View of “The Broken Pitcher,” 2022–23. Photo: Alexandra Ivanciu.

View of “The Broken Pitcher,” 2022–23. Photo: Alexandra Ivanciu.

“The Broken Pitcher”

“The Broken Pitcher,” a collaborative project by Natascha Sadr Haghighian, Marina Christodoulidou, and Peter Eramian, employed its title as a metaphor for the empty promises of the banking system. The exhibition revolved around the negotiation of the foreclosure of a family home in Larnaca, Cyprus, in 2019. The arbitration arose after a woman was unable to repay an exponentially increasing business loan that her late ex-husband had, unbeknownst to her, added her name to shortly before canceling his life insurance policy. A reenactment of the conversation between the family in question, their lawyer, and two bank representatives, filmed in a reimagined bank conference room incorporating interventions by artists invited by the initiating trio, frames a seemingly isolated story as a symptom of systematic financial manipulation and histories of colonialism. The film, also titled The Broken Pitcher (all works cited, 2021), hinges on a key moment in which one of the employees breaks the fourth wall. Turning to the camera, she asks (in Greek, with subtitles): “In your view, what should the bank employees do?” After a segue marked by a beeping tune reminiscent of a Nintendo soundtrack, the film’s second part comprises roughly twenty responses from an international array of housing-rights activists, artists, lawyers, and economists, as well as business owners and other interested parties from Cyprus. Berlin-based sociologist Andrej Holm says, “The question aims at a moral acting, but I don’t see much prospect for a solution for the family in this way.” German writer Heike Geißler wonders, “So how can you destroy this system? How do you make it go away without destroying yourself in the process?” After an extended silence, Lebanese researcher and activist Nizar Ghanem concludes, “Confrontation is the only solution.”

The film set was exhibited alongside a selection of sculptural and photographic works concerned with financialization in a broader context and a presentation of books and video interviews on the topic of debt. Like a web spun from myriad media and perspectives, the show was informative, but also intriguing, enraging, moving, and even amusing. The meeting-room installation, with its sculptural additions by invited artists, was subtly playful. The rubber fingers of Nayia Savva’s The Invisible Hand parted the slats of the room’s venetian blinds as if to snoop on the meeting, while Stelios Kallinikou’s Ziziros (Cicadas) consisted of an iPhone, plugged into the wall to charge, that occasionally chirped a cricket sound. In Eramian’s Round Table, a graveled surface erupts into a volcanic mound brimming with glazed ceramic throat lozenges, as if to acknowledge and accentuate the surreality of the circumstances.

An air of absurdity surrounds a debt that multiplies inexorably, a bank’s valuation of a home at figures astronomically higher than any actual offers, the disastrous intersection of geopolitical and interpersonal turmoil that saddled a woman with her ex-husband’s debt, and the bank personnel’s point-blank admission, “We are not here to find a solution.” Though it was likewise not outcome oriented, “The Broken Pitcher” conveyed a willingness to grapple with the situation in contrast with the bank’s refusal to do so. One thing art can do is to be generous enough to pay attention—and, in this case, to amplify the geopolitical echoes inextricable from a seemingly individual story. At the exhibition’s stop in Leipzig (after public screenings throughout Cyprus and an iteration at the Beirut Art Center), Germany’s complicity was brought to the fore, as the de facto EU leader ultimately benefited from the stringent austerity conditions—including foreclosures—of its bailout of Southern European nations after the 2012 financial crisis. A wall-size installation in the resource room traced the historical leveraging of debt as an exploitative tool: Enlarged documents from the family’s case were layered atop late nineteenth-century treaties with the Ottoman Empire that outlined the British occupation of Cyprus as a guarantee for military loans. By pairing such research with more abstract and associative artistic responses, “The Broken Pitcher” embodied a move beyond witnessing and toward a compelling manifestation of involved and collaborative engagement as a means of navigating oppressive systems. And it carved out a fissure of hope that such an approach might open new ways ahead.