Utopia (2012)

Collecting Utopias

In March 1961 Marchel Duchamp was taking part in a symposium at the Philadelphia Museum College of Art under the title ‘Where do we go from here?’ and kicked off his talk by suggesting that ‘To imagine the Future, we should perhaps start from the more or less recent past.’ (First published in Studio International 189, January – February 1975). In 2008 the collection of Nicos Chr. Pattichis was presented at the Municipal Art Centre in Nicosia under the title: Where Do We Go From Here? A very prominent Duchampian (re)-called at the time not only to reflect upon the collection’s art works, but to more closely re-evaluate the apparatus of the cultural production of the island and to give (critical) food-for-thought to a worn out local art scene that was still trying to make sense of the cancellation of Manifesta 6 (The European Biennial of Contemporary Art), the delay of the long-awaited Cyprus Contemporary Museum, the closure of two important galleries with international presence (Diaspro Art Centre and Archimede Staffolini), the postponement of the long-proclaimed Fine Art Academy and the (noisy) collapse of the hyped up idea – obsession of the time on ‘the dialogue between the Centre (London, Berlin etc.) and the Periphery (Nicosia) – an idea neighbouring countries such as Lebanon have successfully realised.
There has been quite a lot happening since then on the local art scene, with initiatives coming mostly from individual artists and individual art lovers and collectors. Cypriot artists travel extensively and participate in international art shows, while some moved to the Centre where there is greater opportunity.

N. Pattichis has been invited to present his collection at the Lanitis Foundation Centre in March 2012. Its title Utopia reflects more crucially than ever on current issues of the local and international art scene and would be better if reviewed on the spot. Nonetheless it gives a clear indication of the direction of both the collection and the critical discourse and context that the exhibition wishes to push forward.
Throughout the world, contemporary art and the art market have expanded to a great extent, with most countries nowadays having their own biennials, art-fairs, museums, foundations, private and public collections, residencies, art-prizes as well as art galleries. The island of Cyprus carries a rich cultural heritage and a rather turbulent history that reflects the island’s geopolitical position and its role, both in the past and in recent years. Its political conditioning has become a major discourse in the art production of the island. This could have attracted the attention of the international art scene, since politics have become a central core in the art world of the past years (to top it all, we could just name the much expected Berlin Biennale 7). Nonetheless, the development of contemporary art in Cyprus in the past couple of decades has been rather anaemic despite the fact that Cyprus has a number of well-established and globally recognised artists. Artists, curators, art critics, galleries, institutions and the few foundations could have collaborated more, in order to create a more dynamic cooperation and promote Cypriot contemporary art to the Cypriot public as well as to the international art scene. Cyprus has so far missed out on opportunities.
One, however, should not generalise as there are a number of art lovers/collectors in Cyprus who have built very interesting collections despite the limitations and challenges discussed above. One of the most important private collectors in Cyprus is Nicos Chr. Pattichis. He has been passionately collecting distinctive contemporary artworks, mainly from Cypriot, some from Greek and a few from foreign artists. N. Pattichis began collecting in the 1990s and has been building up a collection, which has been constantly growing ever since. Although his collection contains a few artworks from an earlier generation of artists such as Stelios Votsis (1929), Glyn Hughes (1931) and Angelos Makrides (1942) it mostly comprises artworks from artists born in the mid 1950s to 1960s such as Nicos Charalambides, Savvas Christodoulides, Maria Loizidou, Theodoulos, artists from the 1970s like Phanos Kyriacou, Polys Peslikas, Socratis Socratous, Lefteris Tapas, as well as of the youngest generation of artists who were born in the 1980s like Eleni Economou, Peter Eramian and Soteris Kallis. N. Pattichis was one of the first to buy works from their debut exhibitions and he has been following their careers ever since.
He exhibits a unique and remarkable loyalty towards Cypriot artists and carries a sense of duty and responsibility towards Cypriot art. His vision is to build a substantial collection/body of works comprising mainly Cypriot artists. This does not mean that he is not interested in the works of foreign artists but he has chosen to create a daring collection by investing in the artists and their careers and, as a result, is helping to boost the dialogue on contemporary art in his country. He is very well aware of what is happening internationally and is up to date with the art market. He frequently visits major museums, galleries, art fairs abroad and biennales and is well informed about foreign artists. However he has consciously chosen to develop a collection that promotes Cypriot artists abroad and makes the island visible on the contemporary art market map. His passion for collecting artworks created by Cypriot artists is in itself a statement that he makes which ultimately may prove to be a starting point for the creation of a Contemporary Art scene in Cyprus.
N. Pattichis acquires major artworks that in some cases are museum pieces, and keeps them in storage until he can find a house for his collection.
It is important for him that his collection is accessible to the general public and to institutions. Due to the fact that there is still no contemporary art museum in Cyprus, one way of making the collection accessible to the public is by lending the works both to local and international exhibitions.
The first such exhibition - Where Do We Go From Here? - took place in May 2008 at The Nicosia Municipal Art Centre and was the first attempt to introduce his collection to the public. It is quite interesting that most of the works exhibited there had strong figurative elements. In 2000 there was a revival in figurative painting, figurative sculpture, art that embraces popular culture and quite a lot of collections had this characteristic. In his first exhibition the subject matter of some of the works was compositions of human figures, portraits and anthropomorphic and animal-shaped sculptures or installations. The works had a tendency towards figure, even though in some cases it was just one of the elements of the work. Most of the exhibited works were already part of his collection although five artists were commissioned to produce new works. Phanos Kyriacou, Panayiotis Michael, Polys Peslikas, Socratis Socratous and Lefteris Tapas all made new works for the purposes of the exhibition. N. Pattichis wanted to engage with the artists and their ideas to create ambitious works that would not ordinarily be possible to create in terms of scale, ambition or cost. Some of their works already existed as ideas in a sketchbook and others in some way or another aimed to reflect on the question posed by the title of the exhibition. N. Pattichis finds this process of commissioning the artists a challenging act that fulfils him as a collector since he cares about the artists and becomes directly involved in every aspect of the production. That is why since then he has become even more interested in supporting and buying major installations that cannot be displayed in his home but require museum exhibition spaces or even public spaces.
Four years later and it feels “Life without Utopia is suffocating, for the multitude at least: threatened otherwise with petrifaction, the world must have a new madness.” (E. M. Cioran, History and Utopia, University of Chicago Press, 1998). Utopia is the second exhibition of his private collection showing important new acquisitions, with the collection having taken a new path.

