«ὁ ἄναξ, οὗ τὸ μαντεῖόν ἐστι τὸ ἐν ΔελΦοῖς, οὔτε λέγει οὔτε κρύπτει, ἀλλὰ σημαίνει»
– The lord whose oracle is at Delphi neither speaks nor hides, but indicates.
Heraclitus, Fragment 93
We arrived in the evening; the gentle breeze on the balcony of our hotel was the first greeting of the island as it listened drowsily to the sound of owls, nightingales, children playing hide-and-seek. Sifnos.
The next day, at twilight, we set off for the half-restored monastery of Fyrogia, for the exhibition we had been invited to. I had been waiting for this moment since the previous year. We crossed through the quiet neighbourhood of Katavati, walking briskly; the houses dyed violet by the light, our gaze absorbed forms and outlines, distant voices; we came to a church built by no human hand, in a wonderful square. A woman who was passing by told us its name: Church of the Virgin Built by Angels.
Without a word, we crossed out of the plateau on which the town was built. There was a downward slope stretching in front of us, a cobbled road, bordered by dry walls, on our right a vineyard, olive trees in the distances, and in the far distance a soft mountain. The light was changing, minute by minute. I had a strong sensation of déjà vu, which nevertheless I had tried to obtain, and then the mystical way of Heidegger lit up within me, the untrodden way which was revealed to him when he was in Dilos, the centre of the Aegean, drenched in its light. That smallest of roads, from the neighbourhood of the Virgin Built by Angels to the vineyard, to the olive trees, to the mountain, was the Holzweg of Heidegger, the forgotten road which leads to and arrives, without ending, without finishing.
At the end of the road was the Monastery of Fyrogia, brightly lit. For me the exhibition was already completed: I had seen it all before seeing it, the place had revealed it to me, the road of intitiation had lead me and nourished me. I could leave now.
Yet I didn’t leave. The words of Helen, the architect that morning were ringing in my ears: these islands, in the age of tourism, have no longer anything to do with nature, anything to do with landscape; only the images remain. Was I seeing the island itself, the landscape? Or the images I wanted to see, images which I remembered to have seen at another time?
An answer awaited me at the monastery. Next to the ambitious or simply aesthetically pleasing works of the artist, we were greeted by a revelatory space – an L-shaped room, divided into three: the parlour, the cell of the monk responsible for receiving guests, and a little kitchen I reached striding over bodies, art, drinking glasses. I was rendered speechless.
The little kitchen was blue, bare, geometrized; a gas ring with no gas bottle lay on the stone-built stove, and on the stone shelf there were two aluminium pans and a bucket, the shelf itself lined with a flowery plasticized cloth, handcut unevenly. Two old chests rested against the walls, and in the centre there was a table – all covered with blue cloths. An embroidered mat arranged in a niche in the wall. Odd chairs. A piece of Formica kitchen furniture dominated the room, containing a stainless steel sink going nowhere, coming from nowhere, with no connection; just standing there. A crystal chandelier shone.
The cell was in semi-darkness. Next to the bed there was a wall-cover, a dazzling velour cloth with a design of deer; above the pillow an enormous cross, as a reminder, a funeral shroud nearby. A wood-veneered 1950s cupboard, art nouveau, with an ironing board and iron lying on it.
The parlour was indescribable; a paroxysm in purple, in deep red; the most unaffected collection of breathtakingly useless household objects, a dazzling management of the unmanageable. A mockery of uniformity. Wooden island settles, velvet sofas, crocheted shawls hanging from the curtains, reproductions of Byzantine icons, the chandelier in the centre, glassless paraffin lamps all around, a sideboard full of china off a cruise ship, photographs of donors, an enormous ornament with a little icon glued into the middle, crowned with seashells.
All geometrically focused on the hidden culmination : the iconostasis, and the Mother of God with her vigilant, electric, lampion. Everything from the deepest innocence, from love, remote from present time, within its right place. Coming from an economy of donation, from the perpetual ceremony of potlatch, where the gesture, where the offertory gift is infinitely more meaningful than taste, aesthetics or even function.
Lost for words, I had found another Holzweg. The installation of that naïve host who, beyond matters of taste, outflanked the Gobers, Mike Kellys and the Kabakovs of the contemporary scene, opened up the most paroxysmal , the most protean road, the mystic one, leading towards the essence of art: there where it sets into life itself, and its deep red paints days, not their picture.