Nisyros: beach art

Nisyros has some of the most spectacular scenery and most spectacular treks in the Dodecanese.  But it’s not great for beaches.  If you want a beach holiday, Nisyros is not the island for you.

Not that it doesn’t have beaches, it’s just that they are not the sweeping stretches of golden sand which characterise other islands and there are very few sunbeds and umbrellas.

Though I’m a mountain rather than a beach person I usually pay the odd visit to a beach for a swim and a break from strenuous activity.  This year on Nisyros there was added interest – beach art, or more properly ‘land art’.

Land art, usually made of local natural materials, is often ephemeral, washed away by the tide or blown away by wind.  It’s also often in remote locations so makes it back to an urban audience only in photographs and books.  Typically, it’s not created by artists whose ambition is to make money but by those who reject the commercialisation of creativity and spurn urban living.

After a particularly strenuous few days of trekking on Nisyros in September this year I opted one day for an easier day, following the old route from the caldera rim village of Emborios down the coast near Palloi from where centuries ago local people moved to escape the constant ravages of piracy. With time to spare before the bus back to Mandraki, when I reached the coast I turned west to have a swim at the small beach beyond a great tongue of black lava poking out into the sea.

One access to the beach is through a narrow cleft in the high pumice cliffs.  Turn left onto the thin strip of beach and there is a row of shallow sea-cut caves in a line of weakness rising up the layers of pumice.  These have been the summer hang-out of youngsters for a number of summers since I’ve been coming here, strewn with artefacts of simple living, like any typical teenager’s room.  By September the caves are usually deserted as cooler weather sets in and the new academic year begins.

This year there was a radically more sophisticate dwelling.  Not quite the maisons troglodytes of the Loire Valley but with a well-constructed drystone retaining wall to expand the living space, stocked with rudimentary furniture.

At the edge of the terrace were a number of stones carefully balanced on edge and as I walked further along the foreshore there were others balanced on rocks.  Obviously someone with artistic flare and well-honed skill.

The path up to the top of the lava tongue towards Palloi had deteriorated so badly with slippage of the soft pumice cliff that I decided not to risk it. As I retraced my steps along the beach I passed the guy who obviously lived in the cave on his way back from the supermarket with plastic bags of food.  I said that I liked what he had done, for which he thanked me.  Whether he will stay over the winter, or how the retaining wall will survive winter storms I don’t know.  But it was great to see.

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The narrow cleft through the pumice cliff to the beach

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Looking along the beginning of the line of shallow caves in the pumice cliffs towards the lava tongue

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A little further and the ‘improved’ cave dwelling comes into view part way up the cliff

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Looking directly at it, the well-constructed retaining wall topped by living space under an awning

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Artwork of balanced stones on the left of the terrace

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Couldn’t help making my own contribution down on the beach, though showing less skill or artistry, just a calling card to say “I was here”

A week later, another series of hard walks, an early start so an early finish, and another visit to a beach.  This time north-facing Hochlaki Beach just round the headland from Mandraki underneath the cliff-top Enetikon Crusader castle and the Palecastro.  This is a beach of large black pebbles, a ‘dumping’ beach as sea canoeists would say, very steep in profile with large waves dumping heavily rather than rolling in.  In summer the black pebbles absorb the sun’s heat and are too hot to sit on.

A few days earlier friends had commented on the stone pillars on the beach.  Little did I appreciate how amazing they were.  Turn the corner on the path underneath the overhanging cliff and then look along the length of the beach with small stone columns stretching into the distance.  I didn’t count them but estimate there were well over 100.  Some were just single pebbles standing on end.  Others were several delicately-balanced pebbles high.

The balancing looked so impossible that the temptation was to think that they were glued or pinned.  But not so.  The friends who told me about them said a tripper had taken one apart and found it impossible to put it back together.  I wasn’t about to make the same mistake.

Three things I was sure of.  They were done by the same guy I met at the caves west of Palloi.  They represented many hours of work.  I suspect that they were done just for fun, out of a creative impulse.

The world is a better place for such creativity and love of the environment.

I walked along the beach and around the next small headland and they continued there as well.

I decided that it would be a shame if they had only a very limited audience and were to be lost for ever in the winter storms so I spent the next hour or more grovelling along the beach to try to photograph them.  They were not just impressive individually but comprised a single entity, a large installation occupying the whole length of the beach in the same way as Anthony Gormley’s ‘Another Place’ at Southport in Lancashire. The following photos are a small sample.  I didn’t have the photographic skill to capture the extent and scale of it.

On the further beach there was a different but complementary style of structure.  Hundreds of storm-randomised pebbles had been cleared from one area and a floor of stone slabs laid down.

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I have seen far less impressive works of art in galleries, including Tate Modern.  Yet this guy may be an unknown making no money from his art.  If he or someone who knows him sees this blog I hope they get in touch.  Or if there is a gallery exhibition of better quality photos of the installation I would love to know.  A check on the internet indicated that there was a land art project on Nisyros between 11 and 25 September this year but I can find no images of this beach installation – or any other land art.  In fact, despite being there for the duration, I saw no indication that there was a land art project on the island.

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One Response to Nisyros: beach art

  1. Michael Carley says:

    Wonderful land art at Hochlaki, many thanks Barry. Mike Carley

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