So Close Yet So Far Away
Contemporary Artists from Cyprus, curator: Yiannis Toumazis
Organized by the Nicosia Municipal Arts Centre – Associated with the Pierides Foundation [NiMAC] and the Petah Tikva Museum of Art, Israel
Cyprus is so close to Israel, yet at the same time it lies so far away. Despite their geographical proximity, the two countries know very little about each other, and art is no exception. Alongside their many differences, they share significant similarities, including a long and dominant historical past, constant geopolitical turmoil, and incessant crises – social, religious, political, and financial – which continue to affect the present and the future. Located at the eastern end of the Mediterranean, in this region of osmosis between East and West, they could not avoid – each in its own way – their geopolitical “destiny” in shaping the current post-colonial realities; a destiny which, for both countries, is underlain by a narrative of “partitions.”
Indeed, today, we experience once again “partitioned times,” as Ranabir Samaddar, professor of South Asia Studies known for his critical work on justice and human rights, claims. Not only geographical and political divisions, but also social, racial, economic, and cultural ones define the international order, despite the spirit of globalization. The island-state of Cyprus could not escape this fate. Since 1974 it has also been divided, with approximately 36% of its territory under Turkish military occupation. Despite continuous efforts to reach a comprehensive, just, and viable solution to the Cyprus Issue, the buffer zone (also known as the “Green Line”) still dissects the island into a northern and a southern part. In addition, the financial collapse of the state in 2013 created an ongoing economic crisis, the results of which will haunt the island and its inhabitants for many years to come.
The exhibition “So Close Yet So Far Away” | Contemporary Artists from Cyprus presents for the first time in Israel a dynamic group of seventeen contemporary Cypriot artists, who scrutinize contemporary Cypriot culture and the many complexities of Cypriot identity. The exhibition attempts to illustrate how, in this era of globalization and increased visibility of “peripheral” artistic activity, contemporary Cypriot artists negotiate issues of history, memory, and politics, especially in the local context. It also examines how they deal with the modern history of trauma, conflict, and violence as well as with other crucial complexities, going far beyond the Cyprus Issue, which still affects the society of Cyprus.
In recent times, Cypriot art demonstrates an incessant international mobility and a sense of acute criticality. The work of many contemporary Cypriot artists has acquired an intensely socio-political dimension, capturing the complexity of the current local and global issues with great sensitivity, expressed sometimes through a neutral, dissociated gaze, sometimes through a poetic stance, and other times through keen sarcasm and subtle irony. The participating artists seek to highlight and negotiate existing positions and contradictions surrounding the apparent homogeneity of a globalized environment. Issues of multiculturalism, crossings, displacement, migration, and hybridization are given central stage in most of the works presented in this pertinent exhibition.
For Andreas Kalli, the ”cleaver and balloon” echo the relationships of people who want to be associated with an ensemble but at the same time with their own selves. The motion focuses precisely on these points: the ongoing effort and challenge entailed in contact and relationships. The cleaver, the sharp element, is the hidden danger; the threat but also the reflection of a relationship, it connects and divides. The balloon, the lighthearted, sophisticated, weightless element is the constant variable in any form of relationship that can be developed. Thus, a dipole is set: “self-destruct” versus “self-actualization.” The work is a perpetual choreography in time and space, also reflecting (in a tender, yet cruel way) the socio-political impasses of our allegedly homogenized globalized environment.
Nicosia International Airport is since 1974 an abandoned modernist landmark in the Buffer Zone of Nicosia, controlled by the United Nations. When the artist first visited the airport, with a special permission by the UN, he was intrigued by the seats in the departures lounge that were originally designed by Cypriot furniture designer Pambos Savvides. Chairs are a recurring theme in the artist’s work, and he is attracted to their anthropomorphic features that can be read as a reference to an absent human presence. At the airport, the rows of seats – now weathered by time and covered in dust and debris – bring to mind passengers waiting to board their flight who seem to have been forgotten by history. The work shows the artist in situ in the abandoned lounge, vigorously sweeping the floor and washing the chairs as though the airport is imminently returning to operation, and then the whole action is reversed. The film is shown in a loop, highlighting the cyclical pattern of expectation and disappointment in the ongoing political process.
The design, decoration, and furnishing of the “modern,” “urban,” living room of the 1980s corresponded with the introduction of new domestic entertainment technologies that emerged at the same time. Both as objects and as media of introducing novel imagery, new domestic entertainment technologies such as the VCR, the Teletext, the computer, and the video game console, gave rise to a different understanding of the layout and role of domestic space as the new locus of entertainment. Taliotis’s work follows a genealogical approach to the manifestation of 1980s popular culture and, more specifically, to the impact of the arrival of new technologies on aesthetics. Milano, an installation produced during the artist’s residency at Artport, Tel Aviv, reflects issues deriving from the changing nature of interior architecture as it transformed from a place of retreat to a landscape of leisure.
