The memory issue -and thus the means of social and individual communication with our immediate environment- was partly resolved in the past through mnemonics; memory aids, which sought to inscribe in the human brain’s tabula rasa the various cultural representations through symbols and emblematic images. In the “art of memory” of the Romans, of the Christian medieval orators as well as of the Renaissance artists, spatial metaphors (such as palaces, theatres and temples) were predominant, provided that the key issue at stake was the placement of vivid images in coordinated positions inside an imaginary edifice. This mental walking through the edifice was a mechanism of a fictitious depiction, which has assisted the orator’s or the artist’s retention of information.
However along with the development of writing through printing and the ‘gradual external expression of memory with the aid of peripheral devices (book, computer)’, memory theatres have lost their main importance as ascendent models of organizing knowledge and became subjective microcosms of memories. The most contemporary version of these technologies (the Internet) constitutes an example of such an intentional storage of memory and deposition of thinking in a technical device. Indeed, the criticism exercised by Plato against the written word (as the first technique to externalize memory) which, unlike oral speech, commits the living being in an unalterable text, acquires particular importance, in an age where to touch of a key on our PC corresponds to what one knows or not, what one remembers or has already forgotten.
Nevertheless, microcosms of memories, these personal “atlases of images” which often constitute the raw material of artistic creation, continue to have an important social function. And this happens, precisely because these microcosms strongly resist the understanding of the world through technologies, which organize social and collective memory via specific criteria of rationalisation, imposed to the world by the ones who rule it. To refer thus to an artist’s work, an artist who emphatically uses in his painting key-words, symbols, pictograms and word games just like labyrinths in personal cartographies of memories, presents only half of the truth.
The verbal cartographies in Nikos Lagos’s most mature work (paintings with acrylic on canvas and drawings with charcoal on paper) in which, the graphical chromatic depiction gives precedence to semiotic writing, functions actually as a contemporary biblia pauperum and as resistance against a superficial society, a society of pseudo-culture due to its overloading with information. Counter to the spectacular deluge of images and the enchantments these images exercise, the semiotics of the artist revoke trust in our own associations, our personal mnemonic, the modern imagination (imaginatio) and invention (inventio). The linguistic bricolage of everyday experience creates new global atlases along with which we ought to march. Together with works that employ figural cybernetics such as those by A.R. Penck and production mechanisms of image-meaning such as the works by Jean-Michel Basquiat (just to mention two of the artists with which Nikos Lagos competes) the artist tries to overturn the narcissism of a contemporary world which doesn’t want to change. There is no childlike innocence or adolescent rebellion a la graffiti in the Lagos’ works, but a politically founded criticism against acquired and media constructed images.