> The debates
> The interviews
Interviews and broadcasts about the “Iconoclastic Controversies” exhibition
Interview with Nico Carpentier, by Eva Giannoukou on 8 October 2015
Interview with Nico Carpentier and Vaia Doudaki, by Orestis Tringides on 12 November 2015 in Downtown Choris Bakira on MYCYRadio
Interview with Nico Carpentier and Andreas Papallas, by Orestis Tringides on 16 November 2015 in Downtown Choris Bakira on MYCYRadio
Interview with Yiorgos Kakouris, by Orestis Tringides on 18 November 2015 in Downtown Choris Bakira on MYCYRadio
Exhibition report, by Orestis Tringides on 22 December 2015 in Downtown Choris Bakira on MYCYRadio. See also the MYCYradio website (part 1 and part 2) - and the rebroadcasts on 29 December 2015 (part 1 and part 2) and on 5 January 2016 (part 1 and part 2)
Debate 1 "Monuments and Memories", organised by AHDR. Recording by Orestis Tringides, broadcast on 23 December 2015 in Downtown Choris Bakira on MYCYRadio. See also the MYCYradio website (part 1 and part 2) - and the rebroadcasts on 30 December 2015 (part 1 and part 2) and on 6 January 2016 (part 1 and part 2)
Debate 2 "Covering the Cyprus Conflict", organised by CCMC. Recording by Orestis Tringides, broadcast on 24 December 2015 in Downtown Choris Bakira on MYCYRadio. See also the MYCYradio website (part 1 and part 2) - and the rebroadcasts on 31 December 2015 (part 1 and part 2) and on 7 January 2016 (part 1 and part 2)
Exhibition review, by Orestis Tringides on 28 December 2015 in Downtown Choris Bakira on MYCYRadio. See also the MYCYradio website - and the rebroadcasts on 4 January 2016 and on 12 January 2016
Seminar "Monuments and Memorials as rhetoric / Objectivity as male", organised by NeMe on 23 January 2016. Recording by Yiannis Christidis and CUT-Radio. Interventions by Vayia Karaiskou, Aysu Arsoy and Chrystalleni Loizidou, followed by a discussion
Interview with Nico Carpentier, by Yiannis Christidis on 23 January 2016 on CUT-Radio. An edited transcript of this interview can be found at the NeMe-imca website, and below
Interview with Pavlos Vrionides, by Yiannis Christidis on 1 February 2016 on CUT-Radio
8 October 2015
Transcription: Eirini Avraam
Eva Giannoukou: Can you explain what the exhibition is about? How did the idea take root?
Nico Carpentier: There are actually two components to it and these are different stories. One is the visual sociology part, which is an old interest of mine. That is based on the question how to communicate academic research in a way that is not only text-based. So how to tell a story in an academic way that is not an article, or a book, or a book chapter but that uses other technologies to communicate research outcomes, or theoretical frameworks. That is a question that has been with me for a very long time. This is actually a question which is connected to what is called science communication. How do we communicate our academic results to the outside world? That’s why photography became important to me. Because in visual sociology the image is used as a tool not only for analysis. Of course, analysing the visual is what we often do in communication and media studies. But in visual sociology the question also becomes how can we use the visual –whether this is photography, video, audio- to communicate research in itself. And that, I think, is a very important and a very difficult question.
This idea is not entirely new –nothing is [smiles]: A number of people have been working with photography within academia. There is a genre which is called the visual essay. Here, photography is used in article form, as an essay, using images to tell the story and not just to illustrate it. I used some of these ideas for this exhibition. Instead of simply saying: Let’s publish the photos in an article form, in an essay form, I said: Let’s display them in their original photographic mode. Let’s use photography and let’s combine them with an exhibition. So that is the first part of the story, which goes back to a number of other projects that I have been doing in order to try to find this other language.
Eva: Is this a very common practice in your field?
Nico: It is a small group of academics that use it, because, you know, academics like to write. Academia is very much about writing. And it is very important part of our work, I am not saying that writing is not important, but a lot of weight is being put on writing. These other media, these other ways of communicating, are not very present. They are not a part of our training, they are not part of our usual academic practices. There are not part of our teaching practices either. But there is a small group of people working with these ideas, trying to find other ways of telling their academic story. And the real challenge is that we need to find ways of doing this in a way that is still academic. Because anybody can (more or less) make a video, but to make a video that follows the principles of academic storytelling, of academic narration, is not that easy. To make an exhibition that still stays within the logics of academic storytelling is definitely not an easy thing to do. Moreover, there are not too many examples to build on. Of course, there are always other people that have done that. But I think it’s still new in the sense that it’s hardly been used and it’s definitely not the normal way of doing it. It’s still experimental.
In the case of the exhibition, and many other projects, there is a reversal. What is happening with the exhibition is that it is turning things around. It is like when you are sitting at the table and all of a sudden you say: Let’s change seats. Let’s go and sit somewhere else. Photography changes places, it does not become the object of study, it becomes the tool of communicating the study. It just gives to photography a wholly different role, a new role I could say. But different for sure. And it also changes my position as researcher because I communicate differently. So I also take a different seat. And, finally, it changes the role of the spectator. It is not the reader of the academic article but now s/he can go to an exhibition and see academic work.
Eva: Is this new - the researcher being part of the research instrument?
Nico: I would say that it is always the case. It is very difficult to be outside the topic and that is a general comment again. We ourselves, as researchers, are always research instruments at the same time. We are part of our research. I mean, our personality, who we are, what we see, how our ontologies and epistemologies work, ...
This also brings to the second component. I was living on Cyprus for one year - this island was also my environment and my home. Well, I am not Cypriot, or at least not entirely [laughing] but I am still there, I am still doing the research and when you are using photography it makes you more part of the research, it involves you more. But this has many different aspects. The being-there part has lots of different components. Photography is only one of them.
