Log in

No account? Create an account
click opera
February 2010
Mon, Apr. 6th, 2009 09:47 am
Myth and mystery of the house at Messagros

The Rodakis house at Messagros on the Greek island of Aegina has noisy curators and a silent creator. Surmounted by the figures of a pig, a clock, a snake and a pigeon -– symbolising fortune, time, evil and peace -- the house was built in about 1880 by a craftsman-sculptor-farmer, Alexandros Rodakis. Apart from his name, nobody knows much about Rodakis. There isn't even a photograph; all we have are the symbols, figures and inscriptions he built into his house.

The Rodakis house on Aegina provides a nice example of how fame works, but also how fame alone isn't enough to save something. The house currently lies in a state of semi-dereliction; the latest celebrations are a Facebook group called Save Rodakis' House and a 12-minute art video by the Berlin artist Olaf Nicolai (brother of Carsten "Alva Noto" Nicolai, the artist and minimalist electronic musician).

The Rodakis House started to get famous when the German archaeologist Adolf Furtwängler happened upon it while working on the nearby Temple of Aphaia Athena in about 1905. Furtwängler sent pictures of the Rodakis house to Munich, where Austrian architect and pro-Modernist critic Adolf Loos saw it, and slipped an approving mention into one of his essays. It was also in Munich that a Greek, Dimitris Pikionis, got interested in what we might call the house's "Shinto" aspects -- harmony with nature, implicit spiritual links between agriculture and the cosmos, "emotional topography".

Soon others were talking about the house in their architecture monographs: Siegfried Gideon and Le Corbusier, K. Frieslander, Julio Kaimi. Since the house's creator had left no trace beyond what he'd carved into the building itself, anyone could say whatever they liked about the mysterious site. Each writer brought his or her own fetishes to bear. And so the myth grew, and is still growing here under my fingertips (I'm the first, I think, to call the house "Shinto").

I caught my first glimpse of the house in Olaf Nicolai's video Rodakis, shown at the first Athens Biennial. It's a twelve minute film, a calm and beautiful pseudo-documentary. Nicolai makes a virtue of necessity; since we know nothing of the origins of this villa, the narrator in his film -- calmly authoritative yet, it soon emerges, deeply unreliable -- tells us lies, half-truths, speculations, crazy stuff.

In the tradition of Marcel Schwob's imaginary lives (pop fact: the first Momus EP announced itself as "the first in a series of immoral tales and imaginary lives", a reference to Leopardi and to Schwob), the film's narrative creates "a metaphysics of classification", a portrait of a man unknown, revealed through a lovely but spooky house-without-inhabitants. Eventually a psychic is brought in to tell us what was on Rodakis' mind. If we're to believe this psychic, the mysterious craftsman disappeared soon after finishing his house, and committed suicide.

There is one enigmatic clue to what Rodakis was really thinking. Above the fanned flagstones of the winepress, near the outhouse designed for an oven, a poem can still be read on the wall:

Better if Man
was a cold stone than
now that he possesses mediation,
he has Norms and discretion.
I learnt to live (?)
OH 1891 AH


Mon, Apr. 6th, 2009 11:46 am (UTC)

Entirely off topic:

Having signed up to Spotify, I thought I'd see which Momus songs were most popular. It turned out to be easy to tell because only "La di dah" from "A Very Magistery Valentine" is there.

Spotify is no use for your US & Japanese audiences at the moment but it is available widely in Europe so it might be a Good Thing to have your work up on the service if it realy does turn out to be the future of music.


Mon, Apr. 6th, 2009 11:56 am (UTC)

Originally there was quite a lot of Momus on Spotify, but then a month ago it all got taken off. You should have words with Cherry Red: even if Spotify doesn't turn out to be the future, it is definitely the "hot" thing of the moment.

ReplyThread Parent

Mon, Apr. 6th, 2009 03:04 pm (UTC)
Paul Haig Day.

I don't know if you are aware or care but today is Paul Haig Day.


Herbal T

Mon, Apr. 6th, 2009 03:25 pm (UTC)
Re: Paul Haig Day.

I was aware of that, but every day here at Click Opera is Paul Haig day.

Well, I exaggerate, but these days were:



ReplyThread Parent
Mon, Apr. 6th, 2009 04:10 pm (UTC)
symbols, figures and inscriptions

There is something positively Borgesian about that house! Ancient, blind, elemental. In the world, but not of it. Suggesting mystery, or perhaps madness. Playful, yet like hearing a joke in a language we don't speak; or spoke when we were young, and have long since forgotten.

Wanting to understand its provenance we slowly come to realize that no one built it, or rather, we all did.

Mon, Apr. 6th, 2009 04:13 pm (UTC)
Re: symbols, figures and inscriptions


The garden's grillwork gate
opens with the ease of a page
in a much thumbed book,
and, once inside, our eyes
have no need to dwell on objects
already fixed and exact in memory.
Here habits and minds and the
private language
all families invent
are everyday things to me.
What necessity is there to speak
or pretend to be someone else?
The whole house knows me,
they're aware of my worries and weakness.
This is the best that can happen--
what Heaven perhaps will grant us:
not to be wondered at or required to succeed
but simply to be let in
as part of an undeniable Reality,
like stones of the road, like trees.

--Jorge Luis Borges

ReplyThread Parent
Mon, Apr. 6th, 2009 04:14 pm (UTC)
Re: symbols, figures and inscriptions

My pet theory here is that the house was discovered because it was near the Temple of Aphaia Athena -- which attracted architects and archeologists -- but also got its character from its proximity to the temple. That happens -- in Orkney, for instance, at the Ring of Brodgar, you see standing stones and inscriptions, half-humourous, slightly twee, slightly mystical, in people's gardens nearby. You never quite know if they're real standing stones or just tributes erected to fox the tourists.

ReplyThread Parent
Mon, Apr. 6th, 2009 07:50 pm (UTC)
again last night I dreamed the dream called momus

I had a vivid momus dream last night. In it, you were visiting America and wanted a place to stay and I offered you my house. You were wearing a gold eye-patch, and loose flowing blue robes. And my house wasn't my house, but a rather generic looking library that had obviously been built sometime in the seventies -- red brick and endless metal shelves. We were all sitting on an institutional looking sofa, like something you might find in a doctor's waiting room, and there was a bank of computer screens nearby, all occupied by the strangers who filled the library. Oh, and Kuma was there, dressed in jeans and a white shirt. Somehow we were old friends who had grown up together. I told him a joke and he laughed. His beard was long and unkempt. Maybe it was a flannel shirt.

As we sat on the sofa, you asked where the hot spots were, and I said -- "we don't have any," but you kept pushing so I said, "all I know is an ancient mountain path, but it leads nowhere." (I wanted to call it the Inca trail, but knew that was wrong) You both jumped up excitedly and wanted to see it. Here the dream began to drift and tangle and change and you looked back and waved as you walked out the door, and I knew, in the logic of dreams, that I would never see you again.

Then I was alone and the library had changed and transformed into my middle school, but again, not my middle school. It was nighttime. I wandered the halls, but all the doors were locked. As I rounded each corner I could see strange figures dressed in black doing something to the doors, but they always receded as I drew near, and reappeared again as I turned each corner.

Edited at 2009-04-06 11:35 pm (UTC)

ReplyThread Parent

Mon, Apr. 6th, 2009 05:27 pm (UTC)

Mon, Apr. 6th, 2009 08:10 pm (UTC)

That's a pretty good sound.

ReplyThread Parent
Cheryll Cruz
Sun, Apr. 26th, 2009 11:38 pm (UTC)

You have a great post, very informational