Contemporary political Europe is being built on a principle whereby physical borders will disappear. The Schengen area is gradually seeing boundaries between European Union members states being done away with, thus symbolically erasing a factor that lay at the root of the 20th century’s two world wars. In specific ways, however, and with visible violence, border areas and buffer zones—“suspended spaces”—are unsettling Europe’s geography, like so many flash points and areas of tension.
The town of Famagusta in Cyprus is one such point—a partly closed town, emptied of its inhabitants in 48 hours, occupied by the Turkish army and guarded by the UN since 1974, the year when the armed conflict between Greece and Turkey ended.
In the book Suspended Spaces, Famagusta is a metaphor of an aesthetic and political construct.
In August 1974, Famagusta was still a seaside town and resort, and one that would be bound to enjoy the development implicit in mass tourism. Apartment blocks, hotels, and modern-style residences were under construction. But for more than 35 years, with many of them still unfinished, they have been offering just their skeletal carcasses to passing eyes. In the town abandoned by human beings, fauna and flora are flourishing. These days, not far away, on the other side of the barbed wire fences, in model settings, tourists from all over the world enjoy the sun on the beach. Not far away, either, hotel complexes with similar architecture thrive. And not much further away still, illegal immigrants are washed up on these shores, seeking a way into to Europe.
The closeness of these juxtaposed realities makes up the town’s strange character and provides many a line of questioning in the book.
Famagusta is at once an aberration and a key.
Famagusta was a disconcerting springboard for a group project because, in addition to the fact that it is only physically accessible from without, even its surroundings are elusive. While the 1974 war sometimes clings to people’s memories, many are unaware of the existence of this deserted town, and have no idea whatsoever about the lack of resolution to the Cypriot problem. What is more, the conflict does not necessarily date from the 1974 attack launched by the Turkish army; there was lethal combat further back, in 1958, when the island was still under British rule. On top of which, the history of Cyprus has always been one of wars, and successive invasions. Since Antiquity, the island has been Persian, Roman, Byzantine, Christian and then Turkish. In 1878, it came under British mandate. In 1960 it became the independent Republic of Cyprus. In the wake of the Turkish army’s intervention in 1974, the island was then cut in two, with 30% of it Turkish Cypriot. In 1983, the Turkish Republic of North Cyprus was declared, but recognized solely by Turkey, and not by the international community.
Cyprus’s history is neither evident, nor cut-and-dried, nor consensual. And the aim of this book is definitely not to come up with answers, or offer theoretical solutions, but rather to raise issues and questions, formulate uncertainties, and outline approaches. A memory-related task is also undertaken through readings of the present, the inevitable counterpart to which is political questioning.
“From Famagusta” is a way of thinking about Europe based on its sidelines, its absences, its overlooked factors, and its forms of otherness.
With, and over and above, the Cypriot issue, the Suspended Spaces project is a collective experiment involving an intellectual and visual shift, in which the town of Famagusta is a paradigm.
It is probably possible to understand this approach as the simple exercise of what Emmanuel Kant called the “visiting right”, the right to be exposed to what is foreign as a foreigner. The visiting right is part and parcel of an ephemeral time-frame—it can only be exercised in passing. The earth belongs to everyone and can be visited without any restrictions precisely “by dint of the right of common possession of the earth’s surface”. This is a right recognized by one and all, everywhere. It is a not a product of history, but a natural attribute of the human condition. In this right, and its corollary, hospitality, Emmanuel Kant saw the foundation of a cosmopolitan right—and a condition of universal peace. Beyond any form of utopianism, what is involved is exercising the citizen’s status, beyond any frontiers: accepting displacement and movement in a thoroughly curious way, and with all due feeling, as a work space. The difference of a journey that is not just “leisure”, but a collective research postulate.
The Suspended Spaces-Famagusta project has been played out in several phases: a team of international researchers came up with the idea of a residency in Cyprus. There, thinkers, writers and artists came face to face with Famagusta. From that encounter “with the terrain” was born an exhibition in Amiens. Then, in a third phase, which was informed by the first two, this book was prepared.
In it, visual, plastic and textual propositions all hobnob. Artists and authors espouse original ideas (portfolios, essays, discussions), bounded by the two covers of a book. Without any attempt at consensus, Suspended Spaces-Famagusta expresses the eclectic nature of various viewpoints about a complex historical and political reality on the sidelines within Europe. Reading between the lines, what is also involved is a challenge with regard to the conditions of the various current productions, lines of thinking and artistic activities within this initial displacement, and within this difference proposed as a postulate.
The book is in four sections (situations, positions, orientations, productions), which thus outline a perceptible and intellectual mapping in which textual and visual ideas follow on one from the other, respond to each other, and at times contradict each other. It was important not to offer any uniform reading, but rather to orchestrate a dynamic within the book which best preserves the special and unusual nature of the propositions made. There is not theory on the one hand, and practice on the other, but parallel research projects, all game for discussion.
Without being a research method, strictly speaking, Suspended Spaces proposes a modus operandi which has been adapted and re-defined on the basis of the territory it focuses on. So the project has a migratory brief, in which Suspended Spaces-Famagusta is the first chapter.