European Capitals of CultureΠοιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

Part A: Bridges as Metaphors and Physical Reality



       Bridge connecting Museum of Civilization and Mediterrean with Fort Saint Jean


The bridge is in reality not needed but serves as metaphor to facilitate a connection between Museum and Fort Saint Jean. It was especially constructed for the time when Marseille was ECoC in 2013. It reflects what Anna Arvanitaki posed as a question, namely whether nowadays technology allows all sorts of constructions of bridges but which serve not any more an intricate purpose. Rather they are added almost as decorative element and serve the purpose to demonstrate technological sophistication.


               Anna Arvanitaki (up front with back to camera) poses her question


The metaphorical aspect of bridge is already entailed in following quote:

Without bridges, we would be islands. Mankind has always had a deep desire to build bridges, both figuratively and literally. We want to meet the people who live on the other side of the water. We want to know what they look like, sound like, and most importantly, think like.“

Note: the quote was used as introduction by Miwon Choe, Walls and Bridges: Metaphor as a Tool and Lens for Cross-Cultural Art Education. in. Tom Anderson and all, Art for Social Justice, 2010



Wonder is the source of inspiration for wanting to build bridges


A simple poem written when my daughter Maya was born in Nov. 7th 1988 starts with a wonder.

Often I wondered at the sight
of bridges
running along edges
of paintings
I did not understand.

How is this to be understood: bridges along edges of paintings? As if there is at risk to fall off a metaphorical field of aesthetical experiences if there is no bridge between image and reality. More needs to be said about paintings but at the edge or periphery of things there take place often interesting things although they are not usually noticed at first or ever recognized as being of equal importance as to what takes place at the centre. Rightly so, Rod Fisher wrote about culture coming in from the edges or periphery.


Painters: the bridge as 'sujet'





Impressionists went outdoors to capture the fleeting light. They had to rush through their paint strokes, hardly realizing what genius they were when relating to reality in such a way.

Monet's painting comes close to what can be perceived as optimistic light in a secretive or enchanted place.



                  Vincent Van Gogh's Draw Bridge
                                 'Le Pont de L'Anglois' located in Arles



Suresh Dalal

Van Gogh, I admire you
You have, endured
the hearts’ many winters;
finding, true, from time to time
some little warmth
But how much, how long
this warmth
in the bitter cold?

I see your face now,
its colours and lines
Between those sculpted lips
is stuck a pipe:
smoke rises there
as from a freshly burning
body on a funeral pyre;
your torn ear re-assemble.

For you
One thought alone.
In your eyes not death,
not life’s defeat, but
a tired human face.
You paint no
rivers flowing through
the shameless light of day.

Rather, you make
nights’ black stream
go glittering by.
If roses bloom in the air
you turn them to scented paper stars.

A peasant family
gathers to eat
by lamplight
at day’s end
Through you we taste their food.
On canvas fields
Your brush, unwearied,
brings to life
a harvest of human faces;
and blesses
a pubescent girl’s

You release on paper
little coloured boats
All quite empty …
Like yourself.

Your face is like a torn sweater.
Bending by night
Over an empty glass
On an old table in a lonely café,
Songs of experience
Come streaming in lines
as you cross times’ jungle
like some mad cyclone.

Translated from Gujarati by Suguna Ramanathan and Rita Kothari

 Source: Poetry of Gujarati - Part 2


During the workshop, a lot of discussion developed once people started to make different observations about what they saw in the painting of Vincent Van Gogh. Many small details - the people on the one side, the emptiness on the other - were noticed more and more. It was like a rushing in of new impressions. Remarkable was the timing of the carriage going over the bridge just when Van Gogh painted the bridge: a fleeting moment held onto for eternity. It underlines the fact that life is really a continuity of time. Van Gogh is naturally exceptional. Alone the colour and form of the water evoked associations to his other paintings when the sun sizzled in the sky and he seemed not only dazed but deeply preturbed as if caught in a whirlpool of colours. Some would indicate this to be a sign of his craziness but anyone who has read his letters to his brother Theo cannot come to such a conclusion. Even when sitting vis a vis his doctor Van Gogh wondered who of the two was the cazier one of all. 

"Separate paths, shared visions" (3.10.2015)

The exhibition in Amsterdam and Oslo about Munch and Van Gogh was the result of curators researching if there was any linkage at all between the two. The starting point of their inquiry was the visitors to the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam constantly asking where is the 'Scream' as if they believed it was painted by Vincent Van Gogh. In vain they tried to find connections but found no proof that Van Gogh saw ever Munch's paitings. Vice versa from notes left behind by Munch who was ten years younger than Van Gogh, one can verify that Munch did see paintings of Van Gogh in exhibtions he visited, and that after the death of Van Gogh. They were in Paris at the same time, but did not meet, even though they might have attended even the same exhibition. The conclusion:

"Both artists, for example, created renditions of an evening sky: van Gogh in 'Starry Night over the Rhone' (1888) and Munch an 'Starry Night' (1922 - 24) which are exhibited together. They also both painte images of their houses - van Gogh's 'Yellow Houe' (The Street)' in 1888 in Arles an Munch's 'Red Virginia Creeper' (1898-1990).

