In May 2004, I had the very good fortune to be working on a theatre project on the Green Line in Nicosia. The occasion was momentous in that human passage between the North and South of Cyprus, across the Ledra Palace checkpoint, had increased exponentially as a result of negotiations preceding Cyprus accession to the European Union, at the same time as the complex issues surrounding the partition of the island came under renewed public scrutiny.
The artists’ group Artrageous staged a powerful event that contributed to the debate by proposing the metaphor of the suitcase as a vehicle through which artists might explore issues of displacement, belonging, identity and the meaning of home. Artrageous asked artists from all over the world to literally pack up their suitcases and come to Nicosia. The title of the event, Nomadifesta, alluded also to the condition of the artist as nomad, crossing physical borders, as the many artists who contributed did, bringing their suitcases to Cyprus, but also working across disciplines and discourses.
This year Artrageous’ world wide call to artists is to explore the idea of unclaimed luggage. The artists’ suitcases will travel from Nicosia to Madrid unaccompanied by their owners. What are the meanings of this symbolic separation between the body and the appurtenances of identity? What happens to our sense of ourselves when we are separated from our baggage? What becomes of these totemic items that may carry about them the ghostly aura of their absent owners?
In a deserted airport, items of luggage move around the conveyor belt in a solitary, endlessly circular dance… On a rain slicked railway platform, a solitary suitcase stands incongruous and iconic, a paradoxical object of fear and desire… The side of a long, empty road is strewn with bundles and packages, the once essential become unbearable burden… Luggage that arrived somewhere and nobody claimed. Orphaned luggage. The only human traces to be found are the pieces of luggage stranded in their places of passage. How might the artist respond to this image of desolation?
It may be that in reality it is the owner, not the luggage, that is lost. Abandoned suitcases as signifiers of absence, metaphorically dense and charged with anthropomorphic allusions. Once familiar objects are, then, rendered uncanny. Suitcases and bundles commemorate the people who once carried them, who may no longer be known in person. They may become silent witnesses to the moment of loss.
At the Circulo de Bellas Artes in Madrid the suitcases, parcels and bags have come to rest at an imaginary lost luggage repository, an archive inhabited by frozen ghosts made melancholy by abandonment, an inventory of illusions and disillusions. The objects hold their secrets in a warehouse which rationalizes and creates another, marginal function for things which have ceased – temporarily or otherwise – to circulate in the world. The true meaning of these objects is in what is not said, and can only be conjectured.