Presence matters, unless you go for more experimental photography, but even then. I think you have to be there. You also show that you have been there. In the history of anthropology, there is a very old and very problematic way of doing anthropology, which is called ‘armchair anthropology’. Some of the early anthropologists were writing about far away countries, without being there, from their homes in the West. That’s not what I want to do. I wanted to be there to do the research on the island itself and not to be one of these ‘armchair’ sociologists but immerse myself in this research topic and the culture that was surrounding it. Of course, you are never totally inside, but who is? You remain an observer, something which has advantages and disadvantages as well.
It is very difficult to balance these roles, because on the one hand you have to be a part of this world, you have to immerse yourself, you have to participate in a particular culture and on the other hand you have to be detached, as academic you need your critical distance. Looking at the social reality and not telling the way that you want it to be but the way it is, mediated through your methodologies, procedures and theories. And finding that balance, between being part and being detached, is both very important and very difficult.
Eva: We were talking about one of the two components of the exhibition -the method of visual sociology- the second one, is that that the project is about Cyprus?
Nico: Yes. I came to Cyprus on September 2013 and I stayed for a year until September 2014. So in that period I was almost full time on the island. But I came there to do research on Cypriot community media, and, of course I was writing about that. This community media research project is still going on - I was (and am) interested in community and alternative media, and in the way that there play a role within conflict transformation on Cyprus. That was the reason for being here … in 2013 and 2014 as a sabbatical project.
Because I have been working on community media and conflict for quite some time, this was an important research project for me. I think that Cyprus is a place where the entire world can learn from, for instance, about the way that media function, the way that conflict functions, how diverse these ways of dealing with conflict are, and maybe even how the transformation of conflict functions. That was the main reason for being here in Cyprus. Of course, doing this kind of nomadic research is always a bit complicated. In this case, it required an understanding of how Cypriot society functioned, and in particular how the Cyprus Problem functioned. And very quickly I came to see that history is crucial for understanding the Cyprus problem; not only the history of the Cyprus problem itself but the history of Cyprus. There is no escape to the historical dimension. You have to understand at least 300 years of history; possibly more. Particularly the 20th century is very important with, for instance, the crucial role of the British period and EOKA’s independence war. I started focusing on that independence war, in combination with the events of the 1960s and 1970s. As historical events are endless, I started doing small projects to better understand the Cypriot history in a more contained way. One of these projects was based on the statues and commemoration sites in the south of Cyprus. And that actually brings me to the content of this exhibition.
What I should emphasise is that this was originally a spinoff project. It wasn’t planned, it happened almost accidental, with me being here and becoming fascinated by the language of statues. Their way of representing reality triggered my interest. It was one of these moments where you looked at a social reality, and then you realise: This is something, it is important and relevant. There is something to be said about this here. And it transformed from a spinoff project into something important, because of what it allowed me to say. But, at the same time, it allowed me to better understand Cypriot society. It also helped me with the community media project because it provided me with much more context and a better understanding of how things worked. And I think it also gave me a better understanding of how conflict works and how materiality, the objects, plays a role. Conflict is not just about how people think, how they talk and act. It is also about these objects are there, in the cities and villages, and how these statues also communicate to us. We often think that material objects are silent. But they are not. They speak to us. And they tell us a story. Analysing these stories, through their materiality, is important.
Eva: The exhibition focuses on statues and commemorative sites. You are a professor in media and communication studies. How do you connect them?
Nico: The statues are about communication. I should add that it is often figurative art. There is not too much public art on Cyprus that is abstract. Most of the statues are very figurative, so the communicational act is often also rather straightforward. What is selected to be displayed is communication. Who is selected is also communication. How the person is displayed is communication. Statues have a material presence through which they communicate their importance. I have always had a very broad definition of communication and of media. I enjoy arguing that, for instance, a museum is a location and act of communication. It is a medium. And these statues are also media. They tell us something, they are vehicles of ideology, etc. It is not only the explanatory text that matters, but it is the entire object that becomes a medium.
Eva: Are the ways statues are used in Cyprus different from other countries?
Nico: Yes and no. I think there are two answers to your question. One is that the logics of what statues are telling us is very often quite similar. In that sense, Cyprus is not special but it is special. [Laughing] You will find the different types of communication through statues also in other countries. Statues are acts of ideology in many countries. If you take Belgium, my home country, as an example: Quite a lot of the Belgian kings have their statues there. It serves a political-ideological purpose, that is to legitimate the monarchy, and to propagate a particular perspective on history, leadership and democracy. All these political components are very often invoked. But at the same time – and that’s my second answer – I think that in Cyprus there is a very strong emphasis on the political, linked to the military and the heroic. What you often see, in other countries, is that there is, for instance, a stronger emphasis on the artistic. You will find more of mix of these different types of statues. Well, in Cyprus, the political statue is very dominant. And that is different and special.
Eva: Are you now saying that abstract art is not communicational or political?
Nico: On the contrary. It is very clear that abstract statues communicate political messages. There is a long tradition in intentionally doing this, by the way. But abstract art requires more interpretation and contextualisation. It is much more complicated to communicate through the abstract. If you use the figurative, you say, in a very mimetic way: Look, this person is our hero and we are showing you the hero in a very heroic pose. Then things are very clear and easy. That’s one of the reasons why the figurative, and especially the mimetic representation of the person, is so important in the Cyprus landscape of statues.
One should also not forget that, as communicational acts, statues have audiences. They are sometimes addressing a large community, for instance, the Greek-Cypriot community as a whole. But sometimes they talk to a very local community. Then they are saying: This is our hero, this is our fellow citizen, our fellow villager, fellow towns(wo)man, who died for this cause, or who did this ... So a statue also talks to the people from that very local community. This is our district, this is our hero. That is also what they are saying.
