Taste of Salt

image012“The violent No! of the sun burns the forehead of hills. Sand fleas arrive from salt lake and most of the theatres close”.

These lines, from a Frank O’Hara poem, are not immediately decipherable for many of us.  However, the  burning of Kastellorizo’s summer sun, the inescapably vertical profile of its rock faces, the crystalline crush of salt from Ro and the sharp stinging bites of summer flies do indeed provide Kastellorizian points of connection with O’ Hara’s words.

It takes bravery to introduce cultural tourism anywhere, but particularly if it is edgy, contemporary and conceptual, and more of a risk if in a different language. Despite this, a week long public program of the arts came to Kastellorizo, courtesy of the generous Fiorucci Art Trust, between the 7-13th September. The Trust, founded in London in 2009 by Nicoletta Fiorucci, was invited by the 14th Istanbul Biennial to present an art program accessible to the public, themed “SALTWATER. A Theory of Thought Forms”. It resulted in a visual and literary feast, often accompanied by culinary feasts and performances. The program prompted us to to ask many questions and created conversations out of the ordinary.

The 9 artists created a theatre of the arts. They were not only internationally famous but importantly, stimulating and challenging.  The art action transformed familiar parts of the island, helping us see them through the eyes of the outsider.

The Agora on the opening night, became home to the poetry of Dora Economu and offered an edible visual feast incorporating mountains of little fish, bread and salt.

Mario Garcia Torres, an artist of great presence, appeared to be channeling both Woody Allen and Alan Ginsberg of the beat poets.  He transformed the community hall at the Horafia into a parody of a lecture theatre. It was an engaging, entertaining performance raising many questions about originality, authorship, success and failure.

A favourite was the transformation of our intimate little hamam which in past years served the small number of Turkish families on the island. When artist Lucia Koch worked her magic, the space became a cosmic art experience, a golden night sky populated by whizzing comet tails and winking stars. Lucia’s work will gave a long lasting impact as she has gifted her work to the hamam where it will be re installed after restoration takes place.

The final event began with an impressive procession of mask wearers who climbed upwards from the harbour front, winding their way to Aghios Merkoureas.  It was conceived by Lubaina  Himid ,an artist from Zanzibar who was unable to attend but provided instructions, masks, signs and other objects.  By then word had spread and there were many more young and older Kastellorizians in attendance.  In Lubaina’s absence, we were guided by the wise and talented Anna Boghiguian. A reading of Kavafy’s poetry led to an impromptu, moving recitation of the same in Greek, by one of the teachers on the island.

Anna helped us to explore the contradictions of living on this island, both past and present, and the challenges we face when locked into ourselves by salt water surrounds. She gave us a vehicle for discussing the challenges of survival faced by incoming Syrian refugees trying to make their way to safe harbour. This experience too, was redolent of the past, summoning up the Gaza experiences of Kastellorizian refugees during WWII.

With a truly inclusive artistic spirit, Anna engaged each of us, urging us to draw what Kastellorizo means to us. This resulted in a cornucopia of images and impressions from olive and pine bouquets, to 3D white paper boats,  all seeing matia representations and pencil rock rubbings. All were done in situ by candlelight. The artistic experience was followed by a sumptuous feast created by Despina, our very own local culinary art treasure.

It occurred to me watching a Greek speaking local absorbed in making a flotilla of white paper boats with his son, that, at their best the arts are both engaging and transformative. He had earlier told me that it didn’t matter if he didn’t understand it all, he loved theatre, asking questions and challenging himself. To me, this summed up the arts experience.  In keeping with a race descended from philosophers, the discovery of the questions is as, if not more important than the discovery of the answers.

A few words from Yannis

The letter from Yannis in English. Press here to download the pdf.

The letter from Yannis in Greek. Press here to download the pdf.