Constantin Xenakis (1931-2020) was a European artist based in France. His work often included written script, symbols and codes of everyday life, traffic signs, alchemy, the zodiac, mathematical and chemical symbols, Egyptian hieroglyphics, letters from the Greek, Phoenician and Arabic alphabets. He was born in Cairo, Egypt, on 28 December 1931. He has lived mainly in Paris since 1955. In 1976–77 he collaborated with the composer Jean-Yves Bosseur on the work Ornigrammes.
He was made a Chevalier of the Order of Arts and Letters in 1986. In 1996 he was awarded the Prix Delmas by the Institut de France, at the recommendation of the French Academy of Fine Arts.
The Constantin Xenakis Room in the Fameck community centre was opened in 1991. In 1998 he was given an "Award of Appreciation" at the 24th Olympiad by the National Museum of Contemporary Art, Korea.
In the course of his long quest, he had succeeded in combining art with technology, spontaneity together with style, yesterday with today, poetry with rationalism, thus, creating images that allow us to witness the contradictions of daily life from a different dimension, a purely critical one.
In all of the periods of his work, he called forth many primary data so as to put together his personal semantic code, which provided a feedback for an original and spontaneous art, deeply poetic and dramatic at the same time, even though, at first look it appears to be intellectual and distant. The art of chaotic writing, shapes and colors, as well as of a philosophical dimension which functions always on a second level, provokes the viewer’s eyes, who, in an attempt to recompose and interpret the multiplicity of points, he finally yields to the magic offered by the artistic product in order to discover a different image of modern world, a world that is of concern to him in everyday life, a life that has the potential to give him a different dimension.
Constantin Xenakis never had as a goal to do committed art. All of these views and attitudes very rarely are insinuated in his work. And this is so due to the fact that, he is a creator who, using purely artistic means, aims at reaching the core and the essence of art. He takes pleasure in playing with forms, shapes and colors, to challenge the viewer t to also enter the game. Only that the game he proposes is not an innocent one. Gradually a whole new world unveils. The involvement in the game of symbols which review any sort of daily limits, drives the viewer to a different point of view about the world and, thus, the traps now become visible. The viewer is invited to see his/her own reality in a different light, to declare firmly his/her stance.
The repetitiveness which he adopts in his work has to do with the constant and uninterrupted movement of the mechanical element, which had began to become more and more familiar, comprehensible and inclusive in his works. Later on, the element of repetition will acquire a different meaning in his work and will serve as a means of ideological criticism regarding the back then existent socio-political status quo.
Finally, he gives up on painting only devoting to kinetic art. He, thus, includes in his work the light; he seeks slowly but steadily to entangle the viewer in his work. He had preached so via his robust gesture that had been adopted by him in the abstract or informel paintings of his.
The art of kinetics drives Constantin Xenakis into theatre. First, he co-operates in the presentation of the theatrical play The Electronic Nigger of E. Bullins, at the American Centre in Paris. Next, he will present his own show EKSTASIS, which he puts together through the employment of electro kinetic statues, constructions, electronic music, lighting and mimes, with Marcel Marceau’s wife Jasorevic and her troupe being preeminent. In this attempt of his he creates a totality, where everything constantly is transformed, transferred, and provokes the viewer to participate in something that fluctuates between theatre and game, and even between the kinetic and visual functioning.
Xenakis, around the time he practiced the art of kinetics, expands to actions and environments. Testimonial by artists confirm that he was the first Greek artist who created such thing in Europe, a pioneer who put together a live show at the Institute of Goethite in 1971, when for the first time ever he carries out an exhibition in Greece, although he was challenged concerning his identity due to the fact that he came from Diaspora. In the formation of the environment, the inclusion of art is not only visual.
The environment is not treated as a stable entity or space dimension, in which man coexists. It comprises a unit of actions that connect some elements with one another, elements that are influenced by each other, get transmuted and engage in a dialogue with one another, thus, changing constantly the unit’s formation. Within such an environment, each spectator is merely a component that contributes to the environment’s infinite formation. And as for the motion that happens in the continually expanding limits, it is this that determines the environment’s proportions. Xenakis forms the first environment in 1967 in Lund in Sweden.
More environments follow: In France, Denmark, Germany, Poland and Greece. The cone plays now the dominant role in his work. It is included either in his kinetics work he exhibits either in happening (actions is the name he attributes to them), which he makes sure each time to organize along with his exhibitions. Through the spectators’ intervention, either within the space either outside in the environment, the formation of the work keeps changing, since each successive viewer comes face to face with a different version. And this version in itself brings along new reactions to all of the audience, and as a result more interventions occur. Communication becomes a basic dimension, which in its complicated meaning includes space, time, motion, action, construction, form, which finally may perpetually change by the introduction of each new spectator.
