Looking Awry: views of an anniversary


Contemporary Cypriot Art for the 50 Years since the Establishment of the Republic of Cyprus

The exhibition, motivated by the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the Republic of Cyprus, aims at a critical self-examination and look upon the place and its people. It includes contemporary works by Cypriot artists, which ‘look awry’ – that is, they look in critical, examining, subversive, thoughtful and humorous ways – upon ourselves, our recent past, our present and whichever possible future. This ‘awry’ look (taking a cue from a short dialogue in Shakespeare’s Richard II, and the dialogue’s analysis by Slavoj Zizek, in “Looking Awry” [1989]), aims at ‘seeing’ ourselves and our state in its proper dimensions, in contrast to the ‘head on’, seemingly direct view that has been [re]produced by the official, dominant rhetoric of the institutions and the mechanisms that have been defining us, ever since the establishment of the Cypriot state.

The exhibition includes paintings, sculptures, video art, constructions, audio-visual installations and short films, by the following artists (alphabetically):

Yianna Americanou, Antonis Antoniou, Klitsa Antoniou, Helene Black, Marianna Christofides, Yiannos Economou, Mustafa Erkan, Tatiana Ferahian, GRUP 102 [Ozge Ertanin, Oya Silbery, Evren Erkut], Yioula Hatzigeorgiou, Andreas Karayan, Diomedes Koufteros, Georgios Koukoumas, Atesh Kozal, Lia Lapithi, Stella Michaelidou, Marina Olympios, Vicky Pericleous, Vicki Psarias, Andreas Savva, Christiana Solomou, Katy Stephanidou, Nicos Synnos, Elina Theodotou, Evgenia Vasiloude, Washing-Up Ladies (Marianna Karafidou, Lia Lapithi), Omer Yetkinel and Talat Gokdemri.

Opening: 17 November 2010, 19.30, Evagoras Lanitis Centre, Limassol. [Entrance to the exhibition from the Lanitis Carob Mill’s parking space]. The exhibition’s opening includes a performance directed by Ellada Evangelou.

Design-Curation: Antonis Danos, Lecturer in Art History and Theory, Cyprus University of Technology.

looking awry

Organised by the Cyprus Chamber of Fine Arts [EKATE]. Sponsored by the Cultural Services of the Ministry of Education and Culture, Cyprus. Supported by the Cyprus University of Technology.

Looking Awry at the 50 Years of the Republic of Cyprus by Antonis Danos

Like perspectives, which rightly gaz’d upon
Show nothing but confusion; ey’d awry
Distinguish form …

[William Shakespeare, Richard II, Act II, Scene 2]

The above excerpt is derived from a short dialogue between the queen and Bushy, the king’s servant, in William Shakespeare’s Richard II. Bushy is trying to console the queen and to take her mind off the bad premonitions she is having, after the king’s departure on a war expedition. At first, he points out to her that sorrow tends to exaggerate things, and keeps us from seeing them for what they are: “For sorrow’s eye, glazed with blinding tears / Divides one thing entire to many objects…” And he proceeds by making perhaps an unexpected analogy to perspective, by telling her that when looking straightforward at something, we see confusion, and only when looking at it ‘sideways’ [from an angle], does it assume a clear distinct form. What Shakespeare seems to be incorporating here, is his knowledge of “anamorphosis” [perspectival disfiguration], such as when employed in painting, even though the term itself had not yet been invented.1

This seems, at first, a rather peculiar metaphor; we are used to thinking that a ‘clear’ view is normally offered by the straightforward, head-on look at things, rather than by a sideways one. Back in the early Renaissance, the invention and extensive use of mathematical perspective was making a claim that it was creating rational, ‘accurate’ views of the world – it was one of the major tools in the process whereby a two-dimensional image was functioning as a window to the world [or as its mirror]. Mathematical, particularly, one-point perspective is of course an artificial construct, utilised for creating ordered views, but never ‘true’ ones, despite appearances to the contrary. Essentially, perspective offers ideologically-laden views of the world.

According to Hanneke Grootenboer in The Rhetoric of Perspective, “we are unable to observe perspective directly because our position is always implicated in its configuration […]. Therefore, we need to find an alternative position from which we can ‘see’ the ways in which perspective operates as a system that manipulates our vision.”2 Interestingly enough, this “alternative position” [one that will allow as to look at perspective, rather than through it] may well be offered by anamorphosis. “Anamorphosis” is an ancient Greek word that means distortion. An anamorphic image is one that lacks a proper shape – something that cannot be readily recognised for what it is. In modern Greek, however, anamorphosis also signifies the “restoring of that which has been out of shape.”3 Perhaps most importantly, anamorphic art “possesses the rare quality of being able to disrupt or even shock our accustomed ways of looking and laying bare the prejudices such looking involves.”4

The Looking Awry exhibition, sets off from such an analysis concerning modes of picturing and looking, in order to create and, hopefully, justify its own metaphors. Using as its pretext the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the Republic of Cyprus, it aims at excluding the seemingly straightforward, orthodox perspectival depiction and perception of the world. This mode of portraying and of perceiving ourselves is what has essentially been the official, dominant rhetoric of the institutions and the mechanisms that have been defining us, ever since the establishment of the Cypriot state. Just as “proper perspective may be a form of distortion,” [anamorphic] disfiguration may be a form of correction.5 The works in the exhibition do not literally contain anamorphic distortions; instead, they metaphorically constitute ‘awry looks,’ that is, they themselves are ‘sideway glances,’ which may produce true® images of ourselves, our recent past, our present and our possible futures. They gaze in critical, examining, subversive, thoughtful and humorous ways, so as to reveal our true shapes and forms, and present us in our proper dimensions, in contrast to the dominant, seemingly direct [yet, greatly distorted] view that has been [re]produced and consumed over the past fifty years.

  1. See Slavoj Zizek, “Looking Awry,” October, vol. 50 (Autumn 1989), pp. 32-35; and, Hanneke Grootenboer, The Rhetoric of Perspective: realism and illusionism in seventeenth-century Dutch still-life painting (University of Chicago Press, 2005), p. 101.^
  2. Grootenboer, op. cit., pp. 100-101.^
  3. ibid.^
  4. ibid.^
  5. ibid.^
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