Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

Graffiti in abandoned spaces

Graffiti could be seen first on freight trains, in barren tunnels or in enclaves created by abandoned houses. It seemed as if such spaces were preferred which were literally abandoned and left unused, and therefore not entirely 'illegal' if a graffiti artist used the surface to leave his or her mark. That artistic work altered suddenly the empty spaces and left those passing by wondering if that was an indication of future use of these empty urban spaces? Certainly graffiti can be compared to projecting upon the wall something imaginative to counter the dismissal of those spaces as if of no use to anyone. In short, such graffiti can be called the Mexican dream of an alternative life and reminds more often about artists like the Cobra group which became famous for their freedom in colour and form while relating to Paul Klee and Joan Miro for inspiriation. 

In painting negative spaces have a special meaning for nothing is said in them and therefore they give meaning to the spaces which are filled with content. When viewing a city with its multiple negative spaces like the pillars upholding an overhead highway while down below empty yards seem to have no value whatsoever, there can be something frightening about these spaces. They tend to attract images of a waste land, including dead pigeons, broken beer bottles or just crumbled paper thrown repeatedly by the wind against the fences. Similar walls can be found alongside railway tracks or else in tunnels where the water drips from the walls.

That space conveys a depilated atmosphere in which the human cry matters as in the film 'Carbaret'. In that film a woman runs underneath a train bridge and while the train above thunders over the bridge, she screams but is not heard due to being drowned out by the noise the train makes. To use the metaphor of Eliot, it may be due to the city having become a waste land. But in modern forms of criticism, it means too much space is being consumed and the interrelationship between street, house, gasoline station, school building etc. is no longer a complexity with interesting complementarities in-between, but a kind of metaphysical negativity to which some of the graffiti seem to respond with a wish to 'wake up' what has gone asleep. For city space can reproduce in its wake a kind of loneliness which is too difficult at times to bear by any individual. 


         "Wake up": "Freedom for the jailed Anarchists"   Lycabettoustreet 2014

Then there were earlier artistic forms of expression like that of the wailing guitar when the Blues started to express what Jean Paul Sartre called 'universal pain', a pain everyone could understand whether now living in Harlem, Johannesburg or in the poor areas of London or Paris. For when going down a street which ends at a wall because no Berlin wall is standing there, but an overhead highway cuts through, by passes and over flies the ghetto, then something hit the eyes for they had no horizon. This enclosure would mean the wall was so high to see over it, so to see if there was still some future left in this life on the other side, one had to either go underneath or around it or even better begin to blow the trumpet, in order to pull down the wall like Jericho.    

Interestingly enough this symbolic meaning of Jericho reappears on the walls in Exarchia. It expresses a hope that things on the brighter side of life shall appear once these walls come crumbling down.


Then came other movements until the generation of 'no future' started to add a note of desperation to the tone of voice. That was around the time when Michel Foucault and Rudi Dutschke still lived, and the 'no future' conference was held in Berlin. Since then many more youth feel to being denied by society a chance to transform energies into something truly creative.

The main question linked to that almost desperate search for an outlet has been posed by the land artist Insa Winkler, and wich can be repeated in this context. She asks what sort of development Western societies seem to be going through which denies people the experience of their own creativitiy?

The suppressed reativity

Crucial is to realize when seeking to understand where graffiti comes from and what it does to the city, then not to justify anything blindly but to give a pause or time for reflections. For one interpretation as form of understanding has it that the public order and what goes with it in an overall sense of what society has become, leaves many and in particular the youth highly frustrated. They seek ways and means of venting their anger. While this highly virtual world promoted by the multi media has gone in the direction in which culture, including the art and ways of communication has become highly image and symbol orientated, the entire graffiti world along with its various forms of tagging to just scribbling onto the wall has gone into a counter mode on two accounts. It is highly visible and it is anti aesthetical to give support to the presumption a beautiful life in wrong structures is impossible (Adorno).

Practically the curtailment of creativity and therefore of the imagination has always been prompted by the interest of power to define what is art and therefore not everything is allowed to count as legitimate expression of mankind. This defined and curtailed aesthetic sense of what is art became more and more a contested form once people and artists made experiences of First and then Second World War. Duchamp put up the bottle rack to ask the audience what is their definition of art. Likewise Beuys initiated a discussion with a rabbit about what is art. Beckett's play 'Waiting for Godot' underlined what Adorno interpreted as a replica of a society which had lost all shame and sense of anticipation for now waiting was reduced to empty idleness.

Nowadays, in view of what is happening in the modern art world with its huge museums and blockbuster like exhibitions, it seems that the sole purpose of the official or professional galleries is to direct attention of the masses towards such art which achieves the highest price. It is not an exploration anymore of artistic expressions but an exploitation of the arts. As a result the public's taste for contemporary art is completely desorientated and precisely in this vacuum graffiti on the wall displays what sense there is left to counter the restraining order.

