It’s whatever you make of it

I first met Julian when I was a child, but as often happens on this island, it was only when I bumped into him one evening this summer that I began to reconstruct the childhood image; my friend’s father who worked in the Middle East and returned with new stories to tell.
That summer evening, he had enticed me into visiting the shop he had just opened with his partner, Riverside Studio on Ermou Street in Nicosia’s old town.
We talked about collectibles, the abundance of ink he had found in an old factory and vintage film posters. More new stories for me, if you like: yet this time these stories seem to have found a real home.
To my delight, and hopefully to most Nicosians’, the recent efforts to revive Ermou Street through establishments such as the CVAR Museum and The Pharos Arts Foundation had me return to the area. Then I found out that Julian had taken over the space in the shop next door. His plan was to end the year with a site-specific installation of his collections and to share the experience with the public. So I ventured back to the area to get to the core of this mysterious shop that he partially described to me one night last summer.
On location, I found Julian and his partner in crime, Socratis, gradually turning what was formerly a carpenter’s workshop into something entirely their own. The duo framed and populated the location with items they had selected from their own shop and turned the space into a concept: an installation, a mind-boggler, or, should I say, another story.

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“Nothing here is here for a reason; it’s entirely up to you to make what you want of it – and if you have any questions we’ll just make up some convenient answers,” chuckled Julian, as he took me on a tour of the premises, where people were invited to spend their last day of 2014 (yesterday).
I attempted to visualise what they envisioned the place would look like – hanging, plastic see-through keg barrels, lit from beneath and tied into an ad-hoc bunch (think: grapes).
“This is supposed to be a grape: actually, a rotten grape, because there’s a black one in there,” says Julian, obviously adding on to that story.
“And it might be bigger by the time we use it, if we can get more kegs. It’s very interesting in the light, it’s like there’s little holograms going on everywhere… Once other things are set up [in the space], you’re going to start seeing little worlds in there,” he adds.
But rest assured, things don’t remain surreal all the way through. In the centre of the shop, an arrangement of old, local printer’s blocks, define new (and perhaps more tangible) tales.
As Julian points out, these installations need to be referred to by their origin for their true story to be told.
“These are plastoflans – their technical name. All the old printers know them: ‘bring up the flans,’ they used to say to the boys downstairs,” says Julian, who comes from an advertising background himself.
“You can walk around them; see names that you recognise, places that you recognise, they’ve all got little stories in them, some come from Kyrenia, Morphou, Nicosia, Larnaca, Famagusta,” he continues, as I feel refreshed by the literal approach to this installation.
Before exiting this temporary space to have a closer look at the duo’s permanent shop, Julian leads me to another corner, where I’m tempted to question him further but I stop myself so I can hear him out.
“This corner – this guy that nobody has ever seen, Mr Alexandor – is a little known artist in Cyprus which is a mystery.

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“He’s a Banksy,” exaggerates Julian. But he catches himself: “What it is, is it’s very colourful, even if you can’t understand what it is, you have to say it’s a bit intriguing. First of all it’s ink on wood, an unheard of medium as far as I know, and secondly I think it’s called naïve art.”
As far as you, dear reader, are concerned, this is only a glimpse of the installations found in the temporary space, which will be open until next Monday. It is in these spaces that passers-by and guests spent their last day of the year, along with film and music screenings as well as food and beers to wet the palate even more.
Still, the two-man show is constantly evolving. After all, the initial idea behind Riverside Studios was to combine Socratis’ talent at creating ‘junk art’, as he calls it, and both their desire to have a place that could accommodate their interests. “Socratis is a banking instructor; he brings his skills and I bring all my skills… how the shop has evolved is not a surprise to us but what’s surprising is the sort of things we’ve come across,” says Julian as we discuss how they would describe Riverside Studios .
“Socrati, what would we call Riverside?” asks Julian, to which Socratis bluntly answers “Whatever you make out of it.”
“So it’s a curiosity shop,” I add.
“I’d say it’s an open-your-mind shop… you just have to look at these things, that’s my opinion. Our customers second that opinion because we don’t have many customers but we have lots of visitors and they all stay. They think we’re a centre of visual arts on the street and they take photographs and they love everything and they stay for an hour sometimes looking at everything and asking questions and then they go,” concludes Julian.
As one delves into the premises, it’s clear that you’re entering a time warp, where objects as much as ornaments, documents and adjusted collectibles tell a story of yesteryear.
And yet, along with the duo’s imagination – and your own of course – the space could be redefined as an art piece, a piece of furniture, or merely a story to retain.
Pulling out documents carefully placed in plastic folders, Julian pin-points moments in history with ease.

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“This is about the Turks killing all the Moufflons; this is a King Saint George Hotel’s complete brochure – in Famagusta, right on the beach. [It’s] the full leaflet set with all the prices, the water sports, the food, the room service menu on the other side.
“That’s an ad from 1950 for the Ledra Palace Hotel… these are all Armenian receipts from Nicosia in the ‘50s and ‘60s. I’ve got the curfew pass belonging to a guy who had a flour mill on Ermis street, and guess what’s with it?
“A court fine for breaking the curfew,” he laughs.
One of his favourite documents seems to be a letter to a certain Mr Unwin, who lived on Efendi Street and penned by Papacostas Ltd.
It seems suiting to quote this letter now, for the letter was written in December of 1957 – at the end of that year.
“Dear Sir,
We thank you for your letter of the 10th of December 1957, asking for one case of Guinness to be forwarded to you, but deeply regret to have to inform you that for the time being we are completely out of stock and we very much doubt whether we shall receive any fresh supply before the 23rd of December 1957, assuring you of our best services at all times, Signed, Papacostas.”

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