Eva: Are these statues then community media? Are they participatory?
Nico: Oh, this is a tricky question. On the one hand a lot of these statues were actually created by the community for the community. Because often particular foundations were financing and building them, so it is was not always the city council that initiated the construction of these statues. Still, the city had to approve it, but the initiative and the funding came from individuals and/or these foundations. So, this process was not always centralised - it was actually often very bottom up. So, it is by the community and it is also for the community. It was for that district, for that village, for them. So in that sense you are right, this is exactly the definition of community media.
But things are not that simple. There are a few reasons why they are not community media. Community media are organisations, which aim at communicating quite regularly. More importantly, community media have a tendency towards the alternative, the non-dominant ways of thinking, and the counter-hegemonic. They move away from dominant mainstream culture. In contrast, these statues are very much part of the dominant culture. They tell us a dominant story, a story about nationalism and heroism which is -I think- the dominant way of looking at the past. In other words, maybe community media would create a different kind of statue. One that is more open, one that is more asking for different interpretations and maybe one that is more geared towards peace.
Eva: What about the statues in the north?
Nico: This exhibition is not about the Turkish-Cypriot part of Cyprus and about the statues that can be found there. I think that is important to stress. If you do research, you always have to make choices. It would be wonderful to do this sort of analysis on both parts of the island. Because the communicational structures are very similar, while the content is different. To put it in other words: The heroes are different. But I did do some work there, on the statues in the north and there are, of course, lots of differences, but also similarities.
Eva: I’d like to come back to an earlier question. Why are the political statues so present in Cyprus?
Nico: I think the Cyprus statues show a number of things. It shows how important and how dramatic the Cyprus problem actually is. I do not want to be too poetic but I think that the Cyprus problem has scratched the Cypriot soul. It was (and still is) really traumatic. The trauma went very deep. And the statues are ways of dealing with that. Trauma is a word that is often used for individuals, to describe a situation where an individual suffers, after having gone through terrible things. As an individual level, it is called trauma. But you can also use the word trauma for a culture, or for a community; and that’s the way I am now using it here, as a cultural trauma or a collective trauma. The trauma spans the entire island, both the north and south. It is something that they share, and that unites them. The entire island went through terrible events, in so many different ways, in so many variations. These were very traumatic experiences. And that needs, that requires communication. It also produces it. It is like you open up a box and all these things start pouring out. And that is partially triggered by the need to protect oneself. It is also a form of working through the trauma, of coping with it. It is a part of a healing process. I am not sure if the healing process is over, to be honest. But communicating the pain and communicating the loss is really important in case of trauma. That is what I think has happened and is still happening.
At the same time, if you are traumatised, it is very difficult to see the complexity of the context that caused the trauma. You become partially blinded through the pain. Of course, there are many ways how individuals deal with this kind of collective trauma, but there are dominant ways of doing this, and they get used and repeated more than others. We can see that with the statues – they have a very similar way of looking at the past, and of looking at the trauma. And that is why they are focusing so much on a nationalist discourse, and on a discourse of heroism, that support the construction of the Greek-Cypriot nation as a people.
And then you could raise the question, are there then no alternatives? This takes time. Time to see that events are complicated and that there many sides to a traumatic event. A lot of terrible things happened and a lot of terrible things have been done by very different people, on both sides. And I think that the statues show that how difficult it is to develop alternative ways of thinking about the Cyprus problem. That was one of the reasons why I went to look for these exceptions, for these alternatives, in the project and in the exhibition. One third of the exhibition’s photographs are about statues that tell a different story, that are in some way counter-hegemonic. This is not to ignore the dominant way of representing the Cyprus problem through the use of statues. No, the thing is that I really had to go and look for these alternatives. These statues are hidden, they are very difficult to find, their existence is not well-documented, … They are still publicly displayed, but in places that are not easy to find and to reach. I was lucky to be able to use the Public Art of Cyprus database for this, otherwise it might have been impossible.
But what is important to stress is that these alternative statues are there. They exist and they are very much showing us that it is possible to have alternatives. That it does not have to be only that one way which comes out of the traumatised way of looking at the past. There are also other ways of looking at the past than looking at the Other (with capital O) which is seen as the Enemy (with capital E). There are different ways. My research project was on the one hand about documenting and analysing the very dominant way of thinking, as it was materialised in the statues. But on the other hand, it was also about finding these exceptions, finding these alternatives that are so important if you want to understand a culture and a conflict.
Eva: They co-exist within the same community?
Nico: The thing is that a community can produce very dominant ways of thinking and a community can produce at the same time very alternative ways of thinking. It does both. There are both from the community. Also the dominant ones that are produced within the Greek-Cypriot community. They are part of the Greek-Cypriotness, part of the history, part of the urban spaces. Most of them are from and by the community, but they are like two sides of a coin. They show both, they show what the Greek-Cypriot community is about, but in a very-very different ways. And this shows that a community is a contradictory space, characterised by diversity. There is not one Cypriot community, there is not one Greek-Cypriot community.
The ideological model of war imposes the idea that there is a homogeneous community, with all constituent groups included in a chain of equivalence. That is something that is actually part of the problem. In this case, all are seen as Greek-Cypriots, united in their being threatened by Turkey. This feeds into a homogeneous collectivity. Conflict transformation consists of making these internal differences, within the community itself, more visible, bringing them out more clearly. And that was one of the reasons why I have been emphasising these two sides of the coin. The nationalist homogenising discourse and the alternative diversity-based discourse coexist. And you will find both of them in the Cypriot landscape, even if the statues that materialise the diversity-based discourse are more difficult to find. Sometimes they are in the outskirts of a village. But sometimes they are in the city. One example is the Ihsan Ali statue, which is in Paphos. It is interesting to describe where it is located. It is on a square, but at the back. It is not facing the main street, which is the Grivas Digenis Avenue. You have to first find that little square but then you also have to cross it and look behind the trees. And the Ali statue is there, at the end, looking away from the main street. True, it is not in the outskirts of a village but it is not exactly in the centre of the city either.
