Marianna Christofides in Residence at Gasworks
Post by Elisa Adami
Entering in Marianna Christofides’s studio at Gasworks, you find yourself immersed in what looks like a personal archive, a private collection of cartographic and photographic paraphernalia coming from the less and more remote past of the island of Cyprus. Ancient and more recent maps look at you from the walls, while two lines of black and white photographs stretch on the table in the middle of the room. Standing, neatly arranged one next to the other, the pictures create a sort of thumbnail setting where the history of the island is re-visited through personal or unusual perspectives.
During her residency at Gasworks, Christofides has pursued an extensive research into the mapping of Cyprus as a British Colony from 1878 up until the 1960’s, looking primarily at the National Archives (UK). In the display, we can see some of the threads that spread from this ongoing research, suggestions of paths to be followed, visual meta-reflections on the archival research itself, and two previous works: the videos Along the G-Line (2010) and dies solis. Sundays in Nicosia (2010).
Christofides’s exploration predominantly revolves around issues of mapping, un-mapping and re-mapping. The charts and maps hanging on the walls are representations of the same territory made in different ages and through the kaleidoscope of perspectives dictated by variable political interests. A map dating back to 1700 titled Paradise on Earth depicts Cyprus, and the biblical sites in the Middle East area, in a way that ironically contrasts with the current vision of the region as a field of endless warfare. Several of the exhibited maps were drawn during the British Colonial period, and mirror the political interests of the colonizers. The point of view of a colonizer, yet more genuine and less politically-driven, may be found also in the collection of black and white pictures on display, once belonged to a young British soldier. Based in Cyprus in the 1950s, during the last decade of British colonial rule in the island, the soldier exchanged a conspicuous correspondence with his family. Passing through the pictures that he sent home, Christofides has selected a series of images representing the natural landscape of the island, its lush vegetation that certainly must have seem exotic to foreign eyes. The photographs laid on the table represent another more intimate and tangible face of the same British colonization; they are attempts to get to know and explore the foreign land from within, rather than dominating it from above through cartography.
Besides showing the shift of perspectives and the politically instrumental cartographic shaping of the world, maps can offer also an entry point to reflect upon the idea of border, so crucial in a country as Cyprus obliquely divided by the United Nations Buffer Zone since 1974. For the cartographer a border is a simple line traced on the map, a cold abstraction, unconscious of the tangible consequences that an arbitrary trait of green pencil may have in real lives1. In the video Along the G-Line, instead, Christofides shows what a border is in the physical, inhabited world. The graphic line of the UN-Buffer Zone dividing Nicosia (and the island) in north and south, is bodily re-marked by the rhythmic cartwheels of a seven year old boy. Through this odd juxtaposition, the jumping boy turns into a kind of scale measuring space in another manner; the abstract borders are re-calibrated against the moving entity of a living body. At the same time the young boy transforms a place solidified in its historicity into an active present-day space.
Rather than dividing, sometimes borders can be elected as places of meeting and encounter. This is what happens in Nicosia on Sundays, where the space which lies between two borders – the Venetian wall, once separating town from land, and the UN-Bufferzone – has been chosen as point of meeting by a community of Asian labour migrants to spend together their only day off work. The film dies solis. Sundays in Nicosia observes the course of this day over a time span of a year, following the women’s ceremonies and social rituals. All these human activities attest the transition of a desolate place of separation into a lively social space.
Hanged on one of the walls of the studio there is yet another chart, a special map: a white canvas dotted by a constellation of black spots. They are the negative spaces in-between letters, the areas which stay at the periphery of the production of meaning. Making visible what is usually invisible, the piece points to the interstices of history, to what remains untold and unwritten, to that historical unconscious which lies beyond the piles and stacks of archival material. This unusual map functions as a perfect metaphor of the way in which Christofides works with the archive. By mixing facts and fictions, documentary evidences and hypothetical speculations, the artist tries to bring to the fore unspoken, unknown or forgotten stories, indeed, the spaces between the letters.
Sometimes it is simply by enlarging and cropping a picture that a black spot of history may be illuminated. This is what Christofides does in the second line of black and white pictures arranged on the table. These images are crops of larger pictures showing the restoration of ancient sites and the construction of the Government House in Nicosia. The original photographs showed the entire sites or buildings and they were mainly taken for architectural studies purposes or as reports of the building activity. By enlarging otherwise overlooked details, Christofides reveals the accidental figures of the builders, caught by chance in the spectrum of the photographic lens. Disclosing these neglected and anonymous people, these incidental shadows, she celebrates the true, but forgotten guardians of memory, those who through their manual, humble and unsung work ensured the maintenance of the artefacts of the past.
Marianna Christofides’s residency at Gasworks was made possible through the generous support of Train, The University of the Arts Research Centre for Transnational Art, Identity and Nation.
Visit Marianna Christofides‘s website.
Visit Gasworks website.