Depo Darm Gallery
Nov 14 / 2018 – Jan 14 / 2019
“The clothes I found by the Lake
don’t fit me.” 
In his book Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, Haruki Murakami interweaves two imaginary parallel stories that compete as to which is the most probable version of reality.  One of them takes place in a small town, which is in the centre of a valley and is surrounded by an impenetrable wall. It’s a self-sustained town, where people perform the same tasks every day and the only way to leave is to dive into a dark whirlpool in the nearby forest. The protagonist can’t stare into the sun, and his job is to read fragmented dreams that come our of the archived skulls of domesticated unicorns.
This town, which Murakami calls The End of the World, has many interesting traits. For one, it’s as if it’s frozen in time and never changes. The buildings might be old, but they look like they were photographed and don’t decay. The wall surrounding the town is truly impossible to cross, and one is in danger merely by walking close to it. The people living at The End of the World don’t have names nor memories: they live the same routine every day, and all their needs are covered by the town. The only price one has to pay to become a resident here is to be cut off from their shadow, and by that to lose their Ego and their consciousness of a self.
We probably need a literary reference of two paragraphs to be able to approach the rich and storytelling visual world that Dimitris Fragakis has composed for his third solo show. Because through recent drawings, paintings and sculptures, he too unfolds a story that takes place in an invented place, where the protagonist is constantly wrestling with the shadows and in the mud. In D.F.’s allegorical Lake, figures, images, findings and encounters create a fragmentary narration of a story that is ancient and contemporary at the same time — just like humans are.
“Let’s not underestimate the mud,
let’s meet it first.”
The works at the exhibition have a constant relationship with the watery element. Most sculptures were made initially with clay, but were then cast with resin in the colour of clay. This technique allows the works to retain all the details of the hand’s gestures on them, and also to look like wet clay, as if they have just been formed. The same plasticity is evident in the exhibition’s paintings on various surfaces (metal, wood), where the forms seem fluid and their outlines malleable. Meanwhile, the drawings reference the Lake around which the exhibition’s story takes place, either by showing swimmers or more subtly through the work titles.
Hey Pal 2018
A small sculpture (Hey Pal, 2018) gives the entire exhibition its title: it’s a rectangular volume that has small round incisions on its side like small steps leading to the top, where a male figure is standing on the edge. A second figure is floating in the air next to it, as if coming down from the sky to meet it. This moment of an improbable encounter, where the earthly self meets its divine counterpart, is neither miraculous nor has the scale of a revelation; instead, it happens with a disarming simplicity and without any emphasis, just as one would say hi to their best friend. This innocence with which Dimitris Fragakis pats the infinite on the shoulder is the quintessence of the artist’s experience as an excavator — and also the key for reading all the works in the exhibition and the relationships between them.
Being the realm between fluid and solid, water and earth, the mud is a major part of the exhibition’s aesthetic experience. D.F. describes his work as digging and diving, and as such it defines these works not as the results of invention, but of exhumation. Digging and diving do lead to revelations, but this requires that what they reveal is already there, hidden deep within the earth and the silt of the Lake. This makes the work of art emerge from the body of water or earth as if it preexisted in its entirety before the creative act. It also implies that, as an artist, D.F. doesn’t devise, but pulls images and forms out of the depths of a larger, and possibly timeless, body of ideas and things. By definition, this act requires the absence of any trace of Ego, since it demands of the artist to listen and palpate without judgment — just like the archaeologist unearths little by little with his brush the intricate mosaic floor of an ancient palace.
“The earth has always provided
When Fragakis digs, he’s digging himself. Yet the digging is done with such dedication and care that it imbues each work with a unique density and clarity. When the artist digs, he doesn’t simply find, but he peels off the excess, the superfluous, the unclear. Even the most earthen and chthonian often contains light. And the deeper our artist-cum-diver-cum-tomb-raider descends, the closer he arrives to the archetypical. This descent therefore is above all a process of divination, where the shadows of affect become visible in this world as images. Inevitably, each person’s Lake is at the same time a hall of mirrors, where our face is reflected back to us with delay, to the point where we sometimes think that the person we see coming is someone else.