Eva: You mentioned before the similarities in how the enemy is seen. Does that also apply to Cyprus?
Nico: I have done a quite some research on conflict and it is always incredibly striking how similar the structures of thinking about the Other-Enemy are. It is like a mirror image. It is like looking in the mirror and seeing the other which is another, but so much the same at the same time. This is how conflict works. The mirror is the barrier and the other is on the other side. But the other is a reflection of the self at the same time. And I think that is the best description I can give you on what the similarities and what the differences are. It is a combination of radical otherness and radical similarity all at the same time.
This is obviously a very paradoxical situation, but if your start looking closer at conflict and study it, then what you often see this mirror image. There is a very silly proverb, it takes two to tango but that’s the reality of it. It is like locking these two communities together but in a very conflicted and sometimes a very violent way. What I am saying is that the ways the representation of the other is structured, are very similar. This structure is of course filled with always particular people and events, but the structure is similar. The way that there is a focus on the suffering of the self and the way that suffering of the other is ignored (or legitimated), that’s extremely similar.
Eva: Can the exhibition then escape this structure that creates the other?
Nico: Of course, if you go to an exhibition like this, there are two ways of handling it. You can see the confirmation of the evilness of the enemy in it. So there is a danger with an exhibition like this, only covering the Greek-Cypriots materialised discourses. (From a Turkish-Cypriot position) you can say: Look, they are all nationalists. It might allow people not to see themselves as being part of the same kinds of dynamics. The other way to look at the exhibition is to reflect about how both communities have been representing themselves and the other. I definitely hope that people from the north that visit the exhibition feel invited to analyse how the Turkish-Cypriot community has been dealing with the conflict. I think there are many similarities in the structure. There are, of course, a considerable number of differences. I think that, for instance, one of the big differences is how the missing were defined and remembered, but discussing that would now take us too far.
The place of the first exhibition, in the buffer zone close to Ledra palace, is a very conscious choice for a number of reasons. It also wants to show the need for analyses that bridge and connect. But actually the risk, the risk of misinterpretation always exists. And it is not only Turkish-Cypriots that might be affected, of course. It is also Greek-Cypriots and others that can be offended. A critical analysis showing how a dominant nationalist discourse is among us in Cyprus is important, but also showing that diversity may be a way out, is equally important. But visitors might disagree. People sometimes feel very strongly about nationalism and national identity and that is their good right, even if we might need to think about how to tame that force more. Also because it feeds the risk of misinterpretation.
That was one of the reasons why I started working with different NGOs, including the AHDR. Whatever written text has been produced for the accompanying panels, it was discussed with them to see whether I wasn’t unconsciously or accidentally saying things that would be insulting or humiliating. We thus created a mechanism to at least limit the risk of misinterpretation. The other thing we did was to decide to have two debates during the exhibition. It is not a coincidence, it is not to just entertain people. Having these two debates invites people to reflect on the results of this research project, to work with them and to take it further, to use these results. It is not about putting some pictures that aestheticise statues on display and then to go away. This is also an invitation for dialogue. An invitation for analysis, an invitation for self-reflection, and an invitation for conversation.
Eva: Was this project something you did on your own?
Nico: When you start looking back at the project and the exhibition, it is bigger than you would say. The original research stay was funded by the VUB, the Free University of Brussels. They allowed me to be here. More funding came from the north Belgian scientific funds, which is called FWO. There are also a number of Cypriot partners, including a number of NGOs. I already mentioned AHDR earlier, who provided great support, but there were also the CCMC people. They have been extremely supportive during the entire project. Their former coordinator, Michael Simopoulos, was one of the core partners, not only in relation to helping me with my research at CCMC, but also in helping me to understand Cypriot history and society. CCMC has remained a very helpful partner throughout the years. Then, there was also the organising team of the exhibition, with Eva Giannoukou, Yiannis Christidis, Fatma Nazli Köksal, Stella Theocharous and Vaia Doudaki, some of whom were involved before the exhibition. Stella, for instance, helped with the research in relation to some of the commemoration sites. And there was collaboration with CUT, with Vaia Doudaki, who was my guide through the rather complicated Cypriot landscape. But she was also helping me with translations and contextualisations; she played a really important role in the entire project. But sometimes there were also more anonymous helpers. At one point, we went to look for Kyriacou’s eagle statue on a mountain top close the Machairas convent. Our car broke down, as the mountains were too much for it. In the village where we got stuck, a friendly man decided to help us and he brought us to the eagle. I do not know his name by heart to be honest -it is probably somewhere in my notes- but this story shows that these people were just as important. I would never made it there, if our wonderful guide had not helped us so generously. So, there was institutional support, yes, but there were also many people that were ‘just’ telling me stories, sharing their knowledge with me.
Eva: Will you continue this project? What about the north?
Nico: I would love to do this analysis in the north, to be honest. I have done some work there, but there is much more to do for. I would like to find something like two months and a good guide to show me round, and to look for the statues ... There are some practical difficulties. I have not found an accessible public art database in the north. Maybe it exists, but a database like this has turned out to be a key instrument in enabling me to do this kind of research in the south. It would be more difficult in the north, but I would definitely love to. Or maybe somebody else should do it? Maybe we should have other analysts/photographers tell their story about the statues in the north, and maybe others should analyse and re-analyse the statues in the south. It should not be only me doing these things, I think. Maybe we should start a photographic conversation about this, and I would like to hear other voices.
Eva: Thank you for the interview.
Nico: And thank you for all your work.
