Nowhere and elsewhere

  • From the series 'Chronicles'


Dystopian Chora
“The flow of light through the air had begun to slow, layers of time overlaid each other, laminae of past and future fused together. Soon the tide of photons would be still, space and time would set forever…” (JG Ballard Myths of the Near Future)

Vicky Pericleous’ work has consistently been concerned with the representation of the excesses of memory and the recesses of history in the context of Cyprus. Her artistic output hovers in a no-man’s land, both in space and in time, as she sets out to explore the exigencies of a geopolitical suspension. The artist avoids reproducing hegemonic narratives and foregoes documentary representation as she embarks on an investigation of that which goes beyond reality but still falls short of myth.

“Geography is about power” writes Gearóid Ó Tuathail, and “[a]lthough often assumed to be innocent, the geography of the world is not a product of nature but a product of histories of struggle between competing authorities over the power to organize, occupy, and administer space.” In Nowhere And Elsewhere, Pericleous re-organizes, re-occupies and re-administers both time and space, as she puts forward a new geography. Here the artist develops a highly individualized lexicon that evades the spatiotemporal taxonomical imperatives of place and avoids a narrative. As a latter-day geographer, she deconstructs and reconstructs a new synchronicity that is experienced as both, near and distant.

In a series of large collages that appear proverbial yet alien, the image is in the form of a lunette or a tondo which is transgressed in process. The different pictorial elements encroach against a white expanse and the layout, like an opening into the fantastical, forebodes the chimerical compositions. The artist references baroque landscape painting as an influence and in particular Annibale Carraci’s “The Flight Into Egypt”, (c.1604) where the latter sought to capture the idyllic beauty of nature in a scenic depiction of a biblical theme. The idyllic in a different temporality and contextualisation is what spurs Pericleous’ inquiries into the transcendent nature of landscape in the 21st century. Her work maps the incongruous layers of nature and history, in a new landscape that seeks to reveal the underlying power struggles. As Gillian Rose notes: “whether written or painted, grown or built, a landscape’s meanings draw on the cultural codes of the society for which it was made.” These new landscapes are informed by a dystopian vision with a Ballardian sensibility and embedded with cultural nodes that are open to translation. The artist does not attempt to make sense of the conundrum of representation which is culled from her personal photographic archive, but rather invites the viewer to become the intrepid explorer of this fantasy or even Frantz Fanon’s tourist “avid for the exotic” in a postcolonial destiny.

Inconspicuous details in the compositions, a ram amid dense vegetation, a Madonna, a neon sign for a nightclub called “Mirage”, an elderly man and woman seemingly catching the sun on a bench, or a pair of kitsch decorative parrots, are seamlessly woven with Kyrenia Harbour, a non-descript dusty road or Paphos Castle. From nowhere and definitely to elsewhere, the horizon in these landscapes seems to disappear while the eyes trace the fault line of rupture in-between.

In the audio-visual installation “Astero” (2012), the visitor enters a chamber where at one end of the room there’s the image of a cascading waterfall. The muted seductiveness of the force of nature, as water gushes down the rock landscape and light cuts through darkness, commands a potent catharsis, a conquering of life over death. The spatial dislocation of the outside as inside is further accentuated by a dislocation in the aural elements of the work. These are audio recordings of different accounts of the same event, a gruesome crime of passion that shocked the community of the village Kontemenos in the 60s. The disjointed relationship between the visual and the narrated event creates the in-between space and time wherein “Astero” actualizes Thanatos and Eros. The experience of Eros is what opens up Being to the experience of Death, which can only be the Death of the Other, as one can never experience one’s own. And one can only experience Thanatos through Eros. The meaning of Thanatos and Eros can potentially be extended to the entwined trajectory of the two opposing communities on the island.

The suspension of beginning and end also reverberate in “Every Dawn”, (2012), a loop sequence of the break of dawn that is never completed over the abandoned Nicosia International Airport. Ιn the collective subconscious the airport monumentalizes the failure of the post-colonial modernist project which is reflected in its architecture, and stands in between time and space at the dawn of the Republic of Cyprus. The outline of the terminal building, in Pericleous video is barely visible under the changing colours of the night sky and the sound of birds breaking into morning song. The notions of degeneration and nostalgia of symbols are developed in the accompanying matchstick replica of the airport, a hobbyist technique which is said to have originated as a pass time for prisoners in the 18th century. The scale, choice of material and technique in the representation of the building ideologically reverses what it stands for in the popular imagination, the stalemate and political gridlock. That which is big and invariable, the Cyprus Problem, is rendered small and malleable under restrictive conditions, only for those who take up this hobby.

Time and space implode into an ecstatic experience. It is an experience that does not lead to fusion and the trappings of collective formation and indoctrination. It remains ecstatic and traces what Derrida calls a chora “which is neither “sensible” nor “intelligible,” [but] belongs to a “third genus” (triton genos). Pericleous’ visual and aural collages present landscapes of imaginary geographies, places of desire and longing, but also of eminent disaster and failure. The artist ungrounds the perception of the viewer, leaving him displaced and disoriented, not simply to unleash him in reveries wander, but to let him see again beyond perpetuated narratives. These dystopian visions are the conceptual aporia of a simulacrum, they do not hide the truth. They hold the truth that there is no truth.

Pavlina Paraskevaidou is an Art Writer and Curator who lives in London