Odysseus Metis

This assemblage depicts the hero whose struggle to return home (and escape obscurity) forms the central theme of the Odyssey.

 

Odysseus ΜΗΤΙΣ (2010) was constructed from a fishing buoy, funnel, rotary breast-drill breast-plate, outdoor umbrella slider, vase cap, bell-shaped lamp holder component, ribbed rod, wood (Camphor, Jelutong, Obeche), and enamel paint.

Views of Odysseus Sculpture

Odysseus ΜΗΤΙΣ seen from front, side, and rear

 

The design

As the first sculpture in the series A Catalogue of Shapes, this representation of Odysseus would provide the compositional template for the assemblages to follow. Conceived of as an exploration of the compositional and structural aspects of Homeric poetry, each individual artwork in the series functions as an element within a system. That meant that I required an object to serve as a core element. This item should serve as a basis for a visual metaphor evoking the characteristics of Odysseus. However, it could not be so specific in its form or function as to preclude repetition or formal references to it in the other artworks. While browsing a flea market I found it: an old orange fishing buoy lying on the tarmac. Judging by the scratches, scuff marks, and encrusted dirt, it had clearly been at sea for years. Its orange color reminiscent of deeply tanned skin.

Inspiration for Odysseus Assemblage

I did not take a picture at the time, but this image recalls what the buoy looked like at the market

The geometric simplicity of this object also meant that it could become one of various repetitive elements that could visually bind the series together. With this core element in place, the specific aspects of Odysseus and his role in Homer’s epics that I wished to refer to could now be represented by various other items and forms.

 

Core themes and techniques

I particularly wanted to explore this hero as the embodiment of the notion of nostos (return to being). I contrast Odysseus with Achilles as the embodiment of kleos (immortalizing fame). In my reading, the Odyssey is predicated on the tension of whether the hero will returning to being by making it home to his family. This would cement his role in the stories of the heroes returning from Troy. However, if he fails, then he will vanish from the world and poetry into nameless obscurity.

I’m not a purist when it comes to assemblage. I generally modify each object I use, and will manufacture a shape or an object if a composition requires it.

For this sculpture I combined objects chosen for their shape, function, and/or material qualities with items that I manufactured to scale. One of these was a concertina element reminiscent of Constantin Brancusi’s Endless Column that I carved from wood and painted the same orange as the buoy. It is a shape that speaks of the cycle of advance followed by setback that distinguishes this hero’s journey. It also locates the artwork within the visual worlds of modern and ancient geometric art.

Brancusi's Endless Column and Assemblage

Endless Column by Constantin Brancusi (1935-1938); Korinna, CC BY-SA 3.0 RO, via Wikimedia Commons 

 

The epithet

The epithet chosen for this representation of Odysseus is ΜΗΤΙΣ (metis), a word that refers to skill, shrewdness, astuteness, contrivance, or scheming. This hero is commonly considered the embodiment of the qualities associated with metis as an abstract concept and the goddess of the same name who personified wisdom and intelligence. While not a particular stretch of association, I chose it because it pairs particularly well with ΜΗΝΙΣ (menis), the epithet I used for the assemblage sculpture representing Achilles. This reflects the function of these two sculptures within the series as sympathetic antitheses. Pairings are common in Homeric poetics and the strategy of defining one character in terms of another forms a structural basis for A Catalogue of Shapes.

Odysseus and Achilles Antitheses

Odysseus and Achilles as a pair

 

The complexity of Odysseus has allowed him to serve as inspiration to artists and writers across millennia, and he retains the ability to convey a wide range of meanings. This representation of Odysseus is not intended to function as a portrait of a character from ancient myth or a specific event involving Odysseys. My focus is much narrower. Instead, it forms part of larger set of sculptures designed to express the artistry of archaic Greek literature. Specifically the compositional and structural aspects thereof. As such, this version of Odysseus derives from my own interpretation of this character’s role as it pertains to Homeric epic.

 

For some insight into Odysseus I’ve included this excellent lecture by the respected Homeric scholar Professor Richard Martin.

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