There is a certain affinity among contemporary photographers to record and comment on the consequences of political and ideological developments which are manifested in cultural landscapes. These changes sooner or later become visible. And borders have been proven to be one of the most obvious spatial obstacles that despite their artificial nature define entire areas and their inhabitants. Moreover, borders have very often in history been determined by conflicts. The exhibition at The House of Cyprus in Athens, the city marked by the ongoing economic turmoil imposed by European and global financial elites, is a straight forward reflection on political, economic and military status quo in areas such as Cyprus, Russia, Israel, etc.
It is very enlightening to follow the approaches of photographers and artists from different countries exploring the situation in their immediate surroundings. It shows their world view defined by their tradition and ideological principles, their vision or even the notion of their (share of) responsibility towards conflict situations that borders often symbolise. It is somewhat expected that Russian photographer Maria Gruzdeva‘s vision of often conflicting Russian border areas is subtly critical though without direct political statement. On the other hand Israeli artist Yaakov Israel seems to be almost ignorant of the omnipresent and constant violence against Arabic communities imposed by the state of Israel, and instead of dealing with the present he commemorates the mythological past of this blood-soaked land. Maybe that is his own intimate protection against the harsh reality. Or is it escapism? The exhibition therefore displays more or less self-aware and self-reflected works that show artists’ intimate attitudes to collective socio-political situation on their own doorsteps.
In my opinion the most successful among the works at the exhibition is the series of photographs by young artist Stelios Kallinikou from Cyprus. In his intriguing and visually appealing pictures one could trace political discourse reflecting on this ethnically and politically divided country as well as a subtle metaphor of modern European history. He does that by documenting (only) seven kilometers of the coastline near the city of Limassol. In this relatively small area one can find the British military air base, busy commercial port, wild beach for locals and natural park where some rare birds are nesting. Kallinikou managed to create an intimate socio-political, historical and cultural topography of this special place and consequently of the turbulent past of Cyprus.
In order to comprehend his work in full extent one has to read and to think. One has to understand the broader political context of this divided island. And that seems to be one of the purposes of the work, beside the artist’s fascination for this unusual place of extreme variety and his exploration of the impact of human presence in the landscape. The artist is suggestive but not directly and clearly politically engaged, however, he profoundly analyses different elements of a very complex story, using solely visual means. Like every local history also the one of Cyprus, or perhaps even more so, is very complex and multi-layered. It reflects conflict, colonisation and servility. It is closely connected to the (former) British empire that (even nowadays) owns part of the island. And even the name of the work, Lady’s Mile, originates from the story about British governor who loved to ride his horse named Lady along these beautiful sandy shores.
Kallinikou is successful in depicting these complex situations. He has it all, romantic images of a shepherd and his herd, leisure pictures of the bathers along the coast, pictures of wild animals, dreamy landscape and portraits local inhabitants. But there is also very contrasting other side. The sinister airbase and its military hardware, seaport with huge cargo ships passing by and thus showing the consequences of global economy that increasingly undermines authentic businesses and cultures. The outposts of global economy are protected by mighty military force. Amazing, almost sublime picture of an aircraft in the clear blue sky remind the viewer of the constant presence of the forces that protect socio-economic status quo in this (still) unstable country. As usual, the ordinary people are only the observers of inevitable changes in the society and consequently in the landscape.
© Miha Colner, 30 June 2015