasia.com