Categories
Wall writing

‘What counts is reality’

‘What counts is reality – not the bullshit laws – no human is illegal.’ When this picture was presented in a conference amongst other relevant works, the conversation moved to the aspect of aesthetics. How the choices of aesthetics were decided, what typefaces, calligraphy or/and letter styling were incorporated by the artists? 

Bold letters, a bold statement, like a strong belief of perceiving and representing reality. No fanciness to speak what is thought by the acting persons as a true fact. The question they set is about the value and the legitimisation of law when people are killed in a war or trying to avoid it, drowned in the sea and stopped on the borders. 

In this particular case the message has to be easily read. Either from people walking on foot either from the passengers who ride the commuter and international trains passing by in quite a high speed. The abandoned train vessels stay there wrecked like huge dead animals and the site actually is a train cemetery. The whole site reminds of a scene after a long period of war. 

Neither any figurative elements are included in the work. But the written objects standing like ‘steel giants’ are themselves quite iconic, and consist themselves the actual figurative part of the picture captured by the photo camera. Thus In a way the figure is the train itself, somehow completed with the addition of the wild weeds in front of them. 

Furthermore, what is not obvious in the picture is the -most possibly intended- site specificity of the work. The abandoned trains’ location is Diavata area. The tracks lead to Eidomeni -the border to North Macedonia is, where a massive migrants camp had grew in 2015 – a news headline for months. The trains are also located very close to the Diavata hot spot. Additionally, they stand very close to the Diavata prisons -the only prisons in Thessaloniki metropolitan area. 

Trains in many respects represent mobility and in many cases freedom itself too[1]. But the trains are also standing still. During the past years, many of those specific trains offered temporary shelter to anyone who needed it. 

Those trains are distant from the main railway station and yet not of enough value to be sold as scrap. They stay still watching the trains go and they carry messages for the ones passing by. They are refused mobility, a privilege that the migrants themselves are asking as a principal human right.

Orestis Pangalos
December 2019


[1] For the metaphor of the Trains as freedom, Bill Daniel’s documentary ‘Who is Bozo Texino?’ (2005) is highly recommended.


photos: Jan Danebod, Orestis Pangalos

Categories
Wall writing

Arostxia

Artistic Statement: 

 

“arostxia” is to observe a lot and to say little.

 

“arostxia” is the silent action, the solitary and creative action, the imposing and at the same time discreet action. 

 

“arostxia” is the thin line between art and vandalism. 

 

Anything thay destroys but also creates life. The attempt to express the inner-self what is happening around. Not necessarily good, not necessarily bad. An invitation to understand what one is carrying inside her/him. Optimism.

 

“arostxia”  is not something specific but difficult to describe. Impersonal and at the same time the greatest personal expression. Fully understandable and meanwhile so difficult to the extent that it irritates / annoys. Everywhere and nowhere.

 

  1. How do you see the correlation of your tag in relation to the spatial context of Lesvos. How does it relate to the other writings and realities of the island?

“arostxia”  is an inspiration that I had in 2013, having already spent two years on the island of Lesvos as a student. Then, among other things, it could perfectly describe my need for interventions in public space, and in combination with the small and relatively inactive society of Mytilene, it gave birth to a strange combination of creation and vandalism. Initially, it was the indignation towards the “wrong” conditions that existed on the island that helped to develop this part (of the interventions). Later, there were many situations that pushed me to think about it, and to start giving it a different dimension. Personally, I think it would find more suitable ground in a large urban concentration due to the volume of information and behaviors that exist around it, than in a provincial town like Mytilene. 

In the part of its correlation with the other writings of Lesvos, I consider that it is somewhere in the middle, that is, it is neither the ‘strict’ form of graffiti, which is a code of communication between the creators themselves almost exclusively due to its nature, nor does it fall completely in the political part where the social message is everything. It is located right in the middle.

 

  1. Has anything changed in relation to the style or the places you “write” in relation to the change of the reality of the island (refugee crisis & what has followed)?