Transcription: Eirini Avraam
Editing: Nico Carpentier
Yiannis Christidis: Today we have Professor Nico Carpentier in the studio. We are going to talk with him about the exhibition which is now taking place in Limassol, at the NeMe Arts Centre. The exhibition is called: “Iconoclastic Controversies: A visual sociology of statues and commemoration sites in the southern regions of Cyprus” and I would like to start the interview by asking you: How do you explain the concept of the exhibition to a 6-year old child?
Nico Carpentier: That is a quite challenging opening question. You should give me time to think about an answer for a couple of hours. No, more seriously, first of all, thanks for having me here to talk about this baby of mine, it is not a six-year old but just a baby of mine.
Let me try to explain the concept of the exhibition: An exhibition is a medium, and it tries to tell a story. In this case, it tries to tell the story that a statue is not just a statue. That is actually the simple version, the simplest version I can give you. If I can add another couple of sentences, obviously, I mean: a statue is made in stone or bronze – it has a materiality. It is placed in a particular setting, in the streets of a city or village. It orients your gaze, invites you to look at it. The way that it is positioned is often at a central place where the entire landscape is geared towards attracting your attention.
There are lots of things to be said about this material positioning. But, there is another layer – we give meaning to it. Moreover, different people give different meanings to it. We look at it in different ways. If you know the historical context, you will look at it differently. For instance, tourists do not always know that historical context. And if you do know the historical context, then you look at a statue differently, you might understand more. So, a statue is not just this piece of stone, or a bronze object; it is actually inviting you to interpret it in a particular way, on the basis of contextual knowledge that you may, or may not, have.
Now, I am not talking to the six year old anymore (laughing). After this answer, one might actually wonder about my capacity to talk to a six-year old. To reassure you, I do know that one does not talk with a six-year old like this.
Let me make things worse, and add a few things. There are different meanings. Not everybody agrees on these meanings. You can interpret the statues in different ways. Meanings are not stable; they are not given and fixed in eternity. The statue is an invitation to think about something in a particular way. But an invitation is something that you can ignore. It is something that you can actually deflect. You can think about it in different ways. It is something that is negotiated and not fixed. People have different opinions about what the statues mean. In some cases, they provoke really very strong emotions. But they also provoke different emotions, which are based on different readings. What the exhibition wants to show is that diversity – the diversity of meanings and interpretations – is also present in the Cypriot context. Here too, there are different interpretations at work. The statues sometimes create different invitations. All of them try to communicate something but you can still always reject it. You can refuse.
Some of the photographs in the exhibition are actually about this refusal. They are about the refusal to follow the invitation of dominant (nationalist) ideologies. There is one picture, if I can give you one example, there is a picture of a Grivas statue. It is set at the Grivas landing site memorial, on the Chloraka coast. It portrays a child playing there, poking a stick in the bushes at the feet of the Grivas statue. The young child is clearly not in full admiration for whatever the Grivas statue is inviting us to admire in relation to the independence war, and for the sacrifice that is linked to that war. The child is not accepting the invitation of the statue. The photograph that I made, is analysing the rejection of the invitation to pay tribute to Grivas. What the exhibition is trying to explain is this very complex interplay between communicational invitations, acceptances and rejections of dominant meanings.
Yiannis: One can wonder whether this invitation is a kind invitation, or not. Because, I mean, when the state is constructing these statues, when they are ordering a sculpture from an artist, it may be a kind of intervention in which other people are not involved. This sort of invitation might be kind of rude. Actually, to me, it is a rude invitation. And maybe it is rude to more than one person?
But what I want to find out with my comment is: How do you photographically translate this public intervention? How do you transfer the whole experience, which is located in public space, to an exhibition? How do you take these statues and move them to another medium – photography – and then after this, to an exhibition space. This transition of the public space to photography, and then from photography to a printed version in an exhibition space, is quite a route to take.
Nico: Yes, it is a trajectory. Of course, it effects the meanings. Let me to start with the invitation part of your question. I agree with you that the invitation can be rude, but it does not mean that it is not an invitation. It does not mean that you necessarily have to accept the discursive constructions that are embedded in the statue, sometimes created by the state, sometimes also by particular groups in society, e.g., foundations, etc. Some invitations are more open and kinder than others. I fully agree with you. What I want to emphasise with using the concept of “the invitation” is that the communication originating from the statues is not that strong, and its meaning is definitely not a given. It can never be that strong that it cannot be resisted.
Their invitations do try to seduce you into accepting particular meanings. Heroism is one meaning which is very present in the Cypriot statues, but it is still possible to use irony and just see a pompous object. Some gaze in admiration at a statue and others see something ridiculous, which does not speak to their life worlds. That is what the invitation does. It does try to push you to see heroism, but you might not accept the invitation. Actually a lot of people do not (any more).
The landscape of statues in Cyprus – each with their own invitations – is also characterised by the different (and sometimes contradictory) discursive positions that they embody. If you take one step back and start looking at the Cypriot public space, you see that there are also interventions in this public space that are not driven by the state. That are not even driven by dominant ideologies. That are actually trying to resist the dominant ideology. Public space is not something that the state can totally control. Individuals and foundations can buy pieces of land, get permissions and then use it. But these usages are not necessarily in accordance with government policies, or aligned with dominant ideologies. There is also a more participatory-democratic control over these spaces, even if the government can be a very imposing actor on how we can use public space.
