Be prepared – this is a long post! I’ve taken the last couple of days to take stock of where I am with project work before entering the final few days of the visit. This is a summary:
The photographic works made whilst in Nicosia contemplate notions of home, neighbourhood and nationhood, under the broad theme of ‘anticipation’. The series emanate from the premise that architecture reflects who we are and how we engage with the world on a fundamental level. In the words of Palassmaa:
The timeless task of architecture is to create embodied and lived existential metaphors that concretise and structure our being in the world. Architecture reflects, materialises and eternalises ideas and images of ideal life. Buildings and towns enable us to structure, understand and remember the shapeless flow of reality and, ultimately, to recognise and remember who we are. Architecture enables us to perceive and understand the dialectics of permanence and change, to settle ourselves in the world, and to place ourselves in the continuum of culture and time. Palassmaa, J. ‘The Task of Architecture’ in The Eyes of the Skin
This potential overarching theme approaches anticipation from the microcosm of the home, and the eroding stonework of the Venetian walled city of Nicosia – through the neighbourhoods that, on the one hand, are scattered with single storey dwellings in amongst newer apartment blocks in the city and new estate development in the city and further afield, in places such as Kyrenia – to the large scale urban developments seen across the island (Kyrenia, Limassol) and individual mosque buildings in the north, that reflect issues of nationhood and distinct national cultural identity and aspiration.
The series are made in the context of the anticipation of, or waiting for, a unified future and they initially began as a response to the ambitions of initiatives such as the Nicosia Master Plan and the Partnership for the Future under the banner of the United Nations Development Plan (UNDP). My sense is one of a difficult anticipation of reunification. With each failed attempt at finding a solution to ‘The Cyprus Problem’ there is a potentially greater sense of distinction/separation appearing. For example, the more mosques that are built in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) the more the distinction of the cultural heritage of nations is made manifest – and potentially in an artificially constructed sense of political game-playing. A key aspect of this is the ever-present Turkish flag – draped from buildings, flying between minarets, transposed into the mountains…
‘In Anticipation’ and four potential photo series:
Series 1: The Stones of Nicosia (after Ruskin) – working title
These images are all taken from individual properties within the Venetian walled city of Nicosia and which represent a mix of properties that have either been through a process of re-development, distinct areas of the Nicosia Master Plan for example, or not – those areas that sit outside the Master Plan designation.
They are abstract representations of the sandstone walls and there is no distinction between places that have been redeveloped and those that have not. They are vignetted in a circular fashion, indicative of the walled city in which they were made and are ambiguous renderings of walls of individual homes that, through time, have seen conflict, decay and regeneration. But they all make manifest a sense of a waiting – in anticipation of further (new) redevelopment or now much-needed repair of (previous) redevelopment. The shapes, textures and materials manifested in the images signify this conflict (the circles of potential bullet holes), decay (wearing of materials over time), redevelopment (signs of renderings and layers of materials) but also of layers that appear separated, or perhaps separating – moving away from each other and gradually crumbling.
The working title of the series refers to The Stones of Venice in which Ruskin postulates on the vitality between thought and craft and the importance of architecture in asserting the aspirations of a society.
Series 2: An Uncertain Future – working title
‘Architecture presents the drama of construction silenced into matter, space and light. Ultimately, architecture is the art of petrified silence. When the clutter of construction work ceases, and the shouting of workers dies away, a building becomes a museum of a waiting, patient silence.’ Palassmaa, J. ‘Silence, Time and Solitude’ in The Eyes of the Skin. p51
A construction site would normally project a sense of a future; an aspiration and, in the case of such developments in Northern Cyprus, it could be argued a utopian sense of future. Buildings would be awaiting their new occupants. This abandoned site on the outskirts of Kyrenia felt like a utopian idealistic future metamorphosed into a dystopian actuality. No longer are these buildings awaiting inhabitants it seems – their waiting is an uncertain one therefore. Will there be a future or will there be demolition?
The images are made after dark in reference to what Palassmaa talks about when he refers to the significance of shadow and a sense of breathing: ‘Deep shadows and darkness are essential, because they dim the sharpness of vision, make depth and distance ambiguous, and invite unconscious peripheral vision and tactile fantasy.’ He goes on to talk about the ‘constant deep breathing of shadow and light’ in architectural spaces, and that ‘shadow inhales and illumination exhales light.’ Palassmaa, J. ‘The Significance of the Shadow’ in The Eyes of the Skin
In a recent conversation with an International Studies academic in Nicosia, he also explained the case of the Orams family, an infamous case of an English couple being drawn into long, and eventually disastrous, issues of property ownership in Kyrenia. The thought was that this development that I had photographed became abandoned because the plethora of potential UK buyers disappeared, scared off by the impact of the Orams family outcome. This is something I intend to research further therefore, as it also has a bearing on the context of nationhood and the relationship between Greek and Turkish Cypriots and the British.
