Air Air, Installation view, 2018
As the site for their two-person exhibition AIR AIR, Christos Kyriakides and Marina Xenofontos have procured a municipally-owned space beneath the central monument in Limassol’s famous Heroes’ Square. While today the monument exists at the heart of the city’s most gentrified area, its roots extend through several layers of complex and at times embattled histories. The square itself was created in 1910 by Turkish Cypriots, the area was known as Kekosgloudkia and access was forbidden to Greek Cypriots; however, boundaries soon shifted and in 1946, the monument was created under the mayor Plouti Serva in dedication to those who sacrificed their lives for the freedom of Cyprus and Greece against «tyranny». Beginning in the 50s, brothel houses began to open in the area, and it remained a red light district until the acquisition and reopening of the Rialto Theatre, which was accompanied by the government’s decision to cease its review of new applications for cabaret licenses and to encourage existing establishments to move from the area. Along with this, in the early 2000s the University of Technology acquired some of the surrounding properties causing the area to transform again. Kyriakides and Xenofontos’ works don’t engage the site through direct reference; instead the artists deliberately embed their exhibition in its layers of sociopolitical sediment. The monument’s symmetry and iconic clarity are brought into tension with the artists’ tendency to de-center and dissipate narratives. The heroic ideals it broadcasts, meanwhile, make apparent the contrasting proclivity for antiheroism Kyriakides and Xenofontos share — a quality that plays out through a range of negational strategies from which new possibilities for aesthetic standards and political language arise. The exhibition’s title, AIR AIR, appears stitched onto some of Kyriakides works and is inspired by a line by the Martinician author Aimé Césaire. Like Martinique, Cyprus is a nation caught between continents and wracked by conflicting cultural influences and political interests. The artists identify with Césaire’s plea against political suffocation published in the journal Tropiques in 1944: “Open the windows. Air, air!”
Kyriakides and Xenofontos share an interest in classical and religious iconography and the webs of cultural, political, social, personal, and economic history to which such images point simultaneously. This interest extends further to the divisions and entanglements that are quickly exposed when you follow these trails, especially in the Cypriot context, where the contradictions of a many-faced colonial history are never far from view. In the midst of ambivalence, how does one then begin to construct an image? Xenofontos has characterized her approach elsewhere as a series of semiotic translations that coalesce as a “constellation of errors.” The sculptures on view beneath the monument could be thought of as reinterpretations of the traditional process of tempera painting — a technique which for centuries has served as the primary medium of Orthodox icon production. Whereas traditionally, muslin is glued to a wood panel before gesso and finally tempera are applied, Xenofontos remixes the sequence, pouring liquid pigment onto cloth that has been reinforced with resin. She is then able to mold these forms as the resin cures. In the finished sculptures, the materiality of the pigments themselves — their grain, shine and opacity — take on a central role, while the image is displaced. You might say she disorders the medium, rendering it something to be confronted physically while opening the door to other potential paths of inquiry, such as the economic channels through which such pigments have historically circulated in the region. Her work X, a drawing-like bronze cast mounted on the wall based on the fer forgé technique for window and door coverings, acts as a signature-like gesture that finds echoes in several of Kyriakides’ works. Kyriakides’ textiles arrive with their own, readymade histories (a bed sheet bearing signs of decades of use, for example, or a silk scarf forgotten by a visiting Chinese ambassador) which become the grounds for a very slow embroidery process that combines text with Classical and Christian religious imagery, decorative motifs and fashion logos. Like the divergent pasts that haunt the Heroes’ Square, the layers of backstory, pattern, text, eros and image in his work coexist in a state of perpetual interruption: “I like many fingers in my ass” announces a text stitched in yellow onto a wedding belt. His work initiates a feedback loop of sexual and geopolitical intimacy which is further inflected with the idiosyncrasies of a queer subjectivity. Kyriakides will also launch a book of poems entitled Marvellous Ceiling Inferno during the exhibition, Air Air. A logic of deviance underpins both artists’ practices insofar as they engage traditional techniques and signs while refusing the normalizing mechanisms for sense-making that traditionally accompany them. Instead, they infuse these forms with unpredictability, degrading them while rebuilding meaning from the bottom up, like weeds sprouting in a public square.
Text by Scott Roben