That actually brings me to your question about the translation of public space into photography and then into an exhibition, and its particularities. I think that that trajectory is driven by an analytical perspective. That perspective is what is allowing me to transgress these spheres and to move from one sphere to another, from the public space where the statues are situated, to photography where they are represented, and then to an exhibition space where they are contextualised (more). It is the analysis that drives the translation, that made these statues travel through this trajectory. The statues and commemoration sites have been selected for particular reasons, and they are represented in particular ways and for particular reasons. The reasons why they are represented as they are represented through photography is the analysis. It is an academic reflection about the role of meaning through statues in Cyprus. That makes the exhibition specific – it is not a mimetic or exclusively aesthetic representation of statues, it is an analytical exercise in trying to understand what these invitations are about, and how they work. And that is an analytical process. And of course, I am not ignoring that artistic interventions are also analytical and reflexive. But I think that in the case of this exhibition, the balance is different, in the sense that the analysis is much more present. And we should not forget that I am still an academic who uses photography, which renders the analysis more present than usual. Although, I hope that the aesthetic have not completely disappeared from my work, but that is up to people to come and see.
Yiannis: How does the genre of photography influence the analysis, of what you want to say about the monuments? What effort did you make during the shooting to exactly capture what you wanted to say? What about angles and perspectives? How did they influence your analysis and how did you use them to analyse?
Nico: This question moves us into the back office of both photography and academic analysis. The answer lies in a complicated (and hopefully sophisticated) mixture of all these different components, of the analysis, the technology (the camera), the setting, the light, the angle, the framing, etc. I find it still difficult to get it right, to be honest. But talking as an academic, I think that writing an article this is also pretty difficult, as you are also combining very different elements. What I am doing here, is applying a slightly less common communicational technology in combination with an aesthetic framework to convey the results of an academic analysis. It is just a different language that I am trying to use, in contrast to what academics usually use.
Still, I think that there were a few basic guiding principles that I used. I wanted to stay away from the purely documenting approach. Because that would still be the common thing to do. Most academics, when they write articles and use photography in them, they it in an illustrative way. I believe that we can use aesthetics, we can use form, we can use emotions, to convey a message, to communicate analysis. And we can use humour.
Yiannis: Yes, humour, I wanted to ask you about that.
Nico: Yes, of course. You can use humour for that. Humour is a legitimate communicational tool for analysis, although it is an incredibly difficult one, as one also needs to avoid that things become tacky or disrespectful. But in particular, I think that staying away from the documenting approach was important to me. I wanted to also allow the form, the way you actually capture the statue, the light, the angle, to play a role, but in alignment with the analysis. That made it slightly challenging for me, because I did not want to work with contradictions. That would have been a totally different project. I wanted to tell one story about this complexity of meaning (in relation to the statues) and I wanted to show the diversity of meanings, but I still wanted to tell that one story. I did not want to go for internal contradictions in my story. That would be different analysis and a different format.
What I was trying to do is to align the analysis with some of formal components of photography. Trying, in some cases, to enhance some elements by using a close-up, or a particular framing, … There is the photograph of the memorial to the missing in the Agios Alexandros church, with its many little wooden frames where the horizon is used as a formal method. You do not see the end of this dreadful list and collage of faces, it is endless. This photographs does not only show the way the pictures of the missing are displayed in a church in Pyrga, it also represents the societal debate – and comments on that debate – of the missing here in Cyprus. It is again an analysis communicated through that very formal aspect. The photograph refers to fact that, sadly, these people are no longer there, they are beyond of our horizon, but it also comments on the endlessness of the debate about them. Apparently, it has no end. Or better, it seems to have no closure, which is exactly one of the problems of this debate. This formal component interacts with the more textual analysis; supported by other academic publications on this debate. But I try to symbolise my analysis. I think this is the best way I can summarise my work, as I am using these formal elements to symbolise an analysis and to symbolise societal processes through that analysis. I think that is what the exhibition tries to do.
Yiannis: It is important to know how to combine these photographs with the textual analysis and what meanings that you want the visitors to understand, in a second reading or maybe in the first reading. Let me ask you this one thing, before we go to the second topic which is more sociology related. Having done the first exhibition in Nicosia and having received all the feedback from this exhibition … From the set-up in that space, in the Home for Cooperation in Nicosia, and the space you have created here in Limassol … How were the photographs organised and how is this different now?
Nico: One very quick comment is that there have been two exhibitions and that these are two totally different exhibitions. The spaces are completely different and I was … Actually you guessed what I was thinking about yesterday, I was looking at the main set-up and I was simply taken aback by the differences, generated by different lighting, a different way of organising the pictures and the huge contextual difference between the two spaces, one in the Buffer Zone at the Ledra Palace crossing in Nicosia, and one in Limassol. And, again is important to emphasise how the particular exhibition space influences the story that one tells. After all, it becomes a part of the medium. Actually, more correctly, the exhibition is a medium in itself. One of the things I have learned from this experience is how spectacular the impact of the exhibition space can be, and how you can use exhibition spaces in different ways to communicate your work.
One substantial difference, obviously, is that in the Limassol exhibition we are using the basement of the exhibition space as an opportunity to bring in the voices of others. What we have done in the basement of the NeMe Arts Centre is that we have created a series listening posts. There, people can sit down on a bean bag, or at a table, and they can listen to different voices, discussing different dimensions of the exhibition, giving different perspectives on the object of the exhibition. Some of the debates that we organised in Nicosia in November 2015 have been recorded by the Cyprus Community Media Centre, and they are now being made available on the site of the exhibition. Also the seminar organised by NeMe in January 2016, recorded in by CUT-Radio, is being played in the basement. The idea behind that set-up – and I think that this is most important- is that it is not my voice only that matters. First of all, an exhibition is a collaboration. There are many wonderful people that worked with me, and that I worked with, in creating these exhibitions. But what the basement set-up is now communicating, is that are many voices to speak about the exhibition and its objects of analysis. There are many interpretations possible, also of the exhibition. What I do not want to do, is to close off meanings. That is actually the last thing that I want to do. The space here, at the NeMe Arts Centre, is allowing me to emphasise that openness of interpretation much more than before. The interpretatory openness, not just of accepting or rejecting the invitations embodied by the statues in always particular ways, but also of the photographs and the exhibition. The process of interpretation is something that I could emphasise much more by using the basement space at the NeMe Arts Centre.
