Title: Cyprus: Temporal Taxonomy
Artists: Marianna Christofides and Elizabeth Hoak-Doering
Curator: Yiannis Toumazis
Venue: San Marco
Laura Stocks interviews Cyprus Pavilion artists Elizabeth Hoak-Doering and Marianna Christofides.
LS: As artists you explore political, social and cultural relations in reference to Cypriot experience. Do these social constructs overlap with the rest of Europe and the world at large?
EH-D: In Cyprus it is possible to see and to focus on social constructs that are actually relevant to the world at large. Cypriot alterity is interesting because it is often so clear, as opposed to societies where similar alterities are cloaked or blurred. My projects often aim to expose the social constructs themselves – not necessarily (but also) the uniqueness of Cyprus.
MC: The structural elements in my work remain mostly associated within an open, non-restrictive modality which has its reference in specific places, surpasses however a topographical conditionality. In my film “dies solis. Sundays in Nicosia” for example, in which I accompany Asian labour migrants on their only day-off in the week over a time span of a year, I take the Cypriot reality as a point of reference in order to address issues concerning a new social geography that has developed in the last years which stretches between countries throughout the world. Such social constructs find their counterpart in situations and social tendencies beyond national borders.
LS: The exercise of tracing and mapping is prevalent in both of your work. Will this manifest in the Cyprus Pavilion and are the works intended to interact with one another?
MC: Considering the map itself as a boundary layer, it conceals and reveals at the same time all the stratifications and folds that make up time. Thus it comes to be an imprint of innumerable thresholds and passages, a condition that incites constantly new, open-ended and not predetermined journeys across its surface. These multiple and interwoven functions of the map generate questions such as if and where the borders between fact and fiction could be localized.
Insofar as I take as a starting point for my research diffused traces on physical objects such as maps, old postcards and magic lantern glass slides to reveal references and analogies with biographical, cultural and historical trajectories, tracing and mapping are constitutive elements of my work shown in the Cyprus Pavilion.
LS: The nature of mapping relies upon a specific site and landscape. Is this an important aspect of your work, not only in method but also because of its relation to place?
EH-D:I am very concerned with place, yes. Also with time spent at a particular location.
In the case of amanuensis, I would say first of all that since the objects used in this project were borrowed both from the occupied north of Cyprus and from the south, the project points out the implicit politicisation of objects (begging the question, “which ‘side’ did it come from?”). One of the original considerations for the project was that these objects be shown together, blurring the distinctions of ownership, location and regional history/ies.
Regarding the messagefield project - the drawings made by the wind – place is essential, and gives full meaning to the work. This project is divided into four categories, one of which is labeled locational, in the sense that the wind drawing took place simply because of the place.
MC: Cartography addresses the borders of a territory and makes these to its subject by representing space as abstract, objective, homogeneous and universally portrayable. The map has gradually colonized the space; likewise narrative elements have perished in favour of an iconoclastic rationalism. Though the frame provides the pictographic representation with a site in which all elements are thereafter subject to its internal order, it enables also other qualities and aspects to elicit. Various layers of “matter” constitute maps, a state that allows them to unfold their own morphology, geology and archaeology. It is this diversity in the reading of a document and its associated narratives that I would like to recapture in my work. Furthermore I’m interested in how the human presence makes the transformation of a historical, surveyed, mapped place into a present-day social space of action and interaction possible. The way this experience refers to its mapped analogy, the contradictions and ruptures that occur through this transfer, the correspondence between the geometrical picture field and the dynamic space of action are some further elements which I seek to examine in my work.
LS: Your work could be described as a palimpsest of Cypriot life and tradition; not only physically and historically, but also through memory. How do you portray the difficult transience of memory and time?
EH-D:One of the critiques I was thinking of while creating amanuensis is that of human memory and how this often (and sometimes disturbingly) becomes ‘testimony’. Testimonials are critical to the way we construct histories, judge court cases and also to the ways social scientists often characterize micro/ societies. But we also know that memory is protean: testimonies can change within differing contexts and over time. Without the pointedness of historical revisionism, I am suggesting that memory – like history – needs to be rigorously considered in the plural: even if the memory comes from a single voice. I am also suggesting that objects could (cf. Walter Benjamin) be a location of memory. These things are particularly clear in Cyprus where history can be told differently depending on who is speaking, when, and where.
MC: Places have their constitution date, thus the time of their formation, the period of their effect and impact but also their due date when their function has quasi lapsed. This timeline from a genesis to a decay and vice versa is very vivid in the picture of the old city of Nicosia, the various layers of time being deduced from the surfaces of the surrounding buildings. Witnessing abrupt fissures and shifts alongside smooth transitions in the function of the components of an urban environment is for my approach of activating time intervals between historical junctures essential. How can one read documents which have actually lost their original meaning and resonance, but generate however new spatial relations and correspondences?
