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According to the myth Persephony was snatched by Hades, god of death, on a beautiful spring day while playing in a field. She was dragged to the underworld leaving her mother Demeter, goddess of agriculture miserable and totally unable to tend to the crops. A terrible drought hit the land hence a deal with Hades had to be made in order for humanity to survive. Persephony was tricked into eating pomegranate seeds from the underworld and thus she always had to return there. At least it was agreed that she went back to her mother six months each year, who was so happy to see her that brought spring back. Winter returned when Persephony had to go again to the underworld.

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The descent into darkness and the emergence into light is so common in the stories of such a large number of cultures that ultimately it is recognised as a fundamental symbol of existence. It encompasses the circle of life, death and rebirth, dark phases in people’s lives, and of course the seasonal changes. Darkness is often synonymous with negative things, difficulties, endings and sorrow. Like in the Greek myth, one might be tricked into it but often it somehow seems unavoidable. While in the dark one has to keep the faith in the light in order to eventually be rewarded with well-being and joy at the end of the tunnel.

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This ancient story came to my mind when I visited Momentum, the UVA exhibit in the Curve gallery at the Barbican. Past the curtains of the entrance and after the few well lit steps was the darkness. The first impression was unsettling because I was suddenly deprived of the security of seeing and being orientated. The fog, the quasi deep-sea sounds the other visitors that unexpectedly popped-up in front of me made me feel insecure. There was a moment I thought I would run to the exit, but then the unexpected happened. I saw some people sitting along the curved wall and I was surprised. What were they exactly doing? I thought I’d try it, so I leaned on the wall and slowly slid down on it until I sat on the floor. After a couple of minutes of being amazed with how comforting it was to be there I started thinking of the elements of this orchestration. There were the lights that moved slowly back and forth. They changed from a soft-lit haze towards the ceiling and walls, to sharp blades of light that cut the thick atmosphere vertically towards the floor. It was also the non-musical soundtrack,of sonar beeps and dolphin click-sounds. Then I thought, this is a womb. It is soft and comforting it is dark and cosy and all of us like identical siblings were clinging to its walls. It was not scary any more, at least not for a while.

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This exhibit has been described as hypnotic and meditative by its creators and its visitors. Even though meditation is an attempt to be aware and present which is the opposite of being hypnotised, strangely Momentum can be both. It depends on how the descent into darkness is interpreted. One can choose to see it as a game and try to catch the light in a successful selfie, or turn inwards and contemplate.

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What I did not mention before was that the myth described above was incredibly important for the ancient world. In fact rituals that commemorated it were practised for no less than 2.000 years in Greece and were attended by people from the entire known world, (at that time). They travelled from their lands to Eleusis an ancient city, not too far from Athens, in west Attica, to be initiated to the Mysteries. The importance that was given to those rituals was so grave that anyone who revealed their secrets was sentenced to death and thus the Mysteries managed to remain secret for ever. Some things are known about what happened in the dark to the initiates. Apparently they endured much in order to be initiated to the ancient cult, but ultimately they were emerged into light, changed, reborn.

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Much has changed since then but some core things remain the same. Like the descend into the darkness that some might even undertake to go through willingly, especially when the promise of light in the end is certain. What happens in the dark is always a mystery and should not be discussed much because it loses its magic. It is something each of us has to carry within when it is time to resurface to glorious light , as the memory of a process.

And what a glorious day it was when I exited the Barbican!

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The exhibition will be on until the 1st of June 2014

Barbican website here

United Visual Artists website here

Eleusinian Mysteries Wikipedia page here

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A house becomes a home when the owner’s belongings start to narrate his life story, documenting travels, everyday rituals and the passage of time. Objects are very important in establishing a house’s identity by creating a link between architecture and the inhabitant and in that sense, things do create space. Often architecture simply provides the white canvas onto which the inhabitants life is projected thus just by looking into someone’s house, considerable information about their personality is exposed.

Song Dong’s installation of his mother’s huge collection of objects throughout decades reveals more than just his family’s history. These objects also narrate the story of China’s Cultural Revolution where most commodities were rationed in very small quantities and consequently were considered incredibly valuable.

Song Dong ‘Waste Not’ at the Barbican

The touching tale of how Song Dong’s mother saved soap for years with religious devotion to give it to him as a wedding present only to realise that her son had no use for it because technology and the new social circumstances allowed him to own a washing machine, is quite haunting.

This simple story displayed next to the tower of soap clings to ones mind and has a humbling effect: we realise people’s lives under the circumstances were materially deprived, while nowadays capitalism has spoilt us in the exact opposite manner. This weird collection of things that today can only be seen as rubbish further proves that, while simultaneously keeps a record of the artist’s mother’s mental illness. Still there is much truth within this compulsive excess and also richness in information and emotion.

Song Dong ‘Waste Not’ at the Barbican

 I personally noticed an urge in me to examine in detail things that could have been thrown in the bin but instead were preserved. With this careful observation somehow I paid respect to the collector’s diligence. I guess what I found touching was the love with which the objects were kept, out of care for generations to come and fear of possible shortages.

Song Dong ‘Waste Not’ at the Barbican

However what is of interest is the objects’ ability to define space. Looking at the old furniture made me think of the wall they leaned against in Song Dong’s mother’s house and the mark they left there once they were removed. This art work speaks of the way we appropriate spaces through things and documents how they become the glue that binds our lives stories to architecture. Without them buildings are nothing more than lifeless containers.

Song Dong’s ‘Waste Not’ at the Barbican until the 12th of June. Visiting information here

This is a unique architectural exhibition because the exhibit is neither a building nor the representation of a building. It is actually an exercise in architectural synthesis. Junya Ishigami
presents it as a structural experiment. By introducing a triangular grid of carbon fibre beams and columns of minuscule diameter, he attempts to create a structure made out of raindrops.
The fragile, almost ethereal creation that expands in Barbican’s Curve gallery, demonstrates the way a project unfolds and develops in an architect’s mind. What is particularly interesting, is that the goal is somewhat reversed. When most architects are accused of being visibly ambitious, this structure, is rather ambitious in humility.
Ishigami here, aims to contemplate on architecture, rather than to create space. This project has conceptual affinities with Gordon Matta-Clark’s work, obviously not by similarity of forms. Both artists manipulate architectural elements and methods, aiming to present new ways of looking at  architecture.
Still, this work should be praised more on its poetic qualities, rather than as an engineering achievement. To establish whether it materialises an architect’s need to be truly humble, we must
consider that for a Zen Buddhist attempting to excel in anything, even in humility, is considered a sign of being egocentric.

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