A writer known primarily from “Zorba the Greek”, a cinematic adaptation of one of his novels, Nikos Kazantzakis was in fact a prolific and deeply philosophical author who was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature nine times. One of his most spiritual and famous books is “Ascesis: The Saviours of God” (known as Askitiki in Greek), which is a series of spiritual exercises on the nature of human existence. The text of Ascesis was the starting point for curator Dimitris Paleokrassas to curate the exhibition “Flying Over the Abyss”, currently on display at a newly refurbished cavernous space in the basement of the Athens Conservatoire.
Organised by NEON and featuring exclusively works from the D. Daskalopoulos Collection, “Flying Over the Abyss” presents work from 34 Greek and foreign artists organised in six different sections. The exhibition borrows its title from a Kazantzakis quote taken from the introduction of Ascesis, where he describes human life as an escape from the dark abyss of non-existence into the light of life: in response, all the works at the exhibition negotiate the dynamic implied in this image, where an upwards movement towards the light is in constant antithesis to the downwards spiral of entropy.
“We come from a dark abyss, we end up in a dark abyss; the bright inbetween we call Life.” -Nikos Kazantzakis
The exhibition includes the original manuscript of Ascesis (which is presented in such a context for the first time), as well as a newly commissioned work by composers Yiorgos Koumentakis and Stavros Gasparatos, which marks a collaboration between NEON and the Greek National Opera. Starting from the moment of birth and the painful coming into the world, the exhibition examines issues of creativity, human relationships and our constant negotiation with our own mortality, but without being macabre or pessimistic. Instead, “Flying Over the Abyss” positively fulfils its title, and takes us on an inspiring journey above the troubles of human nature, pointing to the higher goals and meanings that make our lives worth living.