Maggy Hamel-Metsos, [Untitled yet], 2021
Rented shoring posts, found vases, variable dimensions
They stood unflinching as the fires of war blazed around them, bullets nicked their robes, and bombs scarred their bodies.
1802, under the Ottoman occupation of Greece, the British ambassador of Constantinople Lord Elgin steals, amongst many other marbles, one of the Erechtheion’s six maidens.2 In 10 months, about half of the surviving sculptures of the Acropolis were sawed and dismembered to be transported in crates by sea convoys to Great Britain. Up to this day, Greece is still eager to retrieve the stolen artifacts continued to be held illegally by the British Museum, one of the most important museum of its kind.
Except, the myth of the maidens as emblems of submission and war trophies did not merely start with Lord Elgin’s sabotage. Maidens are architectural support figures of women holding a structure, they are also perhaps mistakenly called caryatids. They were baptized so by Vitruvius, to whom Augustus had commissioned de Architectura. It was customary at the time for architects to be able to give a reasoned account for the incorporation of ornamental features in their design.4 In his treatise, Vitruvius gave this account of the caryatids:
Caryae, a city in the Peloponnese, allied herself with the Persian enemy against Greece. Later the Greeks were rid of their war by a glorious victory and made common cause and declared war on the Caryates. And so, the town was captured, the males were killed and the Caryan state publicly humiliated. The victors led the matrons away into captivity, but did not allow them to lay aside their robes or matronly ornaments. Their intention was not to lead them on one occasion in a triumph, but to ensure that they exhibited a permanent picture of slavery, and that in the heavy mockery they suffered they should be seen to pay the penalty for their city. So, the architects of those times designed images of them for public buildings specially placed to uphold a load, so that a well-known punishment of the Caryates’ wrongdoing might be handed down to posterity.
It is now all the more declared amongst scholars that this account of the caryatids is a fabrication of the man himself which would have strategically pleased Greece’s new conqueror: Augustus. Vitruvius’s story holds a subtext which served as a warning to the new roman subjects: “do not consider medizing like the Caryans did during the Persian War or else Rome will punish you!”6 Most importantly, they emulated classical Athens while commemorating its defeat as they stood as eternal symbols of submission and humiliation.”7 Yet instead, most scholars seem to be adopting the position of the origin of the maiden as descendent of female architectural support from before the Persian War, which can be found at the Siphnian Treasury in Delphi (ca.525 B.C.).
The narrative around the maidens was instrumentalized by figures of power to reassess male dominance. The creation of this myth which served as a political propaganda tool deeply scarred the perception of maidens whose original story was outshined and might never resurface again.
The body of the maiden, a body hidden in labour, a body kept under the umbrella of domesticity and veiled intimacy, is an homage to the many people who have historically maintained, supported and cared for our domestic spaces namely, domestics, slaves and women who were/are literally the pillars of the house. As caretakers, they are all our true mothers. In this given context, it is also an homage to those very individuals who have also designed and built those structures but who have been maintained in the shadow of a male dominated society and specifically in the discipline of architecture.
Lilly Reich has yet to be given de credits that are owed to her but like the maidens, her true story, her true implications in the success of Mies Van der Rohe’s architecture and designs might never be known. On top of her work as a designer and architect and a close collaborator, it is known that Reich has been fulfilling motherly chores by repairing the broken vases that Mies left behind him and his success:
Reich remained an indispensable part of his personal and professional life long after his departure to the United States in 1938. During the war, she was instrumental in taking care of his office, settling legal disputes, and saving all the drawings and files that Mies left behind. Equally worthy of note was her selfless devotion to his family, whom she continued to help, financially and otherwise, for several years.
—Esther Da Costa Meyer
It is also interesting to note that many people who work closely on Mies and Reich have recognized that un-coincidentally during the period they were collaborating together, Mies developed most successful furniture than when they were not. Some of Reich’s revolutionary display design works such as Deutsches Volk- deutsche Arbeit [German People- German Work] are to me pioneer works of art of minimalism, and its unconscious sprawling heritage and her contributions to the realm of art and design are truly unfathomable.
[Untitled yet] is proposing to re-signify and regain agency over the history of those who have been overshadowed, outshined, misinterpreted, sabotaged. Here, the mechanical lever proposes that the maidens are not only supporting the structure but they are also pushing and lifting the roof over their head. It introduces a potential state of triumph to all those who have been kept under the veil of domesticity.
Alderman, Liz. “Acropolis Maidens Glow Anew.” The New York Times, Section C, Page 1. July 7, 2014.
Britannica, T. Editors of Encyclopaedia. “Elgin Marbles.” Encyclopedia Britannica, February 14, 2021.
Esther Da Costa Meyer. “Cruel Metonymies: Lilly Reich’s Designs for the 1937 World’s Fair.” New German Critique, no. 76, Winter, 1999, p. 161-89. doi:10.2307/488661.
Lesk, Alexandra l. “’Caryatides Probantur Inter Pauca Operum’ : Pliny, Vitruvius, and the Semiotics of the Erechtheion Maidens at Rome.” Arethusa 40, no. 1, Winter, 2007, p. 25-42.
Smith, Helena. “’Product of theft’: Greece urges UK to return Parthenon Marbles”, The Guardian, June 20, 2020.
Vitruvius Pollio, and M. H. Morgan. 1960. Vitruvius : the ten books on architecture. NewYork : Dover Publications. (1.1.5)
Maggy Hamel-Metsos is an artist based in Montreal who has completed her BFA both at Concordia University Montréal and at The Bauhaus Universität Weimar. The core of her work consists of site sensitive interventions on the public and private sphere where text and iconic symbols are used to create poetic temporal bridges in the collective imaginary by interweaving personal, historical and mythological references. She re-uses objects of the everyday and materials borrowed from the realm of construction, mechanics and domesticity to show how these common/banal materials can encompass a grandiose hidden image. It is with assemblages or certain forms of alterations that she re-signifies these objects so that they function as their own palimpsest. Her explorations will often look at how ancient images have survived the layers of time and under what light they resurface in contemporary settings. She has shown her work in Canada and Germany notably at “RATS” curated by Collection Libérée, at “We Made Silence Speak but He Did Not Show” curated by Philippe Bourdeau at Rad Hourani and at « Le Corps Référentiel » curated by Sabrina Jolicoeur and Kathryn Frances Warner at LeLivart.