The 'Scream' is included as well. Munch created four versios; the one on view here is the first versio, from 1893. It is presented alongsie van Gogh's 'The Bridge at Trinquetaille' from 1888, a street scene including a small portrait that could be interpreted as a girl screaming of a bridge. Its composition is similar to that of the Munch work. Wth the line of the bridge cutting a dialgonal down the right side of the image.

Despite the striking resemblance, Ms. van Dik says it is unlikely that Munch ever saw this painting of van Gogh's. Coincidental or not, it is significant, the curators said, that the image that connects the two artists most directly is a bridge."

Source: Nina Siegal, "Separate paths, shared visions", International New York Times, Thursday, October 3, 2015


The 'bridge' as poetic dialogue


                     The imagination in dialogue with a painting is another discursive practice

                     which especially philosophers practice to escape the kind of loneliness to be

                     experienced when there is no one nearby or around to talk to or with!

Intuition and certainty of the senses are realized by trusting the words as they come up. By stepping into them a memory track is created (Sigmund Freud).

Imagine standing on a bridge connecting eyes to a painting. Crossing that bridge is a constant dialogue between seeing and speaking. By saying things, perceptions change. All of a sudden things become visible and which have existed already but were never seen. Famous are some mistaken interpretations of paintings like Van Gogh's shoes. Philosophers would be fixated upon something they thought to have seen in painting, and this view may be carried over many years, indeed centuries before someone comes along and dares to question the hidden assumptions in such a perceived identification with a painting. For this subjective in-between reflection may have something to do with the distorted view of the painting, but this does not matter. More important is how the dialogue with the painting unfolds by letting the imagination create hypotheses which allow in turn to see what was not seen before.

Two major premises lead to following observations:

                                                                           Poetry follows another logic

                    A sigh, a word, a wish
                    dreams near the stars



Metaphorical use


                      of the term




The group of painters who called themselves 'Brücke' meant to link past and present as a new way of expression by which they would be present in the future.



"Metaphor as a reflective tool, critical lens, and metamorphosis of cultural negotiations helps bridge these superficial differences, provides an access to a deeper empathy, and humanizes the obscure notion of the other. In this ways, metaphor may serve as a critical bedrock instrument toward establishing equity and social justice.”

Source: Miwon Choe, Walls and Bridges: Metaphor as a Tool and Lens for Cross-Cultural Art Education. in. Tom Anderson and all, Art for Social Justice, 2010



Bridging differences


In terms of real life, often it is difficult to bridge differences between happiness and sadness. For example, when Poiein kai Prattein with Thomas Economacos and Hatto Fischer brought together children from the neighborhood to paint a peace mural, the two to three year olds stayed at the edge while the seven to nine year olds went onto the canvas after taking off their shoes and started to dance. Where they fell, they got the idea to draw their bodies. Afterwards they painted their bodies. A pattern emerged to be noticed by looking at the group of dancing figures. Always they are grouped in four. But while they were painting these happy figures, a sixteen year old girl started to paint a very sad figure to be seen in the left corner of the mural. Once they children noticed it, they were deeply preturbed. They huddled around with Thomas and discussed what they could do to alleviate their concern. Then they had an idea and solution. They painted a figure floating down from the group of dancers to the left and moving towards that sad figure. While doing so it holds in the hands a letter containing the message "the war is over". As if this makes possible happiness to be restored for all.



                              "The war is over" peace mural of Poiein kai Prattein, 2005



Another need for bridging differences - Greece and Europe 2009 - 2015

Once Syriza came into power in Greece after general elections were held on January 25, 2015, one observer made the critical remark that they are not hiring people who could bridge differences. Instead they put people into position who are more confrontational and less inclined to enter any compromise. However, given the extreme financial and administrative difficulties in which the Greek government finds itself in, a lot depends whether or not some agreement can be found with the creditors. Otherwise no bail out and subsequently a state default with huge and many more unforeseen consequences. Not surprisingly is, therefore, the use of bridge as metaphor e.g. bridge agreement, or rather an intermediate deal which allows money to be given to the Greek state without stipulating all reform demands have been fulfilled and all obligations to the creditors have to be met in the short term. Lagarde calls it a 'dirty deal' which the IMF will not accept, at least not at this final stage of negotiations.

In one of the many newspaper articles commenting on the situation, there is talk about a "Bridge agreement":
“Although crunch talks are under way between Greece and its creditors, investors are sceptical that any type of agreement can be reached and believe that the country may have to default. Their debt is at about 180 percent of the gross domestic product, and is completely unsustainable in the long term. While Greece’s creditors want the country to apply for an extension, Greece wants a “bridge agreement” instead. The “troika” that they owe money to (consisting on the ECB, European Commission, and International Monetary Fund) keep bailing them out, allowing them to borrow far past the original February 28 deadline.”

