Learning from Athens

Montag, der 26. Juni 2017

Strolling around in Athens, trying to „unravel“ the codes, the curatorial team installed as high-level offers to have an experience, I fell in love with this shaken city. On invitation of Centre Marc Bloch and Efa I had the chance to stay a few days longer and to participate in a great program about the connection between social sciences and art. Yesterday we´ve had a citywalk with blogger and architect Christophe Catsaros, who tried to explain the crisis through the example of gentrification in the neighbourhoods of the Athenian centre. Afterwards Landscape Sculptor Nella Golanda made us walk the northern long wall, that seperated Athens and Peiraeus in the 5th c.b.c.. Anja Kirschner showed her film „Ultimate Substance“, that departs from the hypothesis that the introduction of coinage in the ancient Greek world effected a profound cognitive shift towards abstraction and was key to the emergence of western philosophic, scientific and dramatic traditions. It was a pleasure to discuss her artistic-philosophical approach.
This morning started with a lecture by Thomas Malutas, who initiated the Athens Social Atlas project. The Athens Social Atlas is devoted to topics concerning the social geography of Athens. It collects multiple perspectives, focusing especially on the past 20 years. The texts and material concentrate on the city’s social stratification, its governance, its international economic role, migrant groups, housing practices, the daily transport of its residents. As Thomas carries out, the Atlas is open to anyone who wishes to contribute articles and/or provides relevant material. He referred to its usability for „research“ and for „information for visitors“ but I felt a strong need for another function, that the Atlas fails to comply with: It doesn´t present solutions, it just maps the situation, the Athenians are trapped in. But where to find these creative solutions? Is it even useful to come up with examples for successful liberation practices at the moment? Does art offers ways out of this crisis or is it design research, that can come up with appropriate solutions? In 2014, I´ve worked with unMonastery, a so-called social clinic for the future, set up by Serpentine Gallery London curator for digital stuff, Ben Vickers. The self description reads as follows: „The unMonastery is an infrastructure space which allows people and groups on the fringes of society, who normally have no common interface (citizens of small towns on the periphery of Europe; nomadic web developers), to interact and work together to address concerns both on the local and global scale. Combining existing resources (unused buildings; idealistic, highly educated, skilled people who are reluctant or unable to join the job market; open source culture; design patterns for sustainable living) the unMonastery addresses diverse contemporary issues such as depletion of skilled workforce in remote areas, youth unemployment, social cohesion, the attrition caused by automation, and sustainable development.“. unMonastery Athens has still no permanent location in the city. But it has left its traces, for example the project Mapping the Commons. 
Sure, this art project does not come up with solutions as well. The crisis is a wicked problem, there is no easy way to get out of it – as obviously there is no in and out at all.
But my hope is, that art/design/ practice-based research will come up with ideas, like Time Banks, Geodigital World Maps, Naming Agencys, charting culturegraphys, smart mapping and stuff like that.
Concluding, adding my voice to the chorus of the dissapointed, d14 missed many chances to show these speculative, fictional, magic, artistic approaches to desaster, failure, dirt and precarity. But there are lots of beautiful installations as well, for example Theo Eshetus Atlas Fractured (2017). I simply love this one.
And there are approaches to networks, rather then Archipels as well, for example the installations of Rainer Oldendorf and students from (among others) Athens School of Fine Arts, National Technical University of Athens and Kunsthochschule of Universität Kassel, marco14 and CIAM4 / Shipwreck with Spectator (2017). It points to the trip of modernist avant-garde architects, among others Alvar Aalto, Le Corbusier, Fernand Léger, Charlotte Perriand, and Josep Lluís Sert, that went on board from Marseille to Athens by way of the Aegean Islands. Their voyage ended with a celebrated exhibition at the Athens Polytechnic, and the group drew up “The Charter of Athens,” which defined a new approach to functionalism in city planning. So, maybe it is my personal hunger for practical things, real things that really work, that brings me to think about this works most. As the documenta team themself hints to in the 5th issue of their public paper series, quoting Germanist Jack Zipes (1988): Germans love their Grimms fairytales and have always strived to find solutions for social conflicts in subjective realities (art).  But please, dear curatorial team, why don´t you try this poetical detour, too and just show us art? And design thinking? And smart solutions? Why do you serve us a selfish diet of guilty conscience instead?

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