“Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man; and his number is six hundred threescore and six.” So sayeth the book of Revelation about the False Prophet. But it turns out the book may have made a mistake in quantification: instead of 666, try 162636. That is, if Constantine Delilabros had had his way.
Delilabros, a sailor from Athens, died in 2000, leaving his numerological formula for the Bible, as well as his visual art, and seemingly all of reality, behind. But it hasn’t ended there. Delilabros’ son Panayiotis has reconstructed one of his father’s most extensive experiments into the installation When You Go Back, Nothing is Real. The work, which is centred around a musical composition based on Delilabros’ calculations extracted from the Bible called Automatic Reproduction of Constantine Delilabros’ Music Scores,” is up at articule through December 13.
As an installation, the presentation is stark. The younger Delilabros’ hand-written transcriptions of his father’s code serve as the visual component: framed sheets of tiny numbers that, because of their pseudo-Pointillist aesthetic, seem like masses of black geometry from far away. In the centre of the gallery, Panayiotis has encased a Bible, a calculator, and a relay box in a glass container. The numbers depicted on the wall are entered into the calculator, and then processed into the gallery’s speaker system. The resulting aural tones, random kazoo-like pitches, are then played into the gallery space in direct mimicry of his father’s work.
Though this may seem like a formal dialogue on minimalist sound interactions, the presentation actually belies a deeply personal motivation. Panayiotis has recreated his father’s experiment to reconnect with an often-missing paternal figure and to compensate for an unsubstantiated father-son relationship.
The two had what Panayiotis calls a “difficult” connection, exacerbated by Constantine’s absence from the household due to his work. “He believed everything was numbers,” Panayiotis said of his father, whose personal numerological perspective informed not only his stratification of Biblical figures (angels had different numbers based on number of wings), but also the paper sculptures he created while at home. According to Panayiotis, Constantine kept his sculptures, musical compositions, and numerical formula to himself, and never attempted to publish his work. To Constantine, the art making and numerological theorizing were escapist indulgences out of touch with the overtly masculine Greek society in which he lived. To his son, Constantine’s formula was “borderline between madness and genius. Probably madness.”
Panayiotis has gone through the motions of attempting to artistically recreate his father’s actions: painstakingly learning his father’s handwriting and legitimizing it as an actual font, writing approximately 100 numbers for each of the sheets, and even creating an Internet connection to constantly stream the music into his kitchen, where Constantine first played his compositions. The processes behind the work seem to carry more personal weight for Panayiotis than the actual product, the music he has acknowledged as “random.” In the same way children act out their parents’ mannerisms, Panayiotis is replicating an experience that he was excluded from as a child.
“You, Me, and Him in Trocadero,” one of the three videos Panayiotis is showing alongside “Automatic Reproduction of Constantine Delilabros’ Music Scores,” shows Panayiotis and his boyfriend – who wears a paper mask printed with Constantine’s face – entering a photo booth. At one point, Panayiotis chooses to have the photo booth program “draw” the two men’s faces. The rather drawn-out computer sketching mirrors Panayiotis’s own processes of discovering his father and discovering himself in that context. Yet the final product in “Trocadero” is a kitsch representation of the artist and a caricature of his father together, demonstrating the partial and insufficient identity constructed in the end. As the title states, when you go back, nothing is real.
Panayiotis refuses to provide his father’s mathematical formula, enabling Constantine’s genius, or madness, to retain its elusive and incomprehensible (or unfounded) properties. He has also opened up his father’s hidden art the public sphere, legitimizing what was once considered shameful. As the artist says: “[The] most important thing for [me is] exhibiting his work in a gallery.” What remains is an act of respectful recognition, regardless of a relationship that never was.
When You Go Back, Nothing is Real is up at articule (262 Fairmount O.) through December 13. To hear the musical section of the work, go to whenyougobacknothingisreal.info.