Greek artist Chrysi Amanatiadou combines art with neuroscience
Updated: Dec 9, 2019
Visual artist Chrysi Amanatiadou and I grew up together. My childhood, adolescence, college life and adulthood is filled with memories of her, with youthful folly, with laughs—countless laughs—with playing, with stories, with arguments and with adventures. We were both moulded in Goumenissa with the images of Mount Paiko, the smell of must, its Brass Bands, its customs and traditions, its colours, its people. There we learnt to love unconditionally, to forgive, to assert ourselves, to create, to resolve our differences, to laugh loudly.
Memory #1: Climbing trees in order to steal “afuzia” (that's how we call green plums). Listening to frantic parents shouting: “We have so many 'afuzia'! What do you want with somebody else's 'afuzia'?”
Memory #2: She broke my arm in an attempt to learn… figure skating on dreadful ice and a few years later I broke her leg. Of course, not in retaliation, but in order to save her life! During a wild chase in the school yard, she climbed on high ground, stumbled, I caught her in the air to avoid breaking her head, but in the end… she broke her leg. Every time I see a cast, I remember Chrysi.
Memory #3: After an “adventure” on the mountain (that's how we used to call hiking), still teenagers, singing and dancing in the middle of the road “syrtos” and “baidouska” (Greek folk dances), or even… the song of Christos Dantis: “Shut up, get out of my mind, shadows don't talk”.
Memory #4: Writing letters to each other—she studied in Florence, I studied in Thessaloniki. It was the time of correspondence decline—but it was an old-fashioned way of communication and we liked it. If somebody looks for my letters, they can never be found—she burnt all her correspondence just before she left Italy, as an indication of separation from the past. When I found out about this, all the primitive instincts were awakened in me… I wanted to strangle her! I still have her letters!
Memory #5: Paiko Half Marathon—she was one of the initiators of this event, I was a volunteer awarding the participants commemorative medals. Cold weather, wine and chestnuts.
Countless memories. She was a rebellious child, I was the exact opposite. Chrysi went through her adolescence with conflicts, I went through it in isolation, silence and sadness. The female Che Guevara and the Emo. We tried to understand the world, we found our balance, we loved giving nicknames to ourselves and to others, all along we used to hang out a lot, I always admired her rebelliousness, the strength of her mind, the way that she sought the truth, her authenticity.
“From very early on, even since my adolescence, I realised that art would be a voice of freedom for me. The path that would allow me to act without any limitation of thought in whatever I wanted to do in my life. Since my childhood I was told that I was rebellious, because I wanted to learn the world through my own knowledge and not through the authority of other people. My mind resonated with art, so right after I completed the first three years of secondary school, I immediately started preparing for the School of Fine Arts.”
Both of us found refuge in art.
“The period I lived in Italy is the most unique experience of my life, that had a deep impact on me”, she writes to me.
“Suddenly, when I was 19 years old, I found myself living in Florence—that's quite a change! I had the privilege to study in one of the most beautiful European cities, in the mother of the Renaissance, and I deeply thank my parents who supported me in this. There I took my first steps and started experimenting with the materials that have come to represent my work today.”
“In Florence I used to live next to Careggi University Hospital and I had good contact with the radiologists, with whom we shared the same enthusiasm for the “imaging” of the human body. They used to print for me first-rate radiographs, so I built up a very large portfolio of different types of imaging techniques, like mammograms, computed tomographic (CT), magnetic resonance (MR), panoramic dental x-rays, coronary angiograms. For example, in coronary angiograms—with the help of a contrast agent—the three major coronary arteries are depicted, which can be seen in an exciting movement. Even the heart glimmers in all this movement, which is distinguished in such a subtle and impressive aesthetically way, that the coronary angiogram by itself is a piece of art in my opinion! I have made a work of art adjusting my grandmother's coronary angiogram in movement, combining a display in a design piece, placed on a chestnut wooden beam from an old Macedonian house. I named it Plexus Cardiacus and is one of my favourites.”
After our studies, I set off for Athens and the big capitals of the world, while Chrysi left the big capitals of the world in order to return to our home country.
“I love very much and respect deeply the place where I grew up, Goumenissa! For me it's a very special place, with an indescribable beauty complemented by the lovely landscape of Mount Paiko. I consider myself lucky to have grown up in such a beautiful and safe environment. Everything I have become as a human being starts from here… from my home town! I chose very consciously after many years to come back to all this beauty—besides, all the important people of my life are here. For me this feeling is of vital importance… From my house everywhere I look I can see Mount Paiko and in one minute I can walk on paths towards the river.”
Does she ever regret coming back to our old haunts?
“I cannot live far away from my home town. I was never really a city person! For me Mount Paiko is the beginning and the end, my refuge. The smell of the earth, especially when it's wet after rain has fallen… the scents of trees and leaves, the fragrance of must and winter air are deeply engraved on my mind. I have never felt cut off from the developments because I chose to live in the country. Once, people in the artistic field advised me that I should choose to settle down in Athens, if I wanted to grow as an artist and to create. One more urban myth. You can create where your mind can fire creation, in the environment that inspires you!”
So, at some point, “rebellious” Chrysi, who chose to leave behind her the artistic salons of Florence, who could rarely sit in the classroom like a little angel, who made the desks of the school sigh of crib sheets, lyrics, her sketches, for one more time makes a great overturning and announces that she is going to work as an art teacher in secondary education.
“I love school. I have always loved it. Working in education is a day to day confrontation with myself. We are educators, and this is a great responsibility. Every day the future of this country is in our hands. The power of creativity builds people who learn to believe in themselves, and I believe in my students' creativity. I constantly encourage them to discover it.”
