Introduction

...Since the late eighties, Charalambidis’ large scale installations -incorporating dismantled structural elements from his home- have been developed as, politically charged, platforms of interdisciplinary cooperation that activate buffer zones and contested areas. Ahead of the artistic tendencies of that time, his multilayered interventions in Cyprus’ Green Line, risking in some occasions literally his life, have been a benchmark that provide over the years, an exemplary model for art events and actions in war zones and contested areas in Lebanon, Ireland and the Gaza strip.

One of the most known “platforms of sympraxis” the Rambling & Rumbling Museum, was founded in 1997, drawing strongly on his experiences as a child, when he and his family were forced to leave their home in the north of Cyprus by the invasion of the Turkish army. Thus, reflecting the connections between the notions of home and homeland, Rambling & Rumbling Museum’s starting point is the artist’s house in Athens, while its expanding activities take place at the Hollow Airport Museum in Cyprus...

Extract from a text by Dr. Aspasia Mastrogianni

Hollow

Airport

Museum

H A M

Hollow Airport Museum (H.A.M), takes the form of an emblematic Art School, potentially housed at the abandoned International Airport of Nicosia within the UN-controlled Green Line in Cyprus. The currently derelict building not only used to be the main airport of Cyprus since 1968, but also of the entire region. Its innovating modern construction, designed by the German company Dorch-Gehrmann of Wiesbaden, has been an international prototype for airport architecture. Activating its former principal role, H.A.M., aims to stand as an educational, intellectual centre, a meeting point that brings together cultures from the countries of the Eastern Mediterranean, such as Syria, Israel, Palestine, Egypt or Lebanon. This geopolitically tense area, suffering from ongoing conflicts and wars, finds under the name of Ham – son of Noah and forbearer of these nations – a stimulating intellectual refuge, a cultural meeting point and a Museion.


Arab Guggenheim Museum

The Ancient Greek Mouseion was more than just a library, a storehouse of texts, manuscripts and books, or a space where artworks could be accumulated and exhibited. It was a home for music and poetry, a kind of an interdisciplinary laboratory, as well as a philosophical school, where scholars and scientists, researchers, poets and musicians were connoting a community under the protection of the Muses. Reflecting such a Greek model, H.A.M. accentuates the workshop style of an alternative Fine Art School that invites a great array of scientists, intellectuals and international artists – whose oeuvre is highly political – to carry out specific working programmes and assignments. Basically, the artists are invited to use the spaces of the former airport for a predetermined time, as studios in order to accomplish one of their projects under the assistance of the Arab Guggenheim Museum, a group of art students and local artists, who consist the working staff of the school, enriching through that procedure their ideas and experiences. The name Arab Guggenheim Museum of this ongoing artists’ collective, is often used generally for the entire project, overlapping as a kind of nick name the official name of the Hollow Airport Museum. As Nicos Charalambidis claims, the school’s strategy of appearing under a variety of names and pseudo names depending the program or the country that hosts occasionally its activities, emphasizes the notions of identity and transnationalism, displacement nomadism and migration.

Participant Artists

Artists such as Nedko Solakov, Mounir Fatmi, Gülsün Karamustafa, William Kentridge, Narda Alvarado Santiago Sierra, Kai Schiemenz, Pravdoliub Ivanov, Ziad Antar, Wafa Hourani, are only some of the personalities who have already collaborated in a wide range of HAM’s activities, exhibitions and projects. In 2008, during H.A.M.’s exhibition at the Centre Georges Pompidou (link), the president Alain Sebain, had inaugurated the portable porch of the school, which is a replica of the Ledra barricade that used to separate the island in two. In 2009, the Hollow Airport Museum celebrated the 20 year anniversary since the Fall of the Berlin Wall, through an extended exhibition in Athens where outstanding international artists had participated (more info at link 1 and link 2

Venues of Activities

Since 1997, the Hollow Airport Museum’s activities have been presented at numerous Museums, Art Centers, international exhibitions and biennials, such as the 27th Biennial of São Paulo, Brazil, the Centre Georges Pompidou and Palais de Tokyo, Paris, the Turner Contemporary, London, the Quarter Centro Produzione Arte, Florence, the Channel 0, Netherlands Media Art Institute, Montevideo, Amsterdam, the 51st Biennial Venice, Palazzo Querini Stampalia, Venice, the Tirana Biennial, Albania, Galerie im Marstall, Berlin, Germany, the Kunsthallen Brandts Klaedefabrik, Odense, Denmark , the Deste Foundation, Athens, the Gallery La Circuit, Lausanne, Switzerland.

