Titled Here let me stand, Marianna Christofides’ first solo exhibition in Berlin spoke of origins: stories from the artist’s native Cyprus about loss and division, about transitions and marginal zones, about emotions and memories. In installations mixing photography, film and text, she blended geographical, historical, archaeological and personal facts with fictional elements.
Entering the gallery space, one was confronted by the two-part work In the hollow where water remains (2014). For the first part, Christofides combined the show’s invitation card with the transcript of a story told by her uncle about the naturalization in Cyprus of the breadfruit tree, from which he used to carve toys as a child. The story draws attention to an area in the north of the divided island that is now a military exclusion zone. The second part consisted of a graphite print of the same invitation made using the precious mineral Cyprus Green Earth. Politics permeated the work here in a quasi-physical sense, since the current political situation makes it almost impossible to mine this pigment.
A similar semantic twist featured in the video Here let me stand (2013) from which the show took its title. For this work, Christofides photographed an extensive anthology of Cypriot antiquities. Calmly and meditatively, the archaeological finds pass before the viewer. From the description of the work, one learned that when this book was published in 1881 there was controversy over the academic integrity and precision of the dating. In this light, the video becomes a lesson in the subjective categorization of artefacts. A matter of viewpoint: who or what determines the correctness of historical knowledge? What can be learnt from written records and their contrived selection, and how is this influenced by one’s own vision and experience?
In …what if you find a hornet’s nest in a hotel room? (2012), Christofides tells the story of just such an eventuality. According to the description of the work, hornets arrived in Cyprus from North Africa. The work consists of a photograph of the titular hotel scene plus a fictional specialist text peppered with geological terminology. Facts about the formation of the Earth’s crust in Europe’s mountainous regions are mixed here with modified place names and concepts familiar from political discussions such as ‘surge from the south’ or ‘indigenous territory’. Geology meets geopolitics, then, raising questions of migration, origins and belonging in Europe’s ‘peripheral zones’. In a nod to the previous work, an empty wasp nest appeared in the gallery in the installation Blueville (2013). Having carefully taken it down, Christofides presented it, under a glass cover, enthroned on an immaculate bar of marble.
With her text-image works, Christofides rattles the official accounts of history and contrasts them with personal stories. Like the individual works, the exhibition as a whole derived its vitality from a constant tension between fact, fiction and memory, questioning the truth content of the stories, pictures and artefacts that have been handed down to us. The critique was subtly woven into the show and depending on one’s readiness to find it (one had to ask the gallery staff for most of the information concerning context and specific details of the materials) one question had to be answered by each individual viewer: do we even want to have our carefully constructed view of history shattered?
Translated by Nicholas Grindell