At the same time, there are similarities between the two exhibitions. The set-up is still fairly linear, which is a debatable choice I made. The exhibition’s narration is highly structured, probably because that is how I work and think. And it is actually translated into the exhibition. There is a linearity present in the exhibition that combines the textual (through the use of text panels) with photographs, and that tries to create a trajectory within the exhibition space. A visitor goes through the different stages of the analysis. Both exhibitions had this idea of a clear starting point and ending point. Now, I do not think that a visitor is obliged to respect this built-in order. It is one of these debates in any kind of museum or exhibition set-up. How much do you expect visitors to follow a particular trajectory? There is often the tendency of museums and exhibitions to have signs like: “Start Here”, “Walk this Way”, “Exit”, “Exhibition Continues Here”, … All these rather authoritarian signs force people to follow a particular trajectory. At least I was trying hard, to be a bit more open, and used the logics of the invitation here as well. But I am not going to claim that I was using the logic of the “1000 plateaus”, allowing visitors to enter the exhibition at a thousand different entry point. I would not have the audacity to make that claim. This exhibition does have different entry points, but it is still a fairly linear narration at the same time.
This raises all sort of questions when we want to talk about which medium is actually more important. Is it the textual linearity that still matters most, in the end? Of course, the photographs are still involved, but what is dominant? Is it the multi-dimensionality of the photographs, that is actually dominating, where the picture literally attracts all the attention and where the written text on the panels, and the order of things, is just secondary? That I find a difficult debate, and I am not sure if I have clear answer to that question. It also depends on the visitor. Some like to be invited into that trajectory, to take the steps as I created them. But still, there is the back door, there are the different entry points, which I see as gates, into the exhibition. But I think that the exhibition’s linearity is still pretty strongly present.
Yiannis: And at the same time you are creating an invitation which is more polite than the other invitations we were talking about before.
Nico: I definitely hope so. I think that any kind of project created by academics (as academics) has to respectful. They can (and I would say: should) be critical but I believe they have to remain respectful. I do not think I would defend any kind of communicational activity that is disrespectful. I think that is for others, for other people, or for other roles. It definitely makes sense in some cases, but I would not be comfortable with using disrespect in an academic setting, which I think the exhibition is still part of.
Yiannis: Just to make a small comment, or two, about the monuments. From what I have seen, because I have had a sneak-preview (laughs) … You see the monuments as generators of audience satisfaction. That is your perspective, and that is your photography. Analysing this tendency of people to follow ideas, in order to get satisfied by certain values as these ideas can, for example, be called by the creators of these statues, by the state, or by whoever has intervened to build and create these monuments.
Nico: That is a good comment. It is not an easy one to reply to. I would now be inclined to revert to some French theorists, which is maybe not the most polite thing to do (laughs).
Yiannis: The six year old is already gone.
Nico: He ran away after the first sentence. (laughing) There is the notion of interpellation, and that is what I think that different discourses actually do. They try to seduce us, they console us, they give us ways of being part of something. Discourses are very strong forces because of that. They offer commonality and togetherness, they sometimes drive us to war because others have other commonalities. There is Sam Keen’s quote: “In the beginning we create the enemy.”; “We think others to death and then invent the battle-axe or the ballistic missiles with which to actually kill them.” It shows us how strong these forces, these ideas, can be. We often forget the importance of ideas, not only (by the way) as lethal destructive forces but also as forces of goodness. “Values” is an old term, I prefer to use “discourses”, but basically values are a sub-category of discourses, so let us stick to “values”. These values can create togetherness, they can create solidarity, they can create equality, they can create democracy. But they can also create war and death. They can instigate them. They do have a key role to play in our societies, for the better or for the worse.
And yes, you are right, I was actually playing with these ideas in the photography and in the analysis, because what often happens in this kind of discursive struggles is that one particular idea, one particular perspective, gets privileged. And other perspectives therefore become eliminated. I feel uncomfortable with that, in particular when dealing with history. I like the diversity of ideas, and I do not like to have one particular mind-set, or one particular set of values to be imposed, becoming the dominant and only one. If we look at history because this is an exhibition about history there is often this emphasis on glorification: On the glorification of the self, on the heroisation of the self, where one party sees itself as good, where its (national) identity becomes articulated as an intrinsically good thing to have. This essentialist identity can then never questioned, or even critiqued. I think it should be questioned and critiqued. Because the logics of glorification and heroisation is concealing a lot of things. This is something that needs to be discussed more, and to be theorised much more.
That identity discourse is one reason why I am using photography to talk about these issues, as I want to show the restrictive workings of dominant nationalist identities. But there is more: We need to be careful not to enter into the glorification of war itself. This is something with which I am even more uncomfortable. I am open to discussions about diversity and about the ways that national identity tends to contradict diversity. But I am upset and troubled by the creation of military heroes, which supports the moral acceptance of war (or worse, its celebration). We should not go there.
There are a lot of question marks to be placed with these kinds of 20th century (and also 19th, 18th, 17th, … century memorials) as they might convey an undesirable message. Should we not construct a different interpretation, allowing us to rethink these memorials, reconsidering and recontextualising them, because they literally celebrate death and destruction? There is a lot of academic and artistic work on this topic, all over the world. Obviously, Cyprus is not the only country that has issues with this. There is the wonderful analysis of Krzysztof Wodiczko, a Canadian-Polish artist, on the Arc de Triomphe (the Triumphal Arch) in Paris (France). If you start analysing what this particular memorial is actually convening, it turns out to be horrific. It is the purest celebration of militarism you can think of. Maybe we should not be doing these things. Maybe we should raise questions about these memorials, and maybe we should start looking at some of these statues and memorials as problematic, and in dire need of re-contextualisation, exactly because of that.