Το πρόγραμμά σας περιήγησης μπορεί να μην υποστηρίζει την προβολή αυτής της εικόνας.

CARNIVAL PAUSE

At the end of the activities, the outcomes of the “art-school” could be put on display before the artists/teachers’ departure, following the form of a carnival parade into the town. Emphasizing the nomadic character of the Museion, the exhibits could be set up on floats and “meet” people in public spaces, streets and plazas, instead of waiting them to visit the museum. Of course, Carnival is a ceremony that doesn't exist in Arabic civilization, even though it is so familiar to a variety of religions and cultures in the rest of the world. Thus, trying to impose an overseas ritual to them, it sounds like a colonialist strategy. In fact, the Museion’s Carnival parade has nothing to do with the usual procession; actually the real reference here, is nothing else but the very oriental custom of displaying merchandises in the street; costermongers, hawkers and peddlers are very characteristic figures in the Arab world…


Extract from correspondence with Catherine David

Rebuilding borders…






Rebuilding borders…

In the last biennial of Sao Paulo, Charalambidis’ dominant piece was a versatile, multiple-use platform, floating by the help of four helicopter’s propellers and of some helium filled barrels. The barrels originated from three barricades on the Green Line in Cyprus, the buffer zone that divides the island in two, Turkish and Greek as a coincidence of a violent war in 1974. The artist, following a painstaking, insistent and often painful process of struggling with United Nations’ bureaucracy and the local authorities, had finally the permission to dismantle three parts of the dividing wall, in order to transfer the barricade barrels to the Biennale, of which the title was “How to Live Together”. Moreover, he had convinced the military forces to provide him with a group of soldiers to participate in his antimilitaristic project. It was a real hard plan, which was getting even more complicated especially due to the fact that the whole operation had to be realised during the war in the neighboring Lebanon and in a period while Cyprus was in the process of accepting more and more evacuees; thousands of Lebanese people, who were arriving at the island seeking out for a refuge. In Sao Paolo Another group of Brazilian soldiers had received the barrels in order to set them inside the emblematic Niemeyer’s biennale building. Altering their militaristic role, the Cypriot soldiers had shifted their duty of protecting/guarding the wall in dismantling it. The floating platform had served as a stage for a series of happenings and performances playing the role of an alternative carnival float. In one of these performances the group of the Brazilian soldiers had accompanied a team of samba girls during their dancing, while Brazilian drummers had been playing Samba on the dismantling barricade barrels, converting them into musical instruments. Samba, which originated from traditional African dances, was the representative hymn to freedom for the African slaves in BrasilThe fancy costumes of the dancers had been made out of hieratic byzantine vestmens, like those that archbishop Makarios, the first elected president of the Cypriot Democracy, used to wear.

His participation in “How to Live Together” biennial gained the admire of his artist fellows, visitors and art critics from the first day of the event. The samba platform was so crowded during the opening, that I had to make gran efforts,struggling among the spectators, in order to take some photos, like the one below (pag.3) with Ambramovic, chattering with the artist while watching the performance…

Of course, that great success it’s not an easy incident for a “third world” originated artist, who was participating at the biennale completely on his own forces, without the support of a gallery, a commissioner or even a curator. However, his success doesn’t personally surprise me or those who know the radical character of his activities;

