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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 splendor of splendors, 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 lines, the Byzantine historian Niketas Choniates bewailed the devastating conquest and plundering of Constantinople by the Fourth Crusade in 1204. He himself would not live to see his city later, under the Ottoman Empire, grow yet more fully into its role as a sanctuary for strangers from all over the world—until the tides turned once again in the 20th century. The large-scale light and metal installation ‘Beloved Refuge of All Strangers (Προσφιλὲς Ξενοδόχημα)’ replicates the words of Choniates and mounts them on scaffolding, recalling the signs mounted on the roofs of old hotels that offered both orientation and promise to passersby. And yet the shiny sign remains ambivalent: it points to the chasm between the promise of a sanctuary for all strangers and the condition of being a stranger far away from what was home. It can, however, also be understood as an invitation to view art as the place of refuge where what has been lost, forgotten, or passed over in silence can be preserved for the generations that follow.

Text by Lotte Laub and Susanne Weiß

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