STEPHANOS KARABABAS and KATERINA ATTALIDOU

As published in Volume 8, NO 3, SEPT 2011

Stefanos Karababas and Katerina Attalidou are both graduates of the Fine Arts School of the Aristoteleion University of Thessalonica. They have both been members of the art group Noise of Coincidence, and have participated in all the happenings and shows of the group (2002: Ah Aman & Intervention at the Central Market, 2003: NoiseObsession, Spell Building, 2004: NoiseCrossings, in independent spaces in the Old City of Nicosia).

They live and work together in Nicosia since 2000.

In 2002 they co-operated on the exhibition Electric Voices at Pantheon Gallery, in 2004 for Nomadifesta in Kastelliotissa, Nicosia, in 2007 for the exhibition Crossings at the Nicosia Municipal Arts Centre, and also in 2008 for the Paris/Chypre exhibition in Diana Marquard Gallery, in Paris.

THE TWO ARTISTS SPEAK ABOUT THEIR WORK

“A collection of photographs and old postcards of Famagusta, and some super 8 film strips, were the starting point of this project. Encountering the forms of the modernist architects of the 60s and 70s in a parade of beach blocks, and taking into account the solitude of stillness that modern culture can sometimes instill, we were led to understand that this great bulk of cement on this thin strip of land – the beachfront of Varoshia – is, in fact, an organic and not an inanimate, lifeless construction.

Musing over the postcards invokes memories of happiness and abundance; memories of a very specific urban environment, images of how people went about their daily lives, enjoying their then modern city. Coming out of this snapshot mode, we come across the depiction of an urban settlement built on top of the ruins of the ancient city of Arsinoe*.

That which is created is a puzzle made out of plastic forms that have lost their geometry, assembled together as a short movie of that era. The narration continues beyond the melodramatic character of the solitary-single image, and, as it doubles, it alternates between observing you and inviting you to observe it, or both. Often this storytelling coexists with the elements, such as air, smoke, or water.

The romantic epic of representation, which dominates the depictions of memory, is broken into pieces of free writing. The image sprouting from the fields of landscape art is being experienced, choosing to either interact with you, or take up some of your space. The personal and specific use of the materials (oil colour, electricity, charcoal, acrylics) allows the passage from a dramatic past to the contemporary where the viewer partakes in a depiction of tenderness and destruction, where time is invalidated, is overturned, it is being reformed into composition.

“Feel the static past.”

Ammochostos is not the corpse of a dead city, she is a muse. A magical city, even though it’s grown accustomed to living without us.”

– Stefanos Karababas

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“Since 2003 when one of the barricades was opened, I felt the need to get to know all the places that until then had been completely forbidden to us. I started an ambulatory work in the city of Nicosia where I grew up and where I live, which involved drawing, photographing and taking interviews. It was a way for me to discover the other half and to converse with it.

With regards to Ammochostos, things were completely different. Although my mother’s family originates from the city and I thus grew up much connected to its memory, I never had the opportunity to experience life there, since I was born a few months before the war. I visited the area many times, stood on the beachfront looking at the wrecked buildings, swam in the waters, as far as it is permitted, drove all around its periphery. I took photos secretly; I listened to the scarce sounds. This image of complete desertion crushed me each time, the barbed wire going round the city kept me at a distance; I could not capture the city, establish a relationship with it.

And so I started to search for images of the time when Ammochostos was still a free city. Photographic albums that somehow managed to make it across the line, old family super 8 movies and old postcards.

The cooperation with Stefanos occurred naturally; he was as enchanted with the images of the city. We worked together creatively, each contributing to the image after the other. This helped at taking some distance from the weight of History and at approaching its depth.

We discovered an urban, progressive society, bestowed with humor, with a specific passion for all things relating to the sea and the arts. The image we see today of the wrecked grey buildings came to life with colours, and the longing, the love for the city begun to take on a new substance and meaning.

The snapshots of the life of Ammochostos were depicted monumentally not as sketches on paper or photomontages but with oil on canvas – a material that seems to suit the period and the depiction of an era that was and is no more. The fastidious transfer of the image of the postcard on a larger scale allowed the time for real observation of the space, creating the illusion of observing a real cityscape.

The interventions on the chosen images as well as the rest of studies, collages and simple constructions, served in annihilating the time gap while also somehow filling the void of not having actually experienced the city. The interventions also helped us to render the playful mood of its society.

The horizontal lines gave us a step from which we could enter the space, and the circular geometric patterns like embroidery, like puffs of air, allowed us to travel through the image in a poetic mood.

This working process also functioned as a contemporary ritual of catharsis and reconnection to the place. Capturing the city through archive material and rendering its life today, with contemporary means, we managed to establish a certain kind of experiencing and connection.

Kyriakos Charalambides’s poetry resonated within us. The verses of his poems came to meet our images most naturally. We thank the poet who so openheartedly encouraged us to use his words in the process of Capturing the City.