The new works are less figurative, presenting more structural elements and relating to a more socio-political context. Major works, such as Nicos Charalambides’ La Casa Curva, Savvas Christodoulides’ Stain, Phanos Kyriacou Statues in Crisis, Maria Loizidou Living Small, Christodoulos Panayiotou Untitled, Act I: The Departure | Act II: The Island | Act III: The Glorious Return, Vicky Pericleous’ 41km From the Sea Shore, Polys Peslikas’ Betrayal of the Dog, Socratis Socratous’ Module of Urban Landscape and Kostis Velonis’ Left Wing Melancholy is Going Away are part of this exhibition and can be interpreted depending on the viewer, allowing him to make his own associations. The exhibition contains a few video works such as Peter Eramian’s Fantasia, Panayiotis Michael’s Stand Home Stand and Kyriaki Costa’s E-motions in Motion.
N. Pattichis has been very generous in promoting art in all aspects. As the publisher of Phileleftheros newspaper and The Cyprus Weekly, he has established a daily agenda that documents the most important cultural events locally and internationally. The Sunday issue of Phileleftheros contains a section called Seven Days of Culture with extensive articles and interviews covering what is happening in the cultural world. In addition, he published Ysterografo for five years, one of the most important cultural publications in Cyprus. It was a very creative proposal, with the participation of people from art and culture. It demonstrated an aesthetic image combined with theoretical writing and presented the work of established and emerging artists from Cyprus, Greece and abroad. He is the founder of CYCO (Cyprus Contemporary Art Museum) and is the owner of Omikron Gallery. His aim and ambition is to promote the art, the artist, in every aspect at any cost.

