Maria Toumazou in Nicosia

By Thea Smith

Maria Toumazou, Ex snail farming greenhouses now for stray dogs, 2018, plastic bags, sheets, metal, chicken wire, metal buckets with water. Photo: Panagiotis Mina. Courtesy Thkio Ppalies, Nicosia

Maria Toumazou’s double-site exhibition is an ambitious deconstruction of contemporary and traditional Cypriot working culture, embodying personal and politically charged themes. The works vary from delicate solar-powered assemblages to cement blocks and boulders, but hold up a light to an artist’s practice on an island where ancient history rubs up against brazen capitalism. Toumazou took part in Cyprus’s presentation at the 2017 Venice Biennale with her collaborators from the collective Neoterismoi Toumazou (who from 2015 to 17 ran a project space in Nicosia). Fair-face Elysée, meanwhile, is the first offsite exhibition by Nicosia-based Thkios Ppalies, an artist-run space focusing on emerging Cypriot artists. 

The exhibition takes you from the working headquarters of a consultancy firm in an industrial business park on the edge of the city, to a field formerly used for snail farming six kilometres away along dirt roads. At the first site, hanging high above a standalone photocopier, is Light design… (all works 2018), a three-metre-high metal assemblage covered with cob, a traditional building material made from straw and dirt. Attached to it is a small propeller that replaces the hands on a clock mechanism. The seconds ticking away become meaningless, and as a fan it is useless, if not outright threatening, hanging at head-height above the photocopier: ‘work accident’ is listed as one of the materials used.

The most intriguing installation is Hand…, a three-part sculpture made in collaboration with #hack66, a Cypriot hacker space and innovation centre. The three Arduino-powered hands – metal constructions with fingers made from melted mini Zivania bottles (a traditional Cypriot spirit used to toast at celebrations) – raise and lower kitsch tapestry bags collected by Toumazou while on European residencies: one a souvenir from Venice, another a collage of dogs found in Glasgow, the smallest a medieval-style purse. If the ineffectual fan hanging from the middle of the room addresses the labour practices of both artists and office workers, the hands and handbags implicitly comment on modern rituals and fashion in a society at risk of losing its traditional industries in the face of globalisation.

The second site is right on the cusp of the buffer zone dividing the Republic of Cyprus from the Turkish-occupied north. Here, Cement block walls used for hideouts, transferred from nearby military post… are monolithic ersatz canvases for huge spraypainted Chinese characters, which seem out of place and require examining the handout to understand. It’s perhaps a layer too far to add onto a site already overflowing with large local sociopolitical concerns. Much more tender are the artist’s Ex snail forming greenhouses now for stray dogs. The roofs of the arched metal structures have been replaced with ironed-together white shopping bags, uniform except for a single rust-tinged square in each side, which have the appearance of sinister, bloodlike stains, a jolt on the otherwise clean surface insinuating that something unpleasant has occurred. As a whole, then, Fair-face Elysée is multilayered, perhaps too much so at times; yet Toumazou’s irreverent humour and wit shines through. The sacrifice of the best part of the afternoon and a drive along dusty roads is worth it.

Maria Toumazou: Fair-face Elysée at various venues, Nicosia, 30 September – 24 October

From the December 2018 issue of ArtReview