Athanasios Argianas, Consonants as Noise (Foam Consonants) (detail), 2013, copper-plated sea sponges, steel, dimensions variable.


Athanasios Argianas is an Athens-born, London-based artist whose work explores how rudimentary perception becomes formalized and how it is translated between sensory media. Here, he discusses “A Sequencer *,” his debut solo exhibition in New York, which is on view at On Stellar Rays from November 2 to December 5, 2013. Branching Music, one of the video projections in the show, will be performed live on November 16, 2013, as part of Performa 13.

MY WORK tends to make use of situations that can collapse into noise but also those that can provide enough clarity so one can read the situation’s structures. One of the current exhibition’s films, A Sequencer, for example, consists of a tense yet silent proposition. Twelve live scallops are positioned on six plinths made of wood or metal. Occasionally, a single scallop that has clacked its shell interrupts the scene’s silence. Sometimes many of them clack their shells so abruptly that they fall from one stacked plinth to another, indicating the material of the plinths with sometimes dull and wooden or vibrant and metallic sounds. But this happens very sparsely––everything is mostly still. I’m mainly interested in the simplicity of the scallops’ binary system: when to open, when to close. They only have one abductor muscle, and it goes on or off similar to a system of zeroes and ones. In a perverse way, this is a situation that produces a loose, stretched-out rhythmic pattern, which accounts for the work’s title.

The percussive nature of this video works in tandem with the show’s second projection, Branching Music, which is more of a humming, melodic piece. Silhouettes of tree branches are projected one by one, while a performer traces the forms with his hand, treating them as a score for a theremin. To create the score, I drew up a set of rules: For instance, the thickness of the branch determines the volume. If the viewer doesn’t look at the image, the sound becomes formless. But when one sees how it’s produced, its musicality is found more directly.

Displayed on vertical steel poles hung from the ceiling of the gallery is another work, Consonants as Noise (Foam Consonants). It consists of two elephant ear sponges, a form of sea sponge, and two common sponges, all of which have been have been electroformed with copper––a process based on electrolysis that deposits metal over the surface of the organisms. The work as a whole is a very ambiguous, hybrid object: a mineral that assumes the architecture of an animal and vice versa. I’m fascinated by sponges because of their immense surface area that simultaneously contains and devours space. Having evolved in water, they are unbound by gravity. The resulting amorphic quality acts as an analogy of sorts for what we consider noise: The endlessly detailed, tiny chambers of the sponge accumulate into shapes that are so uniformly featureless that we can’t quite differentiate between them.

We often have to create parables or myths to understand concepts that are not intuitively graspable within the power and conventions of language. They become metaphors we use as tools like shadows in a cave. The most radical ideas of this century––those that completely overturn our perceptions of the world––usually come from physics. Surely, it’s an uncomfortable situation to deal with: the idea that you’re not going to have finite answers, that everything is an approximation of something else, and that there are no certainties. I try to keep my choices open outside of myself––to let other factors decide for me––and to embrace contingency.

— As told to Julian Elias Bronner