Guy Brett: It's an amazing thing.
Michael Wellen: Panagiotis Vassilakis, the artist known as Takis, was born in 1925 in Athens.
His childhood took place during the occupation by the Germans and the Italians in World War II.
And immediately after was followed by a Greek civil war.
He was very involved in different political groups at the time.
And became a sculptor later in his life, in his late 20s.
As a young man Takis took great interest in ancient sculpture in particular.
And his early work show an indebtedness to that, but also to modern sculpture.
He was particularly interested in the work of Giacometti and Picasso.
He was self-taught and an autodidact in all types of material whether it was philosophy or history or politics.
He moved to Paris in 1954 and it's in Paris that you see this transformation of his sculpture.
There are two key moments in Takis's work.
One happens around 1957 after a trip from London.
And while waiting for the train he becomes inspired by the flashing lights and the antenna and aerials that he sees around the station platform.
He started to make sculpture which he called Signals and which became one of his most iconic type of work.
The other key moment happens in 1959 when the artist discovers magnetism as a way for sculpting.
He looked for a way to break the conventions of what sculpture could be.
Instead of a solid, heavy form, he tried to tried to create a kind of sculpture that floats in space.
When the artist has defied gravity and defied the forces that normally keep us on the ground.
In preparation for an exhibition of Takis's work I had the opportunity to travel to Athens in 2017 with my co-curator, Guy Brett.
Guy and Takis have a long-standing relationship.
They met in the early 1960s in London when Guy was an art critic.
And they became very involved in an artist-run space known as Signals Gallery.
Takis is living and working in Athens to this day.
He's been there since the mid-1980s and in 1993 he created a research centre for the arts and the sciences called the KETE Foundation, and is now known as the Takis Foundation.
It's a research centre. It's a library and an archive.
And it's also the studio of where the artist makes his work.
Guy Brett: So elemental.
Michael Wellen: Takis often comments that the focus of his work is around energy.
Sound is one of those key elements of energy.
It's an invisible force that Takis makes present using a number of different devices.
It's something contemplative and Takis is often thought about in relationship to the cosmos and to energy fields and the sounds of the universe.
Takis's studio, he began developing it in the 1960s or the early 1970s and it wasn't completed until much later.
It's on a hill-side with a view of Athens and the Parthenon in the distance.
It's a very strange and bewitching place with lots of movement.
Giant sculptures that are swirling in the wind.
And it was wonderful to see Guy Brett and Takis together.
To see the friendship that they have been carrying on for so many years.
Takis: You ask me how I did this work.
Well I'll show you how I did it.
This is giving energy.
As I used to everyday, I do.
And then by accident.
It's the same thing.
Guy Brett: Is energy a thing?
Takis: Energy stays with you, inside you, in energy.
I feel more young than you.
I know how to use the energy, first of all.
I have the experience which you don't have because you are young.
So you don't know how to use your energy.
Therefore you are not young.
I am young, not you.
And I want to spend my energy working.
Michael Wellen: Takis has a career that expands more than seventy years.
Takis works are mesmerising.
The way they use sound and light.
They're constantly moving and changing.
There's something sensual about these works that brings the audience in to look closely and take delight in these sculptural and sonic worlds.
It breaks the conventions of what sculpture can be.
Who is Takis?
By tapping into forces such as magnetic fields his art explores the mysterious energies of the universe.
Early influences and inspiration
Panagiotis ‘Takis’ Vassilakis was born in Athens in 1925.
His early life was lived in the shadow of the Second World War (in which he fought in the Greek Resistance) and the Greek Civil War (1946 – 1949).
Takis was intelligent and motivated, but his family did not have enough money to pay for his education. Describing himself as an ‘instinctive scholar’, Takis taught himself by reading about science, philosophy, poetry, mythology and the arts.
He began experimenting with plaster, making figures with elongated forms reminiscent of Giacometti’s sculptures.
In 1954 Takis moved to Paris to pursue an artistic career.
In Paris he taught himself how to forge, weld and cast metal, creating small sculptures inspired by the forms of early Greek Cycladic and Egyptian art.
As well as exploring new techniques and materials, Takis’s ideas about sculpture also began to change.
He also connected with American Beat writers and poets whose social views and questioning of mainstream culture meshed with his own radical approach to life and art.
Science and technology
It was not only the atmosphere of experimentation in the arts that inspired Takis. The 1950s also saw important developments in science and technology.
In the 1950s astronomers began to explore the possibilities of using radar to observe outer space. And in 1957, Sputnik 1 – the first artificial satellite – was launched in to space, an event generally seen as marking the start of the Space Age. This was followed in 1961 by the launch of the first man, Yuri Gagarin, into space.
These scientific developments and potential to explore and observe the forces of the universe had a huge impact on Takis.
Signals, magnets and sound
In 1957 Takis had a light-bulb moment (quite literally!) while waiting at a train station.
The energy and movement of the flashing lights around the station inspired him to create antenna-like sculptures called Signals.
Made from long thin rods, the sculptures vibrate and bend with the movement of air around them. Like radar transmitters, Takis saw his Signals as capturing the energy of the air or sky.
In 1958 Takis began to experiment with magnets and magnetic energy in his sculpture.
He had been searching for a way to show the unseen forces of nature and the cosmos. The push and pull effect that magnets can have on metalic objects offered a way to do this.
Takis saw the potential to create a new kind of sculptural space using magnetic energy fields.
In 1959 he exhibited his first magnetic sculptures at the Galerie Iris Clert in Paris. Metal objects tied to a nylon thread were made to hover in space using magnets.
In 1960 Takis went one step further with The Impossible, A Man in Space. He floated South African Beat poet Sinclair Beiles mid-air in the gallery using a system of magnets. Appearing to defy gravity, Beiles read one of his poems titled Magnetic Manifesto while suspended.
As well as using magnetic energy to float objects in space, Takis used magnets to generate resonant sounds.
His installation Electro-Magnetic Musical 1966 consists of a white panel with a guitar string stretched across its width and a large needle suspended in front of it.
The musical string is are attached to an amplifier and an electro magnet is concealed behind each panel.
The magnets attract and repel the needles so they strike or grate against the string, creating vibrations that are amplified and played through speakers placed at the top of the panels.
Together the sounds form a mysterious and serene humming music. Takis suggests that it is the sound of the natural forces of the cosmos.
The element of chance involved in the rhythms and sounds produced by magnets link Takis’s audio experiments with those of composer John Cage. Takis exchanged ideas with Cage in the 1960s and shared with him an interest in Zen philosophy and mythology.
Takis saw sculpture as ‘following the indications of the matter’. Rather than molding or working a material into something, he shows us what is already there.
In his art he aimed to reveal invisible energies, such as magnetism and gravity, that make our existence possible.
His sculpture brings together art, science and nature and enhances our awareness, understanding and appreciation of what is around us.