A NEGATIVE

_ Dalia Staponkute


ı've got many names and a tangled history, which occupies my centre as giant Hephaestus of rough glass shards masterfully joint together. The massive sculpture-mount bears a modern name: the Poet. A poet is a haystack of cold weapons in my heart. Not even a nameless vagabond, a scruffy cat, a stray dog or a global dove wouldn’t dear to look for a snug berth in the Poet’s bosom. A poet in a post-modern province is a cutting-edge loneliness resting on a rusting pedestal and covered in thick dust. These are not the only symbols that speak to my peculiarities. Once upon a time, I was famous with my ‘Venetian flower,’ a perfectly circular wall-ring with defensive petal-shape turrets. Mediterranean civilizations have a deep knowledge of erecting walls with great precision. They sense a place like a lover’s body. They hem in the lover’s body so that from inner side it stays confined, and from the outer—any temptation is forestalled. The ring grows ever tighter until it cracks. The closest rings—the family circle, the first nurturers, the loved ones and dependants—are the tightest ones and cause the most pain when crack. The others, the looser surroundings of the wealthy and destitute; torturers and sycophants; geniuses and hopeless fools; architects and archaeologists; photographers and historiographers; barristers and bookkeepers; doctors, and doctors with Jewish surnames; depraved priests; Brits, Arabs, and Russians; bland suburbs, cul-de-sacs, faux mansions, strips of shops, sterile shopping centres, languishing taverns and prospering fast-food outlets; blue flags with little yellow stars – these rings detach easily without causing confinement. They are like the threads of a diffuse contemporality--rays that appear and vanish obeying the moves of Sun. 

In my part of the world the sun rises and sets with suddenness. As if it jumps into the sea, and when darkness is over leaps back, launching itself from the bed of a comfortable wave. I often identify with the sun, because I am overwhelmed by it. I heat up like a skillet, like a valley Mesaoria (which in Greek means ‘land in-between mountains’). I heat up like a tiny droplet that bursts into a revolution. I have no wide squares adequate for fomenting uprisings, or monuments to illustrious revolutionaries. My symbols of battle are as comical and pathetic as garlands of plastic olive branches. I am myself a never-ending battle without victory wreaths. I am Chora. That is one of my given-names. That’s what the locals call me. I am really fond of the name Chora, especially with its popular postmodern interpretations. Etymologically it bears witness to an all-embracing generosity and motherness. I’m generous and mad as a middle-aged mother. A mother in her middle-age with a pseudonym… Middle Ages are a period of my prosperity, and in them I wish to stop dead, hoping to preserve within me the eternity of youth. My ambition causes cracks in the ring that most bound me. I split in two. Now I have two faces, two halves: the Northern one –concealed in the images of the past, a welcome abode for domestic ghosts, and the Southern—a noisy and frenetic crossroad of foreigners passing through. Soon I realised that this two-facedness provides me with a sense of security and the mastery to withstand the incursions of other cultures, the cunning of Eastern politics, and the stress of survival. My faces act and study each other. There are seasons when I for months observe myself in the mirror of the clear sky and do nothing but scan my most hidden thoughts. I know that in the reverse side of the sky is my other face, just that I never know, which one to trust at any given moment.

Perhaps the secret of eternal youth and vitality lies in not-knowing, in a holy duality, because these resist existential sleep and rush to reinvent one’s self. Eternity exists, but its secrets unfold to each one in a different time and manner. I suspect that source of my eternal youth is found in the tension between my two faces, two histories, the intimate sense of the substitute. I always wanted to find myself in a place where I can lead more than one life. I wanted a space for my faces. My own island, perhaps. An island is the best place for fantasies. On an island…gloriously alone …together with my faces. In truth, other than this obvious double-facedness, I contain nothing else special. I try to add to it more meaning. For this I decorate my empty spaces with icons. Each age leaves its colour in its icons, and the iconographer--his talent, his heart or his ineptitude. Most of all, of course, I adore my iconographic image of Middle Ages. The truly rich colours of the age and the golden light melting the frames bear witness to mastery and experience. Though experience and light is not something to be accumulated. They are never the same and certified. I think that experience is the sense of knowing that you have a gift, which might never reveal itself. I gathered the icons into two sunny rooms beside the relics of Catholic Church. My fragile Catholic towers, over the course of time, were converted to heavy Byzantine domes. These then were turned to the sharp turrets of mosques and finally, charming ruins.