In fact, I’m one among those who strongly believe that he would surely be one of the most known pioneer figures of the nineties if he wouldn’t himself repeatedly refused to play the game of art system, believing that political art should find alternative ways to act. Even if, in a very young age, he had drawn near international establishment and recognition through his participations in significant exhibitions, he had never accepted to collaborate with powerful galleries. Thus, when the Dakis Ioannou collection, had presented his work (soon after his first participation in Venice biennale in 1997) in the glamorous “Global Vision” five artists show, with Chris Offili, Kcho, Kara Walker and Yinka Shonibare, Charalambidis was somewhere across the Ireland’s borders, sticking up anonymous posters of the Queen Elisabeth (photo below) propagandizing his project “The Arab Guggenheim Museum”. Actually another version of his Rumbling/Rambling Museum, “The Arab Guggenheim Museum” was also the conceptual framework of one of the other large-scale emblematic constructions that accompanied the Samba platform in Sao Paulo.

Charalambidis envisaged his “Arab Guggenheim Museum” as an itinerant group of carnival floats that could participate in carnival processions in Europe (or other crucial spots of the Western world) as a cultural intervention by artists coming from Arab countries. As a travelling archive, this carnival ark, could distribute also, information about everyday life and the culture of these countries, functioning as a political manifesto or an “autonomous protesting machine”. In Sao Paulo, the museum took the form of a large prison following the outline of Mies van der Rohe Monument to November Revolution, on which a team of architecture students were participating in a series of workshops, wearing orange uniforms, as a subtly reference to the Guantanamo prisoners (images on page 6).

Ambramovic whispering: you made the real thing to Charalambidis. She was certainly
only one of the many artists who were fascinated by Carnival Pause. Alfons Hug the German curatot of the ex Sao
Paolo biennale was probably the first one who had distinguished publicly, even from the day before the opening Charalambidis’political intervention; while Rafal Niemojewski at his report in Art Forum (19-10-2006) had declaired : The biennial’s set piece was definitely Nikos Charalambidis’s Social Gym, 2006, a carnival float filled with soldiers and samba dancers, while the neighbouring installation by Thomas Hirschhorn looked blunt and generic (and was, for me, the show’s biggest disappointment)…


Recently, I met Charalambidis in China, during the opening of “Trans-experiences 2008” at 798 Space in Beijing, where he presented his “Hollow Airport Museum”. Is actually another activistic guise of the “Arab Guggenheim”, in a form of an International Art School, located at the vacant building of the International Airport of Nicosia at the Green Line in Cyprus. The artist told me about his new “Carnival Float”, a replica of the Ledra Street barricade (the first barricade that officially came down after 44 years) which is going to travel throughout Europe to be connected with emblematic buildings and central museums. Rebuilding the barricade, Charalambidis stresses once again the message that the solution to the Cyprus problem, yet needs a lot of good willing steps, coming not only from the two communities of the island but mostly from the powerful countries and the policies that have been involved in the problem years before the real division of the island. The travelling replica of Ledra’s bariccade is going to carry a plasma TV present-ing the enthusiasm of Turks and Greeks with which they had welcomed the dismantling of Ledra’s part of the wall, a couple of months ago. In parallel, the visitors could be informed about the activities of the H.A.M. (Hollow Airport Museum) and its Art School of which the first team of teachers has been already fixed by: Mounir Fatmi, Gulsum Karamustafa, Wafa Hourani, Pablo Leon de la Barra and Eric Valette.. Atlas group is also another team that has been included in the Museum’s schedule for next spring.



Volunteer soldiers are dismantling the barricade barrels at three points of the Green Line in Cyprus in order to transport them in Sao Paolo for the building of Charalambidis’ platforms.




