For the thousands of migrants entering Europe, the journey of making a home in a foreign place has just begun.
The work of Aikaterini Gegisian, 38, is especially relevant for those of such placelessness. Her surreal multi-national collages form a seven-chapter narrative in her 2015 book A Small Guide to the Invisible Seas.
Gegisian was one of 18 artists to exhibit in the Armenian pavilion at the Venice Biennale this year, which won the Golden Lion at the Biennale’s awards for Best Country. The exhibition, Armenity, is set apart from the main body of the art festival, on an island called San Lazzaro degli Armeni, a 20-minute boat from the mainland across the lagoon.
Its distance from the bustle of Venice neatly reflects the exhibition’s theme of a diasporic people – those who have been forcibly moved from, or have had to flee, their original homeland and scattered across the globe.
Being situated in the island, inside a monastery, compounds the exhibition’s overriding sense of being adrift. In the Middle Ages, the Mekhitarist Monastery even hosted a leper colony.
Gegisian created 64 collages using found photographs. These were pulled from the pages of photographic tourist catalogues, published from 1960 to 1982, of the countries of Armenia, Greece and Turkey. The original collages of three chapters, “seas”, are presented in Venice alongside the book.
“I wanted to use these images to create something new”, she says. “My aim was to liberate images from their former function, to make them have a new life. This would allow them to become thinking moments in new constellations.
“It is a way of moving across space and time. This way of collaging allowed me to show movement. They merge – but at the same time you can see that they are different. I wanted these images to feel intuitively that they were always meant to be together.”
Though UK-based, Gegisian identifies with the three nations. She’s a Greek-Armenian whose father’s side came from Izmir in Turkey. She feels her core nationality changes day by day. The collages draw from this tension of limbo and attachment.