Essay about méta by Evita Tsokanta

Written for the initial exhibition of méta in Athens in November 2021

The adjective and occasionally noun, Meta originates in the Greek prefix meta- which

translates as something that comes after, or something that comes along with. In English,

the word has attained a more abstract meaning through various uses, meaning something

more comprehensive or even transcending beyond limits. Finally, in epistemological terms,

meta suggests something self-referential, as if something is describing its own

characteristics. The exhibition méta by Kanella and Manos Chatzikonstantis encompasses all

its potential uses as if one negates the other but also through this negation, reinforces its

alternative meaning.

The process of creating these works involves a succession of events, individuals, and creative

decisions in the most apparent way, as a relay race. It all started when Kanella, having been

granted the luxury of time due to the first Covid-19 induced lockdown, studied her

surroundings in unprecedented detail. She was surprised to observe that despite that

springtime phase of rebirth, her houseplants were not sprouting new leaves, but instead

shedding their existing ones. The symbolic attributes of a leaf are as ever-changing as the

transient object itself. They are always dependent on the state the leaf occupies at any given

moment. A green leaf symbolizes hope and growth, a brown one triggers the sense of decay

while finally, a golden one awakens the notion of renewal. As an emblem, it covers an entire

life cycle and even suggests its transcendence. The rare occurrence that Kanella witnessed is

what triggered her to collect the leaves and begin to mark this anomaly by passing her

needle and thread through them. It was an instance of decay transmuting into something

else, something beyond what the leaves were at that given moment.

Embroidery has long been a part of Kanella’s visual vocabulary. The handcraft value of

embroidery has been burdened with past notions of what was possible or even permitted

for a female. Traditionally categorized as an applied art, considered distinct from the high

arts genre, embroidery has been associated with the craft that was most fitting for a woman.

Kanella appropriates this technique as a reclaim of the narrative of what the woman is

capable of, while repurposing it in a way that renders the high and applied art divide,

redundant. For Kanella embroidery is relative to a meditative pursuit, one that can lead to a

transcending state. It is an act that allows the mind to wander and simultaneously stay

present. Very similar to gazing at the sea, embroidery makes us consciously aware that while

everything changes around us, there is always the power of the centered self that ultimately

drives our thoughts and actions and grounds us to the current moment.

Manos came across Kanella’s Instagram posts of the embroidered leaves and was fascinated

by the transmutation of a decaying object into an entirely different entity that takes on a

new life, one that is celebrated through decoration. This fueled his own pre-existing

experimental searches in the studio. The relay race continued in his hands. Manos began to

observe the potential of what can occur out of what was considered terminal. Typical to his

practice, Manos is bemused by the notion of memory and even more so with the unspoken

memory. Like a detective, he zooms his camera in search of the untold stories that reveal

the most intimate aspects of a person, a place or even an object. Almost like looking through

a keyhole, he attempts to decipher the stories that haven’t necessarily been shared,

enriching his images with a layer beyond what is visible. The implied is where the essence

lies. These hidden stories are in fact what lives on after someone or something has expired. In

past bodies of work, Manos has been preoccupied with the issue of commemoration. How

are the deceased visually represented to awaken their memory? As Susan Sontag declares,

all photographs are a memento mori. “To take a photograph is to participate in another

person’s (or thing’s) mortality”. Manos shot the leaves in various stages of their decay,

visualizing their perpetual cycle of motion and ever-evolving image. Adding a vignette effect

to these pictures, Manos references postmortem photography of the past inviting the

viewer to ponder on a transpired life journey and to imagine what might come after, beyond

the visual.

The collaboration of the two creators, a unique way of co-production, which presupposes a

rare amount of trust and freedom, is the core of méta. Kanella and Manos didn’t work

simultaneously, brainstorming and co-creating this project. Each continued their solo

practice but built on top of the other creator’s practice. In fact, it is Kanella’s initial

inspiration and subsequent artwork that acted as Manos’ trigger to develop her initial

concept with his own tools. In the process, their artistic practices have respectively evolved

and moved beyond their predecessors through exchange with one another. This exhibition is

the outcome of an ongoing dialogue on inspiration, intention and practice, that ultimately led to

the common final work. The transition from personal to collective is mirrored in the move

from embroidery to photograph allowing the life cycle of the leaf to extend indefinitely

through the gaze of the viewer.

Evita Tsokanta

Art historian, Independent curator