Text for the work of Nikos Topalidis, an Athens-based visual artist.
The ebb of disquiet
Writing about Nikos Topalidis’ work has always presented me with the same difficulty. The liquid element that becomes the dominant theme of his work seemed to flood my mind. And I felt like the swimmer opening up to the untamed sea: promises of secrets hidden under the waves but coming with the suggestion that no promise is given, and no security.
Despite the torrential wealth of meanings, Nikos's work often reaches the limits of the obsession of a lone archaeologist who patiently and methodologically digs up the remnants of a past. His pencil becomes a tiny hoe that tracks the paper’s surface and with gentle precision advances in depth. His drawings, but also the image of the artist himself working on his big seas, always left me with a bittersweet aftertaste along with the image of water caressing the sand. A caress to memory. Only, he never implied the slightest reference to the past. Maybe because the past itself has already vanished like the stones the water’s relentless power transforms into sand. The image of the stone melting into infinite sand particles makes me think of the passage from existence to non-existence, a horizon we involuntarily share with all the living. Eventually, the past becomes – just like the sand – part of the present. And Nikos's work is an obsessive excavation in order to discover the present, the fluidity of now, that so easily slips through our fingers. The liquid element, flow itself, becomes the vehicle of a narrative articulated as a series of questions. The sea – this flowing point zero whose endless come-and-go reminds us of the questions that existence raises –being always in movement, eats the land, the certain ground, and slowly, but steadily, transforms it. Nikos’ work, therefore, concerns a question on the limits, a balancing act between the known and the unknown, the here and the hereafter, which might not be so different from the here since the boundaries melt like the sand in the foam of the waves.
While looking at the works of N.T. I recall an excerpt from the Book of Disquiet, where Pessoa wonders about the passage of life, reminiscing night walks on the shore accompanied by the waves’ endless sound. The sea, like the night, is an element that haunts the human condition, enticing us with the promise of the unknown. In the dim light of N.T.’s drawings, the two conditions seem to relate. The graphite, which almost sculpts the surface of the drawings, opens us up to landscapes born from darkness. Here, the way the image relates to light loses its usual certainty. Rather, it is the viewer who has to be displaced, to change position, in order for new details to emerge in his gaze. The image’s relation to the gaze ceases to be that of a passive object exposed to the act of vision. The roles are reversed and this time it is the gaze that enters in position doubtful: here happens an active questioning about its position that originates from and follows the image’s whim. In front of N.T.’s works, the viewer rocks gently as if floating in the sea, moving away to approach again, searching for details just like a collector searches for fossils washed away by the sea. "Who even knows what he thinks or wants? Who knows what he is to himself?” Pessoa asks himself during his night walks, like another collector of questions. In his search, he is accompanied by the water's endless splash. The perpetual motion of the sea becomes the tempo of a temporality in questioning. The same goes for Nikos Topalidis 's work: in a similar way, drawing becomes a silent murmur of time, which – like another flow that never ends – rinses us towards the non-existence, in order to remain only colourful fragments in the sand of the world.