Tuesday, June 30, 2009
Saturday, June 27, 2009
Friday, June 26, 2009
Thursday, June 25, 2009
I began to think of these not simply as graffiti dirtying up the walls of the city, but as contests over place. In my posting from 2 weeks ago about Cyprus and contested space, I noted that, "the island rests divided by political, religious, and other ideological space imprinted upon the literal space of the island." Here is a physical space that has come to carry an ideological critique. An "anti capitalista" ideology must live among some segment of this community to emerge into an attempt at claiming space.
I find these subversive and witty little stencils compelling evidence of contested space.
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
Yesterday Crystal Bailly, a fellow UND student, posted a link to this site from her Facebook account about an interesting community art project developing in the Twin Cities. Community art events are always interesting to me. Often, or at least this is how I interpret them, public art works are for the enjoyment of community. This one is too, but their emphasis on placemaking is an intruiging nuance. What does a public art project, shared and created by a neighborhood have to with placemaking?
Their website states, "Through the process of creating the community square, social connections and relationships between neighbors increase and improve, strengthening the ability of a community to respond to issues and opportunities and to take care of one another. The benefits of placemaking by street painting are multiple: development of relationships and social networks; creation of a community gathering place; calmed traffic; crime prevention; and a local neighborhood identity." And this, "Placemaking is people coming together and actively working to turn generic public spaces into community places where people can create connections with one another. By using elements such as art, sculpture, benches and plants, and by “activating” spaces by planning human activity, a generic space can be turned into a place where community gathers, happens and thrives."
I find their use of the public streets quite interesting. Marc Auge critiques contemporary culture for merely existing in a placeless environment where he cites malls, freeways, and even televisions as "non-place" that simply facilitate movement of consumers across the city without the construction of any placed based notions. This project instead, celebrates the a unique community and their community that engages in a shared project to beautify and mark (and perhaps in a sense name or claim a shared space) for the benefit of both the insiders and outsiders to the community.
I have some basic questions about process...who and how are the works designed? How long do they last? Do they move in the neighborhood from year to year? Are their restrictions to content?
Anyway...I thought it was an interesting concept. Thoughts? Are there other similar projects out there?
Sunday, June 21, 2009
It was a remarkable month...but I am happy to be home and look forward to the next component of this project. My field season has ended but the digital studio season has just begun as I wade through 70+ gigabytes of photos. I will continue to process and post more photos of the season and Cyprus in general throughout the summer.
Friday, June 12, 2009
Yesterday morning I sat out on the balcony to read and enjoy some coffee as Larnaca slowly came to life. I picked up Philip Sheldrake’s Spaces for the Sacred again to review his comments on contested space…another of the central ideas following me in Cyprus. Even long before the 1974 revolution, this place has been contested…likely even back to the times of the ancient settlements that we are excavating. Looking on the internet I learned of the shooting at Holocaust Museum in DC. This tragic event is only additional proof of the contested nature of space and memory.
The DC event is not unique but it is complex. The museum, full of painful memory for most of the world, rests in an uneasy tension, like the sites of the Holocaust themselves, between the extremes of sacred and profane sites. They are at once set aside, protected, and made visible for memorial purposes, thus they seem to function like many truly sacred sites. And yet, they are record to the horrific atrocities that humanity is capable of. A sort of complexity begins when the ideological, political space is enacted or embodied within a literal space. In the DC event, an anti-Semetic ideology become embodied in a violent action within this space. While I dare say that most of the world would acknowledge the Holocaust and its lingering memories and sites, this was an act of contesting both space and memory.
I mention this all as preface to the Cypriot situation. Here the island rests divided by political, religious, and other ideological space imprinted upon the literal space of the island. The North and its Turkish influence is often painted as the aggressor holding the Greek land hostage since 1974. While this past is too complex and long for me to recount here (as if I even know enough about it to do so), Cyprus is a fine example of contested space. A few days ago Becky Savaria, and undergraduate from Messiah College made a fine posting on the PKAP Undergraduate Blog regarding these tensions as they are made evident here in Larnaca (a central city within the Greek side of the island). Greek Cypriots who were displaced during the revolution have employed some subtle and not so subtle ways of carrying on their memories of the 1974 events (As Becky's post suggests). The image here is another of those place memories that inheres a political statement as well. Famagusta is one of the Turkish occupied cities lost to the North in '74. This shop owner, and many like them, keep the collective memory alive, as well as their political allegiance in a public way. For many tourists who do not know the tragic history of this remarkable island, these are simple store names rather than signs of contested space and memory.
