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Art Seen is delighted to announce the upcoming solo exhibition of work by London artist, Clare Burnett from Saturday, 22nd April to 24th of May 2023 at Art Seen, Nicosia. The exhibition SHAPESHIFTERS Clouds of Conscience features brightly coloured groups of paintings and sculptures arranged in ‘conversation’ groups within the two-story space. The show is inspired by the artefacts removed from Cyprus by Cesnola in the 19th century and is made with objects and materials found today on the streets of Nicosia.
In the 19th century the American Consul to Cyprus, Luigi Palma de Cesnola, ‘acquired’ a vast treasure trove of Cypriot archaeological artefacts, a total of 35,000 objects most of which he sold to the newly formed Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in 1872 before becoming its first Director until his death in 1904.
This collection and its story are the source material for the exhibition. The show draws attention to the actions of Cesnola and to the attitude of ‘the West’ to the heritage of others whilst celebrating the artefacts themselves – their energy and emotion, their rich surfaces, the anthropomorphic forms of simple household objects and the patterns and forms that repeat through history. Through the use of discarded and mass-produced materials it also nudges us to think about 21st century dilemmas relating to the goods we acquire and use and how this might be judged in the future.
Clare Burnett: Shapeshifters and Skiamorphs
Diana Wood Conroy
Even before Clare Burnett, renowned British sculptor came to Cyprus, there were signs of her connection to ancient imagery. In previous exhibitions, a figurine entitled Coptic Echo / Adoration , evokes the upraised arms of a praying entity. Table tops of inscrutable small sculptures and vessels are a simulacrum of goods laid out in a tomb as offerings to the departed in the afterlife.
Invited by gallerist Maria Stathi, Clare arrived in Nicosia for a six-week season of research and making work in 2022. Described in the UK as a ‘heroic scavenger’, she looked around for materials and noticed an empty piece of land near where she was staying, littered with plastic water bottles and discarded plastic mesh. Like an archaeologist she did not pre-empt what she might find but took what was there on the ground to interpret in a new sculptural idiom. An artist can imagine new juxtapositions of meaning and context, imaginatively mimicking the processes of archaeological fieldwork.
Vessels are a primary necessity in any society. The amphora, a two-handled swollen bellied water pot that could be heaved on to a shoulder and taken to the well was still around when I was a girl in Greece in the 1960s. Even then, ceramic was quickly supplanted by an exact replica in plastic, becoming a shadow shape of the original heavy clay in a lighter material, a ‘skiamorph’. Ancient structures of baskets and nets too are translated in the pre-eminent shape-shifting material of our times, plastic.
Clare’s sculptural references to the Cesnola Collection housed in the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art are like skiamorphs of the realities of that extraordinary collection of vessels, figures and animals. We do not know exactly where each piece comes from. I was once shown a grand empty tomb near the entrance to Kourion which was supposedly ransacked by Luigi di Cesnola when he was American Consul in Cyprus (1865–1877) and experts can find analogies to the New York pieces in the art from the ancient kingdoms of Golgoi, Idalion, Amathus, and Kourion, glittering societies that existed in Cyprus before the take-over of the Ptolemies, post Alexander the Great, in 294 BC. Already these kingdoms were strongly influenced by Egypt in the hieratic stance of sculptured figures and sarcophagi. Luigi di Cesnola unearthed and took away from Cyprus in ships some 35000 pieces, including sculptures, sarcophagi, terracottas and metalwork to be the foundation collection of the Metropolitan Museum. He was appointed its first director in1879, but a shadiness hangs over his reputation because, hungry for fame, Cesnola sutured together different pieces of sculptures and lied about the location of his finds and the treasures he removed.
There is a delicate and blurry boundary sometimes between looting and excavation or ‘finding’. Archaeologists too are famous for subjective interpretations of the past such as Arthur Evans (1851-1941) whose vision of Bronze Age Minoan Crete left an imperishable impression on the site of Knossos. Two perspectives emerge from Clare’s enigmatic pieces in this exhibition.
One perspective is the force of the physical materiality; the grouping in space of improvisatory and brilliantly coloured sculptures, that shadow of the past like a Chinese whisper. Each time the story is told it slightly changes until eventually it is unrecognisable from the original. We don’t recognise these pieces as being part of any identifiable Western tradition and yet there is a faint echo of something we know, a forgotten semblance, a tantalising beauty even, that is just outside what is familiar, another way to think that is elliptical rather than linear.
The other perspective is the larger mode of operation that these pieces reference. In Australia spears taken from the Eora people in Botany Bay in 1770 by Captain Cook began the British colonising imperative in the Pacific. These long quivering weapons have recently been returned from the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology in Cambridge, U.K., to tremendous and tearful joy of the descendants of the Indigenous people in Sydney because the spears are imbued with the presence of Ancestors and lost Country.
It came to me that in a way, Clare Burnett has scavenged the land of Cyprus for contemporary discarded containers, not looted like the despoiling Cesnola but in a subtle and even humorous way reconstituting what was torn away, bringing an echo of the lost treasures back to their land of origin, back to the Countries of ancient Cyprus.
Diana Wood Conroy is an Australian artist and scholar. Her research interests combine archaeology and contemporary visual cultures in many publications, most recently in Tiwi Textiles: Design, Making and Process, with Bede Tungutalum (2022). As artist-in-residence, and archaeologist of Roman fresco at the University of Sydney’s Paphos Theatre Excavation in Cyprus since 1996, her work explores classical, Aboriginal and personal worlds in tapestry and drawing, and is held in national and international collections. She is Emeritus Professor of Visual Arts at the Faculty of Law Humanities and Arts, University of Wollongong, Australia.
Opening hours: Monday, Wednesday, Friday 16:00 – 19:00 or by appointment
For more information, please contact: Maria Stathi, Founder & Director, Art Seen
+357 22006624 | firstname.lastname@example.org | www.art-seen.org
 shown in Impromptu (s), Unit 1 Gallery Workshop, UK, 2019; A month in Mexico, Brooke Benington Residency programme at Studio Block M74. 2019, and Pink at William Benington Gallery, UK, 2015.
 Stacey McCormick, essay, Impromptu(s) Unit 1 Gallery Workshop, UK, 2019. Karl Meyer. Met Goes to the Closet, Gets Out Its Skeletons and Tells the Stories. April 15, 2000, Section B, p. 7, New York Times.