He wrote to me. ‘Everything is history, including nature. The relief of a landscape often determines politics.’ There is very little seismic activity in the greater part of southeastern Europe, but in reference to the Balkans, geological-seismological terms have taken on their own, metaphorical meanings and use in political parlance, thus: fracture zone, fault line, epicentre of major tremors, magnetic poles of attraction and repulsion. Such are applied to the people who inhabit the region as if it were part of their nature! So, too, conflicts are depicted as if they had always been there, a geological feature, as it were. A problem that is Europe’s will be moved to the continent’s margins, thus the refugee issue to the Mediterranean, or to what some will know as the Maritsa and others the Evros.

This landscape doesn't fit at all here. From which time is it, where does it come from? A superimposed cut-out pasted on top of the actual landscape.


[On subsequent travels, images that had revealed themselves to me so profusely on my first journey only to be lost thereafter, were thin on the ground. Once, when we were driving eastward from Bitola, we passed a power station. Behind it the road rose through an acrid haze up to a forsaken elevated plain, as the dusk darkened in its final minutes before nightfall. Below me lay a track sunk between large erratic boulders; a flock of sheep was pouring through it up to the folds. But I had missed the decisive moment, that is, the moment at which the pristine half-darkness of the cut was breached by the first white sheep.]


[In Chris Marker’s Sans Soleil, it says, ‘The images most difficult to figure out are those of Europe.’] Where is Yugoslavia? Perhaps in the Yugoslavian Cinematheque in Belgrade; but that, alongside Vienna and Berlin, also houses one of the last surviving Kaiser-Panoramas – a falsified edition of reality.


[I had lost images that I had chanced upon or which had willingly crossed my path – and those that I then consciously sought and visited were refusing to let me in because I was beginning to question them.]



There are no images in nature but only in the imagination and in memory. Having lost our own locations of intact culture, we seek it elsewhere; looking, if in doubt, where we suppose what have been termed ‘sanctuaries of backwardness’. So the implication is, look for images and you risk being taken for a colonialistic nostalgiste. Or are you acquitted of that suspicion and can therefore speak of a privilege if you come from a long-suppressed, chronically underestimated country as you do? Or if , like me, you come from a former colony whose images, however, have been all but entirely lost.




Would there be an image of the Balkans at all if it were not for the image the West has coined for its convenience? As long ago as the Age of Enlightenment, travellers discovered in the ‘lands-in-between’ one thing above all else, the superiority of their own, Western civilization. Is that the way roles are accorded? In Bram Stoker's Dracula a troika of western men (an Englishman, an American and a Dutchman) destroys the Transylvanian count in order to save England (that is Europe) from the Balkan undead.




He wrote to me, ‘I’ve been thinking over the past few days about what they say in Germany, that it’s impossible to speak of Weimar any more without Buchenwald... Weimar and Buchenwald, is that Ivo Andrić’s Višegrad and Vilina Vlas? A wry picture, nailed hard and fast so that one’s comforting world view doesn’t shift. Do you recall what Clinton said in 1999 when the NATO bombs were falling on Belgrade? That it was not to be the fate of the Balkans to be the Heart of Darkness? Heart of Darkness? Joseph Conrad’s eponymous novel describes the hell that King Leopold of Belgium fabricated in the Congo. From that perspective, we in the Balkans really have not yet arrived in Central Europe.’

[Time was when seafaring nations would sail the oceans, hit land and establish a settlement. Centuries later, they would pack their bags and be off again without ever having cast so much as a glance beyond the first hill. And yet they would leave the land behind it altered. On an islet in the Aegean I crossed paths with a little boy. We got talking; I asked him what he’d like to be when he grew up. I’m a farmer came the reply. I looked around. Wherever the yellow fields dropped down to the sea, its deep blue welled into the valleys caught in the picture, but the shore was not to be seen, not that fine white seam where land and sea meet. In Dürer the frontier between reality and the imaginary is represented by a wave meander – the littoral zone of the border-crosser.]




[I had a friend who, given to daydreaming, replied to the question what time it was with: 'Where?' Just as the present can take place in certain circumstances at a location other than one’s own momentary one, the past, too, is increasingly lost to the Here. Does that mean that in order to remember, one has to travel to foreign lands? In the Balkans a new country begins beyond every river, a travel guide tells me. It comes from a country where the borders have been drawn with a giant ruler through vast grain-billowing fields.]




