Article about the workshop Eco Art Incubator Cyprus: Sites Embodied that took place in the Akamas Peninsula in Cyprus from 14 to 19 April 2017. It preceded the EDN Atelier Akamas: Nature Embodied, that was celebrated from 20 to 23 April. The Atelier had the form of a sharing and discussion of the previous workshop findings with EDN and local communities invited guests. This happened primarily at the site of exploration and experimentation.
By Denise Kenney and Nancy Holmes
Artists and professors at the University of British Columbia Okanagan Canada, and facilitators of the workshop
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Our first visit to the Akamas Peninsula was in November 2016 when we arrived on its rocky shores to explore potential sites for the workshop. We were wooed by a land where old crone trees bent out of shape from some mythological mishap, politics and history carved complicated stories and allegiances and Aphrodite took the dense form of a black rock.
After our visit we wondered about many things:
– Were we yet another wave of colonizers in this place – albeit for a short time?
– How could we possibily do meaningful site-specific work in six days?
– How do we collaborate with locals? Are they even interested in us?
– How can we position the workshop in such a way so that it might plant seeds that resonate beyond this short time?
In the end we chose the site of the small mostly abandoned village of Androlikou and the area surrounding the village. We decided that the purpose of the 6-day workshop should be to expand the participating artists’ own artistic ways of knowing by collaborating with the tangible and intangible web of sensory, spiritual, cultural, historical, ecological and economic complexities of this area.
The village of Androlikou, mostly depopulated after the Cyprus invasion of 1974, is home to several villagers who live alongside ghostly abandoned stone houses. The village contains the ruined home of Cypriot poet Tefkros Anthias; a large quarry that visually dominates the panoramic view; rich red clay banks scooped out for pottery-making; a Turkish Cypriot graveyard which is featured in the film Akamas, the love story of a bicommunal marriage by director Panicos Chrysanthou; rock-strewn agricultural fields with old fig and orange trees bordered by stone walls and villagers’ homes; deep biodiverse gorges; and stunning views of the Mediterranean sea. Large parts of Akamas Peninsula are ecologically protected under the EU’s Natura 2000 and some areas are under pressure to develop. Many of the local villages are working on plans to protect the land and enhance local economic development in the area. Androlikou’s plan is for the development of organic gardening demonstrations, natural building education, and as a place for a Centre for Cooperation and Cultural Bicommunal Interaction between Turkish and Greek Cypriot peoples. We intended for our workshop to support these aspirations. Our staged goals for Eco Art Incubator Cyprus: Sites Embodied project were:
– to bring artists together in a retreat-like setting to develop an international network of ecological art practices and practitioners
– to explore how artistic practices can disrupt intransigent cognitive frames
– to focus on embodied practices for the creation of ecological art
– to support ongoing projects in the region
– to respond to a complex, contested, inspirational place fraught with social, cultural and ecological anxieties
– to witness and acknowledge these anxieties, not to offer to solve or remediate them
– to work together and create art that acknowledges that the quality of our approach and our commitment to life-enhancing relationships between humans and the more than human world are our guiding principles
We arrived in Cyprus a day ahead of time on April 12 2017 and plunged into the Eco Art Workshop the next day. Workshop participants included:
Isabel Andrés and Zoe Balasch (DE/ES), Bernadette Divilly (IE), Geopoetics Group: Anna Tzakou and Antonis Antoniou (GR), Athena Georgiou (CY), Lara Haworth (UK), Ida Johannesen and Nina Ossavy (NO), Natalie Tsingis (CY), Nefeli Tsiouti (CY) and Yiannis Avraamides (CY). We had daily participation from our hosts/support team and artist-documenters as well, Arianna Economou, Justyna Ataman and Ergenc Korkmazel.
Prior to the workshop we sent all participants a package that contained a theoretical essay, biographies, workshop information, poetry, and excerpts from fiction and non-fiction books about the region.
