Introduction

Through the Roadblocks is a three year project without a principal curator, there is no status privilege of sole authorship. It is a project of many curators, artists and theoreticians, and it is the contribution of all of you which will define its developing stages and final outcome. Because of this structure, TTR will undoubtedly explore a more complex relationship between theoreticians, curators and artists who will present a network of different methodologies, technologies, motivations and approaches. We feel confident that this project will be able to also contribute to the current debate of art, in its broader sense, as a tool to provoke serious reflection and concern beyond geopolitical agendas and preconditions set by mainstream art proposals.

We believe that your curation and research will reflect this aim forming flexible, with perhaps sometimes ephemeral combinations and discourses, that will embrace the multifarious nature of this project. Of course, one way this will hopefully occur is through the online platform of the NeMe forum which will facilitate the possibility of ongoing conversations and collaborations beyond borders. This forum provides a relational space where  theory and individual practice conjoin at times and perhaps at others, resist, resulting in of uneasiness, questioning, and restlessness. We believe that it is this contradictory process which will produce work that will resonate within the interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary interface defining TTR. As such, it is desirable that all participants, irrespective of their specialised form of theoretical or cultural production, view this project with an approach to possibly recontextualise their own field as a result of pursuing an interdisciplinary process and methodology which is more open-ended and could possibly be more encompassing through a collective space of thinking.

I would like to iterate, that ours is a multi-layered project as far as its structure and aims are concerned. We are hoping that we are able and willing to create a community characterised by a professional exchange of skills, communication and sharing that goes beyond the limitations of economic restraints of funding. Nonetheless, NeMe can promise you that we will work hard to secure funds in respect to the integrity of your own work but please do understand that, as usual, you most likely will do much more work than the commensurate value of the funding support that you will receive. I am sure that most of you are very familiar with this scenario.

Finally, texts and visual outcomes from your collaborations will be exhibited in Cyprus during November 2012 and documented in the exhibition catalogue. In addition to your papers presented today, you will also be required to present your final collaborative project at the TTR conference in 2012.

Helene Black (NeMe)

Participants

Srecko Horvat, Antonis Danos, Yiannis Colakides, Boris Bakal, Katerina Pejovic, Lea Maus, Maria Lianou, Lena Zeise, Susanna Weiss, Guli Silberstein, Andri Michael, Dimitris Charitos, Yannis Zannos, Lanfranco Aceti, John Francescutti, George Katodrytes, Helene Black, Nesrine Khodr, Nicholas Defteras, Katerina Nikita, Yiangos Hadjiyiannis, Yolanda Christodoulou, Maria Kyriakou, Marios Theophilides, Christiana Solomou

IN TRANSIT – a letter from the Antipodes

Dear Helene and Yiannis and the Roadblocks team,

Sorry we can’t be there with you in late November. We are with you in spirit.

Ever been in a cab or a minivan driving through the middle east or North Africa? You’ll know the experience: for the desert lands are now criss-crossed with asphalt nomads. It was on the Port Said-Cairo road, when we reached Zagazig. This was years ago. The taxi swerved to the left across the oncoming line of traffic and screeched to a dusty halt on the side of the road.

‘Gasoline’, Ahzab grinned back at me. The Gulf War, he said was making things difficult, as he ran off with three one-gallon plastic containers to a throng of Bedouins around a trestle table. He returned with them empty. He started the taxi and proceeded along the shoulder of the wrong side of the road, scattering pedestrians, attempting now and again to break across oncoming traffic.

Unable to force any opposing driver to allow him through, he wrenched the steering wheel to the right and floored it, causing a southbound Ford to go sideways in a full slide, missing our cab by the barest. My driver fishtailed back into the northbound lane, leaving a cacophony of squealing brakes and curses in his wake.

About a mile down the road, he pulled over and cut the engine. He grinned and gestured that he had to speak to a girl. He picked her up and she sat in the back smiling, eyes ringed with kohl. ‘Girl’ he grinned at me. Then he left us both in the car and went loping across the highway. Minutes later he returned. ‘Gas’, he grinned at me. With grimy plastic containers he was off again. I watched as several men helped drain a gallon of gas from a 55-gallon drum on the side of the road, as he borrowed a tin funnel, as he danced back to the car through the traffic, poured the container into his tank, dodged back to return the funnel. After a few more minutes talking with the girl, he drove off with a shrug and a chuckled, the girl singing along to Fairuz all the way.

By the time we got to Port Said – my destination – and the place where my family had lived and worked (via Sicily and Kastellorizo) before their migration to Australia in the 1950s – Ahzab would drive by gaining as much speed as possible, free-cruise as long as possible, honk, pass on the right and on the left, make two lanes into three, plow through crowds of pedestrians, donkeys, camels, who miraculously avoided collision, hitting the brakes only to slow down enough to twist the ignition key, pop the clutch, and jump-start the engine.

As I climbed the hotel steps, Ahzab was throwing his car muffler in the boot and waving goodbye.

It was this experience of travel, this local ‘bush’ ingenuity in the teeth of obstacles – like the search for that key ingredient of modern social organisation (gas replacing the old Bedouin search for water) – or obstacles like the still not-yet defused land mines planted in the desert during Egypt’s hostilities with Israel; this creative ingenuity seems to offer us a note of optimism and perhaps helps decode the fraught possibilities of the Beyond the Roadblocks narrative.

The journey, doubtless, will be pot-holed with delays, detours and checkpoints. Every road – past drought-ridden oil extraction sites, refugee camps, military installations — could be a dead end trip. One hears of workers being smuggled in water tanks and the driver being detained by checkpoint officials for trivial chat in the blazing sun: the men’s cries go unheard and they suffocate to death. Lovers (he from Jerusalem, she from Ramallah) are separated by roadblocks. Geopolitics overwhelms geography.

At the same time, there are startling images: bees crawl around some oddly shaped canisters. The beekeeper explains that spent rocket shells make excellent beehives! [from Baghdad On/Off (2002), the documentary by Iraqi filmmaker Saad Salman,]

Abu Assad’s Ford Transit (2002) is a documentary devoted to a driver who carried passengers between Ramallah and Jerusalem. Some just need to get to work, others to attend a wedding or smuggle a few tomatoes. Much of the film is set in the interminable lines of identical minivans: the Americans gave them to the Israeli police who hand them down to the Palestinians. Despite the good will and an upbeat sound track of Egyptian pop, and rap, the space inside the van becomes increasingly claustrophobic. The driver comments that the roadblocks are “a factory for suicide bombings.”

The most optimistic sign of these road movies that don’t move forward, but spiral inwards, is the driver’s creativity when the usual routes don’t function.

Meanwhile, here in faraway Sydney and Melbourne, Australia, reality is twisted and turned by the media. Maybe it is the same for you? Tanks still roll on TV, and so does the canned laughter. Trailers for the new sitcom are interspersed with shots of oil rigs ablaze in the Persian Gulf. The new show they say will keep us in stitches. The world is already in stitches. Wait till they take them out.

George Alexander and Peter Lyssiotis, November 2010

Sponsors

The Cyprus Ministry of Education, The Cyprus University of Technology