Since the late eighties, Charalambidis’ multi-media practice has been informed by an intense sense of politicised space, drawing strongly on his experiences as a child, when he and his family were forced to leave their home in the north of Cyprus by the invasion of the Turkish army. Reflecting aspects of his particular position as a
refugee and an emigrant, he had initiated (two decades ago) issues of residence and anti-residence, nomadism, place and “non-place”. Even from his very first participations in international exhibitions, he had established interactive practices, conducting performances, participatory workshops and situations that encouraged the spectators to “use” his works, transferring actually the private emotion into the public arena and questioning the formal, social and cultural implications of modernist architecture, so as the politics of those days. From 1984 (at the age of seventeen) till 1986 he had served his military service at the Green Line, the buffer zone between Greeks and Turks in Cyprus,

during a very hard period for the relationships of these two parts; at that period, even a long soldier’s gaze over the dividing wall, could be a dangerous gesture and the artist himself was indeed a witness of the assassination of two of his companion soldiers during his military service.

One of the first Charalambidis’ interventional events in 1989 at the Green Line was a subtly and rather allegorical homage to the movement of Situationist International.
Charalambidis conceived at that time, that any form of artistic activity in the territory would be infinitely preferable to bloody conflict thus, the idea of a rambling museum, in the form of a participatory artistic platform, could activate the area, providing a representative, exemplary model for other contested areas as well, like in Lebanon, Ireland and Gaza’s strip. Of course in practice the authorities were bound to get in the way and real soon it was quite clear to him that if his will was to carry on this vision, this would be certainly a lonely procedure. In nowadays, twenty years later, political art is “trendy”. Soon after Cyprus had been assigned to organise and host Manifesta 6, many Cypriot artists, had become “political artists” and almost every single one has now at least one project related to the Green Line…

In 2003, Charalambidis had represented Cyprus, at the famous Aria Scarpa - palazzo Querini, showing a variety of projects of his Rambling Museum. The president of Manifesta, Henry Meyric Hughes was the curator of his show and the excellent collaboration between the two men, was apparently of a determining nature for the decision of the committee to host Manifesta 6 in Cyprus. The perspective of an international event like that, stimulated the political feelings, not only of many artists but also of a number of curators who, unexpectedly, became sensitive about Cyprus political issue. The most vociferous example was the “Leaps of Faith” international exhibition, the curators of which had apparently followed Charalambidis’ steps, not having understood yet, much of his revolutionary practice, his courageous formula of working and his intense, selflessness and genuine devotion. “Leaps of Faith”, veiled under pseudo-political banalities and safely supported by numerous international corporations, was actually an opportunity for the invited international artists to experience an exotic weekend at a particular location like Cyprus. Protected from any dangerous and risk, the exhibition, had been widely advertised (especially to people who had never been in Cyprus) as a perilous and innovative project, although in 2005 even the circulation between Greek and Turkish communities through the dividing wall was officially permitted! Of course, at the period when Charalambidis had first inspired the artistic activation of the Green Line, the conditions were completely different. In the late eighties, for example, during one of his primary, extremely risky situationistic interventions (photo above) the United Nations troops, interposed the event and arrested the artist, since the whole activities were inverting the status quo of the Green Line and the artist was incurring real dangerous for his life.

Arrayed furniture and structural elements, transferred from the artist’s house to an alternative carnival procession.

Over the years Charalambidis has established an interdisciplinary way of working, involving local communities, universities and scientists, even military camps in his “Social Gym” projects. Combining Beuys’ romantic activism and advanced technology, his work has been a benchmark for political engaged artistic endeavour in the 1990’s and yet. Growing up among Lebanese emigrants in Cyprus, he has been always very concerned on the political situation of the nearby countries and the Middle East problem. His long-term “Arab Guggenheim Museum” project actually reflects these concerns, addressing issues such as cultural identity, multiculturalism, the implications of globalisation and capitalism. He questions ideas of nation or nationality and the emergence of post-national identities, the legacy of colonialism, ideological conflict and religion or the impact of consumer culture and Western materialism. In Charalambidis’ proposal for a progressive carnival procession, the participatory carnival floats could convey a variety of crucial socio political and cultural information on Arab world and the Middle East problem , challenging a new perspective for critical reinterpretation, of the complex relationships between the Western and Eastern civilisations.

Dr. Aspasia Mastrogianni

Art historian and critic,

Professor at the Aegian University, Greece