A good collector is “someone who’s passionate, knowledgeable, thoughtful, who has a clear sense of what he or she wants to do, has a clear sense of the artists that interest them, and who is dedicated to the effort” (Glenn Lowry - Director of Museum of Modern Art (MOMA), New York cited in Collecting Contemporary, Taschen, 2006, p. 262). The criterion of buying a work for N. Pattichis' collection is not investing in the art market; it is all about falling in love with the work, depending on his personal judgment, his instinct and emotion. He will either visit the artist’s studio or go to the galleries just before an opening of an exhibition that interests him and explore the works in great depth. He is building a collection that has integrity; very coherent dynamic and meaningful quality works with substantial theoretical background.
One way of expressing the country’s cultural contemporary vitality is by curating an exhibition of one of the most important private collectors in Cyprus. The collection is very dynamic, creating a strong dialogue between each one of the works that form a wide prism of the Cyprus cultural production and its crucial discourse. This colourful, vibrant polymorphic prism could form the way for N. Pattichis, to reflect upon new grounds and eventually shape new places (Topos). Let’s keep in mind that “A map of the world that does not include Utopia is not worth even glancing at, for it leaves out the one country at which Humanity is always landing.” (Oscar Wilde, The Soul of Man Under Socialism, CreateSpace, 2011).

Maria Stathi
Omikron Gallery Director | Curator

In the land of Utopia

What would the world be like without utopias? What course would humanity have taken if someone, somewhere, sometime had not had the courage to dream, staring at the “infinite ocean of possibility”1, the shores of that which can be possible?
But, who can speak of utopias today? They have been buried in the rubbles of totalitarian regimes, of successive wars, of the destruction of the environment and more recently of the sweeping economic crisis. The word utopia today, in the best of cases, seems like a romantic anachronism, and in the worst, a provocative and dangerous term. After all, we are living in a post-utopian world, as Greek historian Antonis Liakos argues, even if this is not necessarily a contemporary symptom2.
As early as 1964, when Theodor Adorno and Ernst Bloch carried out their debate concerning the contradictions of utopian longing, the word had already lost its validity3. Adorno opened up the discussion by stressing that many of our utopian dreams (television, man’s desire to fly, to travel to other planets and to break the sound barrier) were fulfilled without necessarily making us happier. “The fulfillment of the wishes takes something away from the substance of the wishes,” he argued4. Bloch would not agree.
In Adorno’s statement, he discerned a readiness to depreciate utopian thought, a condition he staunchly supported throughout the debate as a form of criticism of “that which is present” since it pointed to the Brechtian “something’ s missing” to conclude that “utopia cannot be removed from the world in spite of everything”5.
The discussion between the two German philosophers gave rise to more questions than gave answers. In particular, Adorno’s refusal to cast utopia into a picture left the most crucial issue open ended6: What could the content of utopia be? And most importantly, what is it that we long for in this quest?
Freedom, happiness, social justice, the refutation of death?
And if someone succeeds to define utopia’s content, how is one to seek it and where?
Utopia first emerged from what Bloch called “the sea of the possible”7 in the book of the same name by Thomas More (1516), who demarcated in the narrow geographic borders of a remote island, the vision for a just, lawful society. From the start, therefore, the term acquired social connotations and was linked to man’s quest for a better life. If we return, however to Liakos’ argument, utopian thought was not necessarily restricted to this dimension. On the contrary, the term took, in the course of the centuries, the form of a palimpsest and did not signify the same things8.
Having said that, however, the most persistent utopian manifestation which keeps coming back to enchant human imagination is the quest for a utopian society which, strangely enough, is often constructed on the shores of an island. We need only look at the utopias which preceded and followed that of More: Island of Faiakon, Blessed Isles, Avalon, Atlantis, even Cyprus starred in Huxley’s universe as an ideal location for carrying out a social experiment9.

“Dreaming of islands […] is dreaming of starting from scratch, recreating, beginning anew”10 wrote Deleuze, a view which could account for the reasons that the coordinates of an island captivate, literary imagination in particular (The Lord of the Flies, The Island, The Beach are only just some examples), and often constitute the most appropriate topos for someone to reflect on the specifications of a different society. However, an island does not always appear on the horizon as a “paradise lost” or as salvation. As the anonymous hero of D. H. Lawrence gradually discovers, moving from island to island in his search for self-fulfillment, its isolated world can also hide nightmares 11.

