Ichnos by Kyriaki Costa
We live on an island full of archaeological sites and remains. Subsequent layers of human appearance and expression, of human needs, hopes, dreams and fears come to the surface, asking to be heard, asking for presence.
As an artist, I have always been fascinated by the material traces of people in the pursuit of their everyday needs. And my artistic work has always been driven by a detailed observation of different elements of constructed, man-made environments and structures. Acting as an archaeologist of the everyday and of the ephemeral, I strive to decipher the deeper motives behind each human trace: what I call “íchnos”. “Ichnos”, derived from the Greek work “ίχνος” (“footprint” or “sign”), refers to remnants from the past, or signs of absence that affect the present and lead to defining a presence.
This passion of mine became even stronger during the restoration of my house, an old building from the 18th century located in the centre of Nicosia that was passed on to me in very bad condition. During this process, I was also increasingly engaged with the unfolding of the building’s history. I started noticing signs of different time periods around the house—the additions made, and the way former residents tried to overcome practical obstacles. Meeting everyday needs seemed to be materialised with aesthetic value.
Without even realizing it, I had become a type of archaeologist. I was doing what an archaeologist would do to unearth the past of a found archaeological object: I was trying to reveal the older traces, moving away the unwanted elements, while preserving others. Far beyond aesthetics, I reflected on issues of social and anthropological interest, trying to figure out how people use their environment and organise themselves into households and social groups. A process of interpretation of elements hidden underneath the layers of plaster and floors had emerged. Moreover, the traces of the past had become voices of human appearance, fragments of memory and messengers of meanings.
Ever since, I have found myself connected to archaeology, investigating the thought behind the human practice presented visually. Through photography, I try to capture the different layers of human activity and the small and often subtle—or not so subtle—additions dictated by certain needs, and to document visually the ephemeral traces of the distant or recent past. But on a different level, an artistic level, new shapes are being produced: new lines, a whole new geometry and a self-contained abstract world are born. The narratives derived, fragmentary in their contemporary context, are open to interpretation.
Working with pictures taken from contemporary pieces of our everyday lives which demonstrate human intervention is my own way, as an artist, to keep records and collect details of the applied human expression. It is a continuous personal story, a work in progress and my own kind of archaeological action and effort at preservation. In so doing, a metaphorical space where art meets archaeology and archaeology meets art is created.
The project was presented at the collective exhibition Ar(t)chaeology / Intersections of Archaeology and Photography in 2018 https://www.artchaeologyproject.com/artist-bios/costa
The anthropology of the line and a global fieldwork
by Ledaki Evangelia/ 2016 Curator, Art Critic
The anthropology of the line and a global fieldwork Looking over at Kyriaki Costa’s artistic practice as a whole, a dense and multifaceted production that, over the years, has formed a prominent material stratification, we perceive recurrent thematic and iconographic motifs emerge, taking different forms with each incarnation. Amongst them standing out, are water and its networks, soil and rocks, a sensuous geology or a superficial archaeology of the senses. She chooses varying tactics; sometimes dedicating herself to the monitoring of architectural typologies, fieldwork and the creation of archives, and at others matching natural materials, vocal or musical performances and embroidery, guided in her creation by her personal hybrid aesthetics. She maintains on all occasions a structurally coherent and recognisable personal style. Besides, all the different objects that she puts together interest her in terms of concept as well as form. She speaks of the poetry of the upper tier referring to the ground as a surface, which simultaneously separates and unites all that is above and below it. The ground functions as an interface; a field where all that keeps us alive is acted upon and becomes visible. A continuous material which, other than making up the territory in which we live, forms primarily the layer which attracts water and in which the plant world roots. This territorial interaction enables the daily performance of a vast matrix of exchanges and distributions. This ritual has for a long time captured the interest of Costa: the – never-ending quest – on the action of materials that constitute the cosmos. As she discovers the musicality of underground water flows and the rustling of the ground, she is actually listening to the networks of interface and demonstrates the subtle and implicit method in which materials define the social dimension: the historical process of soil mixing with water and its resulting effect on cultural identity and on the personal narrative. In these fragments and flows, which she faces and repeatedly encounters in her prolonged ventures of ethnographic reconnaissance, she discovers the role of natural resources in the determination of collective and personal definitions and confronts the emergence of