In her first cinematographic work, artist Eleni Kamma revisits the Ottoman tradition of the Karagöz theatre and its role in the creation of a political voice that defied censorship for a long time. Karagöz, which symbolizes the “little man,” employs empty phrases, the illogical, the surrealistic, extreme obscenity, and repetition, to speak of what people want to hear and need to say. Against this backdrop, Yar bana bir eğlence. Notes on Parrhesia reflects upon the term “parrhesia,” which implies not only freedom of speech, but also the obligation to speak the truth for the sake of the common good, even at a personal risk. This is where Kamma links to the Gezi Park protests in 2013, in which humour and creativity were key elements of resistence. Archival footage and staged scenes alternate with Cypriot, Greek, and Turkish Karagöz masters discussing language, history, and the political message of their art today.
The artist has studied extensively the issue of using stones from archaeological and historical monuments, for example the use of stones from Cypriot monuments for the construction of the Suez Canal and the buildings of Port Said in Egypt. In this two-channel video, she focuses on the Venetian walls of Nicosia. In the mid-sixteenth century AD, the Venetians built the walls around the city of Nicosia, in haste, against the impending Ottoman invasion. Cut stone being at a premium, they ordered domestic, public, and religious structures in the areas surrounding the city to be demolished, so that the stone could be re-used in building the fortification walls. Later in the nineteenth century, these same walls were poached or quarried, and the filler rubble remains with a completely different texture. A Wall is Made from Other Walls / A Wall is a Quarry are large, projected tableaux-vivants of the walls of Nicosia. Video here is used symbolically, to assert the life that took place inside and around these re-used stones, and the actions of stone removal as indicated by the remains.
Klitsa Antoniou’s collective project The Persistence of the Image, resulted from the collaboration of the artist with eighty-five artists, architects, designers, sociologists, art historians, and art students who live in Cyprus and were asked to work on a photograph of Hala Sultan Tekke in Larnaca. The tekke, which was constructed in its present form in the early nineteenth century and was dedicated to the memory of Mohammed’s wet nurse, Umm Haram (who died falling from her mule and breaking her neck in one of the successive Arab raids on Cyprus in the middle of the seventh century), presents a space of contestation both within Islamic and Christian cultures. The screens, the books of hegemonic histories from both sides of the Cypriot conflict, are animated with the projected memories of the individual interventions, aimed at reinterpreting the histories and creating a space that will allow alternative narratives to emerge. The symbols and images that flicker in front of our eyes provide a visual representability, which reminds us that looking east might be an alternative to looking west.
Gabriel Koureas, Art Historian
In September 2015, millions of particles of dust travelled from Syria and covered Cyprus in a dust cloud. As the island of Cyprus was filled with dust, Syria was being emptied of human life. If dust is made up of organic substances, how much of this dust was made up of human matter? Costa’s work is made of the dust, which the artist collected during the period of the dust cloud. By collecting the dust, manually handling and re-shaping it, the artist creates artefacts made of “othered” contexts. Primarily containing mosaic forms in the shape of places now lost or destroyed – which the artist located through satellite maps – the installation as a whole alludes to a heterotopia. It contains locations that are constantly “othered” in current political language in and of the West, and poses a critique towards current practices of “othering.” Instead of being descriptive about the locale that she deals with, Costa lets the space itself reveal what it summons/affords through its mere materiality.
Iris Pissaride, Sociologist
The work deals with the ongoing Cyprus issue and provides a metaphor and an allegory for the divided island of Cyprus and the prospect for reunification and coexistence of Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots. The artist’s starting point is the preparation of “elies tsakistes” (crushed olives), a traditional way of making olives marinated in oil, salt, lemon, and coriander. Local olives in Cyprus have been prepared this way as early as the Byzantine era. The video thus makes an ironic parallel between the Cyprus issue and the making of crushed olives; they are split, salt is used to remove the bitterness, and they have been marinating since 1974, the year of the division of the island. This recipe is filmed on a daily Cypriot newspaper with the following headings: a) “The European Parliament has obliterated the Cyprus problem, the Cyprus problem is not a priority” b) “We are not as similar as we think…”
Along the G-Line presents the artist’s seven-year old nephew doing athletics. His action is transplanted from a sports hall into public space – one for decades now condemned to a standstill – namely, the streets leading to the UN Buffer zone that cuts Nicosia in two. In Nicosia, the otherwise given continuity in the experience of an urban space is constantly interrupted. The boy’s movement is, in reality, confined within the narrow breadth of every street; in each cul-de-sac, he has to start anew. The editing mode implies a neverending movement along the divide – a situation that cannot take place as shown, despite its realistic nature and its documentary approach. Through the successive images, the boy marks points on a parallel line to that of the border – both being mental structures, yet leaving tangible traces in space and time. Through this odd juxtaposition, the jumping boy turns into a kind of scale, measuring space in another manner. Unwittingly, he transforms a place otherwise solidified in its historicity.
