Remaining Interiors

Text by Ian Jeffrey.

Think of these pictures as metaphors. They refer to catastrophe, to ruination and to dereliction. Buildings have been abandoned, and their fittings smashed. More objectively, though, you might say that they deal with the aftermath of catastrophe, when things have had time to settle down. Survivors have removed the bulk of their goods, leaving only a few items for which there was no immediate need. These items, such as beds and chairs, have then been used by incomers.

We read pictures by looking at them. We take in depth, space and colour. We assimilate such properties in a picture, but we can also speak pictures into being. There is a wardrobe, for example, and there is a door, a bed frame and a mattress. There are two cushions, two chairs and a table. That must surely be a cooker with its row of four knobs, dial and buttons. In some cases the debris is more complex, with shelving and toys scattered on the floor, but it is never chaotic – which is important. Christos Koukelis presents us with delimited interiors which it almost possible to comprehend at a glance.

The comprehension we use is domestic, or of the kind we are familiar with in a kitchen or in a bathroom. The pictures imply a rudimentary sort of counting or stock-taking: a slim radiator, for example, with four vertical bars, and another scene with around a dozen plastic crates and three wastepaper baskets, all of them too commonplace to be worth taking away. We can almost be at home in these pared down settings, for we are very used to table tops and to venetian blinds.

If catastrophe constitutes an obverse then the other side of the coin reminds us of domesticity with all its apparatus of tables, chairs and windows. Catastrophe and domesticity complement each other. Domesticity is what we take for granted in terms of routines and of home comforts. If that were all the pictures were about it would be quite enough for one viewing, and we always need to be reminded of the solaces of everyday living. But the photographer has a more metaphysical side. All those windows and doors, for example, may be part of normality, but within these shaded spaces they provide illumination and they also look like pictures or bright representations of another dimension. They suggest another world imbued with light, quite distinct from the damaged here and now in which we presently exist.

The present described here is laborious. It is a context in which we need rest and refreshment, warmth and comfort – or so the iconography seems to indicate. There are some fine hearths, which are a pointer to conviviality and to the need for warmth. You could also describe some of the situations as sepulchral and even nightmarish with their intricacy of detail. In one darkened chamber a sharpened beam stands propped against a wall, like a large fragment from the True Cross. Certainly it is a reminder of the weight of being and a pointer to the religious dimension in this whole body of work.

Photography on a religious theme is difficult to imagine, for this isn’t exactly an Age of Belief. Yet Christos Koukelis deploys the elements of religion for the pictures are set in a distinctly material world ravaged by hardship and by exigency. It may be an afflicted domain but it is always and everywhere enlivened by signs of transcendence, by a purifying light and by examples of geometry. You might, in time, work out his agenda, but in the meantime all we have are possibilities which are far more likely than that these are simply studies of stressed environments.