Interestingly enough these professional art galleries hardly blink nowadays when outside the confinements of their gallery space an artist goes to work with a spray can, and does so on walls which are public in more than one sense. For their expression can vanish the next day by someone else coming along and painting over it. There is no claim to ownership, no binding power between the first and second sign on the wall that there has to prevail some sense of continuity. The movement 'Occupy Wall Street' experienced precisely this difficulty that decisions made at the assembly held the previous Sunday would not hold the following one because new people were present and who would contest the decisions of the last one on the ground they were not present. Hence there is within the graffiti movement over time a high risk of becoming repetitive since previous works are not really used as references from which to learn on how to use space. Instead one replaces the other. In a nutshell, the learning process seems close to zero.

Vacancies in the wake of crisis

 In the process of the crisis unfolding, a lot of stores closed down. For instance, when turning from Skoufa into Sina and walking up on the right hand side, there comes soon a kind of alcove. There used to be always a small grocery shop. One had to go down some stairs before entering a narrow room leading to the back. It had all kinds of small but necessary items, even dog food. A lovely couple but not of Greek origin were the operators of the store.


  Left side of Alcove and location of the former grocery store

Next to that grocery shop, there was for a long time a man who would constantly rearrange books stored on elongated tables. In the background one could see a lovely woman doing repair jobs of the covers of books. It was not a fully equiped printer nor a complete book store, but rather something in between everything. Once the crisis hit, he too had to close.


   Right side of the alcove

For a while an alternative bicycle shop tried to establishe itself in place of that former in-between book store. High Dutch bikes made out of a strong and sturdy frame were offered. However, to sell bikes in Athens and especially in a street going uphill due to being on the slope of Lycabettoustr. is not exactly inviting. Soon the man having hoped to brave the crisis decided to move elsewhere. It left a void in this alcove with graffiti moving in on both the left and right wall.


Left and right side of the alcove

The legacy thereof has left this alcove to be a neglected space. Since the crisis only graffiti has moved in. While on the left side a red bug is depicted as well as some quickly scribbled down writing, on the end side of the alcove there is strangely enough a fire depicted, and it has the name Rosa written atop of it. Looking very much like a camp fire to keep the space warm, itself an indication what difficulties people go through during the cold winter months when they have no other heating possibilities but to burn things, it may indicate as well some kind of hope that the flame of love will not extinguish.

Likewise exist in many other hidden corners graffiti and this not at all far away from one of the main consumption streets of Athens, namely ERMOU which leads directly to Syntagma Square where there is located the Greek parliament.


  Corner Ermou and square with the small church                           Feb. 9, 2014


      Just a few steps away from that corner above and another alcove


      Ermou Street leading to Greek parliament                 on a Sunday 9.2.2014

Yet the crisis took its toll not only on shops but on the very people who used to be able to shop. Most of the time they were homeless because they had also lost any sense of love which could give them the courage to seek another solution.

April 2013

On Lycabettou Stairs


Graffiti in unused spaces or empty plots of land

Over and again, graffiti moves in or else appears immediately where a house has been torn down and the naked walls left standing invite virtually for some display of colours and expressions. It is remarkable how quickly this reaction sets in. It is as if 'unused spaces' are not tolerated or irritate so much, that these graffiti orientated reactions set in.


Empty plot on Aesklepiou Street, Athens autumn 2013

Obviously those who did the graffiti - it may well be a combination of different groups, including single persons or just two or three working together, given the different styles along these two walls framing the empty plot of land - had many ideas in mind when they did. Partly it is the typical handwriting, then a mural like window displays a person looking out, and then the black and white, indeed symbolic hand writing not revealing the meaning readily. The latter draws attention to a rocket like space ship but painted similar to a candle which is alight atop while left and right reminds of satellites circulating the earth. Altogether all of the graffiti in that particular corner is only as high as a grown up person can reach. They had no ladder or any other equipment to use the entire free space given by these two walls.

 Framing the empty plot of land


Unused Parking lot on H. Trikoupi Street















Lost land - no where, in-between, outside/inside the city





     Above anti-Fascism by Autonomous group, below entrance to night club 2014









"Your insantiy is my clarity"                                                           January 2014



Colours overlap, spring free, become shadows of faces poking into spaces like black lines do when snake like they cross the surfaces like lobbster legs do when crawling up the wall to see a man with green face and a punker like hair-do, as if a forsaken place this universe on earth and no one around to talk to or to touch!

Along fences protecting abandoned houses

Graffiti expresses as well a wish to fill a void. It may be even interpreted as a wish to call back to life a city area which was once lively but now has sunken below any aesthetical level of appreciation as urban space. There exist many such depleted areas in Athens, noteable when walking down from Syntagma Square towards Athinas leading to Monastiraki and especially near the bookshop 'poems and crimes'. There can be found many empty houses, abandoned passages, or just a part of a fence left banging in the wind.



     In the heart of Athens a derelict scene



    Abandoned house on Alkminisstreet

Talking about banging in the wind, there is this one writing on the wall with the following wise saying: "you do not have to ask the weatherman to know from where the wind is blowing!"



Photos and text by Hatto Fischer

Athens 24.1.2014


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