Between the Lines
Atlantropa Series 2018
Seaweed walls, video installation
Fondazzjoni Kreattività -Spazju Kreattiv, St James Cavalier, Valletta, Malta
Curated by Niki Young and Irene Biolchini
Living in the Mediterranean amounts to living amid military, political, economic and social complexities, enviable wealth, grievous poverties, economic fluctuations, ecological disasters, political corruptions, large transformations in the aftermath of war, and forced migrations. A plexus of tensions hovers over a space that simultaneously exists and does not exist, a space that can be located quite easily geographically, but resists any epistemological definition.
It is a sea, however, of ceaseless overlaps of cultural and historical currents, of processes of stratified multi-dimensional and ’multi-local’ recognition, of hidden and concealed ambiguities, of the meeting and mixing of cultural and historical currents, of transit and exchange, of a fluid topography of rejected and forgotten memories, and finally, of an unseen and silent cartography of memories.
In examining my work, the sea’s evasiveness becomes a metaphor for the position of Cyprus between East and West, which offers insights into the associations between place, artistic practice and expression, and the Mediterranean as an ‘in-between’ place which remains open-ended and dynamic, a construction whose socio-political and cultural borders are constantly shifting. The cultural theorist Iain Chambers has recently proposed an open-ended understanding of the Mediterranean as ‘a site of perpetual transit’, which invokes the continual movement of peoples, cultures and their subsequent histories between West and East, North and South, Europe, Asia and Africa. The connection between place, identity and cultural experience is still a challenging concept in the Mediterranean region which embraces a multi-dimensional tradition and diverse artistic practices by various communities.
Perhaps the sea itself, this mobile site of a thousand journeys, a transportable platform of dialogues between cultures, conflicts and differences, helps us to understand the Mediterranean, not as a straightforward geographical reality, a maritime territory, but as an idea, a living cultural fact. This calls forth a critical reflection of the reasons why a stable and reassuring mapping of this sea has never been possible. Indeed, the delimitation/description of the Mediterranean touches upon a broader set of issues at the core of contemporary geographical thought and practice. These issues, which are also manifested in my work, link places, identities and cultural experiences, and put across the contextuality, subjectivity and multiplicity of different meanings of topos. By tracing these issues, or artistic geographies of the Mediterranean region, my most recent installation, Between the Lines, maps the site οn which my art was created, and extracts information from the topos itself. The materiality of the work and the references to memory and nostalgia attest to the place where it was created.
My focus in this work is placed on the politics of appearance, in terms of tracing a geography/space where migrants are rendered principally invisible. It is about the people who are desperately trying to reach a safer, more promising land and are visually erased (both their lives and deaths). What we are left with is a ‘capsular’ living, a territorial ecosystem, a life contained in a hermetically sealed space: boats, containers and detention camps.
Today, more than ever, this seems relevant since it is suddenly fortified by contemporary intensity to remind us of the limits on freedom and the destiny of the inhabitants of this area. Using the Mediterranean as a focal point, whether an exit or a dead end, my work confirms the magnitude of the devastation and the vast human catastrophes.
A close reading of my work today clearly invokes the silent, but excruciating forces exercised on the shores of the Mediterranean, while highlighting how private stories can be transformed into public sites of history and designating what new insights can be gained into an understanding of the complex interplay between individual biographies and their geopolitical, historical and cultural formations.
Through the use of media, such as a slide show or video, the ghosts of what occurred in the past are projected into the present moment in my work. They are forced to exist in a time and place where they hardly belong. Through these technologies, moments, spaces, and people can temporarily be brought back to life; their voices, movements, and physical presence flash before our eyes. The feeling of re-experiencing this dematerialised past creates a haunting feeling of the familiar made foreign. Derrida writes that according to Barthes, in Camera Lucida (1980), the presence of a figure in a photo is literally an emanation of the referent. From a real body, which was there to precede radiations that come to touch me, I who am here [...] The photo of the departed being comes to touch me like the delayed rays of a star. A kind of umbilical cord ties the body of the photographic thing to my gaze: light, though impalpable, is in fact a carnal medium here. This is a phantomatic effect which Barthes himself has put forward. To be haunted by the ghost is to remember what one has never experienced in the present, to remember what, in essence, has never had the form of presence.
The subjective, performative and poetic testimonies in my work echo an attempt to construct a new becoming as a critical act. I am trying to rework contradictions such as past and present, real and constructed, heard and silenced.
1 Jacques Derrida and Bernard Stiegler, “Spectrographies,” Echographies of Television (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2002), 113.