LS: Social memory is often best portrayed and stored through archives and collections. Does this link to the classification system present in both of your practice?
EH-D: The motivation for the wind drawings – messagefield project - was social memory. The project began when I was going to Armenia, where I knew I would be able to see Mt. Ararat but not approach it on foot. I was aware that this is one of the central focuses of Armenian culture, both past and present. I thought about the fact that wind travelled across and touched Ararat, and land that used to be Armenia, and this gave way to a thought to collect wind, or to let it write. In the beginning I had two wind apparatuses and I travelled around Armenia, making the first wind drawings in 2002. The project grew for another four or so years (and many more apparatuses adapted to different kinds of wind, water, trees…)
In my collection of wind I use a distinct classification system that notes the date, duration, apparatus used to make the drawing, and the category of work (historical/biographical; locational; liminal; lunar/meteorological). This system of classification is present on each drawing and gives over information not just about the reason for the work taking place, but also the environmental conditions in which it did so, linking social constructs with the physical environment.
MC: In the work “Flyaway Inlays” I question the way cartographic simulacra of locations, whose classification and arrangement on an atlas page seem inexplicable by visualising the depicted places in another medium and framework. How can one perceive images beyond the off of the frame and its circumscribed content by tracing back, reformulating and partially reinventing the broader narrative to which they belong? By looking at photographic images as objects that bear the potential of educing from them very different stories I seek to trigger the space around and between the depicted images. Omissions in linear narrative patterns and gaps in temporal sequences suggest for me a shift in the function of images, namely from a mere visibility into a legibility.
LS: Both of your work is documentary in approach and often the final product. How do you define (if at all) the distinction between document and artwork?
EH-D:The lines between document and artwork are becoming less and less distinct. I would say the differences lie in the use to which the item is put, and its location. An item can have multiple uses at any given time or place.
MC: Processes like observing, collecting, classifying and recording underlie my work. In such collections I seek to liberate the images and documents from their initial and pragmatic context and in doing so allow them to generate expanded narratives that oscillate between fact and fiction. By relocating imagery from the past in a present-day context I would like to redefine the temporal element associated with specific artefacts and at the same time undermine the legitimacy of documentary material as an unmediated record of reality. The materiality of found footage material and images as physical objects is for my approach and selection very significant, as I seek to address processes like production, use, translocation and discarding of such documents over the course of time.
LS: Marianna, your 2010 film, Sundays in Nicosia, records Asian labour migrants’ congressing in the traditional city of Nicosia. For Cypriot residents does this present a blurring of boundaries not only in terms of social groups but also within the borders of town centres and Cypriot outskirts?
MC: In the film “dies solis. Sundays in Nicosia” I wanted to outline a geographical and social relief of a quarter afresh, testifying thereby different processes of wanderings, encounters, clashes and disappearances. It is these rapidly changing multiethnic constellations in combination with the existing local social structures that I wanted to examine through this documentary. The resident population of Cyprus employing a maid actually manages to live clearly detached from them, even within the walls of the same house. There exists no other meeting point than the place of work and the course of their only day-off remains for them in fact unknown. In the film I take the old part of Nicosia, where the migrant communities meet every Sunday, as reference for how the same place can be experienced differently and display a varying pertinence for various social groups.
LS: In a similar way Elizabeth Hoak-Doering’s ongoing historical project, Stones of the Suez Canal explores the barriers and connections forged between Egypt and the island of Cyprus. Is the blurring of a nation’s boundaries the antithesis to the scheme presented by the Venice Biennale with its distinct segregation of nationalities?
EH-D: Without giving much away about the Stones of the Suez Canal project, I can say that the Venice Biennale’s scheme of nationalities is similar in ways to the way I am discovering my current work. The national-historical aspects of the story I am telling about the Canal are hobbled by time and place, and archival lapses – and individuals often hold keys to the information I seek. I would say this mirrors quite well the national construct, such as it is, at the Venice Biennale.
This year, as in the past, we see individual non-national artists participating across the constructs of national pavilions at the Venice Biennale. The national pavilions are not just extensions of national identity, but they are also discreet locations where particular, invitational events take place. As for the Suez Canal, in some ways you could say its creation solidified the identity of modern Egypt while at the same time multiplying an already established contact between other nations. As a result the creation and use of the Suez Canal both essentialises and blurs national identity. You could say the same thing about the Venice Biennale: it both essentialises national identities and exposes the areas of cosmopolitan exchange. This transience of artists through places has happened for centuries, artists adapt, contribute, and continue in spite of, and also with the help of nations.