The term Mediterranean derives from the Latin word mediterraneus, which translates as ‘in the middle of the earth’ or ‘between lands’. This body of water borders approximately twenty-five countries across three continents and is almost entirely enclosed by land. As ‘the sea in the middle of the land’, the Mediterranean is a space of convergence for eastern and western cultures and religions. Palma de Mallorca, as one of the Balearic islands, lies at the heart of this virtually landlocked sea, creating equal amounts of attraction and exposure to what curator Cécile Bourne-Farrell describes as ‘an increasingly protectionist contemporary Europe.’ The aim of Bourne-Farrell’s project at Es Baluard is to expose the complex and often ignorant relationships between countries that find themselves as neighbours in these waters.
‘La Mer au Milleu des Terres // Mare medi Terraneum’ features sixteen artists from different countries. The decision to include international artists, exclusively born, living in or somehow linked to Mediterranean territories, results in genuine, diverse perspectives on European politics, the Arab Spring, environmental, industrial and commercial legacies. Fundamentally, the clearest delineation between approaches to the project manifests in each artist’s decision to either engage with the Mediterranean as a politicised space, or, instead, to focus on the notion of the sea itself; utilising the indefinite, repetitive action of the water as a subject, or vessel for symbolism.
Ange Leccia’s large-scale video ‘La Mer’, for example, is an aerial view recording of waves lapping against the shore which has been rotated so they appear to vertically climb the screen - both threatening and soothing in their endless encroachment on land. Leccia’s work is simple but hypnotic. The shore has been deepened to an inky black chasm, so the waves illuminate the scene, leaving behind a chalky residue, making it at once clear and unclear where the sea ends and the earth begins.
As a contrast to Leccia’s monochrome, Marco Poloni’s neighbouring constellation of images entitled ‘Displacement Island’ is spattered with iridescent colours. Made up of 65 photographs, Poloni’s montage covers a large section of the exhibition wall-space and is arranged in clusters which, together, loosely form the shape of a wave. Compositely, the images tell a narrative of the island of Lampedusa. The largest of the Italian Pelagie Islands, Lampedusa is heavily dependent on the tourism industry, and also acts as a primary European entry point for migrants. Thus, Poloni exposes the island as a place of transit, dependent upon the illusion of promise and the upheaval (both temporary and permanent) of others. The selected images are a mixture of press agency images, film stills, family photographs, reproductions and Poloni’s own photographs. Although the arrangement appears sporadic, they are organised in numbered groups - each image leading to another through an apparent similarity or difference.
This notion of the Mediterranean as a simultaneous site of conflict and promise; as one which people risk their lives in order to cross from one country to another, is further investigated by Moroccan artist Bouchra Khalili. Kahlili is renowned for her work concerned with the indelible line between land and sea, and the physical plotting of the transitory. For her video ‘Mapping Journeys Nº4’, as part of ‘The Mapping Journey Project’ Khalili travelled to countries associated with trafficking and trade, and asked migrants to explain their personal journey as they draw the shape it takes on a map. These subjects are at once present and absent - as we see only their hands re-visit the often Odyssean, and geographically illogical, trips they are forced to make. The penned arcs of these journeys expose, in visual terms, the dangers and distortions of the political landscape.
Revealing the quieter, neglected friction that exists in certain parts of Europe, French artist Marcel Dinahet’s video works unearth towns and cities which are relics of interrupted chaos. As part of his series ‘Suspended Spaces’ Dinahet travelled, with his camera hidden, to the closely monitored area of Famagusta Varosha. Once a Greek seaside resort, Famagusta was occupied by the Turks in 1974 and has been since uninhabited; an empty, ghostly reminder of the culture it once contained. Now, it remains in limbo, fenced-off, undeclared as Greek or Turkish.
In contrast to the reality of the Mediterranean as a cradle for contrasting political and geographical dangers, for the majority of Western Europe, it is often characterised by its advertising potential; the unwavering representation of the Mediterranean lifestyle, diet and landscape. Adopting this regurgitation of the ideal, Oriol Violanova presents ‘Sunsets from…’ - an installation of 693 postcards of sunsets, arranged so that the colour spectrum gradiates from grayscale to a sickly, lurid orange. The multitude of objects emphasises the ubiquity of such imagery, and its inextricable connection to the culture of tourism. This is the token postcard sent from nearly every sunny holiday, which, unwittingly, gives no indication of location - as each sunset is interchangeable for another.
These stereotypical images are projections of an outdated ideal; the sublime which can only exist within postcards. Similarly, Tunisian artist Farah Khelil manipulates this signification, by presenting an archive of found postcards in a vitrine, front side up - so the fragments of writing are exposed - and incising outlines of infamous buildings or sites of interest associated with the represented place. Here, Khelil is reducing a city to its touristic counterparts, ridiculing the assumption that anyone can understand a place by visiting its most famous attractions. These works seem to suggest that it is perhaps an over simplification of Mediterranean countries which encourages the unawareness between them - and across the rest of the World.
‘La Mer au Milleu des Terres // Mare Medi Terraneum’ operates under a seemingly simple curatorial conceit: to give an account of the gaze of contemporary artists over a shared space which connects the civilisations of the world. However, the space itself is necessarily fraught with underlying tensions and conflicts. The ultimate revelation becomes the simultaneous connection and alienation between these countries. While for some the Mediterranean remains a steadfast holiday destination, for others it represents the gulf between crisis and security. For some, it is the sheer physicality of the sea which is an undeniable reminder of the layers of social, political and historical exchanges it has witnessed. It is the paradoxical beauty of these waters that they bring together such contrasting cultures, yet the space it creates between them perpetuates ignorance and oblivion.
Exhibiting artists: Ali Cherri, Marcel Dinahet, Lara Fluxà, Chourouk Hriech, Bouchra Khalili, Yazan Khalili, Farah Khelil, Ange Leccia, Rogelio López Cuenca, Geoffroy Mathieu & Bertrand Stofleth, Antoni Muntadas, Hervé Paraponaris, Marco Poloni, Zineb Sedira, Oriol Vilanova, Yorgos Zois