Beloved Refuge of All Strangers
Neon light, metal construction, 2023, 310x220x80 cm
“O imperial City,” I cried out, “City fortified, City of the great king, tabernacle of the most High, praise and song of his servants and beloved refuge for strangers, queen of the queens of cities, song of songs and splendour of splendours, and the rarest vision of the rare wonders of the world, who is it that has torn us away from thee like darling children from their adoring mother? What shall become of us?”
With these words, Byzantine historian Niketas Choniates lamented the devastating conquest and plundering of Constantinople by the Fourth Crusade in 1204. Choniates would not live to see his city later evolve into its role as a sanctuary for strangers from all over the world until the tides turned in the 20th century. This large-scale light and metal installation replicates Choniates' words and mounts them on scaffolding, recalling the rooftop signs of old hotels that offered both direction and promise to passersby. And yet the shiny sign remains ambivalent: its disposition – detached from any pragmatic function and placed in a closed room instead of shimmering on a high rooftop – attests a certain failure, a pledge that cannot quite fulfil itself, pointing to the chasm between the promise of a sanctuary for all strangers and the actual reality awaiting those strangers, far away from what was home.