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Do You Believe in Water?: Three Journeys in Cyprus and the Mediterranean

by Lia Lapithi Shukuroglou
Nicosia, Cyprus, edition of 500, 2006
132 pp. illus. Trade, $50
ISBN: 9963-8644-4-9.

Reviewed by Michael R. (Mike) Mosher
Saginaw Valley State University


This book collects 2005-2006 artworks and projects by Lia Lapithi, born 1963 and educated in art, environmental design and architecture. Her earlier books, "Operating Theatres" and Inhale/Exhale", collected her work of the seven years prior to 2004, and were reviewed on this website: http://lea.mit.edu/reviews/feb2005/operate_mosher.html. Yet this book is outwardly more political, for her three perambulations and boat rides around her sunny island has revealed its environment as a subtly quiet battlefield. Lapithi's "Water" artworks embody political and environmental issues, especially the occupation and militarization of her island by Greek-Cypriot, Turkish-Cypriot, Greek, Turkish, UN and British zones and bases. That the ancestrally Greek artist is married to a Turkish doctor named Shukuroglou feeds her skepticism of rigid national boundaries, and prompts her to constantly probe and test them.

The journeys motivated her to create work in various media. Lapithi completed a blue-dominated series of ink on paper drawings of sites on Cyprus where the water meets or traverses the land. A project for a "Cyprus Atlantis" installation plans extremely vertically-distorted photographic imagery of people, segmented yet positioned so they're assembled by the viewer's eye. "330 nM" gets its title from the distance in nautical miles that the artist sailed from the Ionian Sea to Saronic Gulf in April 2006. The trip produced medium-distance photos of water, displayed as transparencies hung shoulder-level. Each photograph of ripples, waves or stillness is surprisingly individual, and the book's pictures of the installation cause this reviewer to involuntarily tilt his chin to keep it above water level.

"Journey 825 km" synchronized sound installation, juxtaposing the sounds of running water with Greek newscasts and Turkish prayers. Are her choices implying that one culture is Apollonian, intellectual, and objective, and the other Dionysian, spiritual and subjective? The "Journey" also includes photos of quotidian places along the border (thank heavens for exact GPS' coordinates), sunlit patches of scrub grass, bushes, weeds, reeds, earth and water. A deadpan travelogue, the photos are then installed in a gallery upon hinged plastic and "read" like a book.

The medical sensibility that informed her earlier "Operating Theatres" returns to add a certain well-lit sense of menace lurking just below many of her works' surface. "Continental Drift", constructed to date of seven thousand tubes of water, invites a visitor to walk upon it like an Indian fakir at rest upon a bed of nails. She visualizes the use of emergency medical water bags to hydrate a room full of sea turtles. The hospital shades into the kitchen; her recent six short films include a methodical "Recipe for Marinated Crushed Olives", while a gallery installation's walls bristle with steak knives like the set of a claustrophobic horror comic book.

The book includes a long conversation between Lapithi and Dr. Petros Lapithis, where they discuss the risk of bottled water imported to Cyprus, the antennae of British military bases that imperil its wetlands, and how these artworks are a step towards healing nature. Book designer Marianna Karfidou deserves acknowledgement as well, for containing a fluid variety of Lapithi's visual and conceptual content in an elegant and nourishing canteen.



Updated 1st November 2007

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