the political. The political can be found precisely at the unexpected encounter with the conditions of the real; the condition causing the desertification of Nicosia’s transition zone and the realisation that the divided city draws its water from common groundwater sources. These are observations and thoughts inevitably expressed, which come in bursts and request some restoration of meaning and the establishment of an agreement that reflects internal human reason and not international arrangements. Thoughts that become requests and search for a way out, tearing through the illogical current political status, which incessantly fragments and results in alienation. Costa’s practice keeps revisiting political issues and acts as enactment and peculiar activism, which requires uninstalling the naturalized incomprehensible condition. A condition which, while having gained broad acceptance in daily life, is constantly shaking basic instincts and darkens the mnemonic echo of a founding scene of unity and harmony. According to the British anthropologist Timothy Ingold, a comparative anthropology of the line, can be traced in the work of Kyriaki Costa. On her tours of Nicosia, on the walks she takes and the materials which she observes and isolates, one can see a constant process of assembly and weaving. While sometimes figurative, the weaving does not cease to function with literal terms. The walk, the threads and yarns, the serial juxtapositions of photographic records and archives she creates, all constitutes her own anthropology of the lines. Costa selectively studies a series of materials and elements of building and connects them: she consolidates them in a net, which combines orientation, directions in movement, objects and natural resources. It is interesting to scrutinize the texture of the objects she handles. Some of them are tangible -like water-, while others can be felt and comprehended while being invisible and intangible. Such elements are air and temperature, which appear in the recordings of her successive investigations on location. In this manner, in her work Diaspora (2014) she gazes at the gusts of wind, contemplates the possibility of transferring and replanting seeds and reaches - as she notes – a state of anticipation until the seeds that fall from the sky germinate. Through this visionary venture she senses the temperature, listens to the wind and to the sound of things and creates an imaginary line between the location – Cyprus - and its neighbouring areas, which are in a state of war or turmoil. It is rare to find all these elements combined in contemporary art. This is what makes Kyriaki Costa’s practice so global, as her incidental field studies have a distinctive referential nature: they can be reduced in the aggregate. Consequently, that which is partial reveals here the dimension of the whole and allows us to observe the architectural structure of our world. Characteristic in this direction is the 2009 exhibition “Absence in Presence” (Η Απουσία στην παρουσία) at the Centre of Contemporary Art Diatopos, where the artist first started forming a polyphonic dialogue with ready-made objects and large fabric pictures which aligned themselves to weave a complex field made of traces and quotes of memory. Corresponding respectively, the 2013 installation “Hearing” (Ακρόαση) in the Nicosia Municipal Arts Centre, presented musical instruments; especially brass instruments-that were donated by public schools. During the exhibition, the instruments were removed from their original environment and posed silently, as a reminder of the potential sound which the visitor was supposed to recall or assume. Through this action, Costa highlighted the gradations of silence, sound, noise and musicality. At the same time, a score in Braille and even an embroidered score, were placed between the instruments. These music scores transcribed the pictorial world of music and acted as paradox manuals and crossroads where sensory difficulties became the motive for the invention of hybrid translations. Following the same logic the videos Makarios (2011), Water (2006) and Waterways (2012) exhibit a vivid visionary dimension: in the first two we find ourselves facing the sudden activation of inert public spaces, while the nightmarish landscape of Waterways is constituted by the composition of heterogeneous scenes: the raising of an unearthly figure, an unexpected detonation and the imminent execution of a female figure in white crinoline. The videos, rich in detail and elaborate texture, are mostly the result of digital transfer of the kinetic unfolding of embroidery. When the latter is compared with the embroidery, an untamed iconography is revealed, a source and uncontrolled vocabulary that is both wild and dark: a special art brut, which teeters between the idyllic and nightmarish, between surreal dreamlike imagery and a persistent folklore intonation of high manual fidelity. The yarns, grids, networks and roots define the borders of the essence of her own language and express wonderfully that which Ingold refers to as the parliament of lines. The archive recording, field research with ethnographic and archaeological features, her preoccupation with the soil and subsoil, their ontology and symbolism, are some of the many incarnations of her practice. At the same time, the charts created by cutting and joining fabrics or knitting with threads and yarns, operate as a linear arrangement of her interests. A type of crystallization, which sometimes follows the flow of water and at others –in a brutally honest way -, takes the shape of a fabric pleat.