One could argue that something similar occurs with utopias. They are these non-places, as the etymology of the word suggests, that contain a projection into the future. However, once they are fulfilled and transported into the present, they also carry within them frightening dystopias that constitute -according to Liakos- a warning of the potential consequences of any dream12. Man has managed to conquer the skies, but what is the cost on the environment? Scientists have unlocked the riddle of DNA, but how unwelcoming is a world based on the rules of eugenics? Robinson Crusoe may have stepped ashore close to Trinidad, but Ariadne was trapped in Crete and Ulysses on Calypso’s isle. Each island and each utopia are defined by their failure, and this is another aspect of their conjuction.
If we restrict ourselves chronologically to the 20th century and onwards, a repeated motif in they way Cyprus has been represented in travel books and tourist guides, fulfilled the stereotype of the “lost paradise” of the West – a stereotype which stubbornly survives to this day in tourist campaigns, where Cyprus is promoted as the idyllic island of Aphrodite. The European reader, for example, who would flick through the pages of the photographic feature produced by Maynard Owen Williams in 1928 for National Geographic would have discovered a magnificent landscape, unpolluted by technological progress and modernism, with women in traditional dress and men working the soil against the backdrop of picturesque landscapes. But as an observer rightfully notes, even if William’s photos represented reality to a certain extent, they were guided, at the same time, by an intense desire to discover a “virgin territory”, something which did not allow him to include elements that could put this search at doubt13. Cars, bicycles, busy streets, modern buildings of the period, all remained outside the photographic frame.
William’s approach in the years to come was to constitute the rule, since in every pictorial representation, Cyprus was obliged to perpetually fulfill Seferis’ saying of the place “όπου το θαύμα λειτουργεί ακόμη”14. Missing from photographs and narratives of travelers was an additional dimension, that which anthropologist Peter Loizos, in an interview, referred to as the “snake in Eden”, pointing to the tense political situation which from the 1950s onwards has to a large extent defined life on the island15.
Today, it is difficult for one to succumb to the charm of a romantic vision of Cyprus. The myth has dissolved, since the utopian search for an island, unpolluted and free of Cyclops and Laistrogens, is defined by the clear reality of a vacuum (Buffer Zone) and of a border (Green Line). To these are added other dystopias: economic crisis, uncontrolled urbanization, migration, incidents of racism, human trafficking. Who can now speak of utopias in these geographical coordinates?
The exhibition Utopia currently hosted at the Evagoras Lanitis Centre has a distinctive characteristic. It is based on the new acquisitions of Nikos Chr.

Pattichis’ and the Phileleftheros newspaper’s collection. It could not function, therefore, as a thematic exhibition in the strict sense of the word, drawing artworks from the wider artistic scene to negotiate a meaning. Its framework is defined by a collector's approach and point of view. Nevertheless, since the interest of this particular collector in the country’s contemporary art production, has during the past decade become more systematic and targeted, this allows the presentation of his acquisitions under the umbrella of a wider theme. The Pattichis collection, because of its steady enhancement, offers a useful recording of the development of contemporary Cypriot art of the past years, which points out some of the ideas and concerns of a large group of Cypriot artists.

Taking part in the exhibition are twenty four artists - from Cyprus and Greece - and if there is a point of contact between them, it is their deep interest in issues relating to our social and political environment. It is, therefore, at this point that the meaning of utopia comes into play, linked as it is to the notion of the island, but also with the search of a better, different world. Many of the works displayed are characterised by an inclination for utopian thought, not as an ethereal and pointless day dreaming, but as an acute criticism of the present.
It is from such a critical inclination that works such as Mr. President Said (2009) by Kostis Velonis were created, a sculpture which deals with the architecture of the political spectacle; Palimpolis - The Train Station (2010) by Demetris Neokleous, in which a chaotic anti-polis is pictured as an alternative refuge; Module of Urban Landscape (2011) by Socratis Socratous, a sculptural installation that places the viewer in the ruins of a city, which could easily spark memories of destruction from the recent past (for example, the Mari explosion). And concern for the present continues. With the dismembered forms in the installation Statues in Crisis (2009) by Phanos Kyriakou, which could work as a comment on the way ancient heritage is understood and managed today. With the asphyxiate landscapes in Maria Loizidou’s drawings from 2011; with the suggested apocalyptic scenes in Peter Eramian’s Fantasia: From the Disaster Series (2009) or with Christos Venetis’ dramatic narrative in his Anaemic Records (2009-2010). The concern becomes a cry of anguish in Behind Closed Eyelids (2010) by Alexandros Yorkadjis; a well that never fills up in Since You Left My Wet Embrace (2004) by Klitsa Antoniou; a terrifying dinner in the Betrayal of the Dog (2010) by Polys Peslikas and an impenetrable darkness in Starpool (2011) by Lefteris Tapas. We also have Soteris Kallis’ monumental portraits, which point to the members of an imagined rotten social system, but also works which refer more directly to or are sparked by the political situation in Cyprus, such as Remember Me (2005) by Panayiotis Michael; 41 Kilometres From The Shore (2011) by Vicky Pericleous; La Casa Curva (2003) by Nicos Charalambides, in which the experience of a divided country fragments narrative as well as architecture; and Just Married (2009) by Savvas Christodoulides which points to a fragile state of cohabitation. The map of Cyprus and whichever symbolism it may carry become an object of refocusing in Stain (2010) by the same artist or in E-motions In Motion (2007-2008) by Kyriaki Costa, whereas the island as a place of departure for a journey, a conquest and a return is one of the themes in the work in three acts by Christodoulos Panayiotou (2008). In the installation Animal Patterns (2012) by Maria Toumazou, references are made to the modern patterns of the architectural landscape, characteristic also of Stairs 8.85 m² (2009) by Elina Ioannou, which belongs to a series of pencil drawings, which recreate rooms of the house.