For the first half of the workshop, participants spent most of their time at an abandoned schoolhouse in the village learning about the place and being given access to various creation resources. We planted a garden in the school yard and explored various exercises aimed at aligning the artists with themselves in the new context. We also toured the village, its cemetery, the quarry, the gorge and Sotira mountain. We were visited by filmmaker Panicos Chrysanthou, biologist Daniella Mouyannou and potter Vassos Demetriou. Local photographer Ergenc Korkmazel served as our guide and documentarian throughout the process. The second part of the workshop was dedicated to the participants working independently in/on their chosen site. The conceptual lines of “Earth” informed the work as this was the element that emerged strongly from the village’s conflicts around land use, its ecological and agricultural issues and the dominance of stone and soil in the politics and ecology of the place. This lens was only lightly referred to in our alignment exercises but somehow the concept penetrated nearly every experimental work that arose out of the workshop.
Over the course of the workshop we realized that the Cypriot “locals” turned out to be the Cypriot artists within the workshop and the support team surrounding the experience. We did an exercise at the beginning of the workshop in which we asked participants to describe their home. Many participants, especially the younger ones, expressed a feeling of homelessness. There was a kind of erasure of identity and a universalization of experience. In the end there was a longing for home that was expressed by many, but conflicted feelings as well. They seemed to be experiencing a kind of “Root Shock” (a term used by Mindy Thomson Fullilove to talk about a traumatic stress reaction related to the destruction of one’s home or emotional connections to places [Root Shock: How Tearing Up City Neighborhoods Hurts America, and What We Can Do About It. 2005]). Without exception, all of the artists taking this workshop have done extensive training far from their place of origin. While Cypriot artists might be training in England, an English artist trains in Canada. While Cypriot artists train in Greece, a Greek artist trains in London and the U.S. While Cypriot artists might train in Germany alongside Spanish artists, we meet German artists living and working in Cyprus.
This scenario is not unlike our own experiences as artists and facilitators. Kenney’s most formative years of training were in Paris and yet she grew up in the north- just south of the Alaskan panhandle! The research relationship between Kenney and Holmes and the Eco Art Incubator research project was born because we were trying to reposition our art practice in a rural (and new) environment. We were trying to “make home”. The interdisciplinary practice was also born because of the few practitioners at our institution within our discipline and with our particular interests: we were compelled to establish interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary practice in a rural place. Our methodologies as workshop facilitators and artists are born out of this relationship to place and to each other.
This same dynamic was at play during the workshop. The workshop brought together various artists, some with long histories of being embedded in their culture and their surroundings and others still on a journey and perhaps at a crossroads in their careers in terms belonging to any particular place. For the young Cypriot artists who expressed feelings of disconnection with their country, we hope that the invited artists and the local support team enabled them to see their homeland through a different lens. It is also our hope that by integrating practice with this Cypriot natural and cultural history, they may find new inspiration for moving forward and seeding practices in this area. For visiting artists we hope that they returned to their respective homes with new insights derived from comparisons and a kind of “cleansing of the palate” in a provocative and sensually rich environment. For all of us perhaps it was a Homerid journey- a journey to an exotic place in order to return home with treasures- treasures in the form of new knowledge and new methodologies.
