London; Christiana Soulou “The Book of Imaginary Beings After Jorge Luis Borges” with an essay by Donatien Grau

by Venetia Kapernekas

CS book final

Few days ago this  amazing gift/book arrived at my door step.  An extraordinary book with 50 drawing by the  artist that I admired for years, Christiana Soulou.   The drawings greatly inspired by Soulou’s love and admiration of Jorge Luis Borges and Margarita Guerrero’s book “The Imaginary Beings (1957) – a fantastic anthology of “strange creatures conceived down through history by the human imagination.”  The project has evolved and expanded over more than two years, originating in a presentation at the 2013 Venice Biennale, where Soulou’s drawings were presented as part of ‘The Encyclopedic Palace’. Published on occasion of the exhibition “The Book of the Imaginary Beings After Jorge Luis Borges, Sadie Coles HQ, London, 26 January -20 February 2016.

HQ18-CS11448D Lion cerf

Christiana Soulou ‘Lion cerf’, 2015, colour pencil on paper
site size: 21 x 29.6 cm / 8 ¼ x 11 ⅝ in, unique
Exhibited: The Book of Imaginary Beings after Jorge Luis Borges, Sadie Coles HQ, London, 26 January – 20 February 2016
Illustrated: The Book of Imaginary Beings after Jorge Luis Borges, (Colour Illus. (p.65))
Copyright the artist, courtesy Sadie Coles HQ, London

 

In the 1967 foreword to ‘The Book of Imaginary Beings’, Jorge Luis Borges and Margarita Guerrero, his co-author, presented the change of title from Handbook of Fantastic Zoology to its current denomination: “the title of this book would justify the inclusion of Prince Hamlet, of the point, of the line, of the surface, of n-dimensional hyperplanes and hyper volumes, of all generic  terms, and perhaps of each of one of us and of the godhead. In brief, the sum of all things-the universe.  We have limited ourselves, however, to what is immediately suggested by the word ‘ imaginary beings’; we have compiled a handbook of the strange creatures conceived through time and space of the human inspiration.” (Donatien  Grau, ‘Credo Quia..’)

HQ16-CS9756D Thorny devil and dragons
Christiana Soulou ‘Thorny Devil and Dragons’, 2013, colour pencil on paper
site size: 21 x 30 cm / 8 ¼ x 11 ¾ in, unique
Exhibited: The Book of Imaginary Beings after Jorge Luis Borges, Sadie Coles HQ, London, 26 January –20 February 2016
Illustrated: The Book of Imaginary Beings after Jorge Luis Borges,  (Colour Illus. (p.44))
Copyright the artist, courtesy Sadie Coles HQ, London

 

Executed in coloured pencil, Solou’s drawings are at once evanescent and insistent, elusive and precise. They appear to be timeless – emerging out of subtlety of tone and exacting line – and in their precision, they invoke the works of Renaissance draughtsmen such as Pisanello and Dürer. As writer and critic Donatien Grau has observed, “..the precision of the artist’s line is fundamental; every line she draws is a careful decision, seemingly light and perfect, but in fact burdened with responsibility. The existential weight of drawing an imaginary being in a particular fashion is enormous; these beings will never see the light if she does not draw them. As she draws them, she conceives them, and when they are set on the sheet of paper, she has given them to the world; she has added new figures to the population of beings that exist on this earth.”

image001

Christiana Soulou,’Dragon gracilis’, 2013, colour pencil on paper, unique
site size: 21 x 30 cm / 8 ¼ x 11 ¾ in
Exhibited: The Book of Imaginary Beings after Jorge Luis Borges, Sadie Coles HQ, London, 26 January – 20 February 2016
Illustrated: The Book of Imaginary Beings after Jorge Luis Borges, (Colour Illus. (p.43))
Copyright the artist, courtesy Sadie Coles HQ, London

 

Borges invites us to explore that zone of indecision where the material goes into the feeling. The same is not the same anymore and the other is not the other anymore as in the half-crocodile half-lion eats up the integrity and the other way round.  Here is it not about the imitation or resemblance; “is required on the opposite the power of ground basis, able to dissolve forms”, to destroy identities and impose the existence of such a zone where we do not know anymore what is crocodile and what is lion – because something rises up as the triumph of their in distinctiveness. My drawings occupy that space. They are the paintings of that zone. Neither their resemblance not their difference. In the drawings of those animals it is not that the one is transformed into the other. It is the extreme contiguity in the dissimilar, the confluence of dissimilar elements under the same light, and the fact that something goes from one to the other. ( Christiana Soulou, 2014, translated from the french by Donatien Grau).