From my point of view, at least, I can’t see any change in either the way I choose to intervene, and that lies in the fact that there is no luxury in choosing the space, and therefore in the ‘symbolic’ choice of the point. The only thing one can notice is how timely it [the tag] has been from time to time, and the degree to which it can express the concerns of some people by relating it to specific situations they are experiencing. But I can confidently add that this identification is by no means universal, but completely personal.

 

  1. How does the process of “writing” on the streets relate to the more personal process of writing academic texts? Does the one affect the other? And if so, how?

Although the process of writing on the street with the process of writing an academic text has some correlation in terms of their structure and their end result, I don’t think it affects one another. Since of course, in order to produce a specific result (whether it is graffiti or a text), some steps and a specific order are required. Yet, graffiti does not follow the rules so strictly, as it is a form of expression and creation of a different range. One requires a strict structure and sequence of steps while the other is quite flexible and structured based on the moment, nothing is fixed. Therefore, in these two processes we can observe similarities, but in my case I do not think that they are affected in any way, as far as the process is concerned. Topics are a different chapter.

 

  1. How do you feel now, in the era of COVID-19, that your tag can be read in other ways or it can take on other dimensions?

As I mentioned before, from time to time the tag becomes relevant, and will continue to be so. Things seem to be going from bad to worse, and our job is to record this a bit (in a more humorous tone).

 

  1. Anything else you want to tell us about the style, the points/places you choose, or how the tag changes from time to time?

If I can notice something interesting, it’s the way each person translates it. It is very special that everyone can perceive it from their own point of view and translate it differently. There are cases in which some people feel offended and rush to clean it thinking that I wish them bad things, and then, there are those who identify to such an extent that they have transferred it to their body and will always carry it. There are the indifferent, the aggressive, the friendly and the skeptical. But the common denominator is everyone’s curiosity. Who; Why; What does the writer mean?

 

Myrto Tsilimpounidi


 

photos by: Myrto Tsilimpounidi

Categories
Wall writing

(Freedom of) Movement

Freedom of Movement, 2018, Moria camp

Here I am, making another, bound to fail, attempt to position myself in a world characterized by mobility, liquidity, and speed, not the celebratory ones in which people, products, and ideas flow nicely as elaborated in the globalization studies mantra. The other one, in which you find yourself bumping awkwardly against walls, borders, fences, defenses, and hegemonic attitudes all the time. This is why I find it difficult to position myself, but for sure I know which side I am on. So, perhaps it is much more relevant to clarify this: I’m side by side with the ones who resist and revolt against dominant narratives, who fail and then join the collective depression, before they realize that they have to make room for queer failures and utopias, and, perhaps, then find the ways to resist again. At this very moment I’m struggling to make space again for hope and new utopias. Perhaps this is the most honest justification of the photographic workshop, accompanied by my training and my belief that, sometimes, theory has the capacity to dismantle and provoke certain reactions. Photographs have the capacity to capture the untold, the unspeakable, the untranslatable, all those delicate performances that are not registered in speech. Photography adds an invaluable layer to our logocentric qualitative data collection mechanisms. Perhaps this is another reason to use the medium of photography in order to invoke the soft, daily, omnipresent affects of crisis and the things yet to come. To quote Ursula Le Guin,

You cannot take what you have not given, and you must give yourself. You cannot buy Utopia. You cannot make Utopia. You can only be the Utopia. Utopia is in the individual spirit, or it is nowhere. It is for all or it is nothing. If it is seen as having any end, it will never truly begin. We can’t stop here. We must go on. We must take the risks.

So, utopia is a transforming force that plays with the limits of the human. Yet, as Susan Sontag says “humankind lingers unregenerately in Plato’s cave, still reveling, its age-old habit, in mere images of the truth.” In this sense, most utopias are like photographs, offering glimpses at a moment or time that portrays the desirable outcomes of the utopian imagination. Utopia is a representation, evincing that which is not in itself present (this is the first meaning of the word “representation”, its theatrical or politico-moral meaning); specifically, it puts on display and makes present the impossible itself. Yet, to return to Plato’s cave, what limits and constitutes our understanding of utopian representations is the position of the guards.

