Title: TWO CHAIRS PROJECT
Date: 30 June – 15 August 2021
Opening: Wednesday, June 30th, 2021, 6 – 9 pm
If we accept as true the metaphor proposed by Nicolas Bourriaud in his book “Postproduction” (2002) to look at the contemporary artist as a DJ mixing samples of reality and human culture – past and present, then Nicos Charalambidis is a virtuoso visual DJ with surprising combinations and bold iconographic scratching. His inexhaustible imagination mixes two main reference arrays, two giant counterpoints – tradition and modernity, in all their dimensions and figurative transformations, from a way of life, culture, art, politics, design, and anything that can test the viewer’s ability to decode one paradoxical world that is both familiar and absurd, deceiving with recognizable archetypes, but often with an inverted hierarchy, temporal parallaxes and unexpected twists.
For his presentation at ICA-Sofia, Nicos has adapted his popular projects, as well as works created entirely for the exhibition and the Bulgarian context. In fact, the artist always wants his works to be buried in the local situation and to communicate with the local manifestations of the counterpoints described above and the tensions hidden in them. All attributes of the tradition, with the specifics of the everyday cultural references are local Bulgarian mixed with iconic images of a supranational modernity.
The whole multi-layered, cultural-historical charade that Nicos creates from samples of new and old materialized in powerful, absurd, but visually stable objects and collages in the end perhaps imperceptibly leads us to Bruno Latour’s thesis that “We have never been modern” because of the compromises with being, because of the refusal to recognize the hybrid wholes in which we exist anyway, and perhaps because as human beings we cannot live in pure, utopian structures even though we are constantly striving towards them.
Since his very early projects in the late eighties, Nicos Charalambidis’ artistic practice, has been focused on social engagement and political interventions in public sphere, mainly in war territories, buffer zones and contested areas all over the world. One of the most characteristic antimilitaristic interventions of the artist has been presented in Sao Paolo Biennale 2006: “How to Live Together”. After a painstaking, insistent and often painful process of negotiating with the local forces of the United Nations and the Cypriot authority, Charalambidis had eventually accomplished to dismantle three barrel barricades, main parts of the dividing wall in Cyprus, in order to construct with the barrels his emblematic installations in Sao Paolo. Since then, those dismantled barricades are the permitted entrance to the other part of the island, after a passport control. The artist’s persisting struggle for coexistence is what dominantly reflected also in the current, “TWO CHAIRS PROJECT”.
«A guest + A host = A ghost»
The process of a paradoxical performance for Famagusta.
The ‘’visible spectrum’’ is defined as the phasma of the electromagnetic radiation of light that can be perceived by the human sense of sight. Nicos Charalambidis though, the current guest artist of the ICA in Sofia, strongly asserts that things look clearer in chiaroscuro.
On the 30th of July, some hours before the opening, Kalin Separionov, the ICA’s director invited his guest to give an interview with him and the two curators Pravdoliub Ivanov and Krassimir Terziev. Surprisingly the artist appeared in a characteristic Yves Saint Laurent marinière blouse and an Hermes hat, in contrast to the military uniforms that he regularly wears at the openings of his shows. Having meticulously answered to all the questions, he eventually appreciated that the whole procedure was important for him yet not as an interview; it was more an act of interpretation on Duchamp’s provocative aphorism: «a guest + a host = a ghost», than a real discussion.
The mathematical reckonings connect known quantities with unknowns that we want to define, leading quite logically to a visual and concrete representation. Equations therefore are mathematical statements that affirm the equality of the two expressions. However, In Duchamp’s conception, the equation ends up in the phasmatic definition of a ghost. Accordingly, it might be assumed that since Charalambidis’ hosts, the one of the basic two denominators, avoided to be revealed at the final recorded material of the interview, the entire equation apparently lost its physical dimension, leading to a phasmatic result that equals to a ghost. In consequence, the information and the details that the artist conveyed through his answers, should likewise left unrevealed, avoiding the risk of restricting the spectators’ comprehension horizon and moreover a potential declination of the inner energy of the works. ”It was an exercise that could take the form of a real discussion, after the conclusion of the exhibition’s next presentations in Greece and New York”, claimed the artist, who unpredictably turned the practice of a typical interview into a process of interaction, not only between himself and his hosts, but mostly, towards an emblematic posture of art history. The curators, as parts of a Duchampian equation with twisted directions, eventually got involved a paradoxical performance, whereas their initial intention was only to have a reserved role; to pose questions, without even revealing their faces or voices, in order to direct their guest in a monologue around his works. The ‘’two chairs project’’ though, is actually a statement about the discussion process and not of a monologue.
According the exhibition text, the project it’s moreover an allegory of the endless series of discussions and negotiations, in search of an agreed and justified political solution that could reunify Cyprus, the artist’s homeland. The representatives of the two communities are sitting around numerous circles of discussions for more than 45 years, without any agreement. The equation here seems to resemble to a total phasmatic procedure, which equals to a ghost, for almost half of a century. ‘’They are discussing, siting though, on two (too) different chairs’’, underlines the artist, trying to pose it better: ‘’It is rather a play of a two-sitter chair, since the chairs in the case of negotiations, are exactly the same, but the views of the sitters are far apart. The schismatic difference of the cultural and economic backgrounds of the two interlocutors is evidently a serious factor, for the constant conflicting ending of the negotiations’’.
Ascertaining the artist’s worries, some days after the exhibition’s opening at the ICA, Turkey announced the habitation of Famagusta by Turkish colonists and settlers, violating once again Cyprus’ sovereignty and the international law. Charalambidis’ loom narrates its own sibyllic aphorism interweaved with a ghost’s story. Famagusta, the biggest ghost town in the world, abandoned since 1974, has been the main point of controversy between Greek Cypriot and the Turkish Cypriot communities. Τhe prospect of habituating the ghost city was for the artist, a decisive factor for proceeding to the particular formation of the project. His view sounds sibyllic but on the contrary is rather realistic: ‘’Famagusta’s opening it will open also the Pandora’s box, fomenting the already increasing tension and the political hatred between the two communities, while on the other hand, it will precariously change the territorial status quo in the whole area of the east Mediterranean countries’’.
The play of see and saw or the hide and seek is the modus operandi of the artist. As he claim s, it’s normal when an artist is coming from a country where the citizens were not allowed to see over the dividing wall at the other half of the island, even their abandoned homes. The visible and phasmatic is a constant practice in Charalambidis’ oeuvre; a tactic that however, never be ambiguous or obscure, even though his works are charged with multiple meanings. Likewise, the invisible books from the soviet period, hidden in the monument’s masonry, ascertain once again the canon. These sand free bricks function as levers for the artist who ingeniously moves the pivot from one political problem to the other, interweaving on his loom, different histories into a woven of common patterns.
Duchamp’s phasmatic female alter ego ‘’Eros c’est la vie’’, the iconic Rrose Sélavy, is the striking example of his virtuosité in interweaving sibyllic phrases with twisted roles. In his follower’s case though, any intention to provoke a superb impression, seems to be postponed; Charalambidis’ marinière blouse and his elaborated hat, reduced a potential attempt of metamorphosis into a constrained, yet meaningfully political gesture.
Dr. Aspassia Mastrogianni,
Art Historian at the University of the Aegean
It was one of the most glamorous resorts in the Mediterranean. But in 1974 Famagusta became a ghost town when its inhabitants fled from the invading Turkish army.