We must have the courage to live intensely, said the Greek artist Jannis Kounellis, because “the hermit’s points of view are conditioned by his hermitage. We can choose whether to go to that shelter, or venture out for more decisive, incisive roads.” Of course, since his early childhood, he opted for the latter.
When he was a child, Kounellis used to sit with his mother at the seaside and point his finger at the horizon. At the Piraeus port, ships were departing and Kounellis, who came from a family of sailors, felt a bit like a navigator, too. He could not forget his early maternal education (“always look straight ahead of you”), and in 1956, he decided to cross the blue expanse, embarking for Italy. He was 20 years old and his pockets were full of dreams, which he then turned into stones and coal.
That was just the beginning. He took to exile by choice, with the task of traveling the world inventorying human absence through the things they leave behind. Kounellis found a guiding principle in the chaos of trajectories: The dramaturgy came in the form the story of each disappearance. He began to furnish the space with his silent questions, with the tragedy of some simple objects that bore witness — with their actual physical weight — to the solidity of history. Each item disseminated (and enlightened) thus became a narrative fragment, the line broken a thousand times and then recaptured a thousand times, in a collective discourse.