 

Myrto Tsilimpounidi


 

Movement, 2018, Moria camp

References: 

Extract from research diary published in: Tsilimpounidi, Myrto & Carastathis, Anna (forthcoming) ‘Facing Crisis: Queer Representations against the backdrop of Athens’, in Eithne, L. & Karma, C. (eds.) Queer Migrations 2: Illegalization, Detention, and Deportation. Champaign: University of Illinois Press. 

Susan Sontag (1973) On Photography. New York: Penguin.

Ursula Le Guin (1974) The Dispossessed. London: Millenium.


photos by: Myrto Tsilimpounidi

 

 

Categories
Wall writing

Suffering doesn’t stop when one leaves the hotspot

In Athens, February 8, 2019 young Embuka was beaten to death in a central police precinct. His relatives were seeking to find him for days. Arts and music collective Antifa lab chose a provocative interference to make the killing known to wider audiences. They chose to write on a well-known commercial artwork commissioned by a sports industry. The artworks image is of Giannis Antetokounmpo -now a global superstar, who has experienced what it is growing being a poor immigrant of African descent in Greece. The collective chose to comment Embuka’s death and similar acts of authoritarian violence writing on the drawing’s background that ‘if Antetokounmpo was not playing in the NBA, he might be dead in Omonoia police precinct’. 

However, their act did not actually vandalised the artwork. They showed respect to Giannis’ figure and only did write on the solid colour surface next to him allowing this way the easy repair of the whole picture. 

They made pictures afterwards and let the media know. The media-including popular sports websites- subsequently published new articles and pictures also mentioning the original source. In such a way they also triggered a web discourse on the web forums.

 

Orestis Pangalos


 

Categories
Wall writing

“We are an image from the future”

Unknown Artist
Photo by Lefteris Margaritis, 2017

Time is conceived of as representing hope, opportunities and vision – all of which are acutely challenged by the notion of crisis. Time is inextricably bound up with notions of progress, growth and development. By contrast, in a state of crisis, defined as a temporary, critical turning point, the past is experienced through a sense of nostalgia, the present is experienced as loss, and the future is precarious. At the old port of Lesvos a street art piece depicting 3 children playing underneath the tag ‘We are an image from the future, No Borders, No Nations, No Governments’ makes a strong comment on a shared vision of future that is not yet here, but about to happen. This shared vision of a future brings to mind Benjamin’s fifth thesis on the philosophy of history (1968), in which he states that:  

[t]he true picture of the past flits by. The past can be seized only as an image which flashes up at the instant when it can be recognised and is never seen again. ‘The truth will not run away from us’ – this remark by Gottfried Keller denotes the exact point where historical materialism breaks through historicism’s picture of history. For every image of the past that is not recognised by the present as one of its own concerns threatens to disappear irretrievably (1968: 255).

In other words, the fragments of truth of the past are only visible as a contingent image, always under the threat of slipping away. This image becomes decisive in the continuity between past and present struggles. Benjamin argues against historicism and the claim that it depicts the eternal image of the past, and instead he puts forward an image of history as a constellation of self-standing experiences. The most valuable aspect of his theses on the philosophy of history is that they provide a non-linear conception of time, or to put it differently, a conceptualisation of time that breaks the hegemonic contract of time.

 

Myrto Tsilimpounidi


 

References: 

Benjamin, Walter (1968) Illuminations, trans by Harry Zohn. New York: Schocken Books. 

Tsilimpounidi, Myrto (2017) Sociology of Crisis: Visualising Urban Austerity. London: Routledge.


 

Categories
Wall writing

Muhammed and Hussin

Two tags written with spray paint on the wall right outside the One Happy Family solidarity structure in Lesvos. Two names that are neither Greek nor western. 

Name writing as part of the same family of inscriptions in public and private spaces is deeply rooted throughout human history.  Being at the same time essential acts of presence, one of the many applications of such traces in space is communicating messages. In this particular case, the two names are evidence of visibility. They had been there, then they moved elsewhere on the island, but the evidence they passed through stands there because they wrote it on the wall. Besides the people who know them personally and recall their personalities, the rest of the audience who sees their names also reads the origin of their names. 

