Cycladic Aesthetic: The Birth of Light
Cycladic style is marked by clean lines, cubist-type habitations, and a minimalism that is reflected in the design both outside and inside structures. The materials used: Paleolithic marble stones, wood, and white-wash (asbestos in Greek which has nothing to do with the fatal if inhaled asbestos building material of the US). Cycladic towns from far look as if Picasso as a toddler had stacked white cubes in a random order experimenting with square balance against a slope.
The white of the Cycladic aesthetic is so pure, it is blinding. It draws its power from the rays of the powerful Aegean. Azure accents counterbalances the clean white cuts of lines by rounding out domes, window shutters, doors and frames. The Cycladic aesthetic mandates simplicity, purity of line, minimalist decoration, allowing the essence of the marble stone, the whiteness of the line, the predictableness of the shape to speak boldly. It demands purity of form, line, and material. It is an architectural and interior design well suited to tranquilize the hurly burly of post-modern life. The philosophy behind Cycladic design is the search for purity—pure line, pure shape, pure color—making it quite ideal and idealized in that sense. It strips away at both the physical and mental clutter to get to the source, the essence of the thing and as such it becomes very therapeutic for the modern mind overwhelmed by senseless ephemera, digital overload, and so much useless nonsense. It literally strips life to the bare bones and brings it back to a primal state. And because of this it is recharging and vivifying.
The Cycladic aesthetic dates back to a period of time approximately 5000 years before the modern day; the Cycladic period has been dated from approximately 3200 BC to roughly 1100 BC, and is divided in the early, middle and late periods. It was during the early Cycladic period when settlements scattered across the Cycladic archipelago began to produce statuettes, known as “eidola” or idols, so minimal and clean in their design they seem post-modern. The “Kouros” and “Kori” stylized male and female forms stand upright on thin legs squeezed together supporting a triangular torso with arms entwined clutching either the belly or lower breast. Except for a long triangular nose, their faces are stylized smooth and solid without much adornment. Even prehistorically, the Cyclades were known for smooth lines without refinement. These idols archeologists propose were made as votive offerings to a mother-earth goddess.
Panos Archolekas, an artist and long-time inhabitant of Ios island, states, “It is not by coincidence that the birth of Apollo, the god of light, took place on Delos in the Cyclades. Apollo, he who is born as light, brings light to the Cyclades with his birth which is diachronic and not spontaneous. The birth of this god of light, of order, of harmony, who brings meter, form and structure the hallmarks of all creative art, is the center of this circle of islands. It is this circular synthesis with Delos, the birth of Apollo as its center, that forms the intertwining of the elements and becomes the ultimate circle that is the primal structure for the entire universe. This source of all light like the event of his birth is spread throughout his entire community. Apollo, like the sun, is the center of the Cyclades. Thus, all things begin from this– the meter, music, the harmony which ties the Cyclades with the wind, the sea, the waves, the rocks and on the other hand the earth of the Cyclades, the olives, the wheat, with the grapevine. From this simple and ascetic life, people create a great ideology which is demonstrated by their statues, the Cycladic eidolia. ”
Panos Archolekas notes that these creations are “hymns to the deity of fertility as they clutch their bellies, in a gesture of protection for the sacred belly, the source of fertility.” From the Cyclades spring certain super energies sourced from the divinity, which are then refashioned in humanity thus creating the balance of light, wind, sea, mountain, the stars, the galaxy, the whole universe. There is found the harmony of the Cycladic spirit.
The Cycladic aesthetic is extremely important to the modern world because people are passing through many synthetic man-made which blur the truth. “The human being is not an animal,” Archolekas reminds us, “and cannot function as an animal; he/she is a thinking being, according to the ancients. He cannot be forced to follow a carrot.” The Cycladic ideal brings us back to the human spirit. It brings us back to the basics, the pure ancient beauty, the primal form that begins with the sacred.
Despina Consta, proprietor of Liostasis, continues the Cycladic aesthetic into the décor of her posh 3-star hotel located in Chora’s Old Town. Following a plot of illuminated olive trees from the parking lot, the cool white lines of an exterior wall lead into the minimalism of the reception hall. Designed by a theatrical set designer, the hotel features very natural materials, white-stucco stone, natural wood, accented with silver metals. “Our ancestors lived in rhythm with nature,” Consta explains, “T hey used the bare minimum from the rugged landscape around them to construct very symmetrical minimalist spaces. This appeals to us even today. The Cyclades have always had a fascination even obsession with lights, especially the bright white of the buildings and the streets. They tried to keep the cleanness of line and color always.”
Consta keeps the traditional folktools alive in the décor of her hotel as she features the wooden trays with mesh that Niotes used to take the traditional sesame-honey crunch, pasteli, out of the wood oven. Her hotel features some of the features of a Cycladic house: the “parathoures”, the small oval recessed shelving units used for storage, the wood burning oven also recessed into the white rock, and old-fashioned coffee containers that housed a shelf for hot charcoal at their base.
This is what the Cycladic aesthetic aims to do—bring the post-modern man back to the the basic. It seeks to find the ancient beauty, the primal form that always begins with the sacred. It carries an amazing raw energy that is elemental drawing from the primal essences—earth, wind, fire, water, and light. Light infuses and diffuses throughout the Cycladic kingdom to create a realm of grace and powerful joy. It begins and ends with the light.