Takis, Sculptor of Magnetism, Sound and Light, 25 October 1925 to 9 August 2019

Post by Sue Lewis

A major exhibition of multi-media sculptures by Takis—nickname of Panayiotis Vassilakis—began at Tate Modern on 3 July and continues until 27 October 2019.

Self-educated Takis, who left war-torn Greece to join artists and intellectuals in Paris in 1954, was a bold and original voice of the 1960s. He frequently visited London, had a studio in the King’s Road in 1964, and the artists-run gallery Signals London (1964-66) was named after his antennae-like sculptures with flashing lights, honouring his approach to art as energy that uplifts its viewers. Besides electromagnetism, Takis tapped into sounds of nature and music of the spheres. His voice resounded through a megaphone to the beat of the era. Later he returned to Athens, where he built a house and studio that would become the Takis Foundation, Research Centre for the Arts and Sciences, but he regarded himself as “a citizen of the world”.

Earlier this year, the elderly Greek artist, when asked for his opinion of the forthcoming show at the Tate, said with wry prescience, “It is too late”. Sadly, a notice states that Takis contributed to its layout but died in Athens on 9 August. His light went out on the day when the UK suffered a major power cut that undoubtedly switched off his exhibition. The legacy of this thinking artist, part engineer, part mythologist, is pertinent to our crazy summer, for it shifts the mind away from egocentric ambitions and commercial greed to reflections on our collapsing political, economic and ecological systems despite our global interconnectedness.

Takis was born in Athens on 25 October 1925, so far as I know without a recorded time of birth. Confusingly, an alternative date of 29 October is cited by Wikipedia, but more online evidence, including an entry in Greek, supports 25 October and I have put up his natal chart for noon.

In the aspect structure we can see a pyramid with more than one secret entrance. There are two quadrilaterals based on the opposition of Jupiter at 15°55 Capricorn and Pluto at 14°44 Cancer. With Saturn at 15°10 Scorpio and Venus at 15°55 Sagittarius they create a Megaphone with mutable input from Mercury at 13°02 Scorpio, conjunct Saturn but outside a semi-sextile orb with Venus. Jupiter and Pluto also make a Provocative figure with Venus and Mars at 17°20 Libra, assembling all four elements in a perceptive fixed pattern, giving the artist a high level of concentration. All six planets in these configurations are strong in the centre of their signs, indicative of dynamic practical thinking, eagerness to communicate, and a spur to action however hard the task.

Sun at the start of Scorpio problematically squares the Nodal Axis in the nativity of an artist who looked back to Plato’s philosophy and ancient Egypt’s durable granite structures for inspiration while also plunging forward, breaking conventions of contemporary art by introducing the communicating energies of electromagnetism, light and sound as raw materials for multi-dimensional sculpture. Magnetism creates a small gap of empty space between the magnet and the floating metallic object where energy in concentrated. This still of a Magnetic Ballet—comprising a ball suspended from the ceiling swivelling around an electromagnetic base—conveys only a fraction of its mesmerizing power in perpetual motion.

The version of Musical Magnetic Fields on display at Tate Modern has seven panels arranged like ancient columns in a semi-circular space that resonates with sound vibrations and pauses of silence, and the gallery is to be congratulated for giving such installations the room to be effective.

Oppositions—such as sound and silence, darkness and light, on and off switches—attract, depend upon and balance each other. Writing about Takis, Guy Brett cites Carl Jung: “The psyche is made up of processes whose energy springs from the equilibrium of all kinds of opposites”. His sculptures are provocative but don’t just stir things up, they stimulate wonder and reflection. Always politically active and socially engaged, he challenges our view of the world and our relationship with the environment by transforming technologies of warfare and environmental destruction into objects of beauty and contemplation, as in his early work Radar (1960).

In his 1961 autobiography, Estafilades (Slashes), Takis wrote: “I was always enchanted by aerodromes and their great radars, which turned slowly searching for metallic objects hovering in space. It is as if they were gigantic instruments recording cosmic events… If only with an instrument like radar I could capture the music of the beyond… If this object could capture and transmit sounds as it turned, my imagination would be victorious”.

Music played an increasingly important role in his later creations, as he continued to work with fragments from warfare. For example, he transformed the rusted wall of a tanker into the huge Gong (1978) that takes centre stage in a major multi-media composition with a black Electromagnetic Sphere (1979), left, a silver Musical Sphere (1985), right, and two Signals illuminating the background of a mise-en-scène whose electronic box triggers a sequence of sounds, lights and rotations, drawing spectators into a mesmerizing ritual performance.

Referring to his astrological chart and recent death—just a week ago, as I write—notably, Takis lived beyond transiting Pluto in Capricorn in opposition to natal Pluto in Cancer, in 2015, long enough to bring his legacy to London with an exhibition of whose layout he approved. He died when transiting Saturn was at 15°07 Capricorn conjunct natal Jupiter, opposition natal Pluto, sextile natal Saturn and semi-sextile natal Venus (conjunct transiting Jupiter). There was also a quincunx between that central degree of Capricorn to transiting Sun-conjunct-Venus in mid-Leo, while transiting Mars was exactly in conjunction with unaspected natal Neptune at 24°28 Leo. His physical life came to a close but his message lives on.