July 25, 2022
a loop, a line, a limbo
When the visitors enter the gallery space of the House of Cyprus in Athens, they come across black and white photographs of people, buildings and scenes of everyday life, a ball of thread on a table and they hear a voice commanding them to pass or stay on the line. By hearing the word “line,” which, according to the dictionaries, is a long, thin (and sometimes) imaginary mark that divides areas and forms edges and borders, the viewers will immediately associate it (in this particular space) to the dividing line that breaks the island of Cyprus into two parts. It is widely known as the “Green Line” because the British Lieutenant General Peter Young, who was assigned for “delineating” the line in 1963, in order to stop the tension between the Greek Cypriots and the Turkish Cypriots, drew it on the map with a green pencil. This effort to prevent escalation of tension, was abruptly interrupted in 1974 with the Greek coup and the Turkish invasion in the North, causing the separation of the occupied and free areas of Cyprus.
In 2017, these photographs by Cornelia Mittendorfer constituted the main body of her solo exhibition green line: evocative of an archeology of desperation and desire at the Center of Visual Arts & Research (CVAR) in Nicosia. They focus on the issues and situations related to the problem of Cyprus and the division of the island, bringing up questions about how someone can perceive and depict these traumatic events. Specifically, Mittendorfer has captured with her camera people in their daily lives, half-destroyed buildings, temples, the abandoned airport of Nicosia, villages and various areas from the South and North of the island as well as scenes from the Anthropological Laboratory of the Committee on Missing Persons. This material together with the essays of the catalogue that accompanied the exhibition create a space-field where memory and recollections resonate with incorrect lines and contradictions.
Her current solo exhibition a loop, a line, a limbo in Athens is based on this existing photographic research, where the viewer does not only perceive the trauma, the drama and the memories of these people, but also the artist’s difficulty or ease in coming close to photograph them. The division of the island and its aftermath also become an instrument for her to comment on recent conflicts such as the wars in Syria and Ukraine, which have resulted in violent population displacements and of course deaths. Furthermore, she wishes to open a new field beyond memory, since, after all these decades and in particular in the case of Cyprus, people are tired of waiting for a political solution. Maybe they can no longer imagine a different situation or can no longer stand the wait or just want to put aside this whole situation and turn towards the future. Memories fade with time. The impact of this “arbitrary” dividing line on people reinforces a way of thinking in terms of inclusion versus exclusion.
Mittendorfer has created a number of new works (from performance to video and audio), which make direct or indirect references to dividing lines (sociopolitical, physical or psychological ) and ask various questions about what a line means to each of us, whether we have to overcome or erase it. For instance, there are large photographs of “flags,” created by rescue blankets, fading and a video of different people explaining what a line means to them. Her performance follows the same approach, as the artist is measuring a long green wick yarn -commonly used for the production of candles, which for different religious traditions are associated to hope and the expression of faith and gratitude- and then wraps her head with it, reaching the point where she can no longer breathe easily. A voice (audio work) accompanies the action, giving different orders to Mittendorfer, such as to “cross the line,” “name all your neighbours,” “distrust your belief,” “just walk,” “encounter the doubt” and “remember to forget.” Somehow, these works, which are oscillating between the collective and the private, give a new breath and life to the original photographic research. The viewers’ thought “escapes” for a moment from the political issue, the trauma and the memory, by following their senses, by becoming more willing to listen, feel and understand the people around them -whether they are their neighbours, friends, family, colleagues or enemies- without having to agree with them. In other words, they free themselves from prejudices and biases. It is obvious, on the one hand, that Mittendorfer’s aim is to touch upon a plurality of meanings with her work and in general the whole exhibition. On the other hand, this is also attained by the viewers, who, according to Umberto Eco’s Opera aperta, appreciate the work differently, carrying their own cultural and sociopolitical background, qualities and taste, thus the work becomes ‘open’ in the sense that they “modify” what has been given by the artist and take with them their own impressions and interpretations.(1)
Her works invite the viewers to delve into their inner self, their own experience, memories and history, while at the same time to free themselves from their shackles and proceed to new levels, leaving behind prejudices, discords, negative feelings and conflicts. Will this eventually eliminate the dividing lines (actual and metaphorical) instead of choosing not to see them or will they fade away with time? Or will the trauma continue to be well buried within us and the dividing lines, although invisible, will always be etched in our memory and soul?
Art historian and curator
(1) Umberto Eco, Opera aperta, Milan: Bompiani, 1962, originally published in Il Menabò di letteratura, Turin, no. 5, 1962, 198-237. Published in English as The Open Work, trans. Anna Cagnoni, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1989, 3.