On ViewThe Island Club
March 4 – April 10, 2021
For an unusually long time, it felt like Marina Xenofontos’s solo show, I DON’T SLEEP, I DREAM, was stuck in perpetual postponement. Originally planned to go ahead in March 2020, it was re-scheduled for December 2020 before a second strict lockdown. Throughout this period, it became increasingly worrisome how despite the Cypriot Government’s draconian coronavirus measures, large shopping malls were allowed to open prior to smaller family-owned shops and cultural spaces.1 After four long months and a strongly worded open letter to the Ministry of Health signed by cultural representatives across the island, I DON’T SLEEP, I DREAM and other cultural events were finally given the green light.2
The Island Club is a non-profit exhibition space in Limassol, located in a shopping arcade built in 1991 called Agora Anexartisias. The arcade itself—like most things in Cyprus—worked well for a few years and then slowly lost its value by the early 2000s. The Island Club, opening its doors in 2018, reinvigorated the arcade, which at that time was a space for empty window displays; the Club encouraged a reinvigoration of the previously “failed” experiment with a number of shops now in operation there. In a way, this is also what Marina Xenofontos’s work is all about: exploring errors and failures, cultural relics, ruins and urban memorabilia.
Many of the works in I DON’T SLEEP, I DREAM are objects and materials abstracted from their originally intended use. Copy of a dream (2020) is a found object modified by Xenofontos, a remnant within the Municipal Gardens in Limassol from the late 1980s. During that era, the Jurassic Park franchise was gaining momentum and the trend of animatronic dinosaurs eventually reached Cyprus. These objects were intended to occupy a small, dedicated area in the Municipal Garden but were eventually blocked by the Municipality due to “aesthetics.” As a result, these animatronic dinosaurs remained in a cordoned-off area within the Municipal Garden only to gather dust over the next decades as an archaeological site of modern civilisation.
Xenofontos, remembering these objects from childhood, communicated her interest in retrieving one of these objects for Copy of a dream. She disassembled the mechanical dinosaur and attached its motor function to Rainbow (2020), an artwork made out of a shiny rotating copper cylinder which refracts light to form a rainbow within the exhibition space. It’s important to note here that Cyprus is known for its association to copper; its Greek namesake is due to the island’s plentiful copper mines. To use copper, an abundant material known for its diverse use, to form a cylinder which is turned by a motor previously used to make fake dinosaurs come to life is highly symbolic of the aesthetic confusion that encompasses Cypriot landscape and culture. The two works come into ideological harmony when taking into consideration Class memorial (2020). Class memorial reminds me of the typical Euro-centric mid-century architecture which aggrandized the middle-class Cypriot promise of modernity with its gold-plated aluminum. America had white picket fences; we had rigid and imposing gold-looking metal door frames. Xenofontos subverts these ideas of what Cypriots consider “grandeur” and suggests sculptural gestures to reinstate these cultural and urban memorabilia which fundamentally “failed” to purport this sought-after idea of “wealth.”
The work Children of builders, grandchild of miners (2020), a highlight, is a sculptural gesture similarly exploring errors and failures. The work represents an oversized head of an adolescent girl made out of smooth MDF, which rests on a discoloured plastic chair. Xenofontos had originally experimented with creating a full body figure of a young girl on Blender, an open-source 3D computer graphics software usually used for films, visual effects and video games. The prototype of the work, however, was larger than expected and therefore deemed an “error.” Placing the head onto a discoloured—and subsequently rejected from the market—plastic chair in the corner of the space activates ideas of rejoicing in failure and choosing to celebrate errors, a characteristic of the artist’s early video work after which the exhibition is titled, I don’t sleep, I dream (2011). The work is further animated by the performance of Folklore (2021), featuring Ginka, an accordion-playing street busker whom Xenofontos met outside a supermarket. In the performance, the busker picks up the head, places it on the ground, and sits on the chair facing the corner to perform. Buskers in Cyprus are usually immigrants and busk as a way to make ends meet and the Municipality expends minimal effort to support these communities; they are often considered “errors” within the social fabric of society rather than understood as individuals looking to settle into a permanent home.
I DON’T SLEEP, I DREAM was my first visit to an exhibition in Cyprus since lockdown and since the last time I returned to the island, pre-pandemic, over a year and a half ago. Despite the minor inconvenience of not being able to drink myself through an opening and having to speak (even) louder through the double cloth of my mask, I felt a strange relief and contentment when experiencing Xenofontos’s artworks in the flesh. In the past, I had struggled to understand her practice, however, on this day, I found myself drawn into the space guided by feelings of unadulterated curiosity and nostalgia; perhaps even my words fail to articulate the true impact of the works on view.
- These include but are not limited to 9 pm curfew, two permitted house exits via SMS only, 300 fines etc.
“Open letter to the Ministry of Health Cyprus. Avant-Garde”. 18 February 2021. https://avant-garde.com.cy/articles/nea/news/anoihti-epistoli-gia-tin-asymmetri-metaheirisi-ton-ekthesiakon-horon