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Vinyl Euripides by James Cogswell Premieres in Athens, Greece

A fusion of ancient Greek plays, cinema, and vinyl has come together in a compelling new installation by Stamps Professor James Cogswell.

James Cogswell in his Ann Arbor studio with the original drawings of Vinyl Euripedes
Cogswell in his Ann Arbor studio with the original drawings for Vinyl Euripedes.

The artistic work called Vinyl Euripides is on display at the Michael Cacoyannis Foundation (MCF) in Athens, Greece. The MCF was established by Cacoyannis, and is marking its 10th anniversary in 2022. He is best known as a director for a number of films including Zorba the Greek. However, he is also remembered for his trilogy of films based on Euripides’ plays: Electra, The Trojan Women, and Iphigenia.

Vinyl Euripedes installed at the foundation
Installation view of Vinyl Euripedes at the Michael Cacoyannis Foundation.

According to Cogswell, he completed the design before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, and spent a great deal of time researching both the plays and Cacoyannis’ films. As he developed the individual vinyl scenes, Cogswell reflected on how the ancient plays, the modern interpretation of the films, and current world events intersected in the pieces he created. 

The installation responds to a film trilogy from the 1960’s and 1970’s by Cacoyannis based on three plays by Euripides about the Trojan War. The themes depicted in those dramas seem more sadly relevant as each day passes,” said Cogswell. 

James in his Ann Arbor studio with the original drawings of Vinyl Euripedes.

Cogswell, an Arthur F. Thurnau Professor and Professor of Art in the Penny W. Stamps School of Art & Design, has been working on this project since 2017, with much of the work taking place during the years of the COVID-19 pandemic. Cogswell first painted the images, then worked with Stamps student Sky Cristoph who digitally transferred files so they could be turned into vinyl images for display at the MCF.

In late March 2022, Cogswell carefully packed the vinyl pieces for the trip to Athens from his home studio in Ann Arbor. Working with two assistants, the artist Margaret Couch Cogswell and Nikolaos Katsivelakis, graduate of the Athens School of Fine Arts, Cogswell worked for nearly three weeks on the painstaking installation of each vinyl image. 

Installation view of Vinyl Euripedes, showing consecutive vinyl 'stills' installed on glass panels of a railing

The frieze is installed on more than sixty panels of glass balustrades on three floors of the MCF. Each panel appears to be a single frame of film, and it depicts scenes from the trilogy, taking visitors through each Greek tragedy. According to the MFC, the style of the installation in the center of the building is “…reminiscent of the carved reliefs running high around the inner chamber of a Greek temple.”

Visitors to the display will also note the inclusion of modern imagery in various scenes. For instance, Electra’s hair was inspired by an unruly succulent in Cogswell’s home. The placement of an AK-47 in one of the scenes is a provocative acknowledgement of violence in society today. Even the enduring image of Phan Thi Kim Phùc, often referred to as the Vietnam-era Napalm Girl” appears in one of the vinyl scenes.

Installation view of Vinyl Euripedes, showing a colorful vinyl depiction of scenes from Euripedes' play on 4 window panes

Cogswell is a prolific artist. Within the last year, he completed and installed a vinyl mural of images of microorganisms called Unseen Worlds as part of the reopening of the U‑M Museum of Natural History. He is currently in the process of planning for his next project, scheduled to première later in 2022

Vinyl Euripides is made possible with funding from the Penny W. Stamps School of Art & Design, the U‑M Office of Research, and the Modern Greek Program in the Department of Classical Studies, College of Literature, Science, and the Arts.