– Katerina Attalidou

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THE CAPTURE OF THE CITY OF FAMAGUSTA BY TWO YOUNG ARTISTS IN NICOSIA

The following text was written by the poet Kyriakos Charalambides to preface the exhibition “City Capture,” which opened at Argo Gallery on March 9, 2011, in Nicosia.

I closed windows and doors
So that the city will not spill out into the courtyard.
I gather it from under the bed,
From inside the closet, from behind the picture frames,
From the pressure cooker, from the folds of books.

– Kyriakos Charalambides, from the collection Famagusta Reigning.

Ermis Publications, Athens 1982.

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Dear friends,

I have the joy of presenting the exhibition “City Capture”. The undertaking of the “capture” is owed to the artistic coupling of two persons, both young in years but mature artists, Katerina Attalidou and Stefanos Karababas. Katerina was born few months before the Turkish invasion to a mother with powerful bonds with Famagusta, Niki Marangou. She transmitted to her daughter her love for the city, and made her feel her roots there; roots that were also fortified by the energetic contribution of another powerful memory, Anna Marangou, Katerina’s aunt. Stefanos on the other hand, having come to Cyprus from Greece, united his art to the love of his beloved through the bonds of marriage. And so, we find ourselves before the following phenomenon: Katerina knows the city through maternal or other accounts, narrations, photographs, postcards, as well as through personal research and, later, through site visits, while Stefanos identifies with all this and understands it through indirect reductions to equivalent personal experiences. The result is exceptionally interesting, for it introduces the perspectives of two artists who did not have time to personally experience the city of Famagusta, and yet sense it energetically, transubstantiating it “through thought and through dream”. In any case, this is a reality that we verify daily: our occupied land is at once so far and so near that we can touch it at the same as reflect upon it. This schism, this contradiction of experienced longing, lends a deeper substance to the realistic and simultaneously dreamy classification of the subject. The city is there, you can see its outline, except that – in order to capture it – you must be become a sightseer in your own conceptual paradise, by resurrecting its idol inside you.

The recently published interviews with and notes by Katerina and Stefanos help us understand that their art (at least the specific work before us) is based on the combination of historical and visual data combined with cultivated reflection and, in extension, re-reflection. Their artistic sensibilities extend their figurative gaze, transubstantiating the evidence. The result is a new conception, a rebirth, and the emergence of a city, which can finally walk alongside their existential recreation.

Let us not fool ourselves however: art does not reproduce the visible; art “renders visible things” according to Paul Klee. Our gaze determines the form. Ultimately, the object of art is not the thing itself but the way we look at it; the way with which – I would dare say – we touch it with our gaze. The entire act is focused on touch rather than sight: you reconstruct it inside you and rebuild parts of Famagusta, conceiving the city’s face in rational thought, in a way that would “correct” emotion, remaining as temperate as possible on the scale of feelings; so that you do not insist on epithets but on internally rearranging the city, wherein the soul and the tone of the submission fit. And this is carried out within a framework of transformation, which releases nuclei of captivation of the city and of a comforting myth, which neutralizes the external occupation to some degree.

Often the role of the artist, in our part of the world, is to save himself through instillations of memory. This vindication, this substantial reading is what Katerina and Stefanos seek: for us to perceive what they felt for Famagusta and how they approached it; what they are saying through their work, and how they filter feelings onto the canvas of an advanced form and technique, which – at times – points to Mytaras or to Tsoklis, while remaining creatively authentic.

For us here in Cyprus, where we are immersed by excessive quantities of history, art constitutes a breath far from rhetorical recipes. It is therefore important that we see how the archetypal pictures of idyllic times, and later of destruction, are reformed by the freshness and the responses of two talented new artists. Personally, I was moved by the sensitivity to have their drawings accompanied by verses from my book “Famagusta Reigning”, something that speaks to their inquiring gaze, but also to the character of their work, which remains poetic. The classic observation of Leonardo Da Vinci, “painting is poetry visible, poetry is perceptible painting,” is proved true again.

• •  •  •  •

My introduction could close here. Allow me, however, to add an inevitable lesson: We are a people that has, with time, forgotten their ancient epic roots, founded on “rage” about the injustice we have suffered; we are a people that have lost the ability to become enraged about the tragic events occuring in our country. Let us we remain at least with the Socratic “love of prudence”. We are speaking about virtue and prudence, with which we must arm our thoughts so that we can always remain lovers of the distant horizons of Famagusta – the city that Katerina and Stefanos attempt to “conceive” and deliver to us living, and pulsating.

Kyriakos Chalalambides,

Argo Gallery, March 9, 2011

Translated by Irena Joannides

One thought on “STEPHANOS KARABABAS and KATERINA ATTALIDOU

  1. Pingback: THE ART OF STEPHANOS KARABABAS & KATERINA ATTALIDOU | Cyprus PEN Centre

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