Abdullah Öcalan is an eight-second video, documenting a portrait of a young Kurdish girl. The video was filmed at a house in Limassol, Cyprus, to which the Kurdish family relocated after having to leave Turkey because of their left-wing affiliations. Marina Xenofontos uses a systematic process of recording space and portraying people. Her theoretical interests include ruins as an ideology, failure, and enthusiasm. Furthermore, she explores anecdotal stories and coincidental epitomes that represent a sardonic reflection on the mechanisms of production and understanding of history. The artist is interested in how stories associated with individual people suggest an alternative understanding of collective events, and in the exploitation and appropriation of styles associated with childhood and naivety that contradict the context of historical narratives.
The footage for this candid camera episode is from the 1984 New Year’s Eve show on CyBC, the state television in Cyprus. What is initially evident is that underneath the surface of a seemingly light-hearted prank might lie an awkward truth! The film presents government officials who inform the farmer-landowner that they discovered oil in his plot of land. The officials, coming from the rapidly urbanized environment of Cyprus of the 1980s, seem to mock the rural landowner and separate themselves in terms of social status. By deconstructing this video, the artist points out that it is actually overloaded with associations that represent a fair share of Cypriot biases and hidden desires. Despite the fact that it was filmed more than thirty years ago, this video seems very relevant today, also taking into consideration the recent “gold rush” due to the discovery of natural gas in the Eastern Mediterranean and the prospect of a financial renaissance of a failed state such as Cyprus.
Every morning, in all public primary schools in the northern part of Cyprus, the children, divided into classes, stand in a militaristic order to shout out a highly nationalistic oath. One of the children is selected – usually by their popularity – to lead the crowd, sentence by sentence. If the crowd doesn’t read it out “right,” they have to do it again, with more determination. I am a Turk, honest and hardworking. My principle is to protect the younger, to respect the elder, to love my homeland and my nation more than myself. My ideal is to rise, to progress.
O Great Atatürk! On the path that you have paved, I swear to walk incessantly toward the aims that you have set. My existence shall be dedicated to the Turkish existence. How happy is the one who says, “I am a Turk!”. Taking place at the exact location where the artist had to shout the student oath as a kid, this video deconstructs the order imposed on all of us with an abstract, self-reflective poem
In Cyprus, Palestine, and some other countries of the Middle East, visitors would cut a little branch or a flower from a person’s garden and tag it on his/her door, when they did not find the owner at home. That was a way of letting them know they had a visitor while they were out. Some flowers and/or how they are placed, acted as signatures of a certain person. The short video Gomşu records a gesture of leaving flowers at the door of a neighbor who no longer resides there. The video uses this as a metaphor for a sought-after bridge between post-war psychology and the longing for peace. The film was shot in the open part of Varosha, Cyprus, at an abandoned house where the marks of the recent past are still visible. The abandoned house itself becomes a symbol of the trauma and loss experienced over the years by many displaced Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots, and other people from Cyprus. In the recent history of Cyprus, replete with conflict and violence, many people were forced to leave their homes and were often separated from their families, friends, and neighbours. This has resulted in both an individual and collective sense of loss that was intuitively passed down to next generations. Gomşu attempts to uncover several layers of history, culture, and tradition. At the same time, it seeks to highlight shared past memories, emotions, hopes, and efforts towards reconciliation.
The work was implemented following an invitation by the Musée d’Art Contemporaine – Les Abattoirs in Toulouse for the exhibition La conquête de l’air that dealt with the theme “from constructivism to date.” The exhibition was presented in Toulouse – the predominant city of aeronautics – in 2002, and in Thessaloniki at the State Museum of Contemporary Art in 2003. The latter coincided with the Second Persian Gulf War and it was thus entitled Flight 03-03. At the same time, however, it also generates connotations associated with every raid and threat targeting carefree citizens; actions which are today on the rise. The work consists of two parallel projections, in which a swimmer (“the poet”) is swimming naked and relaxed using inward strokes, while at the same time he is threatened by an iconic fighter aircraft structure, which makes a repetitive circular orbit, flying over the “locked-on target”… An allegory for the use of technology, which beyond its usefulness simultaneously constitutes a threat to mankind – today as before, a timely circling of history…
Established in 1996, the group members are Costas Mantzalos (b. Famagusta, Cyprus, 1963. Lives and works in Nicosia) and Constantinos Kounnis (b. Nicosia, Cyprus, 1973. Lives and works in Nicosia).
TWOFOURTWO Art Group’s investigative look at immigration and the subject of refugees is communicated via the imagery of their landscape photography, which focuses on the sea and the shoreline, as in UN_P1. The viewer’s mind drifts towards the current international lingua franca used to communicate these images, for example “flow of refugees,” “uprooting,” and the haunting “human cargo.” A double-faced sign reading “καλώς/κακώς ήλθατε” (“welcome/welcome not”) reminds us that the journey leads to a precarious future. The photograph forms one of the two constituents of the artwork; the second constituent being Sotiris Theocharides’s text entitled “A fragmented narrative. The rupture of meaning and the surge for the power to consolidate,” which painstakingly dissects the concerns preoccupying and negotiating issues of history, memory, and politics. This collaborative work creates a space where associations between text and image can emerge anew.
Maria Hadjiathanasiou, Art Historian