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Christiana Soulou ‘Monstre’,  2015, colour pencil on paper
site size: 15 x 20.5 cm / 5 ⅞ x 8 in, unique
Exhibited: The Book of Imaginary Beings after Jorge Luis Borges, Sadie Coles HQ, London, 26 January – 20 February 2016
Illustrated: The Book of Imaginary Beings after Jorge Luis Borges,(Colour Illus. (p.45))
Copyright the artist, courtesy Sadie Coles HQ, London

 

Classical art gets away from arbitrary reality by applying a system that is based entirely on the natural (and is mysterious logic), on the contrary to Northern art which has not been refined by the knowledge of the natural, abstract language and the reproduction of reality, where classical art proceeds without any constraint with the direct representation of the real. Borges’ images seem to relate more to Villard de Honnecourt’s drawings, where the real is absolutely not identical to the natural. As  a consequence, the subtraction of an order happens on a space there this order does not exist. (‘Resemblance as an order’,  Christiana Soulou)

HQ18-CS11439D Sky Blue Licorne Horses

Christiana Soulou, ‘Sky Blue Licorne Horses’,  2014, colour pencil on paper
site size: 21 x 29.6 cm / 8 ¼ x 11 ⅝ in, unique
Exhibited: The Book of Imaginary Beings after Jorge Luis Borges, Sadie Coles HQ, London, 26 January – 20 February 2016
Illustrated: The Book of Imaginary Beings after Jorge Luis Borges, (Colour Illus. (p.75))
Copyright the artist, courtesy Sadie Coles HQ, London

 

Christiana Soul’s drawings are the exemplification of the situation  contemporary subjectivity is left in, after the destruction symbolised by Nietzsche; if we believe, we are absurd; but if we do not believe, then we are left with the absurd. What are we, existentially, to do, in order to navigate the world we were born into, and in which we will die? .….To credo quia absurdum, or credo via impossible, Christiana Soulou replies with credo quit line eat, ‘I believe because there is the line’. The fact that there would be such a thing as a line, drawn by human hand, signifies that perfection, however, tenuous, can be reached; that the miracle of representation can be realised by a human being, by a human hand.  (Donatien Grau, ‘The reasons of belief’)

……..As much as resemblance deforms, the in distinctiveness becomes the best definition of resemblance. It is exactly the point Borges introduces the zone of indistictiveness that holds as the only space where those beings can get closer to what they are (to themselves).  Foucault’s unthinkable space then becomes the only true space and the actual work of art; a space where the same and the other, the familiar and the foreign converge in an extreme contiguity without any resemblance, and produces resemblance.  To admit the misled character of phenomena is not fatality; it i on the contrary the certainty that, beyond every evolution, every progress and every knowledge, there is a feeling of a world that places itself not before, but above knowledge. (Christiana Soulou, ‘Indecision and Space,  on her book, athens, october 2014, translated from he french by Donatien Grau)

CS book final

A remarkable notice is made in the book by  Donatien Grau about Margarita Guerrero, co-author on “The Absent Author”… Most often, Borges is cited as the only author of  “The Book of Imaginary Beings”, but in fact there were two: Jorge Luis Borges, whose eminence as one of the very few late encyclopaedic minds of the twentieth century is unparalleled, and Margarita Guerrero, his co-author, with whom he wrote the book. In the english edition. Guerrero never appears as Borge’s co-author, even though the prefaces of the two editions in Spanish are co-singed by him and her; even though the French edition lists her as a co-author; even though the édition de la Pléiade, which was prepared under Borge’s own guidance, doe not include Le Livre des être imaginaries as a work fully by Borges.  Guerrero was an important figure in Borge’s life; … she was there for him when Borges, already suffering from the ocular illness that would end up leaving him blind, had to dictate The Book of Imaginary Beings. 

Published on occasion of the exhibition “The Book of Imaginary Beings after Jorge Louis Borges, Sadie Coles, HQ, London, 26 January-20 February 2016, ©2015 Christiana Soulou, Sadie Coles HQ, Donatien Grau, published in a limited edition of 300. Designed by Frase Muggeridge Studio, Printed by Albe De Coker, Belgium
all images ©Christiana  Soulou, courtesy Sadie Coles HQ, London
Thank you Sadie Coles gallery with your  generous permission to publish images of the amazing drawings in my blog and use some of the extraordinary texts by Christiana Soulou and Donatien Grau..  (V.Kapernekas)

 

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