Although name writing has a long tradition and a great number of variant writing cultures, in this specific act of visibility one can find analogues to the birth of the New York City graffiti writing in the early 1970s. At that time and place, the majority of graffiti writers were coming from the poorest of segregated neighbourhoods, and from minority and migrant populations, many of whom had recently arrived from other countries. The neglected areas in which they were living had already been turned into ghettos with poor infrastructures, and inhumane conditions. At the same time as they were the victims of state politics and local authorities’ policies, the populations of these ghettos were being accused of being the source of problems facing the city. New York City kids started tagging their environment. Their very own presence in every city corner through writing their names on walls and on the sides of the subway cars was signifying their vital energy, their creative potential, and their existence—which ran counter to their construction as insignificant in the dominant discourse. Their name writing practice created what later became a worldwide art form and a global culture. In this sense, although the content of the youths’ names was not explicitly political, the act of writing them itself was totally political. Through their invented names, written on the city’s surfaces, they were proving their existence, they were representing various forms of belonging, and, last but not least, they were making visible their cultural backgrounds. 

In a very similar manner, today’s public discourse disorients when it accuses migrants—those who suffer the conditions they have been involuntarily experiencing—as being responsible for the conditions they experience as well as causing any number of other everyday problems. They want to keep them segregated and invisible, confined to inhumane ghettos like Moria camp. In such a manner, although they may not seem to incorporate a political message on the first reading, the tags of Muhammed’s and Hussin’s names can be read as examples of important political writings on the islands’ walls.

 

Orestis Pangalos


 

References: 

Baudrillard, Jean. 1993. Symbolic Exchange and Death. London: Sage Publications.

Fliesher, Alan and Paul Iovino with introduction by Phase 2. 2012. Classic Hits: New York’s Pioneering Subway Graffiti Writers, Stockholm: Dokument Press.

Sennett, Richard. 1970. The uses of disorder: personal identity & city life. New York: Knopf.

Categories
Wall writing

Slow Death

The picture featured is an exceptional composition with various drawings that depict the refugee situation, with various symbolisms. It was drawn on the front door of the ‘Softex’ hotspot in Thessaloniki, which functioned as a temporary camp for about two thousand people. Previously, the building had been abandoned for a long period (it was formerly the site of the Softex paper factory).

What one can see drawn on the surface is a few shadowy figures of various sizes, ages and genders walking an up hill road. Hard, as hard as the refugee route is. Actually, they are walking on a razors’s edge. The figures’ shapes are reflected on the razor’s surface, in the same way they would be reflected on water, in a river or in the sea. The edge drips some sort of liquid. The material is pencil so there is no colour, but one could suggest it is either tears or (most possibly) blood. In the middle of the razor there is a human skull, on left side of which reads ‘slow’ and on the right side ‘death’. Like the torture of waiting in a state of stagnation and imprisonment in the camp during the hot summer, when what is felt as most important is to move forward. The scenery is, at least, dramatic. 

If one looks from a further distance, the main depiction is surrounded by two further figures, these drawn in the style of caricature. On the lower right, there is a soldier pointing a machine gun at the people walking on their way, as though he is forcing them to leave their places. His face is devilish, referring to western traditions. His moustache reminds one of World War II leaders. A friend remarked that it is possibly depicting the Syrian President. On the upper left, another caricature, this one most obviously reminiscent of the current German chancellor. 

Further drawings and writings are displayed, offering an organic dynamic appearance, as palimpsests present. Like they were created in time. Another character intervenes as an extra layer. It is looks like a child’s smiling face, childishly drawn, very possibly drawn by a child’s hand. Random layers of Arabic writing with marker and spray paint add to the whole composition. The figure of an eye is included, as well as a few traces of iron works on the metal door that look like the material’s wounds. They must be traces made by real fire; they fit together with some other brownish or faded red colour strokes that look like traces of real blood. A few tiny blue duck figures stamped by a child’s toy stamp are evident of a child’s contribution to the picture, making it even stronger and more unique. Children would be playing in front of the former warehouse, numbering, then, a few thousand in the ‘hotspot.’ Questions arise: who were the artists, and how many similar pictures did they create during their long route? A local artist who occasionally worked in the camp said that both the central drawing and the two main caricatures were drawn by a 50 year-old Iraqi man. His tent had been pitched right next to that door.