Carrying on and Transforming the Green Line

 

During this period, if an unaware visitor happens to enter the gallery space of the Upper Austrian Art Association in Linz, his most probable reaction would be perplexity and contemplation. Black and white photographs of people, buildings and other images from a foreign land, a ball of thread on the floor and a voice commanding him to “pass the line” or “stay on the line” dominate the exhibition space. Then, it is likely that these, at first glance, unconnected works will drive the viewer to firstly discover the line in the gallery and secondly to connect the concept of the line to the pictures.   

 

Five years ago, 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 Cyprus problem 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 laboratories of the Commission of Inquiry for the Missing. 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 in Linz is based on this existing photographic research, without having in mind only the case of Cyprus. She wants to open a new field beyond memory, since, after all these decades 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.

 

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. Along with this selection of photographs, Mittendorfer has created a number of new works (from performance to video and audio), which make direct or indirect references to dividing lines and ask various questions about what a line means to each of us, whether we have to overcome or erase it. Somehow, they give a new breath and life to the original photographic research, as the viewer's thought “escapes” for a while from the political issue, the trauma and the memory, by following his senses, freeing himself from prejudices, by becoming more open to listen, feel and understand his neighbor, without meaning that he has to agree with him.

 

Mittendorfer’s effort to “transform” the photographs, by blending them together with audio, video and performance, is not the only proof of her desire to open her work to a plurality of interpretations. By exhibiting the photographs far away from Cyprus, the place of origin, together with the new works, more interpretations could be added here in Linz, where the historical, cultural and sociopolital context is much different. This plethora is also attained by the viewer, who, according to Umberto Eco’s Opera aperta (1962), appreciates the works differently, carrying his own cultural background, qualities and taste, thus the work becomes ‘open’ in the sense that he “modifies” what has been given by the artist and takes with him his own impressions and interpretations.[1]

 

Her works invite the viewer to delve into his inner self, his own experience and history, while at the same time to free himself from his shackles and proceed to new levels, leaving behind prejudices, discords, negative feelings and conflicts. Will this eventually eliminate the dividing lines 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?

 

Dr. Stratis Pantazis

Art historian and curator, Athens

 

[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.