I’m still experimenting with this series currently. I am undecided as to whether they should be made to appear as if they are an alternative daylight, in an uncertain sense of what one is looking at (they appear normal in one sense but also strange at the same time – something not quite right). Or, they could be realised as darker images, more representative of the situation of the image-making – under moonlight and distant street light, where they reference ‘shadow’ more effectively perhaps. And indeed I am uncertain as to whether they are best treated as B/W or monochrome colour (blueish to reflect the nocturnal conditions again.
Series 3: Home – working title
One of the first/early urban dynamics that struck me was the relationship between the building types in the suburbs of Nicosia – between the older detached, single storey, properties that were surrounded by more contemporary apartment blocks. According to a paper written by Byron Ioannou of Frederick University, this reflects an aspect of the planning laws in which he outlines three main building typologies in these neighbourhoods – Pre-1970s detached housing similar to the British colonial cottage, 1970s-early1990s flat-roof buildings of up to four units per block, and mid-1990s to the present day multi-storey blocks of flats on pilotis. What fascinated me was the presence these single storey properties had, and what they represented as a notion of home. Many of the examples I saw (although not all) were either deserted or partly derelict. They seemed to be awaiting demolition in readiness for the next apartment block to emerge. Or perhaps they will be developed and once again become family homes. They seemed vulnerable on the one hand, therefore, but also reflected a history of how home can be contemplated – as Yi-Fu Tuan puts it:
Home is the pivot of a daily routine; we leave it to work in the morning and return for sustenance, rest, and the temporary oblivion of sleep at night. We go to all kinds of places but return home, or to homelike places. Home is where life begins and ends; and if this rarely happens in modern society it remains an oneiric ideal. Tuan, Yi-Fu. ‘Place: An Experiential Perspective’, in The Geographer
And so a series of images of home were developed, drawn from a variety of suburban neighbourhoods in Nicosia. In developing the series I began to work with light and time in a particular way, waiting for twilight and the process that Palassmaa talks about when he says: ‘The human eye is most perfectly tuned for twilight rather than bright daylight…Mist and twilight awaken the imagination by making visual images unclear and ambiguous’. Palassmaa, J. ‘The Significance of the Shadow’ in The Eyes of the Skin.
Series 4: Nationhood – working title
This is the series I’ve been working on most recently and they are primarily concerned with ideas of nationhood, the definition of which, according to the Oxford Dictionary is: ‘The fact or status of being a nation; national identity or independence’. Clearly, issues of nationhood are significant to the divided island of Cyprus. It has been interesting to witness the various manifestations of this sense of national identity between the north and the south and in doing so a number of images have been made that reflect a sense of past, present and future. All the images in this series reflect something of ‘home’, not through the depiction of individual properties but of neighbourhoods, and through the lens of broader, more distanced, topographies.
The large scale mosque development, both in terms of quantity and size of a number of these, is clear as one travels around the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) and there is a great deal of concern over this. Interestingly the concern is not just from Greek Cypriots. An academic from the University of Nicosia, who’s been researching the development of mosques in Cyprus, explained that this is regarded as a politically-driven Muslimisation of the north of the island by Turkish Cypriots also, who complain about the enforced sense of religion, through the increase in presence of mosques in so many communities and Muslim religious education being brought into schools.
The Turkish, Israeli and Russian investment in the urban development of Kyrenia, as an example, is likewise a concern. There is an extra-ordinary amount of construction being undertaken in this area, from hotels and casinos (not my focus), to neon-lit nightclubs (brothels in actuality) appearing adjacent to residential neighbourhoods near Kyrenia and large individual properties for the wealthy, with their swimming pools and views of the Mediterranean, creating exclusive new neighbourhoods in the hills facing the coast.
And then there is Famagusta of course, the second of the island’s Venetian walled cities, but also the location of Varosha, the ghost city, abandoned in 1974 and barely touched since. It has been this infamous dead space for 43 years although, interestingly, in the news whilst I was staying were plans for the development of three hotels within this closed area. This is something I need to research further. The image made here as part of this potential nationhood series reflects this relationship between past, present and future, with the hotel and adjacent apartment block a symbol of the town’s historical holiday and beach resort status, whilst the children’s play area indicates the future generation who will potentially grow up knowing no other situation than an island that contains two sides. (As a note, I am also researching whether the palm trees are the variety that were introduced by the British during the colonial period. Apparently they are distinctive and can therefore be identified and would represent another element of Cyprus’s nationhood.)
There’ll be another image in this series appearing in the next post – another of the large mosques in the north.