Ancient Greek Island of Delos gets its first contemporary art installation

Ancient Greek Island of Delos gets its first contemporary art installation
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The small island of Delos, off the coast of Mykonos, has long offered one of the most unique windows into the world of ancient Greeks. The island invites visitors to roam among its ancient sanctuaries, homes, and structures that date back to the great island’s history as a religious, political and commercial center in Greece. Back in the 8th century B.C., the island was thriving. Today, however, tiny as it is, it boasts one of the most important archaeological sites in Greece.

Modern life has been rare, or almost completely absent, on the island, but that has recently changed. British contemporary artist Antony Gormley has installed a series of sculptures on the island, marking the very first time in over 5,000 years that Delos sees new artworks.

Titled “SIGHT”, the installation includes 29 of Gormley’s signature body figures, which are life-sized sculptures that Gormley creates based on casts of his body. Five of them were commissioned specifically for the island. All sculptures can be found dispersed around the site’s ancient temples, theatres, agoras and rocky terrain that always looks out onto the sea.

“To be limited to the academic reading of any site’s historical significance is rather old-fashioned,” Demetrios Athanasoulis, head of the department of antiquities in the Cyclades, told the Guardian. Demetrios hopes that the installations will help visitors engage with the ancient land in new ways.

Bringing the installations over to the historic island was no simple task. Delos has been a sacred place in Greece, considered to be the birthplace of Apollo and his sister Artemis. During the classical times, the island served as the headquarters of the Delian League, which was a military alliance of ancient Greek states. After being declared a free port in 167 B.C., it thrived to become a major commercial hub. The island is now a UNESCO World Heritage Monument. It took the municipality and Demetrios’ team over a year to figure out the best way to install the sculptures and not cause any damage to the island’s delicate archaeology.

One Gormley sculpture was mounted on a replica of an ancient column, for example. The artificial stone was added to support the sculptures because the native rocks are considered to be sacred. When they attempted to install a work from “Another Time,” a series of 100 bodyforms, in the sea north of the island, it was hit by “force-seven gales and waves of up to three or four metres,” Gormley told the Art Newspaper.

Gormley’s signature bodyforms have seen a widely succesful reception around the world, from Scottish rivers to the rooftops of Manhattan. Much of the artist’s works deal with the relationship of the body to space and time, making the ancient island of Delos an ideal place for the installation. Gormley won the Turner prize in 1994 and was knighted in 2013. In an interview with the Guardian, Gormley said that the experience has been “an amazing privilege and extraordinary responsibility.”