Place studies have historically focussed on a singularity of meaning the work of Mircea Eliade's work. Not until recently have scholars begun to question the political nature of place/space and the pluralities of meaning and interpretations offered by distict people groups. Place in general, and sacred spaces in particular are "just as likely to cause division as provoke consensus and harmony" (Sheldrake, 5). Once postmodernity had moved past Eliade's modern concepts of singularlized placed meaning, we are allowed to see the power of naming place. Paul Ricouer also suggests that we look to the narrative of the oppressed and in so doing we examine place by which stories are being told and which are being suppressed. The French philosopher Henri LeFebvre reminds us that the ways of which we understand space is historically conditioned. His "socio-spatial outlook" becomes our means of orienting both ideologically and literally in our environments. It would seem that the metanarratives of those in power become culturally and even in the case of these images, architecturally embodied to reinforce the Greek Cypriot narrative. Sheldrake reminds us that with such images or narratives of power, there seems to be a responsibility to explore the variety of meanings (told and untold) upon any given site.
What does this mean for photography today, and for me particularly on a residency in an ongoing contested space? I haven't work this out yet, but when I look at other contemporary landscape photographers like Jeff Brouws, Edward Burtynsky, John Ganis and others, ones notes a sort of objectivity of their work, a sort of banality in composition renders these politicized places as cultural oddities. Certainly their choice of subject denotes a subjectivity of the artist, but they are imaged in a manner that offers sort of enduring grace in the degraded environment. Could this be a way forward? Can such images be made of contested spaces that are open enough in meaning to allow suppressed narratives to emerge? Can the two coexist in an image?
Sorry for the roughness of these thoughts...writing usually helps me clarify my thoughts. I think these need more work.
Thursday, June 11, 2009
Tuesday, June 9, 2009
I wrote earlier this week of Belden Lane’s text Landscapes of the Sacred, in which he makes a fine delineation between Plato and Aristotle’s conceptions of place. Earlier Lane uses a 4 fold typology with which he interprets sacred space: 1) sacred space is not chosen, it chooses, 2) sacred space is ordinary place, ritually made extraordinary, 3) sacred place can be tread upon without being entered, 4) the impulse of sacred place is both centripetal and centrifugal, local and universal.
As the week has gone along, Lane’s third axiom, “Sacred place can be tread upon without being entered” stuck out. Was I merely treading upon these sites without entering into them? What does it mean to existentially enter such a site? W. Paul Jones in his wonderful work A Table in the Desert: Making Space Holy suggests there is a profound difference between “secular and sacred memory” where he contrasts tourist attractions with sites of holy pilgrimage. This reflects my own experience of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City. It was only upon my 3rd visit did my heart and mind make that liminal journey from touring art student who appreciated the architecture to a pilgrim seeking to understand the O/other in that place.
Lane suggests that our bodily presence in a particular place is never identical to being open to the fullness of time and place. Heidegger, the modern philosopher suggested with his concept of “dassein,” which translates from German to mean “being” or more accurately “being there,” connotes the idea of dwelling deeply in a place as to unite the 4 horizons of being human: earth, sky, gods, and men. And yet, we often live in that paradox of occupying a place without entering into that place. In essence, we tread upon, without entering in…the literal threshold ceases to become an existential one.
It is interesting that our projects involve work on, or near, an early Christian basilica. While we are not working directly within the nave or apse, we are working to understand the remnants of a side room that has toppled with considerable force. As we work to uncover mortar that once held the walls and floors together, are we merely treading upon this once sacred space? Has anyone, through the course of their work passed through the literal to that existential threshold to a sacred space as the original site intended?
What does photography add to this mix?
Photography is so closely related to memory and yet is often hard to tease out. Two of the primary texts that students of photography read, Susan Sontag’s On Photography, and Roland Barthes Camera Lucida come down harshly on photography’s connection to memory. Barthes would suggest that photography actually stifles memory. Yi-Fu Tuan, the well known human geographer, alternatively suggests in his text Place and Art that photography and other art works become “virtual places” that viewers can return to over and over to rehearse memory and experience.
Perhaps that is why I love photographing place/space/landscape. These images provide me, and perhaps others, an opportunity to repeatedly return to places through a virtual pilgrimage. The images provoke the viewers memory and imagination that the liminal spaces may be entered into again without being physically present to the place.
One profound challenge to this theory I share with Tuan is the ubiquity of images in our consumer society. We consume images at an astounding rate and with the onset of the digital imagery we produce them at an even higher rate. Will the sheer volume of images negate the potential for a liminal entry into the image? Or, like the places themselves, do we need to learn to protect such images in the ways we “use” them? Is there a proper attitude with which we should attend to photography that would more readily facilitate or allow the slide from consumer or tourist of place to sacred place?
Just a few musings from a very full week.
