Charcoal Project by Rinos Stefani
The Charcoal Project was a performance – Praxis organised by Rinos Stefani in the Buffer Zone of Tylliria, Cyprus in 2011. The event was supported by the United Nations Peacekeeping Forces in Cyprus. It took two years to organize and half an hour to perform. The idea of the performance is based on the question of the Unity and Conflict of Opposites which Stefani often uses in his work. The artist lived in the Pyrgos area for three years and experienced the production of charcoal. The project was organized with the assistance of visual artist Susan Vargas who also participated. The other artists who Stefani invited to participate were Gurgenc Korkmazel, Oya Akin and Dervish Dervisoglu.
Description of the Charcoal Project
The performance is structured around the idea of duality – two sides, as a metaphoric portrayal of the two communities of the island. Hence, we have here two groups of artists, A and B, in two symbolic territories, possessing one table each and on each table a mount of charcoal. Charcoal is their common resource and the link between them.
The performance takes place in the middle of the road in the Buffer Zone. That is between Pyrgos Greek Cypriot and Limnitis Turkish checkpoints. 15 October 2011. On each side of the road there was a table with a mound of charcoal. The artists go back and forth across the road carrying charcoal from one table to the other. They show a strong antagonistic mood. Yet, this continuous and laborious activity, action – reaction, seemed to be a pointless and senseless waste of energy. Many people from both sides of the Green Line attended at the performance. Greek Cypriots, Turkish Cypriots and staff of the United Nations. Most noteworthy, exactly a year ago, the Pyrgos- Limnitis check point opened and people could cross the Green Line. After 36 years of division and separation old friends could meet again. It was like the Fall of their Berlin Wall.
Charcoal Project is a Praxis
In 1990 Rinos Stefani introduced in Cyprus a hybrid form of action. This action includes installation, happening or performance. Stefani calls it a Praxis. Some months ago in an exhibition in Paphos Old Power House, Rinos Stefani did one of his ‘Praxeis’. It was an installation with charcoal, a table and a red bucket. It had the enigmatic title “A Bucket in Between Us”. This work as well as the Charcoal Project belong to the category of Praxis.
Why charcoal and tables?
The Pyrgos and Limnitis people in the Tylliria region have a long tradition of making charcoal. Therefore Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots who come from Tylliria region consider charcoal as their “national” product.
Charcoal is an ancient element which relates to earth and fire. Also to process the final product requires water. Furthermore, charcoal is related to food, nourishment and survival. Its deep black color and its characteristic scent make it a strong object.
People tend to gather around tables: the members of the family, members of the community, representatives of political parties, organizations and ethnic groups, leaders of states, friends. Even enemies meet around a table to solve their differences. The table, this every day piece of furniture, has been always important in human relations. For dialogue, for meals, for reconciliation, for peaceful coexistence, for creation.
Besides, the simple form – structure of the table is very interesting.
The meaning of the Charcoal Project
There are three main elements which make the Charcoal Project a unique event. The first one is the location (Buffer Zone). The second one is the material (charcoal). The third one is the character of the project.
The Buffer Zone – which in Greek is also known as a Dead Zone – is certainly one of the most unconventional places to organize an art activity. It is a place not only militarily and politically sensitive. It is also an area with intense conceptual and symbolic connotations.
The symbolism of charcoal and the conceptual context of the Buffer Zone connotates conflict, war, devastation and death. The use of charcoal in this place of separation, darkness and death can mean exactly the opposite, reversing the symbolism…
The traditions of Fluxus, art actions and happenings had very few followers in Cypriot art. Rinos Stefani though, an artist with radical characteristics, seems to have found in this tradition something which suits his idiosyncrasy…
Extract from Charcoal Project in the Buffer Zone by Christodoulos Callinos, art theorist, 2011
The process of organizing the project
Susan Vargas, visual artist, coordinator of the Charcoal Project described the long process of organizing the event: The idea of the Charcoal Project in the Buffer Zone was developed by Rinos Stefani in 2006. At that time (2006 – 09) Rinos was working in Pyrgos as an art teacher in the local high school. He rent an apartment by the sea and after school was painting and drawing. Whenever he had time he socialized with local people. He often helped them produce charcoal. Charcoal production is a long tradition in Tylliria area. In the meantime he was planing the charcoal performance. By 2010, when the check point in the Buffer Zone opened, the “scenario” and structure of the performance were ready. Yet we had to get a permission to use the Buffer Zone.
The role of UNFICYP
We decided to apply to the United Nations Peacekeeping Forces in Cyprus (UNFICYP) in the beginning of 2011. UNFICYP answered positively. “They would be happy to support the project which seems an excellent example of bringing the two communities together.” In a few days the Chief of Public Information of United Nations in Cyprus sent us an email. “Need to set certain conditions factoring in security aspects and logistical requirements so as to ensure the safety …” Even though UNFICYP liked our idea there was a delay, probably due to political reasons. Not necessarily from the UN part. Therefor we had to talk to some decision makers to reassure that it would be a peaceful event. And at the same time we had meetings with the UN military and police. We talked about practical matters and identify the best location where the performance would take place.