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
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.