“Unfortunately, artistic education in Greek schools is very undervalued… Workshops don't even exist! This is a major limitation on the range of activities and materials that we, art teachers, could develop with the children inside the classroom. Artists have workshops! It's vital! We shouldn't have to discuss the obvious at schools! I wish also the Ministry of Education could understand this…”
Modern scientific research fields—especially in the area of neuroscience—have pushed her in a creative quest. In her work the importance of studying human anatomy and physiology is quite eminent—especially the study and mapping of the human brain and its evolution over time.
“Over the years, I feel that I have learnt a lot through my daily contact with teenagers. I believe that all this chemistry gives feedback to my creative quest at school, but also at my workshop! I love bringing in the class the enthusiasm of a new idea. All this knowledge that I have gained from the study of neuroscience has clearly opened up new application horizons in the class. For example, we make a drawing using the opposite hand… and the results are impressive, confirming for one more time the capabilities of the human brain. Furthermore, children follow with enthusiasm.”
“Science has fascinated me all my life, I keep up with it closely, it's my great love! Art and science have a lot in common. Both spring from the deep creativity of the human brain! They have always been pioneers, even when societies were not ready and willing to follow them. Art and science have no “musts”, only quest… and Knowledge! They don't love compromise!”
“The materials that I use give the impression that my works of art are… more or less “surgical” and therefore I understand why my work is especially beloved in the medical field. In my last work, which is autobiographical, with the title Vagus Nerve Stimulation, I have added spondylodesis (spinal fusion) materials, that were placed in my nape in order to stabilise the A4 A5 vertebrae. Such beautiful materials… but, unfortunately, very expensive! Therefore… never throw away materials that were once inside you… give them to me, for sure, they won't be wasted!”
“I like using a great variety of materials, I want to experiment constantly. All this complexity triggers my interest. I never liked the conventional use of materials, I feel that it limits my own narration. Combining the materials with an idea and getting a desirable visual arts result is like a chemical formula. The pairing of the radiograph with wood, glass, leather, the yarns and the colours, plus the designing part is a constant challenge. Moreover, don't forget that you need to keep in mind the constant change of the materials in space and time, as well as the interaction among them. Especially wood—when unprocessed, that is, the way that I work with it— is an unpredictable and difficult material.”
Chrysi works mainly with chestnut wood, which is abundant in the big chestnut forest of Mount Paiko, but also with pieces of wood that she finds buried or discarded here and there: on the mountain, in abandoned houses, in watermills, in the river.
“It's about a material that narrates a story. It carries memories, moments and smells of people that are not here any longer, laughs, fears, wars. Many of my works of art are made of pieces of wood that carry a history of at least 250 years. I'm fascinated by the material that has aged… I look for it. I used to dig in the remains of old watermills in my area in order to find the pieces of wood that I wanted—I looked for some others in old Macedonian houses. These pieces of wood kept company over many decades to people, that their memory is now blurry and faded. Movement in space-time that the human brain can understand, is a symbolism I use in my work—this continuous change, from which nothing can escape, not even the illusion of steady structures that humans create with their imagination in order to escape from the agony of uncertainty.”
Moreover, Paiko Half Marathon came up about 8 years ago from the passion and love of young people who chose to live in their home town. One of the pioneers was also Chrysi, who thinks highly of Mount Paiko, chairwoman of the organisation and head of the Half Marathon route coordination.
“This place has something magic! We used to be a group of young people who invested emotionally and financially in the idea of living here and of making our home town and our mountain known to the rest of the world. We managed with our passion to exceed every expectation, so that Paiko Half Marathon to be considered one of the most successful events of mountain running in pan Hellenic level! An idea on my mind is a visual arts installation along the half marathon route—it's a route that I feel very connected with, since, from the beginning, I mapped it and delivered it to the race. It's a bold idea and quite expensive. Perhaps, I implement it in the future…”
Those of you who like running on the mountain can get more information on the website of the Mountaineering Club of Goumenissa (OSPEG).
Besides the Half Marathon, which has become a tradition now on every first Sunday of November, we also go on the mountains however and whenever we can, in every opportunity and at every occasion… For example, in August, when all the “lost sheep” gather from the four corners of the earth, we climb on a beautiful plateau on Mount Paiko and after midnight we watch shooting stars—the meteor showers. We also make wishes like little children, and drink tsipouro (strong pomace brandy) like adults, and tell stories about “karkontses” and “samouviles” (the elves of the area).
“At the present time, I'm working on a new piece of work on the aorta and the femoral arteries of a male body, where I am going to adjust the projection of my father's recent coronary angiogram. I believe that it's going to be a very powerful work of art… in motion!
I have also taken on the illustration of the new scientific book by Athanasios Dinopoulos with the tilte “Let's talk about the Brain”, which is going to be released in the following months by the publishing house University Studio Press.”
All in all, the main idea of her work is anatomy, neuroscience, wood—especially chestnut which is a landmark of our area—aged wood, medical materials, the combination of different materials, outdoor installations and Mount Paiko!
In one of her last messages, she wrote to me that she is about to dig up two of her works, that she has buried for seven years in the watermills, just like the locals used to do with their dead in the old times: they used to exhume the body, wash the bones with wine, bless them and rebury them… Always resourceful, always creative, uncompromising, charming, with the heart of a wise elder and the appearance of a 15 year old student.
Mille baci Crisi!
A presto, Belua.
Learn more about Chrysi and her works of art here.
Recently, British journalist Joe Sinclair made a video portrait about Chrysi, that you can watch here.
The Greek version of the article on Vakxikon magazine here.