Poetry, Jannis Kounellis said, is about practice, observation, solitude, speech, image and revolution.  All these are also visible in the work of D.F., since there’s no ascetics without solitude, observation without reason and image without a practice. As for revolution, in Hey Pal we won’t find any grand gestures or an overflow of energy and emotion. But this exact restraint, introspection and pensiveness are an act of resistance much more radical than any explosive revolt. At a time when the contemporary collective mind is spilled on the sidewalk like pink ooze consisting of vapid images on social media and the 8 o’clock news, D.F. is labouring alone, completes one more circle around his Lake and rubs the nerve endings that stand exposed in the open wound of consciousness.
Work Suit 2018
“So what if you discover the research
of someone else?”
The solitude of the work at the Lake is sometimes interrupted by meetings with people and figures, who sometimes entertain their melancholy with humour and a general sense of euphoria. Some of these meetings are between the viewer and the persons depicted in the works, but elsewhere we observe the interaction between the characters from afar. This constant shifting between participation and observation gives the exhibition a rhythm that passes constantly from the third person to the first, and moves the centre of narrative action closer to the viewer.
While exploring these works, the viewer will find himself in front of traces of activity by others who were there before him. Scattered tools of artistic excavation and diving — like an enigmatic oar, a shortened ruler and a collection of miniature tools — imply that someone else was at work here, and that this work can be continued by us. Of course, the clothes you might find by the Lake probably won’t fit you, but when you wear them you will have entered a different space and will see the world from a different vantage point. This strange feeling of belonging-but-awkwardly is evident in D.F.’s swimmers: their adult and bulky bodies have small, child-like heads, like boys that grew up very suddenly.
In the sculptures that were made with clay, the storytelling is even more intense through the presence of many faces, objects and an architectural approach to their spacing. Their main characteristic however is that they depict a critical moment, a turning point within a personal story that froze in time. The work with the kiss is typical in that sense (Come Back, It’s Friday, 2018): its composition and dream-like unfolding remind a lot of the plaster studies with the Sleeping Maid in the Forest by Greek sculptor Halepas. On the work’s highest point, a flying form gives a quick kiss to another form that smiles content. On a lower level and next to a tool in real size, another figure is observing them, expressionless. The whole scene gives the sense of a dream or a vision, but also of something fleeting: for Halepas, the plaster works were studies in preparation of the final works in marble, which he never finished. The same disposition for play, personal expression and exploration is seen in D.F.’s works in clay, as if they too are studies for a moment of perfection that will never come, since the artist is aware that effort and action is where the essence of poetry lies.
“When you wash the mud from your hands,
you make the water dirty.”
The “work of our hands”, as Hannah Arendt says, is different from the “labour of our bodies” in that the first gives works (objects) that remain, whereas the second is consumed in its own self. In the case of the artist-ascetic, the difference between the two is not always visible. And that because very often the artist labours without an immediate result: he practices and learns as he moves towards a moment where he will be able to create something so concise and expressively penetrating that will become part of the permanent world of humans. The Lake therefore is defined by repetition, the constant circles and the mapping (always haptic, always monochrome) of the field of study and practice at hand. Every plunge in the depths of the Lake stirs the mud at the bottom. And every thing that the hand makes to be destroyed comes a step closer to that which someday the hand will make to remain.
If art is a constant exercise in dissolving the Ego, then “the works of our hands” are bookmarks that help us find out way again every time we get lost in the mud. It’s impossible not to make the water of consciousness dirty if we want to learn how on earth we’re supposed to live in this world with satisfaction. This is why the works of our dirty hands are perhaps not only our cleanest job, but also our most necessary. Besides:
“What humans find confirms
the concept of the possible.”
Kiriakos Spirou / Art Writer
Athens, October 2018
 All the phrases in brackets that separate the text sections are from Dimitris Fragakis’ own notes.
 The book was first published in 1985 and was also translated into the Greek.
 Jannis Kounellis, 1990. Odyssée Lagunaire — Écrits et Entretiens,1966-1989. Editions Daniel Lelong, Paris. The quote is from the Greek translation, published by Agra Editions and Bernier Gallery, Athens.
Artwork Photography Credits: pSari visual – Lazaros Grekos
Exhibition Views Photography Credits: Christoforos Doulgeris
My interview at Athens Voice by Stefanos Tsitsopoulos: www.athensvoice.gr/Hey_Pal