Categories
Artworks

Marble Tent

Biinjiya’iing Onji (From inside) by Rebecca Belmore

Constructed out of local materials–marble–and installed next to the most iconic architectural feature of the Athenian cityscape, Rebecca Belmore’s Biinjiya’iing Onji (From inside), was one of the artworks exhibited during Documenta 14 (2017). Belmore hand carved a hyperrealistic tent—in this context, instantly recognisable as a symbol for refugees, since it is often their accommodation on the island hotspots and in mainland camps. As the refugee crisis becomes “a state of perpetual emergency,” the “makeshift retreat” of the tent becomes a shelter in the regime of waiting that characterises displaced lives who have sought international protection in hostile political communities. Yet, as Belmore explains, “[t]he shape of the tent is, for me, reminiscent of the wigwam dwellings that are part of my history as an Indigenous person,” Belmore explains: “Wigwams (wiigiwaam in Anishinaabemowin), traditionally constructed of bentwood of young trees and covered with birch bark, are a rather ingenious solution for building with the materials available at hand,” enabling nomadic people “to make their home wherever necessary.” 

The obvious contrast between the form–a tent–and the material out of which it is constructed–marble–raises questions about how what is meant to offer temporary protection or shelter on the move, becomes physically emplaced, static, and stuck: a permanent condition, as immobile and as heavy as the marble itself. At the Moria hotspot and the camp surrounding it, where such tents are pitched, not for days or weeks, but for months and years, they are a testament to the struggle for survival in adverse conditions of winter weather and political indifference and cynicism.

 

Myrto Tsilimpounidi


 

References

Documenta 14: Rebecca Belmore’s Biinjiya’iing Onji (From inside, 2017) Marble (140 × 200 × 200 cm) https://www.rebeccabelmore.com/biinjiyaiing-onji-from-inside/

Photos by Scott Benesiinaabandan

Categories
Artworks

Chessboard of the world

“Strategy games on the chessboard of the world:

Art installation at the University of the Aegean”

Artist: Fereniki Tsamparli 

 

Artistic statement: 

In late 1922, after a three-year war between the Greeks and the Turks, the Turkish army entered the city of Smyrna, located on the Asia Minor coast. One day later, a large part of the city burned with hundreds of thousands of people, desperately trying to save themselves, boarding small, overcrowded boats, crossing the nearby Aegean islands such as Lesvos, Chios, Samos, etc. 

In 2015, refugees cross the passage between Turkey and Lesvos again – this time people coming from Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, etc. By the end of the same year, about half a million refugees arrived on the island. So, the summer of 2015 there was an important time for Lesvos, as the island was experiencing a refugee crisis for the second time!

The island was full of refugees, reaching the east coast, often stacked in small, insecure, and overcrowded boats. Their first concern was to get rid of the unnecessary cargo – wet clothes and life jackets – in order to move forward to the recording centers that had been set up for this purpose in various parts of the capital Mytilene.

It is at this point in time that I return to the island from a short trip to Athens and the sight I see looking up from the window of the airplane are the abandoned orange refugee lifeboats that resembled a fire that burned the east side of the island. Both this particular sight in itself, with all its emotional charge, and the abandonment of lifeboats and other rescue materials on the island’s beaches, which temporarily threatened the marine and coastal environment, became a source of inspiration for an action that would combine, on the one hand the proper management of some of this “waste” (foam contained inside the jets and torn plastic boats); and on the other hand, to make, through art, a political hint for the situation in which all these people were facing based on decisions they had not made themselves.

This was the plan: The lifebloods of foam would make the chess pawns of a giant chessboard, while square pieces of abandoned plastic boats would make up the chessboard. The aim is to highlight two key issues: the refugee crisis and environmental protection.

Following a request to the University of the Aegean for funding of other materials (paint, glues, etc) and many days of voluntary and hard work, students and city dwellers, under my guidance, transformed these seemingly insignificant materials of the Aegean daily life in 2015, into 32 large pawns about 1.2 m high, mounted on a large (25m2) chessboard. From thirty-two chess pawns, after being coated with pulp, sixteen were painted in orange and the rest in green, thereby attempting an indirect reminder of the two issues that gave inspiration for the project (orange for the life jackets and green for the environment).

