When a fast-acting fuse is ignited, gunpowder explodes and creates intense heat and gas that causes a buildup of pressure beneath a shell that shoots into the sky. The shell is filled with small pellets, known as stars, and once the firework reaches a certain height, a second fuse ignites and activates the burst charge which sets off the stars. Some stars contain metal salts, which produce brilliant colors. Some contain different chemical compounds that create dazzling light effects, like strobing and sparkling. A 36-inch shell travels at 327 miles per hour, surpassing the highest wind speed of 318 mph recorded during a F5 tornado in Oklahoma on May 3, 1999.
Imagine the opposite of that fiery, frenetic force emitting a surprise array of effects, as you gaze at the polished aluminum and steel components elegantly assembled to form Kostas Lambridis’ intricate Aerial Shell (2023), an interactive focal point of the Athens, Greece-based artist’s first U.S. solo show. Reverse Fireworks in Slow Motion, showcasing nine new functional artworks exploring a mono-material approach and focusing on metal, wood, mineral, and plastic, is on view at Carpenters Workshop Gallery in New York until November 23. Products composed of a single type of material (mono-materials) are typically easier to recycle than products made from different things.
I was immediately reminded of François-Xavier Lalanne’s playful patinated bronze, stainless steel, copper, nickel silver, brass, and painted wood Hippopotame II Bar (1978), which sold on May 11 at Christie’s New York for nearly $7.6 million on an estimate of $3 million to $5 million. Lalanne’s humor-infused luxury bar is inspired by Surrealism, and Lambridis further flexes the space between reality and dream worlds. Aerial Shell transports us across centuries, evoking a harmonious visual medley of Medieval armor and retro-futuristic Steampunk aesthetics to craft an charming beast of a zoomorphic bar with reptilian flair.
Lambridis dismantled a friend’s Volkswagen Beetle for repair and eventually returned it in improved condition, retaining old and malfunctioning parts to launch the sculpture. The artist visited scrap yards and collected parts from old Citroën 2CVs. The French economy car introduced at the 1948 Paris Mondial de l’Automobile with a front-mounted, air-cooled engine that drives the front wheels, became wildly popular in Greece. It’s the nostalgic equivalent of the VW Beetle in the U.S.
A spiral pattern organically began to form as Lambridis re-assembled the parts to create a functional piece that opens from the front and the back to reveal a bar. Hard steel casing blankets softer copper hint at alchemy in the artistic process. At 154 pounds, more than four feet tall, and over six and a half feet wide, the colossal auto-inspired bar could be a primordial fish. It’s a glorious design feat that exudes sophistication and yearns for a time-traveling cocktail soirée where H. G. Wells and Jules Verne mingle with Hildegard of Bingen and Christine de Pizan.
“There is a structure in the way I work that has become more of a limitation, than an open door. With the excuse of this new show, I wanted to face the void. When you look at my previous work, there is a certain level of complexity,” Lambridis said. “I realized if you focus on one material, like wood, eventually you realize there is the same level of complexity within that material.”
Admiring the array of works and meticulous craftsmanship at last Friday’s bustling opening, I was especially drawn to the fierce, flickering light sculptures. Spin, Rise, and Thrust in Random Direction celebrates spontaneity born from Lambridis’ freehand scribbles, while Burst Charge borrows from Medusa’s venomous hair and intestines oozing from a body. We’re captivated by the sublime strangeness of the light sculptures, oscillating between feelings of attraction and repulsion.
Spin, Rise, and Thrust in Random Direction, an amalgamation of class, copper, aluminum, electronics, neon, LEDs, and brass, speaks to me like a landscape, while Burst Charge, made of aluminum, copper, and electronic components could be an exposed skull and face.
“I feel like my previous work was horizontal and this work is vertical. Before, I was just looking at the landscape, but now I’m digging holes and diving into each material,” Lambridis explained.
Urs Fisher’s ephemeral wax sculptures were top of mind when I encountered the explosion of vivid color and distorted shapes in Lambridis’ It Melts First, and looked closely to learn what looks like a a sticky moldable substance secreted by honeybees is plastic, fiberglass, and polyester. Lambridis presents plastics in varying states from liquid to solid, symbolizing the fungible bond and boundaries between bones and flesh. He challenges our perception of the relationship between humanity and objects, how humans are material parts and how a piece of furniture can bend our senses.
From painstaking wood carving that showcases mastery of traditional craft to the bizarre birth of otherworldly shapes that would enchant Salvador Dalí, Lambridis’ tables and chairs (no two to be confused) lead us on a fantastical journey. Each piece of his work truly merits your keen eye. Lambridis’ visual narratives are as deeply layered and curious as his precise manipulation of myriad techniques and innovative compositions.
We become one with his work as we view our reflection in the flapper-industrial chic of Li Tan, a metal mirror named after the Chinese Monk who lived a millennium ago in the Hunan Province and who is credited with the invention of what we know now as a firecracker. On April 18, the Chinese people celebrate the invention of the firecracker by offering sacrifices to the monks. Local folks established a temple during the technologically- and economically-advanced Song Dynasty (960-1276) to worship Li Tan.
“There are two opposing forces that shape everything we do and have ever done. One force ascends and strives for immortality,” Lambridis philiosophized. “It consists of the need to impose order over chaos and the will to create and change. The other force descends and wants to die. It’s entropy, the resistance of nature, the laws of matter. The collision of these two forces produces objects and knowledge. It is the constant moral dilemma that the maker must always face.”