It is impossible to sum up the outcomes and resonances of Eco Art Incubator Cyprus: Sites Embodied as we hope they are still unfolding over time and place. One of our main stated goals was to explore how artistic practices can disrupt intransigent cognitive frames, the topic of our keynote address for the EDN Atelier. In this, we believe we were successful, though often in surprising ways. Some of the work that was produced deliberately shook and reframed conceptual bubbles or cultural expectations. We were given a new way of seeing because of being in a different place. Isabel Andrés and Zoe Balasch used one of our alignement tools and created an experimental work that helped us recalibrate the relationship between charismatic view and industrial eyesore. Ida Johannesen’s version of the fairy tale Little Red Riding Hood focussed our attention of the girl’s band “bad and terrible choice” which had frightening resonance in the context of the abandoned Turkish Cypriot village. Lara Haworth’s Office of the Quarry helped us re-see not only English bureaucracy but also the essence of the quarry as site of resource extraction and aesthetics. Nina Ossavy’s bear loping throught the abandoned village also made us have to re-think how we physically might experience the village (the windows, the goats, and the chickens) but also surprised us into thinking about the folly of utopian schemes! We also had experimental works produced that revealed how crucial it can be to think about the value of reciprocity. We saw that something very powerful was being demanded of the Cypriot artists. Natalie Tsingis created a work that stepped into her own personal struggle as a young person in a country traumatized and bounded by borders. Anthena Georgiou began to artistically explore ideas of home and demolition. Nefeli Tsiouti and Yiannis Avraamides, with Bernadette Divilly from Ireland, created video works that mapped out estrangement and rediscovery of home -using the literal abandoned home associated with a Cypriot poet. Anna Tzakou and Antonis Antoniou also wove a walk into a crucial story of the village, taking us into a new way of seeing and a way of acknowledgment.
Our hope going into the workshop was that we could avoid some of the political and environmental binaries because we weren’t from the region; for the most part we suspect these binaries did not disrupt our work too much, but they were palpable, as the Geopoetics group discovered when transferring some of the explotation from the workshop to the Eco Art commissioned piece they did a few days later. Another goal for us, personally, was to try out several alignment exercises to see how they functioned in a workshop like this-for the most part we thought they were successful, some more than others, and some spectacularly good!
We learned a great deal from the participants, ourselves, as well, whether it was thinking about the role of young artists in a small, possibly marginalized country like Cyprus, or whether it was thinking of the race and colour implications of some of our metaphors. We are very grateful to the participants’ who shared their energy, knowledge and experience with us.
We are artists whose instruments are our senses and if we are honest with ourselves, we are more interested in those embodied experiences, our processes as artists, and the perceptual dimension that underlines our logic than the actual remedial outcome for our activities. However, there is a nagging assumption that eco artists should know what their work might effect in the world. Recently, we have found ourselves talking less about specific goals and more about our alingnment as artists who are positioned in a particular place at a particular time (and alongside our community who shares this reality). Paul Wapner explores this notion of alignment when he makes a case for Contemplative Environmental Studies: “Alignment refers to the practice of coming into ‘right relation’ with ourselves and the world in general, and developing an integrative mode of experience and engagement” (14). He also suggests that “our inner lives -the way we conduct ourselves day-to-day, and even moment-to-moment- determine the way we undertake political action, and that the quality of our approach is as important as the results we hope to bring about” (35).
In the end, this “quality of approach” becomes our benchmark for success and we feel that for the most part, we were able to align ourselves with our participants and with the place. There was joy, respect, learning, sharing, and art making. We enjoyed ourselves, learnt a great deal, felt we had some contribution to make, and the artistic experiments that arose are very worthwhile. We have great hopes that the artists will build on these works in progress.
Lastly, the discussion we had with the EDN people and Creative Europe Desk Cyprus representative Andrie Hadjandreou, after our panel discussion and keynote talk were highlights for us in terms of exchange of excellent questions and developing a great dialogue. We are grateful for the opportunity to have facilitated the workshop and to have presented some of our ideas about eco art practice.
One final note we’d like to make is an expression of gratitude to our support team of Arianna Economou (who also created a film that presses us into experiencing our relationship with the earth), Justyna Ataman and Ergence Korkmazel whose photographs will provide and enduring and exceptionally fine record of our terrific experience in Cyprus.
Wapner, Paul. “The Case for Contemplative Environmental Studies” Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Theory vs. Policy? Connecting Scholars and Practitioners, New Orleans Hilton Riverside Hotel, The Loews New Orleans Hotel, New Orleans, LA, Feb 17, 2010. 2014-11-28
Picture: © Ergenc Korkmazel