 

Myrto Tsilimpounidi


 

Photos by Iasonas Panagos (reproduced here with permission)

Categories
Wall writing

“We are an image from the future”

Unknown Artist
Photo by Lefteris Margaritis, 2017

Time is conceived of as representing hope, opportunities and vision – all of which are acutely challenged by the notion of crisis. Time is inextricably bound up with notions of progress, growth and development. By contrast, in a state of crisis, defined as a temporary, critical turning point, the past is experienced through a sense of nostalgia, the present is experienced as loss, and the future is precarious. At the old port of Lesvos a street art piece depicting 3 children playing underneath the tag ‘We are an image from the future, No Borders, No Nations, No Governments’ makes a strong comment on a shared vision of future that is not yet here, but about to happen. This shared vision of a future brings to mind Benjamin’s fifth thesis on the philosophy of history (1968), in which he states that:  

[t]he true picture of the past flits by. The past can be seized only as an image which flashes up at the instant when it can be recognised and is never seen again. ‘The truth will not run away from us’ – this remark by Gottfried Keller denotes the exact point where historical materialism breaks through historicism’s picture of history. For every image of the past that is not recognised by the present as one of its own concerns threatens to disappear irretrievably (1968: 255).

In other words, the fragments of truth of the past are only visible as a contingent image, always under the threat of slipping away. This image becomes decisive in the continuity between past and present struggles. Benjamin argues against historicism and the claim that it depicts the eternal image of the past, and instead he puts forward an image of history as a constellation of self-standing experiences. The most valuable aspect of his theses on the philosophy of history is that they provide a non-linear conception of time, or to put it differently, a conceptualisation of time that breaks the hegemonic contract of time.

 

Myrto Tsilimpounidi


 

References: 

Benjamin, Walter (1968) Illuminations, trans by Harry Zohn. New York: Schocken Books. 

Tsilimpounidi, Myrto (2017) Sociology of Crisis: Visualising Urban Austerity. London: Routledge.


 

Categories
Crisis

Heteronormative Necropolitics

In Necropolitics Achille Mbembe (2019), speaks about a world always already invaded by inequality, precarity, and militarisation in a climate of ever-increasing resurgence of racist, homophobic, nationalists, and fascists discourses.  He outlines an alarming picture for Europe as a continent eaten up by the desire of ‘apartheid’ and always in the search of an enemy, whether external or internal. For Mbembe, this is how democracy embraces its dark side, what he terms as the ‘nocturnal body’, which erodes rights, values, and freedoms that were previously constituted. At a nutshell, the notion of necropolitics refers to the use of social and political power that dictates how some people may live and how some others must die. If we apply Mbembe’s thought on how certain people should live and others must die in the case of the 2015 European refugee crisis, we realise that we are talking about the heteronormalisation of necropolitics. By this, I mean that the ideal figure of the refugee has been constructed as the Syrian family. Even in the solidarity movement of ‘Refugees Welcome’ the image underneath the sing portrays a man, holding a woman who holds a female child. These very problematic representations in a way dictate whose sexuality and reproductive abilities dictate survival.

I juxtapose these thoughts with the story of Suma, a trans refugee fro Cairo travelling in a boat from Turkey to Greece in 2016:

We arrived in Chios by boat having each paid 700 euro. All four of us LGBT people who had boarded the boat were for the entirety of the journey very discreet; in fact, I had covered myself almost completely in a niqab – it seems funny but I was afraid to meet the same fate as another trans refugee; once her travelling companions realised she was trans, they threw her in the sea. Hours later the Turkish coastguard collected her, but this whole torment, I learned later, made her go mad.

Myrto Tsilimpounidi
December 2019


References: 

Mbembe, Achille (2019) Necropolitics. Durham: Duke University Press.

Souma, trans woman refugee from Cairo, 2016 (Source: Interview with Theodoris Antonopoulos, www.lifo.gr/articles/lgbt_articles/120527

The image is part of the Facing Crisis photography workshop held in Athens (Greece) in July 2017 by Myrto Tsilimpounidi & Anna Carastathis in collaboration with LGBTQI+ refugees.
Photo by Myrto Tsilimpounidi, 2017