[In the middle of our first, long journey we were in Cyprus. There had been no rain for months; we drive along country roads, grey sheets of aridity on either side, hardly recognisable now at the end of summer, as the fields they are. A plain spreading before you endless as if at the centre of a waterless continent. You forget that you’re on an island. Know the feeling? A moment ago you were by the sea and suddenly a curtain of hot air veils any shred of memory. To the right, in the distance, in the pathless Nothingness, I make out a small church.]



'It was getting duskier but not darker, it was as though one could almost feel the age of the day, the unnatural delay of darkness that should have set in long ago, but still had not', writes Andrej Tarkovsky in Sculpting in Time. As you know, I’ve always loved that time of day when the rhythm of movements become slower, the individual noises louder against the surrounding hush as if nature had had a polarising filter fitted. Everything seems hyper-distinct, the soft light separates the noises, no clanging and droning nor roaring and thrumming, only singular sharp, metallic sounds, material becoming tangible. Haven’t I seen this before, on a kodachrome slide? In the morning the magic has gone: blunt harsh light, pallid white sky, the roar of the day.






We glide through landscape upon landscape and see eternal samenesses, all obeying an inner clock, a supra-regional agenda – the cutting of willow wands, burning off scrub on banks, and again and again, wood – timber transports, wood chopping, wood to stack, the smell of the wood fires accompanying us over thousands of miles. But then again the same woman is gazing at us from above, from the billboards in each and every town we pass through – even if we have crossed three borders in a day and are some 3000 km further east. Why do I place this observation here? Recurrence, formal repetition? A need for classification? I have the feeling that I am stepping into Zeno's ‘Achilles and the Tortoise’ paradox – moving, yet motionless, always a step behind in my attempt to comprehend. Is plurality and change an illusion?



He wrote me, ‘There are rivers here like the Drina that don’t tell you what their accorded role is, that for the past two thousand years, they’ve so often had to perform as the frontier between two ostensibly so different worlds. For centuries constructs of that kind fall into oblivion, only to be reactivated for a short interim.’ Sometimes people and places can exist off the path of history, islands in the current of time, like Ada Kaleh. I think I’ve told you before: in the middle of the Danube between Romania and Serbia there was a village inhabited by Turks, until, in 1968, the river was dammed there and the valley flooded. An oddity – until 1923 a Turkish exclave, because it had been simply forgotten at the Congress of Berlin – a speck, erratic like a grain of dust on a roll of film. Ossip Mandelstam says memory is the dried up bed of a brook and that you have to make your way back quite alone. But what if the places recalled lie under water, like Ada Kaleh, or like Přísečnice in the Czech Republic, where my grandfather attended a music school?






My film bears the imprint of omissions, of disappearances without trace. Where are the cabins of the deported on the Bărăgan Plain between Bucharest and the Danube? On the Albanian coast, Enver Hoxha’s one-man bunkers were demolished from one year to the next and the rubble disposed of almost completely. When I return to Ulcinj in Montenegro, to a river landscape with archaic-looking fishing huts and wooden fishing gear of timeless air, there is an enormous concrete bridge arching over it all. I pause only to load the camera with a new roll of film, and the ships in Varna Bay have dissolved in the mist.





I begin to wonder if I could just replace all images in this film by others, let's say from Japan. Whose story would I be telling then? In the National Archives in London there is a script for a film on Cyprus from the beginning of the last century. I will shoot that film anew one day, foot by foot, shot by shot, following the shorthand notation of the typist. ‘You will never find the places’ I was told. ‘Who knows, future might make up for that seeming loss’.



He wrote me. ‘Did you know, that after 1989, the factories had first to be nationalised in order then to be privatised? The idea that the factories were owned by the workers left the west at a loss. These were self-contained formations with fields of their own, kitchen gardens and herds of livestock.’ Deep in Bulgaria I met Dimitri, a descendant of those Greek-speaking Sarakatsani who were already droving giant flocks of sheep across the Balkans in the times of imperial Byzantium, heedless of all borders, and continued to do so until the middle of the twentieth century. It was only with the outbreak of World War II that Dimitri’s grandfather obtained and needed to use a passport.





The dominance of the West’, he went on, ‘keeps the region trapped between ‘not being yet European and ‘what Europe has already been’. Breaking out of this spiralling vacuum of metaphors is impossible. Differences recede into the background, interesting only for the respective form of conflict in which they materialise. A macro-colonial gaze wipes out diversity and flattens down nuances. An interest in the Balkans lasts only as long as war – or the rumour of war – persists.





We drive across the landscape. You’ve spoken to me many times of the contemporaneity of the uncontemporaneous, and maybe you’re right. Out here everything seems a matter of course, everything is in the right place, it is only us who are lost and drifting about as if abandoned, all over the map.


