In “Urban Stories from the Center of Athens”, Microgeographies narrative unfolds in the sites "Arch_06 Lab" (A) and "Void@1rst Floor"(K) that are located almost door-to-door in Psyrri area at the center of Athens; an area and a community that undergoes gentrification. In collaboration with architectural and artistic groups and residents that continually work on public space.
ARCH_06 Lab hosted a discussion on Public art and methods of reactivation of abandoned buildings. During our discussion we addressed questions of gentrification, "right to the city" and other community based movements for the reconstruction of the city. The discussion was based on the presentation of projects presented by Sofia Dona, Dimitris Theodoropoulos, Maria Tsigara / Errands, Hariklia Hari / NonPlan, Vassiliki Panagiotopoulou / Arch_06 Lab, Maria Petinaki / ATA, Eleni Tzirtzilaki / Nomadic Architecture Network.
To this discussion we added two different approaches on the production of public art/architecture by projects presented online by Maria Kenanidou/Angeliki Makri (Thessaloniki) and Panos Kouros (Patras).
Vassiliki Panagiotopoulou opened the discussion with a small presentation of the history and the goals of Arch_06: Architecture as political action of reply consists a crucial choice in every field of life: in every day house-life, in the streets of the city, in the whole spatial matrix that envelops us. Architect as an active subject positions himself/herself, his/hers training, his/hers fantasies, his/hers dynamic, his/hers act to the service of the common. How? Using improvised ways, using elements of cultural inheritance and anonymous architecture, in participation with people and society. The conservation and re-invention of free “locus”-independent enclaves of creativeness- is emerged in a demanding way. We want people be able to express their wills, sensitivities, passions without the interventions of the experts. Narratives for the city organize an experience of self-acknowledgment. Help us to create ourselves the image for ourselves inside a familiar environment and to be a fragment of a story, to win the sense of genealogy. It is created a guide of progress, a narrative for our past, for the place which we are position ourselves now. This provides a basic structure to the experience of time and it is desirable for all kind of habitants, to their effort for empowering their own personal narrative for the city and their relation with it. The spirit of cities demands work through participatory democracy, locality and solidarity, through intergenerational agenda, and urbanity of the street. The demands for urban space and the quality of everyday life in the neighbourhoods are extremely crucial. Social democracy can be empowered by routes and demands for the space and the city. The essential and important point is to open new paths, for a more sustainable, more coequal allocated social order.
Eleni Tzirtzilaki / Nomadic Architecture Network made a reading of the city of Athens and the contempory crisis arguing that the city of Athens is living in a state of exception, where the precarious conditions are tangible at any level in the city and where a new generation of urban voids, spaces which are abandoned on a daily basis, has increased. Abandoned plots with undefined ownership, non-utilized archaeological sites, abandoned factories, abandoned office buildings, empty shops, and abandoned public buildings such as theatres and schools are becoming more and more common. An urban void can often be an entire area, such as the one around Theatrou Square, an area called Gerani, or an entire neighbourhood like the Prosfygika buildings Complex on Alexandras Avenue. These undefined sites, generated by the city through its transformation are mostly invisible. However, they are transformed into visible spaces, fluid and unpredictable, thus acquiring significance as dynamic spaces, through ephemeral and temporary use in Athens during its current state of exception. Dynamic spaces refer to a dimension where the potential ability of the body - singular and collective body - to perform, can find its place, becoming space itself, generating unpredictable movements of self organization and expression. An alternative survival route in Athens within a state of exception. The creation of community gardens in urban voids - such as Navarinou Park in an empty site in Exarchia district, the self-organized Kyprou and Patision Park, which were all designated as parking lots, as well as other urban voids such as the garden on Asomaton Street may be considered to be a contribution of urban movements, neighbourhood congregations and inhabitants regarding the transformation of urban voids into a sort of social third landscape, a process of self determination of the city already began before the crisis explosion and the mobilizations of 2008. Also, these initiatives are showing a new spatial culture which is forming in Athens.
