Artist residency: Nicosia Municipal Arts Centre, Cyprus
and University of Plymouth, UK
In his nineteenth century publication The Stones of Venice, Ruskin reflects on the relation between thought and craft and the importance of architecture asserting the aspirations of a society.
My proposal for an artist residency started from my interest in the impact of the Nicosia Master Plan (NMP) roughly 40 years on from its initial instigation which, in itself, was a development programme reflecting the aspirations of the then recently-divided city. So when exploring within the walled city at the outset of the residency in 2017, the context of Ruskin's premise seemed particularly apt. I was pointing my camera at buildings and spaces many of which had been part of the original master plan as well as subsequent aspirational restoration programmes.
Sacred and secular architecture and urban development has been at the heart of my photographic practice for nearly 30 years. This interest in our urban environment stems from not only a shared vision with Ruskin but also, as the architectural theorist Juhani Palasmaa argues, from the importance of buildings and urban spaces being fundamental to our understanding of ourselves, our relationship to the world in which we live, and of our sense of connection to the past.
These elements of understanding relationships and connections became key to my response to the urban fabric that I encountered whilst on the island. Initially, walking through the walled city and following the geography of the NMPs targeted areas, the research I undertook prior to arriving resonated. This was first evident when responding to the worn and damaged facades of homes, some of which had been rennovated, others not. This fascination became Transitions I (The Stones of Nicosia).
The pattern of walking, looking and photographically responding then became the method of production throughout the early part of the residency. After exploring within the walls I moved out into the greater city and, again, began to notice distinct architectural phenomena, such as the single storey properties that connect the city to its colonial past that became Transitions II and infer what Palasmaa references as a sense of solitude and silence, a 'remembering silence', manifest in old houses.
Hiring a car and travelling further afield, during tthe latter part of the residency a number of both sacred and secular developments that emerged as Transitions III and IV. These broader excursions eventually culminated in a body of work that reflects aspects of the past, indicates the current, and heralds the future of the transitioning urban landscape of this contested island.
Transitions II moves out into the modern city, where further evidence of transitioning residential neighbourhoods can be seen, for instance in the often empty single storey dwellings overlooked by later apartment blocks, a dynamic of the lack of planning regulations in 20c urban development in the city.
Facade development is something of a contested practice in urban redevelopment.
In the context of Nicosia 'The restoration of facades of privately owned buildings is conceived as a trigger that will motivate the owners to continue the restoration with their own means, supported by the substantial governmental incentives and subsidies for listed buildings.' However, the EU report then goes on '...there is concern that the scenographic choice - to rehabilitate only facades as if the area were a theatre set - will lead to the rapid deterioration of the repair works, especially in the case of empty dilapidated buildings, but also in the case of low-income owners and residents who do not have the means to complete the restoration.'
These surfaces seemed to take on various properties, not only of the aspects referred to above, but also ambiguous referrential elements of conflict, separation and division.
"Old houses take us back to the slow time and silence
of the past. The silence of architecture is a responsive,
remembering silence. A powerful architectural
experience silences all external noise; it focuses our
attention on our very existence, and as with all art,
it makes us aware of our fundamental solitude."
Juhani Palasmaa | The Eyes of the Skin: Architecture and the Senses
"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."
Before arriving in Cyprus I was made aware of a number of urban developments in various sites across the island particularly, but not exclusively, in the north. For example there was the infamous ghost town of Varosha in Famagusta, the casinos, nightclubs, hotels and mosque-building in the north and the social housing projects for displaced communities constructed south of Nicosia.
Transitions III draws together a series of images made around Kyrenia, Famagusta and the outskirts of Nicosia. They are more distanced views and further indicate what became the overarching focus of my attentions, that is, my interest in representing ideas of home, neighbourhood and nationhood that are such vital elements in the landscapes of Cyprus. In this series we see the dynamics of a variety of urban relationships: of nightclubs (which are in fact brothels) overlooking residential neighbourhoods; of the historic apartments and hotels of Varosha overlooking the contenporary children's play area; of halted housing developments in the slopes of the Pentadaktylos mountains; of a view through lush trees towards the consumerist industrial parks south of Nicosia from the edge of a social housing development; of the small and large-scale mosques being built in the north.
Transitions IV relates directly to the effects of light in relation to architecture. Light is, of course, integral to photo-graphic processes, and therefore is central to photogrphic observation and expression. My attention had been arrested by a truly dominant edifice, namely the Hala Sultan Mosque, that transforms into a light show each night, and is yet another evocation of the evolving landscape of this contested island. I visited this mosque on more than one occasion but when the residency was drawing to a close I revisited the site for one final photographic intervention. This became a set of images that has been resolved as a monitor-based work of single, time-sequenced photographs, that records the aesthetic affect and related symbolic effects of the way in which the mosque is transformed through the fading light.
For a day-by-day account of the residency, see: www.thecyprusproject.wordpress.com