From the archive: Takis at Signals, London

A review of a 1964 show by the recently-deceased artist at the influential London gallery

By Guy Burn

Left: Takis with one of his Signals sculptures; right: Takis, Tolemagnetique at Signals, London, 1964

Takis the Greek sculptor has inspired the choice of name for this new gallery, and appropriately he opens it with a show of his latest electric 'sculpture’; flashing signals on tall stalks synchronised in syncopation, impassive totems with a relentless message, electro-magnets holding their prey, spanners and metal rods, helplessly hypnotised and quivering in mid air, white spheres which sway and dart ecstatically in an endless ballet where no movement is ever repeated, and glaring cathode ray tubes sending out a sizzling violet glow.

Described by Marcel Duchamp as a ‘gai laboureur des champs magnetiques et indicateur des chemins de fer doux’, electricity seems to spark from his fingers as he recklessly tackles involved circuits and alarmingly high voltages with the wary devotion of a snake charmer taming a particularly deadly specimen. ‘Electricity works like water along pipes’, he says, ‘I never work by the book but just guess by intuition which way it will flow’. In one instance he wanted to get a particular effect by reversing the circuit in a large cathode ray tube. Against the advice of the experimental laboratory of a big electrical combine, which forecast an explosion, he went ahead, hiding behind cover with his Greek assistant. ‘It has been working all right for three months now’, he said, pointing to the machine immediately behind me, and laughing gaily as I moved smartly away. This artist-physicist has a touch of that ham figure the Victorian absent-minded professor, at the same time as the vision of a Leonardo, or more aptly of Archimedes.

His development from sculptor to ‘magnetist’ has been a logical one. His early Gycladic figures seen some time ago at the Hanover Gallery had already that sense of a powerful presence so noticeable in the Charioteer of Delphi, and this was carried over to his totemic figure, with long wavering stalks, seen at the Redfem last year. The build-up of circuits, tubes and moving parts still retains the allusion to some idol; he obviously has some hieratic figure in mind. But this is only a point of departure. Surrounded as the spectator is by a bewildering variety of silent and uncanny movements, of glaring and blinking lights, the room itself becomes galvanised by an overall presence which gradually becomes independent of any particular source. This exteriorisation of Energy itself, fragile yet none the less menacing, has the quality of a phenomenon such as an eclipse of the sun, which is an alarming and sobering experience inducing a certain elation as well.

‘If art has any relation with science or vice versa’, says Takis, ‘it is that they both study either optic phenomena or organic ones. The scientist, in my opinion, must be considered a creator. What preoccupies the contemporary artist is no longer the human body, except for preliminary study, but what becomes of humanity' after these discoveries. For him, human space has been changed by science, and this change has as its consequence a radical change in artistic optics. Telemagnetic sculpture, in which elements are kept in suspension in the air by the force of attraction exerted on them by magnets or electromagnets, coincides perfectly with this change in space’. This artist is then wholly committed to space age Romanticism, obsessed with the magic of the other world, hooked on an electric Utopia. For those who care for escapism, and that means most people, I suggest that they sidestep their own problems in this world and renew their sense of the marvellous by visiting this show and experiencing the presence of pure Energy.

From The Arts Review, 28 November, 1964