The site on Asomaton Street is an inactive archaeological site which, starting from the winter 2012, has been transformed into a collective garden by the Neighbourhood Movement of Psirri together with a group from the neighbouring occupied theatre Empros. The intention of the group for thesite was for it to be a space for congregation and cultivation of diversity through the medium of planting and gardening. The site was found abandoned, without fences and there was no information regarding the archeological excavations. Participants included the natural farming team Nea Guinea, as well as people who had found out about the initiative through social media. The plot was cleared of weeds, and rocks were piled to form mounds. A seeding was made and as well as a compost heap. To avoid damage to the archaeological site they ensured that no planting went below 40 cm. The garden was intended to be accessible to all to allow the use of its “fruits” as well as to introduce about land cultivation - especially to the children of the neighbouring junior school. In August 2012, the Greek Archaeological Service destroyed the park by uprooting the planted vegetation.
Another urban void, still active as a small garden is the one on Tsamadou Street in the Exarhia district. It is located in front of the Steki Metanaston, a social centre for immigrants, and is a meeting and leisure point for them as well as for other people. The Free Self-Organized Empros Theatre in the Psirri district sits amongst the urban voids of the Athens center. It was an abandoned printing house, which was first occupied in 2011 by the Mavili collective and by local inhabitants (Neighbourhood Movement of Psirri) for one year. Afterwards it started functioning as an occupied space and holds open assemblies every Sunday. It embodies the concept of a common space in the centre of the city and it supports artistic, social and political forms of expression. (Eleni Tzirtzilaki's presentation is part of a text published at "Without a proper noun. eds: Laura Lovatel,Federica Menin. Lupo Burtscher, 2014")
Dimitris Theodoropoulos and Maria Tsigara presented the work of Errands: The Errands group is comprised by architects, visual artists, sociologists and graphic designers and has been active since 2007. Errands are focusing on these cases that, by failing to be integrated into the establishment and never truly flourishing within the system, ended up as empty husks of a once promising change; visions that their failure in the system turned them into Utopias.The group works with the remnants of the failure, leftover spaces, leftover concepts, leftover visions, leftover practices and try to re-activate these failures through interviews, transportations, historical research, practices directly connected to them or doing the least possible interventions, always preserving their abandoned and failed state, as part of their history, and not trying to renovate them whatsoever. Errands group: Sofia Dona, Giorgos Koufakis, Ilan Manouach, Nina Pappa, Alexia Sarantopoulou, Dimitris Theodoropoulos, Maria Tsigara, Zafos Xagoraris 1)Local Dispute: “Local Dispute”is a project that concerns a special construction discovered by the group of errands in Mani Peninsula. The narrow house was constructed due to a dispute between two neighbours concerning their land and their posibility to build. The narrow house has been built around 1998 with a legal permission, on a triangular shape of floor plan. It’s narrower side measures 1.10m and it is a two floors residential building. After a long term dispute in the court, the house was demolished in 2009. Mani is a peninsula in Greece, where controversities occure very often, therfore the house could be characterized as a modern monument of the area, referring to the old towers of Mani, built for battles between families. The errands group collected information around the house, while it still existed, and presented the project in the form of interviews printed in posters, a video installation of the demolition, photographs and postcards.
2) Relocating a Futuristic House: Errands found one of the futurist, fiberglass houses of the ’70, designed by Nikolaos Xasteros, abandoned among trees in the seaside area of Loutraki. The group transferred the found dwelling to Faliro seaside in order to exhibit it and reveal the story of the fiberglass houses. Xasteros’s aim was to design a version of prefabricated and modular houses, that could be set anywhere in the countryside. Setting up a production unit on his own and spurred on by much interest from prospective buyers, he prepared the opening of his first exhibition in 1978. The whole plan failed when, on the morning of the opening, a new law prevented the building of prefabricated houses in lots with an area less than 4,000 sq.m. The futurist dwellings that finally made it out of the factory were no more than ten. Errands tries to reveal the contribution of Xasteros’s fiberglass houses to a wider architectural genre connected to the development of technology, mobility and mass production, together with Buckminster Fuller and Matti Suuronen.