And in still another article, it is reported on Thursday, 4.6.2015 that „in the hours before the Tsipras-Juncker meeting Wednesday there were frantic efforts to bridge the gap between the demands of the creditors and the hard-left Syriza government's determination to end austerity measures.“




The bridge as practical utopia



              Bridge of peace

Whenever an arch reaches the other side, a new connection begins to alter the flow of thoughts as well as traffic. It would mean the two sides are no longer divided by the river or a deep canyon while the connection serves the purpose of bringing together the two different communities existing on either side. This was the case of the Stari Most Poetry project initiated by Max Aufischer from Graz in 2010, and about which later some more reference is made.

Quite a different connotation takes on a bridge when used as a location of contemplation or even for an attempted dialogue with a dictator who threatens or disturbs regularly peace. This underlines the fact that in the modern world dialogue is not being really exercised, but still there is a need for dialogue since especially poetic words are not in vain when truthful spoken.



Did you see the moon trembled?
A leaf fell down the tree.
I believed you could become a bridge
Between me and the universe.
I’m not colourful
And I know
I have bright rights written on the leaf.
But let me ask:
What would you discuss
Under the moonlight
On the bridge
On a peaceful day
With a dictator,
Madiba? *

Azam Abidov

Uzbek poet and translator

* Madiba was the tribe to which Nelson Mandela belonged to.







for me to know that
your dear patience, depth
of your trust awaits me. Now let me
repeat the articles of faith with the simple
solemnity of the catechumen
and with fresh enthusiasm of the neophyte who recites
Articles of life written in red letters
for the title of the story and in the face on the horizon:
I believe that justice is about the equitable justice is about the equitable sharing of the bread,
I think our first progress is the increased production of bread for all,
I believe that our first duty is peace,
I think our first freedom is not loneliness
but sociability. For all the rest
There will be time, but here we go.
I wanted to talk about this bridge.


I want to talk about this bridge


Ritsos says that there is another kind of dictatorship which silences people: besides hunger lack of freedom. By wishing to talk about the bridge called 'equity', he could easily mean not the Greece he experienced while in and out of jail during the Military Dictatorship 1967-74, but also the Greece going through a crisis of unbelievable dimensions since 2008 / 2009. For how to govern a society when no longer such bridges can be found so that the poor can cross over to the other side, and the rich likewise cross over into the other direction? That dilemma Marquis describes in 'Hundred Years of Loneliness' for there are those who live on the one side of the railway track while the others dwell or rather hover in silence on the other side. Poverty is felt when certain thresholds cannot be crossed, may it be out of shame or out of fatigue. Sometimes no one knows really the difference anymore even when close up and standing beside a frail figure no longer sure if still belonging to society or an outcast marked by poverty of experience.

         Man sleeping on Lycabettou stairs                                        @HF 2012




A bridge having become famous


  through stories about events


which took place on that bridge



Gabriel Rosenstock, Iris Haiku Poet, drew attention to novel called the "Bridge on the Drina",
famous for describing the conflict which was played out on that bridge.


  Bridge of Drina


the bridge as 'construct'



Gabriel Rosenstock thinks that „the bridge is a human construct. We may use it as a symbol of a link between 'two' cultures, 'two' peoples, 'two' powers and so on, but it's only a symbol after all and, as we see in the paintings of Arnold Boecklin, bridges have been fought over as well."


 Arnold Böcklin "Fighting on the bridge"

He continues in his philosophy by claiming that "wherever there is duality - 'two' this, or 'two' that - the seeds of conflict are sown. Non-duality (as expressed in Advaitic philosophy) is the obvious answer to conflict. How can I fight against the other when there is no other, when all are One?“

Again, it poses the same question, can a bridge be one of peace by bridging over differences?



The Arta bridge and the myth of


Manolis, the Bridge Builder


In the Balkans, but especially in the Epirus region with Ioannina the capital, there prevails the myth about some figure, call him Manolis, who was a bridge builder. Repeatedly the bridge with high arches and which he tried to build, repeatedly collapsed. He was then given the advise that there needs to be sacrificed one woman. So he decided with his construction crew the first woman to come in the morning to bring along with the others the food, would be sacrificed. He asked all to keep this a secret but everyone told their wives not to come early the next morning so that only the wife of the master builder came first. She was sacrificed and the bridge did not collapse for the first time.


        One of the famous arched bridges in the Epirus region

Strangely enough, when the new Greek government was elected in January 25th when the Syriza party came into power, heavy rains created such forces by torrents and heavy water flows, that one bridge collapse in the Epirus in the area called Plaka. But since one of the main tourist attractions, every effort is made to rebuild this bridge.







^ Top

« Introduction: in the Valley of Vinetrees | Part B: Poets as Bridge Builders »