Xenakis forms the first environment in 1967 in Lund in Sweden. More environments follow: In France, Denmark, Germany, Poland and Greece. The cone plays now the dominant role in his work. It is included either in his kinetics work he exhibits either in happening (actions is the name he attributes to them), which he makes sure each time to organize along with his exhibitions. Through the spectators’ intervention, either within the space either outside in the environment, the formation of the work keeps changing, since each successive viewer comes face to face with a different version. And this version in itself brings along new reactions to all of the audience, and as a result more interventions occur. Communication becomes a basic dimension, which in its complicated meaning includes space, time, motion, action, construction, form, which finally may perpetually change by the introduction of each new spectator.
During the ‘70’s , the science of semiotics comes to the forefront. Xenakis goes ahead to revise almost his entire course as an artist and as a true scholar he turns to it. Faithfull to Leonardo’ s words, “without scientific knowledge the aspiring artist is a sailor who sails in the ocean without sails and without a compass then it is certain that he will definitely not reach the port he desires to reach…”, he studies in depth whatever is of interest to him, and this opens new paths for his work. He acknowledges that semiotics constitutes a science that mainly refers to the socio- political field. He treats it as a source of answers to the questions that plague him. Out of the many texts he writes at that time, we cite the following extract: “The artist is an inextricable part of a society that oppresses people. He finds it hard to question it or to come up with new forms of art that will bring forth salvation. Quite simply, he imposes his taste (depending on current trends), without questioning anything. An authoritative world has been formed, in which every game of resistance is simply non-existent.)
The first step to this direction is considered to be his Newspaper, which he intended to develop in three stages. In his exhibition in Berlin he printed a paper (1971) full of symbols and signs. The subjectivity given to them by him manifests the limits of indirect social castigation, which the artist tries to achieve. This newspaper enthralled the public not only for its conceptual complexity but also for its imaginative and incomprehensible form.
Faithful to modernism, Xenakis worked as a science researcher in order to comprehend the new structure adapted by societies of the present back then in relation to their way of function. His thoughts and conclusions, his worries whatsoever, come to be manifest elements in the totality of his work, and their extension regards the role of art and the artist’ s responsibility when it comes to society.
He is amongst those artists who challenge, who on a multiplicity of times wondered about the usefulness of a work of art in socially harsh eras. He suggested without compunctions the destruction of works of art, in an effort to seek new, different perception, for contemporary art itself. A perception that includes man/spectator as a participant and co- creator. He is also amongst those who turned their back on the commercialization of an aesthetic object through any renewal of forms, deeming that something like this is a natural consequence of art and era. From the moment Xenakis engaged in exclusively with art, he has made statements many times that for him the world is not one-sided, that is artistic, but multi-sided.
Xenakis was a manual worker, a craftsman. Like those artisans of ancient Egypt, possessing practical mind and a magic hand, who persistently and patiently carved hieroglyphs, this unique writing so much intertwined with art regarding the composition, polysemy, the beauty of symbols, the use of color, the enjoyment of gazing. Being his own baby, nevertheless, his own plastic linguistic symbols, so as to create his own- also handmade-alphabet, to be able to co- act harmoniously with the architect, the sculptor, and the painter, as well, but also with whomever modern spectator who will be equipped with the power to be enchanted both from his dexterously- made images, and from their deeper meaning which it is of primary interest to him. This is so because Xenakis, through a mingling of diachronic signs and elements, managed to captivate in his work the spluttering psyche of modern man by using an extremely abstract but also especially ambiguous artist language. A revolutionary language, which revises the current meaning of signs that man employs so as to comprehend reality surrounding him.
A language, which by reshaping this signs seeks a different kind of communication, much deeper and substantial. At this point, is where the relation of the artist with contemporariness lies. In his sixty years of professional life at the artistic firmament, he was always regarded as a tireless researcher, a studier, an artist who persists in experimenting. Employing mastery he strived to substructure each field which he is fond of, ranging from scientific and educational, to an artistic one, in order to discover new codes, to compose new images.
1970 Grant from the Berlin Artistic Program, D.A.A.D.
1980 Research Grant of the Ministry of Culture of France
1968-1983 Member of the Governing Committee of the Salon de Mai, Paris.
1969-1990 Member of the Founding and Critical Committee for the Painting Prize, “Vitry-sur-Seine”, France.
Awards and Distinctions
1986 “Knight of the Order of Arts and Letters” award of distinction from the French State
1988 Honour of National Museum of Contemporary Art in Seoul on the occasion of the 24th Olympiad, South Korea
1991 Inauguration of the section «Constantin Xénakis» at the social centre of Fameck (Lorraine), France
1996 “Delmas price of the Institut de France, following proposal from the French of Academy of Fine Arts
2016 Honour of Philologists Association in Serres, Greece, 5/6/2016