Sofia Dona presented “Exchange / Austauch": Broadway Passage (Athens, 2012): This art project aimed to reactivate the Broadway Passage (Patision and Agiou Meletiou Street) and the adjacent Broadway cinema/theatre space, focusing on the concept of “exchange” (of goods, actions and ideas) as its central theme. The aim of this exchange project was to engender an independent barter system between individuals, and to create new forms of daily encounters for the sake of exchange which, as a practice, forms associations and leads to communication and interaction between persons, groups of people, cities, and distant countries. Today, through the aid of modern networks, we have seen the wide-ranging spread of such patterns of exchange and, as a result, new ideas and activities are being transferred from place to place, to become common practice in even the remotest of places. Such methods of connecting people have been employed in the Exchange project as artistic practice, in an attempt to help improve living conditions in the urban environment. With this objective in mind Greek and international artists, architects and social scientists working in the public sphere were invited to produce work in-situ in the Passage and its cinema/theatre space, on the concept of “exchange”. During the period of 9 days (11-19 June 2012) the Greek Broadway has been reactivated through installations, performances, presentations, film projections and music concerts. Produced by the Goethe-Institut Athens,organised in collaboration with the master program “Public Art and New Artistic Strategies”, of the Bauhaus University of Weimar.
Maria Petinaki presented Revitalizing Grassroots projects in the areas of Metaxourgeio and Psyrri : The projects presented, are organized either by locals, or by organizations and aim generally in revitalizing the neighborhoods and bring the inhabitants closer in order to create more solidarity and stronger social cohesion. Those projects are: Metaxourgeio Carnaval, Urban gardens in Metaxourgeio, Bridges in Psyrri, Empros theater, urban garden in Psyrri, Aisxylou painting project, color festival in Metaxourgeio, participatory design in the plot Xouthou – Menandrou – Veranzerou 1) Metaxourgeio Carnaval The Carnaval of Metaxourgeio exists already for 5 years. It’s a self-managed project that began from people of the neighborhood as a way to tackle the social problems of the neighborhood as in 2008 there was a big increase of immigrants, drug use, attacks etc. By energizing and bringing together the different elements that made of this neighborhood what it is (immigrant communities, creative people, music groups, cafes and restaurants etc), the carnaval managed to bring people closer, create more solidarity, acceptance. It raised the idea of the possibility to do amazing things together with no means at all but a lot of will from everybody. As a methodology, there is weekly assembly of the carnaval where everybody brings ideas, everything is discussed, everybody brings new people in, and some people become coordinators of a specific idea/project of the carnaval and have the responsibility to make it happen. Everything is online, and updated by people themselves. A level of general coordination is needed, for the tuning and the artistic direction in the sequence of the parade. 2) Participatory design in the plot Xouthou – Menandrou – Veranzerou. This project is coordinated by the organization “atathens” and has as a goal to energize the inhabitants of this very difficult neighborhood next north west of omonoia square, through the project of the participatory design of the square to be. The methodology here was first to go and write down the uses of the area, then we went around making a survey about the needs of the inhabitants and the uses that would be more needed in order to keep the square filled with people as much as possible. The results were turned into 2 different solutions that have been handed to the municipality together with the survey. The aim now is to make an event on the plot and begin to actually bring people closer through the square. The idea is to have some transitional uses until the municipality finishes the plot.
As Maria Kenanidou and Angeliki Makri were in Thessaloniki and Panos Kouros in Patras, they contributed to our workshop and to our research on contemporary practices with examples of their work on public space online:
Maria Kenanidou interacted as a curator with the artist Angeliki Makri in two public artworks produced in Thessaloniki and sent us the following text describing their work: "Ribbons” and “Sunset for free” were two performances with distinct rules of structure made by Angeliki Makri. The artist has sought the interweaving of personal and political in the urban web and a visible dialogue of the community. Her aim was to engage with the inhabitants of the neighbor in the artistic process. The artistic practice was precise in directing the audience towards the final result. The artist, contrary to the decade of the 80s when the conditions of interaction between artist and audience were heavily focused on the audience, now decidedly defines the final outcome of the performance. Furthermore, an important element of both projects, “Ribbons” and “Sunset for Free”, was the fact that the final product and design were a figment of the close collaboration of the artist (Angeliki Makri) with a curator (Maria Kenanidou). Finally, crucial part of her practice was the creation of a synergy of artists with different disciplines who worked together from the first steps of implementation until the documentation of the projects.