I read somewhere that rivers are the least dramatic or painful of borders, yet the most horrific battles have been fought for bridges. A river in itself is innately a connector, there are no rivers that cross without merging one with the other, a river needs two banks in order to flow and to keep flowing, to continue its course. They are interlocked in a mutual dependency. So is a river amphibious? Solid and liquid? As the stream, separating bank from bank, can connect along its course? A dialectic of flux and fixity that is also constantly at stake during the process of identification.



Only the great Danube has a border quality. To reach it, dykes have to be overcome, meandering backwaters have to be circumvented, and dense scrub where mines may still lie has to be negotiated. Juvenile alluvial forest of thin trunks arching still from the spring’s high water, all leaning obliquely downstream in accordance with a law, now, in late summer invisible. We break through the last and particularly dense fringe vegetation, finding ourselves then, suddenly, on a wide stretch of sand before a grey-blue ribbon easing its way on without so much as a ripple.



The quest for images is like that for words in the attempt to describe an ever-elusive something, I think, and become aware that I am in the process of making a film while, or rather, in my pondering it. Is that doing a Kleist’s Gradual Construction of Thoughts During Speech with the camera?


[As if I had the setting sun behind me, my shadow falls into the picture frame: increasingly I and my work get in the way of it.]

Yet again I visit the house where my father was born, in Aphania in northern Cyprus, only three walls surviving cracked through and through. If asked about his place of birth, he would say, ‘Born in obscurity.’ That was one of his favourite jokes. In the places he had lived, the images I had in front of my camera were so often those that told less of his life than of my loss. My existence in limbo... Liminality! On my island there is nothing tangible of any threshold dynamics, if you ask me, but I gravitate towards the idea of an in-betweenness, the perpetual confrontation of the incomplete other with the incomplete self.



A few weeks upon our return, the external hard disk drive waves goodbye and in a single night turns all the recordings to digital dust that refuses to be rematerialised even in a laboratory in London working in NASA-like, vacuum conditions. In Sighet in Romania, in the gaol of the infamous Danube colony, poems would be passed on, without pencil or paper, from cell to cell, by means of knocks on the walls as morse signals.



[It was during the last visit that I was struck by the innumerous stray dogs hit by cars, lying in the ditch in disturbingly regular intervals – an eerie milestone signage.]


In an attempt to make sense of things, something repeatedly remains elusive, uncircumscribable, unfolding events evade one's grasp. A concrete intangibility is ever-present.


In Camus's The Myth of Sisyphus it says, ‘Each atom of that stone, each mineral flake of that night filled mountain, in itself forms a world.’ But here let me think I've been and seen something.



Days In Between, 2011-2015, essay film, 16mm transferred to HD, colour & b/w, 40:00

Days In Between. Rivers, Banks, 2019, site-specific audio installation, 24:50 loop

Text: Bernd Bräunlich, Marianna Christofides


cited authors:

Ivo Andrić, Die Brücke über die Drina (The Bridge on the Drina), 1945


Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus, 1942


Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness, 1899


Vesna Goldsworthy, Invention and In(ter)vention: The Rhetoric of Balkanization”, 2005


Heinrich von Kleist, Über die allmähliche Verfertigung der Gedanken beim Reden, (On the Gradual Construction of Thoughts During Speech), 1805/6

Ossip Mandelstam, Das Rauschen der Zeit (The Noise of Time), 1925


Chris Marker, Sans Soleil, 1983


Andrej Tarkovsky, Sculpting in Time, 1986

Zeno of Elea, Achilles and the Tortoise, 5th c. BC





I begin to ponder asynchronicity and different speeds, that of the travelling observer and that of the protagonists between the takes, who in turn have their own tempi. I am reminded of Amel, who lives in a brick hut in Bosnia with his small family. ‘There is no work here,’ he says, ‘if the system doesn't take you in, take another path.’ He tried it in Qatar, his body couldn't cope with the heat. To begin all over again, continually – is that the characteristic feature of the whole region?




I am sifting through old magic-lantern slides from the world over. Have you, too, noticed, that the colonial beholder avoids the eyes of his vis-à-vis when taking a photograph? What if they gaze back at those who gaze at them? Would thus the panoptical process of the centre be reversed?






Odd, I thought, the second visit already came with that feeling of returning, do you know how it feels? Returning to a familiar place, recognising the land, gestures, habits, this ceaseless flow of water: an accumulating retrieval of sensory stimuli. For a moment I thought that this sense of returning was determined by assuring oneself that everything was still in place, intact, awaiting our arrival. But then central elements were missing, distorted, seemed displaced.