NP or the possibilities of a life
Maria-Thalia Carras & Olga Hatzidaki
AREA Architecture Research Athens
Alexi Kaye Campbell
15.05.2017 – 30.05.2017
Tsami Karatasou, Koukaki
NP or The Possibilities of a Life is an exhibition whose starting point is the life of an ordinary man with an extraordinary collection. NP or the Possibilities of a Life is a biographical exhibition; however, more than that, it talks about solitary visions, imaginations unleashed and the limitless possibilities of creating worlds, as well as the impossibility of containing them.
The exhibition suggests multiple systems for structuring the chaos of one’s mind and of creating a taxonomy of objects (as ordered as it is hapless). Art works, handcrafted heirlooms, notes, working books (and other collectibles) are ordered and re-ordered, mimicking the love and pathology of holding on to knowledge, things. Entering NP’s universe, we are transported through a series of artists’ visions, projections and collections into a psychological landscape where hierarchies are overturned. Each work leads us on, as each world drifts into another – a labyrinth of thoughts filling us both with solace and quiet despair. The Possibilities are limitless.
is something of a hoarder. The flat he lives in is occupied by newspaper clippings from international newspapers (including La Stampa, El Pais and The New York Times), postcards from everywhere, sea-shells and barnacles collected on day-trips to the nearby Athenian coast, airline and train timetables, maps of distant lands, an old encyclopaedia, travel books, stamps and hotel brochures. A myriad of nations make an appearance in one form or another in his small Athenian flat – bits of Cuba and Kazakhstan, Suriname and South Korea. It’s quite a bit of the world for someone who has never left Athens since the age of four.
Because that’s when N arrived at this address – off the boat from Malta in 1956. He was conceived and born in Valetta to his father – Admiral A J – who was stationed there with the Royal Navy, and his young Greek-Maltese mother, E.
It was E who learnt that she had inherited the flat in Athens from her grandmother and had always wanted to return to Greece, the land of her mother’s family. Restless and beautiful but haunted by many dark demons, E persuaded A to accept a well-paid job with an Anglo-Greek commercial shipping company in Pireaus and they moved to Greece.
N thinks he remembers certain things about his mother:
A scent of gardenias
her body curled up as she read books (many of them are still around)
the way she’d always keep the shutters down to keep out the hot Athenian sun
her long silences
the way she painted her lips a bright red when she went out to parties with A
her love of beautiful objects
her mad plans to travel – in fact, it was from her that N inherited his wanderlust. She would read him stories set in all corners of the world and together they would lie in the corner of the flat and imagine these places and she promised him that they would visit them together. Sometimes N thought that the reason she dreamt so much of travelling was because she wanted to get away from A and the small flat. Maybe even from N.
So one day she did.
It was a few months after the poet came into their lives. N must have been six or thereabouts. He remembers many arguments between A and E, mostly about the poet. He can’t remember the poet’s name but he was also English, and teaching at a school. There are still some of his poems in the flat somewhere. Anyway, one day the poet disappeared. Maybe he went back to England. E didn’t get out of bed for many days, then she would lock herself up in the bathroom and cry and sometimes make these terrible sounds. N thought she sounded like a trapped animal.
One night, when A was out, there was a phone-call and N knew it was a bad phone-call from the poet.
Then next morning, as N was having breakfast – toast with fig jam on it – E ran past him, through the living- room, onto the balcony and she jumped over the railings.
N didn’t move. A was in the flat, shaving. He came out, looked for her. Called her name. He needed to know where his socks were. Then he heard the screams and the shouting from the street, ran to the balcony, looked over.
N remembers that A rushed over and dragged him to the bathroom and locked him in there for at least half an hour. Then the flat was full of people N had never seen before and some he had. Everything was a bit of a blur for two or three days.
But then there was the short conversation. His mother had flown away Alfred said. Flown away. She wouldn’t be coming back. That was all. N was confused. They never really talked about it after that. Not A, not C, the woman who cleaned the flat, not his English grandmother, D, who came to stay with them for a few months.
The years passed and it was still never talked about, nor was E. As if neither it or she had ever happened. A brought a new wife back to the flat, an English woman called P. P worked at the British Embassy and had red hair, pursed lips, and a quiet, determined voice. N thought she didn’t quite like him.
At school, N was good at geography, history and art. In his spare time, he painted still-lives, he still does. Aubergines in the evening sun, a rotting peach, an orchid. Lots of birds and plumage.
When N was nineteen A and P moved back to England, to a place called Hove, in Sussex. There were letters to begin with but then only Christmas cards. And then, in 1989, a letter from C to inform N that A had died quietly in his sleep.
N worked at the Archeological Museum for almost forty years as a guard. He was given the job by an old friend of E’s who worked there. He enjoyed it because it gave him the time to think, dream, even read on the quiet days when no-one was looking.
He thought, dreamt and read of his two obsessions:
TRAVEL and FLIGHT.
And with a little money he inherited from his grandmother and then from an aunt, and finally from A he has been able to build up quite a beautiful collection of objects from all corners of the world that are in some way related to these two obsessions.
a small statue of Icarus just as he falls from the sky, Daedalus hand outstretched to save him
rare stamps of wild birds
first editions of books about airmen and other flyers
a broach in the shape of a winged beetle in flight
a small urn with gulls painted on it
and many, many more.
N still has wanderlust.
But he has never left Athens, or the flat. Apart from every Sunday, when he goes to the seaside for the day. Every night of his life since the day he moved into the flat with E and A has been spent within its four walls. He never leaves it.
As if he is waiting for something. His hand is still on the toast, the toast is by his mouth, the fig jam is on the toast.
By Alexi Kaye Campbell
With thanks to Angie Nikolakopoulou and Erriko Arrones for their support.