Monday, June 8, 2009
Ian Ragsdale has been spending his trip behind a video camera and has been producing some great vignettes of the project. The third one is just for fun. Enjoy.
Sunday, June 7, 2009
Wednesday I took the morning to orient myself in the city of Larnaca, our home during the project. I set out about 730 and walked for an hour and half through the local streets. With the images of the early 20th C. French photographer Atget in my mind, I looked to the back passages, store windows, doors and other common things that so often appeared in his work.
Friday, June 5, 2009
The PKAP residency has provided both time and space for me to work. For me, that means photographing, reading, and writing about the significance of place/space/landscape. One of the 2 books I took along is Landscapes of the Sacred by Belden Lane who teaches at St. Louis University.
Yesterday I was reading how place is radically different in the thought of Aristotle and Plato. Aristotle preferred “topos” while Plato emphasized “chora.” Aristotle’s topos suggests a point on a map or an objective container that exerts no influence on those who enter those places. We see this legacy still at work today in cartography and GPS systems able to pinpoint location. Plato however takes an experiential view of place in his conception of chora. He suggests that place is the “wet-nurse, suckler and feeder of all things.” Plato is interested in the human connection to a particular place and the “choreography” of the reciprocal dance of humanity and environment.
What struck me as I read over Lane’s thoughts was how in the past week I have moved from topos to chora. The night before I left Sioux Falls, I sat in the basement with my friend Terence Mournet trying to find the sites on Google maps…a perfect, high tech example of Aristotle’s topos. It was an objective space…coordinates on a map…exerting minimal influence upon me save for some anxiety of the unknown. And now, after less than a week on this beautiful Mediterranean island, topos has become chora.
But how does this transformation of place come about? What moves someone from topos to chora? Lane suggests that is through the performance of various rituals. Philip Sheldrake would similarly suggest that it is through the accumulation of memory. Ritual and memory being intimately related, place emerges through ones daily activities which may be conceived of as a form of ritual. From our early rising hour to the drive out to the sites, dropping people off at their respective trenches, to pulling out the tools for the day (which perhaps become sacred objects by this performance), the digging, sifting, picking, etc. These rituals, now well into the second week for some, and years for others, all feed the accumulating memory from which chora would seem to emerge from.
Bill Caraher pointed out another layer to these two words yesterday as well that adds some nice texture to the conversation. My Greek from seminary is very rusty (sorry Dr. Rainbow), but an alternative meaning to chora is one of the goals of the project. Chora also means “country”. The Pyla -Koutsopetria site existed in an in-between state of sorts between city and country. The project, in some ways, is attempting to articulate the significance of this village. In this process, the site once located merely on a map for us all, is becoming significant place through our daily work here. Topos is giving way to chora.
Thursday, June 4, 2009
Wednesday, June 3, 2009
One of the most astounding things for me is the sheer amount of pottery sherds on the ground. I sat down and simply picked up the pieces within reach of my arms without even stretching. Here are some common and fine-ware pieces. The large longer one on the heal of my hand is handle with a black slip.
Here Brandon Olson, a PhD student at Penn State is a trench supervisor takes depth readings and relays them to a Messiah College student. This trench had a productive day with significant pottery finds. Near the end of the day, they had located the bedrock on the north side of the the wall.
The light, while beautiful, is difficult for photography. We are forced to lift a sheet to cover the trench to get an accurate photograph of it.
I spent much of the day near Brandon's trench. Here they sift through the dirt, remove rocks, pottery, mica, bone, or anything else that might show up that needs cataloguing for later review.
Tuesday, June 2, 2009
These three images are from the Agios Neophytos monastery. Neophytos (1134-1220) was a reclusive monk who moved to this area before it was inhabited. His plan backfired slightly when his reputation drew followers. I was not allowed to photograph anywhere inside the buildings, but outside in the compound was fine. Up the hill to the west of the courtyard was a cave hermitage with brilliant paintings and icons dating back to around 1200.
These two shots are from the ruins of an early basilica with impressive animal mosaics that include tigers and lions to fish, birds, and octopodi. Are these later present because of the their proximity to the sea? Could it be a Ark reference? Other symbolism? Also note the large baptistry below surrounded by a wonderful mosaic design.
These 3 shots are from the Tombs of the Kings in Paphos. While not really for kings, it was for the local elite. This necropolis was begun in the 3rd C. BC and was carved out of the soft stone.
These are exquisite mosaics near Paphos that were unearthed by a plowing farmer in 1960. Since then it has been under continuous excavation. The once home of a wealthy merchant is now called House of Dionysos. With many of the mosaics covered on this winding self guided tour it was an impressive display of historical artistry and wealth needed to complete such a huge project. The site seems to go on and on.
Also included in this section are shots of the Agora located just steps away from the House of Dionysos.