Yiannis: And just to connect what you say with the whole spirit of this interview, it is all about the children that grow older and that become established members of society. It is they who are creating new images and ideas, that construct a new reality. They have never lived through the times that these monuments refer to, even if the monuments that your photographs are referring to in this exhibition are quite recent. But children who are being raised today have not witnessed these events. Still, they cannot escape from seeing the statues every day, outside of the schools, going to honour the war heroes on every anniversary. Today should be about them. About their vision. And your photographs show that older generations are trying to push them in a particular direction …
Nico: And in that sense, these statues are pedagogical, to use a more neutral term. Or even better, they have a pedagogical intension. The invitation is also pedagogical in the sense that what is typical for any kind of project like this, is that it wants to transgress time. It does not want to speak about the now only. Memorials want to speak to the future. They want to convince you that the way of looking they embody is the right way. Not just now, but also when you are looking at them in a later stage, looking back at the past. So, they play with time. In very particular ways, and sometimes in very troubling ways. We should not forget the very materiality of these statues. They are set in stone, in bronze. They are fixed. And they also try to fix the meaning of a particular time, though this logic of the invitation. At the same time, their context has changed. People changed, the times have changed. The interpretations have changed, and will change even more. And, at some point in time, the invitation will no longer be accepted. It might not even be recognised anymore.
We can see this if you go back to the previous centuries and I have been doing some research on older conflicts if you go back to, for instance, the 17th century. A few weeks ago, I was visiting a memorial in Prague (in the Czech Republic), with a group of university students. The memorial was commemorating a battle from the 17th century. Even if people have some knowledge about it, it is hard for them to contextualise it, and nobody has a strong emotional response to it anymore. It refers to the Thirty Years’ War, which was one of the bloodiest wars in that period of our history. However lethal it was, it does not provoke much response anymore, because it is situated in the distant past. Its cruelty has been forgotten. There are other memorials where people are simply ignorant about their meaning and even their existence. They do not have the knowledge frameworks anymore to interpret them. The invitation is gone. It just disappeared, evaporated over time.
Even if this can sometimes be reassuring, it is not always a good thing either. Maybe we should not forget, after all, memorial are memories. But I do think that the pedagogical dimension is important if you talk about new generations of citizens. We have to think about what we want to communicate to them and what we want statues and commemoration sites to communicate to them. And this is not a question that stops. It is something that we need to revisit over and over again. As any pedagogical project, we need to think about what kind of story we want them to tell to us. Obviously, this is a very difficult thing to do and it requires a rather intensive reflection.
Yiannis: This also applies to the role of public space as a whole, if we connect what you now say with what we have discussed before.
Nico: We have this sort of hierarchy in our minds, which I find troubling. We believe that media (and nowadays the Internet in particular) are the centre of our society. We watch television, we surf, or we go on different social networks, and that is how we see and learn about our world. That is of course a myth. Discourses and ideologies work through the interactions of different spheres in our societies. But we seem to cling to this hierarchy. Media are seen to be the top level of the work of discursive construction, and then, maybe, the role of the school, and maybe of religion, and then possibly of public space is acknowledged. Public space dangles somewhere at the very end of this hierarchy. I think that this is wrong. We need to look at different communicational environments, not in hierarchy but in interaction. They work onto each other, they strengthen each other, they contradict each other but they still work with each other. Public space is crucial in that process of signification. We tend to forget this, because, of course, exactly the strength of public space is that it so naturalised. It is normal and unquestioned. If there is a statue there, it is normal that it is there, we do not even see it. If it disappears, we might notice that it is gone. But at the same time, it is a form of continuous communication. Even if you do not notice it, you notice.
Yiannis: A form of passive knowledge?
Nico: And a form that matters, I mean, in the sense that the public space can be a very strong communicational and pedagogical instrument of power. Again, in our hierarchy of the most important centres of discursive power, we tend to put the media first and forget about the rest. I think that this needs reconsidering. We have to be more careful and acknowledge that public space matters.
Yiannis: I want to end this conversation with one more question. How would you explain the concept of the exhibition to a seventy-five year old Cypriot patriot? Someone with very patriotic feelings?
Nico: It is a rather good question, because it is very difficult question. I am not sure if I can answer you, but let me try. Earlier, I talked about the need to be respectful and I want to use this idea as a starting point. There is a need to be respectful for the heroism of people. I definitely do not want to reject suffering, and I also do not want to reject courage and sacrifice.
Mind you, I have studied war, but I have not been in a war. Still, I might have a vague idea of the intensity of emotions, about the horrific things that happen in war, but also of the most wonderful things that sometimes happen. We should try to understand them in a respectful way. At the same time we need to think critically about the past. That would also be part of my response: Maybe some things from the past need to be revisited and rethought. With respect for the emotions of all involved, with respect for all sacrifices and losses, because war is about loss. But we should also use other values, like humanity, to look back at wars. Maybe also the value of togetherness. Maybe also the value of respect for diversity. I like to see the exhibition as an invitation to go back into the past and see that precious things were lost there. I also see the exhibition as an invitation to think about the future, to create a better and safer future. These losses do not have to occur again.
We should keep in mind that the experience of war changes people. War can create traumatised people that continue to live in the past for as long as they live. For understandable reasons – who am I to critique that? But war can also create visionaries for the future. Here, my cultural heritage matters, as I am a Belgian that knows about the impact of the First World War. War can create visionaries that say: “Never again”. “Never again” is an incredibly important lesson that people have learned from the First World War (and from other wars) but that in Europe has been forgotten still too quickly, unfortunately. But the trauma of war can feed into different ways of thinking about conflict and war. Looking at the future, finding realistic ways to prevent this from ever happening again, and maybe even helping others in other places in the world to prevent this from happening again, should still be the most important focal point in our thinking about war, I think. That would be my answer to the patriot.