A distant memory and an artwork

George Sfougaras 3 months ago

Reliquary II

Reconstructed book. 21 x 17 x 2 cm

2018 reworked 2022

The first time I saw a reliquary was as a child in the beautiful church, a converted Ottoman mosque of St. Titus in Herakleion.

I knew little about the history of the building, the significance of its conversion, and indeed even less about St. Titus.  The old man looking from the icon in the church was to be respected and revered. The reliquary that contained his scull on the other hand seemed to me then as it does still, like a frightening and violent way to venerate him. The holy relic resides inside a beautiful golden jewel-encrusted reliquary, displayed in the small chapel room to the left of the vestibule. It was in Venice from the time of the Ottoman conquest of the city in 1669 until 1962 when it was felt ‘safe’ to return it to Crete.  A rather scruffy, handwritten note framed to the right of the object tells the visitors about the return of the holy treasure to its rightful place.

The small book that I used to make the ‘reliquary’ was very badly weathered and thus repurposing it seemed less problematic.  Its original title ‘By the Sea’ alludes to the location of Heraklion, a great walled city that looked to Venice’s great fleet to protect it, but ultimately was conquered by the sea. The images are inspired by votive offerings and the silver embellishments on icons. The inside of the book thus is the precious part, the front cover is plain and humble. I wanted to connect this with the heavily bejeweled bibles that the priest read from. I saw some magnificent versions in Athens at the Byzantine Museum, which I wish I had come across earlier...

It does still disturb me to see these depictions of great wealth and ostentation within the church and religious art in general, whilst many are experiencing financial hardship. There is also something mysterious for me in the idea of reliquaries and other holy artefacts containing hidden relics or embodying messages of religious piety.

On reflection there is something rather disappointing in my book, its original text is now rendered illegible, and its insides transformed.  I found creating this object compelling and enjoyable, but ultimately, despite the ornamentation, something precious is lost and on another level a new object, a new way of seeing a new artefact with the purpose of making us ask questions about content, intention, wealth, and artifice.

The book is now fixed open, unable to close, unable to contain anything hidden. It is my attempt to comment on the experiences of a child bewildered by the mysterious objects that he had no words for, no conceptual scaffold, and which were explained by the equally mysterious actions of those around, him rather than in concrete verbal terms.