The performance titled “Ribbons” was held on May 7, 2008 on Dagli Street in the heart of Thessaloniki. Following an invitation extended by the artist to the local daily Press and community, she prepared the reception of the project, which was positive beyond expectation. She used red ribbons, which signified a vehicle-link-tie-means of communication, and the end-result was a complex, intricate mesh among the balconies of the buildings, as in the interpersonal relationships that were formed and/or strengthened during the performance. This is an effort that touches upon one of Art’s current issues, namely its identification with life – and, as we all know, Art draws close to politics when it is identified with life. It refers to a socio-ideological action, recommending a way out of individualistic and almost autistic modern artistic introversion. In this particular case this was achieved through the collectivisation of the result by including not only those directly involved, but also the broader community through its announcement via the local television channels. As opposed to a-political art today, with the social element giving way to the private element, the artist essentially removes herself from society, interacts and generates new ideas, criticises and detects new functions, only to redefine her very self in the end.
“Sunset for free” was held on 15th of March at sunset's time. There was a 'room' consisted of three walls facing towards the sea and sunset. The ground was covered by a wall-to-wall carpet and a few cushions so that anyone pleased could sit and enjoy the view. People, upon their exit, were issued a receipt which bore a stamp, writing the title of the project “Sunset for Free, Thessaloniki ‘09”. In the first performance she uses in-situ the shell of the buildings of the city's structure to create "common space" in public setting. An apartment escapes from private space to the public sphere through communication and the use of the ribbon. In the second case she enters the public setting by interrupting the flow of public space. The coastline of Thessaloniki, the major open space of the city, is full of "flaneurs" of all ages and social classes, especially during Saturday before sundown when the project was held. Sunset for Free disorients and stems the established view by disrupting and undermining exchange and property concepts. The project enters the social web of the city by the balancing of boundaries between the everyday and the aesthetic experience and the ways in which it can, through its permanent or ephemeral presence, give an alternative perception of the space. In both cases, her ephemeral interventions were transformed from site-specific into community-specific. Therefore her interest is to initiate dialogue, arguments and conversation within the community, aiming to the escape of the mental rigidity through negotiation and involvement of public-private boundary, distance and proximity, the familiar and the unfamiliar, the rupture, the sensory stimulation of the area and eventually, the point where the conscious meets the indefinable.
Panos Kouros presented the project Adopting the Archive of Contemporary Greek Art Institute, 2012: I discuss Adopting the Archive of Contemporary Greek Art Institute as a performative archiving action which aims to create an archive public. Archiving practice as public art is a field of inquiry in my recent art and research. My argument is that the archiving process itself, construed as plural and performative, can be an intervention strategy in the public realm, shifting the emphasis from the “ideology of the trace”, advanced by archival installation, to a co-uttering situation. (See Panos Kouros, The public art of performative archiving in: Panos Kouros and Elpida Karaba, Archive Public. Performing Archives in Public Art. Τοpical Interpositions, Department of Architecture, University of Patras, and Cube Art Editions, Patras 2012.) The work intervenes in the context of the Greek Art Archive which is currently under construction by the private and non-profit Contemporary Greek Art Institute. The Institute was founded in 2009 by members of the historical gallery Nees Morphes in Athens, and its aim is to document the art in Greece form 1945 to today. It is an institution which collects, classifies and publishes its archive through activities, such as lectures, seminars, artists presentations and exhibitions. Adopting the Archive does not focus on the institution’s archival content, by searching at its most hidden areas or inactive possibilities, but it attempts to intervene in the archival structure itself, in the operating mechanisms and classifications which are considered natural. Among other actions (inserting institutional documents into the archival corpus, organizing of meetings and discussions), the work copies the digital archive in its entirety and organizes its adoption by residents in different neighbourhoods, who are responsible for its use, exhibition and public circulation. At the same time it deletes all classifications, keeping an elemental, unedited, non-hierarchical structure, a “metaphorical” structure, which resembles the act of disassembling an archive in order to carry it. This dissociation of the archive from its institutional, hermeutical and classifying framework creates the possibility of its public performance. (You can find the complete text at http://mnemeden.wordpress.com/articles/performative-archiving-iset/ )