In Constantinos Taliotis’ photographs from the series You can be a cop, a criminal or a lawyer. When you are facing a loaded gun, what’s the difference (2011) utopia is located in the science fiction field and the cultivated conviction, particularly during the cold war, that extraterrestrial life is possible, a conviction which could easily produce the hybrid post-human figures proposed by Panikos Tembriotis in the series Tribus Hyba (2010). As for the work Archetypes (2010) by Eleni Economou, utopia could be defined as a studied, albeit chimerical quest for harmony, balance and justice in the making of the world, both on a universal and an individual basis, a quest which is also central in George Lappa’s Iron House from the Mappemonde (1987) series that proposed an alternative charting of the world.
The exhibition Utopia does not aspire to offer a single filter through which to appreciate and understand the works that are exhibited. Besides, artworks are always subject to various interpretations, as is revealed by the artist’s texts included in this publication. This exhibition’s aspiration is more determined by the need to follow the participating artists in whatever journey of reflection and preoccupation they chose to forge, recognizing that in these uncertain times, art may constitute one of the last uncharted utopias, where one is still allowed, by altering the present, to imagine the future and dare the impossible.

Elena Parpa
Curator | PhD candidate Dept. History of Art,
Birkbeck College, London

1. The phrase belongs to philosopher Ernst Bloch and comes from the debate held in 1964 with Theodor Adorno.
2. Liakos, Antonis. Apokalypsi, Utopia kai Istoria: Oi metamorfoseis tis istorikis syneidisis. Athens: Polis, 2011. 413-414.
3. For the purpose of this text, the Greek translation of the discussion was used, as published in: Bloch, Ernst, και Theodor Adorno. Kati Leipei: Mia syzitisi gia tis antifaseis tis outopikis epithymias. 1975. Trans. Stefanos Rozanis. Athens: Erasmos, 2000. For english see: Bloch, Ernst. The Utopian Function of Art and Literature: Selected Essays. Trans. Jack Zipes and Frank Mecklenburg. Massachusetts: MIT, 1988. 1-17.
4. Bloch. The Utopian Function. 1.
5. ibid. 2, 15.
6. ibid, 12.
7. Ibid. 3.
8. Liakos. Apokalypsi. 28.
9. Huxley, Aldous. Brave New World. 1932. London: Vintage, 2004. 196-197.
10. Deleuze, Gilles. Desert Islands And Other Texts 1953-1974. Ed. David Lapoujade. Trans. Michael Taormina. Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), 2004. 10.
11. Lawrence, D.H. “The Man Who Loved Islands”. D.H. Lawrence: Selected Short Stories. London: Penguin, 2000. 458-480.
12. Liakos. Apokalypsi. 292.
13. Philippou, Nicos. «Cypriot Vernacular Photography: Representing The Self». Re-Envisioning Cyprus. Eds. Peter Loizos, Nicos Philippou, Theopisti Stylianou-Lambert. Nicosia: UP, 2010. 40-41.
14. Seferis, Giorgos. Meres St'. 1956. Athens: Ikaros, 2008. 13.
15. From Loizos' interview to Alan MacFarlane, September 14th, 2002. <http://www.alanmacfarlane.com/DO/filmshow/loizos_fast.htm>