I never thought I would love ruins. I must admit that they compose my most authentic part. For me they are untouchable, powerless and as transparent as the soul of a child. Without them I wouldn’t have my faces. Ruins remain when men leave and retreat – a sad act. However, they do not look doleful, but rather – majestic. The longer they stand without human touch, the more majestic they become, as if they were an eloquent rebuke to those who have left and retreated. No one really notices ruins except of the sky – the only eternal cupola. Crowned by the sky, they seem holy. In my part of the world the sky is golden like an icon’s base. There are moments when I’m tempted “to sell my kingdom” and shove off to the nearest Five-finger mountain, which I gaze at nostalgically everyday through my windows. They tell me that it is home to the ruins of the  Sinai monastery, which are a wonder of the world,  and that there – if one braves the rattlesnakes and thorn-bushes – one can catch a glimpse of a truly Biblical landscape, which, they say, can change your life.

The invisible ruins of life, unfortunately, feel sadder than crumbling, derelict walls. Then perhaps we can go on thinking that God is sadder than the church, and life than afterlife, i.e., reason than consequence, original than duplicate, a live image than photograph… It suddenly struck me that I only now understood the irony of the poet Cavafy--the ‘bugbear’ of the age—towards photography. “Photography, what a dreadful word,” he wrote. He said it not just because of his poetic confessions, that often in photographs and not in reality he used to meet the “objects” of his homosexual love. In a Cavafian understanding, to photograph would mean to suffer. Photography, in its deepest sense, is an act of suffering in the name of beauty. To find beauty through suffering, to see beauty in suffering, to cause beauty suffering, to suffer beauty, to suffer before beauty, to suffer for the sake of beauty, to beautify suffering… Always for beauty, even amid ugliness – for beauty’s sake. There are never any “not-beautiful” photographs; only too little suffering, as in icononography. If, in a certain sense, the mission of beauty is to create bliss, it means that the photograph, as the repository of beauty, always makes a stronger effect than the real image. Is the picture more real than the real image? This I don’t know and I have almost no pictures as I have yet to find my photographer. Nobody is attracted to my ruins and my contrasting faces. In me one will not find consistency, harmony or completeness, not a single block, building, or sidewalk that is flawless and camera-friendly. I am hopelessly un-photogenic. One can only call photogenic a few of my details: the lonesome palm trees, cats and the shiny diamond smiles of local people. The strangest is that it’s precisely in photographs that I lose the characteristic traits of my geography – I become neither East nor West. My face is a city without a homeland.

I have no map. In cartographic terms, I am a formation. On a globe, I only start to emerge as an inscription on the blue, like a light spray emanating from the Mediterranean Sea. Funny, that many of my streets have the exact same names. The creators, it seems, lacked the imagination and patience to dig ancient chronicles with list of names and choose some for my deceptive, curving roads. The locals decided, cleverly, to bury any notion of charting my surface, my veined portrait – they say that you can locate anything on a body as slight as mine, by intuition. They also say that it’s impossible to lose one’s way in me because you’ll always hit a wall. I have a dividing wall, a harrowing death zone, which I call the “abyss” between my faces. I am deceiving, and one of my faces knows next to nothing about the existence of the other. In the contest between my faces I am forced to use my wits, playing them against each other, extending bridges of friendship between them; I convert Turkish liras to Greek pounds, and use them to buy euros. In their honour, I hold feasts in the death-zone, I turn death into an art, from art I create a new history, from new history—new blames to reality… It’s untrue that one can’t lose one’s way in me, and it’s precisely because of the wall that I’m constantly getting lost in myself. I forget about my own cul-de-sacs, and when I get trapped in them, no measure of intuition will lead me out. These are the moments when I feel a need to turn far back– into the romantic retro era of black and white, which suited me thanks to its rhythm of traffic, stylish hats, white fans, plisse dresses, low-heeled shoes, heady encounters on verandas festooned with the silky blossoms…Looking back, I imagine it as an epoch when I was loved more or even, perhaps, I was truly loved, when I bestowed to all the most erotic evenings on Earth. I’ve kept velvety softness of my evenings – I nurture these as they are one of life’s joys, a counterweight to the ever-mounting rise of the midday heat.

I am most beautiful at dusk. One needs to draw, photograph and versify me when darkness is falling, beneath the most eloquent stars of the Universe, beneath the brightest moon on Earth. One needs to imbibe my evenings. At dusk, one can even touch me. That is when I am most outspoken and prepared for more outspokenness. That twilight is my most precious aura, dear foreign hunters of my groves with feathered hats. The black velvety dusk with white-glimmering contours of life objects, and not the death-zone, walls, or two majestic faces in the searing midday sun is my true charm and the picture for those who want to see and find the meaning between names: Lefkosia, Nicosia, Levkosha, Chora… Names are given by intuition that equals to perennial twilight.


Not: Paintings by Thomas McKnight (First: "Chora Room" ,2001, Limited Edition Serigraph on Paper - 18" x 16". Second:"Chora Streets" ,2001, Limited Edition Serigraph on Paper - 18" x 16".

Dalia Staponkute