Andreas Embirikos

Andreas Embirikos (1901-1975) came from a wealthy family as his father was an important ship-owner. He was born in Braila, Romania, but his family soon moved to Ermoupolis in Syros, and after, when Embirikos was seven years old, to Athens. While he was still a teenager his parents divorced; he started studying Philosophy at the Athens University, but he decided to move to Lausanne to stay with his mother. The following years Embirikos studied a variety of subjects both in France and in the United Kingdom; however it was in Paris where he decided to study psychoanalysis together with René Laforgue. In 1929 he became interested in automatic writing of the surrealists. In 1935 he gave the famous lecture “On surrealism” in Athens and published Ypsikaminos, a pure surrealist text, a heretic book characterized by the lack of the punctuation and the peculiarity of the language. His poetry can be defined by two major tendencies. On the one hand, he was one of the major representatives of surrealism in Greece. On the other hand, together with Yorgos Seferis, Embirikos was the most important representative of the generation of the 1930s. He contributed greatly to the introduction of modernism in Greek letters.


Greece has always been a source, a destination, a metaphor, even a black hole of a kind, “such is its gravitational force” (as Eleanor Antin recently remarked). It has also been a blessing and an anathema for its own people, especially for those who, during the last seventy years, have tried to adjust their creative aspirations and hopes to the reality of the country’s struggling role in the region and precarious economic performance.

The work of Embirikos -literary, photographic and psychoanalytic- deals with the “Greek trauma”. With a frenzied sense of humor and well-meant boldness, he writes the genealogy of his “undisciplined Saints” (of the modern “Holy Children”, from Azariah and Mishael to Engels and Mayakovski), trying to combine what is genuinely imaginary with the simple fact. In Fotofrachtis (Shutter) (written in 1960 and included in his Oktana collection) Embirikos correlates the act of photography with daydreaming, not as nostalgia or longing for death, but in the sense of reconciliation with the paradox of time, as a blistering dive in the restless consistency of things. In his unparalleled description of a funeral, taking place under a relentlessly burning sun, in the poem At Filellinon Street (Oktana), the poet-photographer captures in the form of an “instantaneous revelation” the reason that Greek sorrow evaporates: the blazing heat is the reason behind the strange clarity, the “bustling” light. The “glory of the Greeks” is attributed to the fact that they were the first to “have transformed the fear of death into the verve of life”.



Nadja Argyropoulou


Untitled, 1938-1940, C-print, Printed 2011, courtesy Faggionato Fine Arts, London
Untitled, c. 1938-1940, C-print, Printed 2011, courtesy Faggionato Fine Arts, London

Untitled (12th Istanbul Biennial), 2011 Biennale de Lyon