Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

Octave Merlier Street gallery in Athens

The cube finger - Asklipiou, corner Oktave-Merlier Street                        Jan. 2014

All the following photos were taken 7.01.2014

This huge graffiti on the wall of an Athenian school, now no longer in use, evokes an association with what was exhibited in Berlin at the 401 - contemporary art gallery in January 2014. The gallery issued following text to explain what is meant in reference to use of a cube to demonstrate the 4th wall:

"Tarnutzers work KUBUS (cube) is a long term project with an open end.The sculpture project is based on the cyclic repetition of destruction and reconstruction. KUBUS is a cube made ??of ceramic with 3 meters on a side. The concept involves the breaking of the sculpture to enter the exhibition space, as well as the breaking again in order to leave the space. Only for the period of the exhibition the cube, reconstructed from its broken fragments, is existing as a sculpture. Once geometrically perfect, the shape of the cube is deformed with any further reconstruction. The web of fractures, cracks and offsets, highlighted by the respective different colorations of the splices, increasingly pervades the flat, reflecting ceramic surface of the sculpture.

With FOURTH WALL - SIXTH PLANE the cube is reconstructed a second time and built for the first time in a gallery. The sculpture will be present for the duration of the exhibition until it is destroyed anew. With the title of the exhibition the artist refers to the imaginary fourth wall - a term derived from the theatre - which "separates" the auditorium and stage during a performance. What happens when it is broken through? When reality and fiction, art and viewer meet on a plane and mix?" 

Dr. Ralf Hänsel
Berlin (Tiergarten)


The image on the wall to be found on Asklipiou and corner Oct. Merlie street may or may not be an analogy to the use of the cube by the Berlin artist. Yet for sure the one (or they) who did this particular graffiti in red manifests something more than a mere coincidence when referring to the cube as metaphor. Francis Bacon used this form to distinguish from the human body, and this in relation to dissection and therefore to body parts in space. Equally the shape reminds of what Albert Einstein meant in response to Heisenberg's proposal to use the probability theory to locate a particle in space and in relation to the whole, namely that 'God does not play dice'. Einstein understood that the quest for scientific truth requires such self understanding among scientists which allows for the object under inquiry to be perceived independent from subjective viewpoints. Einstein's viewpoint rules out probability as a calculated way to establish an intricate relationship between the parts and the whole, the particles and the atom. Alone such a reference to philosophy of science can invite any passer-by to re-interpret this graffiti of a cube on a red background with a mechanical finger coming down. For it poses in an equal subtle, likewise direct way the question as to what dictates life? If it is not the the mechanical hand, then there might come to mind the eclipse. The latter stands for what is missing due to being half sane, half out of control.

Likewise the art of leaving the cube completely empty can be understood as a strong comment about how life has turned out to be by the time Greece assumed the EU presidency at the beginning of 2014.

Human destiny may be not the precise word to perceive the reverse angle to anything appearing like a dictate of life, but it is close enough to a kind of film which could start out from such an image. The image can be seen from a small Cretan restaurant located directly on the other corner of Asklipiou Street and Oct. Merlie street. The latter comes down from Lycabettou Hill and heads directly towards Exarchia.

It was in this small restrautant where we sat when hearing on 6th of December 2008 the news that Aleksandros had been killed. Stepping out we could see already how Exarchia had been transformed into streets unsafe to walk through due to the riots against the police. Whether a coincidence or not, this image surprises as its own meaning evokes personal recollections of that day in December 2008. It shows how memories interweave themselves with what can be observed as ongoing changes once these altered messages and graffiti on the walls are noted.

Other aspects of this particular graffiti can be described. There are especially on the right hand side images of people like empty bottles.

Images of people as empty bottles                                 Jan. 2014

The images of people are like empty bottles, but they seem ready to be filled at the top, there where the heads are supposed to be. It has a touch of humour to them. Indeed, it is quite a novel idea to depict the dilemma of being over determined by such factors as an economic crisis while freedom presents itself as emptiness within the space of the cube.

A crisis makes itself felt insofar as people no longer believe they can lead a meaningful life. Instead they feel and sense another kind of emptiness, one which had not been there before. As long as there is something to look forward to, some kind of future perspective given, then even a goal suggesting once attained everything shall change for the positive, appears to be attainable. But in a period of crisis even that hope to attain a better future seems to be gone.

The emptiness is vivid as everything seems to be pointed downwards. Yet something playful intervenes. The figure of a zero is atop of a heart, while the figure beside these two shapes appears to be either a face with two eyes and a mouth, or else a woman with bosoms.

This double perception possibility illustrates what art is all about. Insofar art manages to make people reflect what they are inclined to see, conceptually and factually speaking, yet what can alter according to perception i.e. face or woman's body, changes are possible. That reveals itself by following an associative thinking with a high dependence on what materials are given, and then by making out what is missing, to be able to comprehend not so much the complexity of the world, but what amounts to be a cut out of reality. As a conclusion, it may point out that it is possible to live in such a world once all these impossibilities are put into such a cube.

Another dimension of this graffiti is linked to the writings on the wall below it.

"Bread - Education - Freedom"

The significance of the particular slogan 'bread - education - freedom' is that it was the chant during the military dictaturship which lasted in Greece from 1967 until 1974. During the main demonstrations against the austerity measures which were imposed upon Greece by way of having agreed with the Troika on a 'Memorandum of Understanding', this political demand was chanted over and again by all those who gathered in the streets to protest.  Since 2009 or more exact 2010 heart felt hardships have been imposed upon many Greek families. Due to the austerity measures taken wages, pensions, social security and many other benefits such as the Christmas and Easter bonus were cut or done away completely.

As such the red field and the cube along with the empty human bottles encompasses a drama in abstract. It reflects in a subtle way what confrontations are shaping nowadays a reality hardly to be lived, nor to be compared with previous times. Yet in analogy to Junta time, it means a common consensus has returned to basic needs as preprequisite for a decent life. Consequently through these chants reminding of former demands say if conditions are now the same, something needs to be passed on to the next generations so that resistance against those imposing these harsh and hard conditions can be formed.

When turning the corner from Asklipiou into Octave Merlier street, and then starting to walk up a rather steep declining street, there exists along the right hand side first the wall of the school and then the wall which encloses the compound of the French Institute and the French Archaeological Institute. Along those walls, there exists such an amazing entire array of graffiti. They depict perhaps best all the varieties of graffiti expressions to be found around the beginning of 2014.


     "Vassia / Verra - the modern urban woman"                         January 2014

Above the head of this drawing of a woman something is written, but difficult to decipher. It could entail two names: Vasso and Vera. Why such a double name, who knows with what intention this graffiti artist went to work. The somewhat geometrical lines in face and body suggest everything from deprived, even hungry and left out, to being resolute. It is a black and white image with strong contours. Any driver waiting for the traffic light to change, can see it. A daily confrontation with such a reality on the wall alters the experience when driving or going through the streets of Athens.

Just vis a vis at that very corner, another kind of graffiti creates a kind of exit or entry point for this street gallery. Thus any motorist when coming down the street, and having to stop at the traffic light when red, he or she shall be flanked by these two very different graffiti.


      Tagged graffiti by Frogs 2011


The graffiti signed by Frogs 2011 exists on that side of Octave Merlier Street where the St. Nicholas church stands and an adjacent park runs all the way up to Sina street where the French Institute is located. It is the only graffiti on the left side when looking upwards.

The street gallery exists exclusively on the right side.

After the black white drawing of an urban woman, there exists next to it a masked face. The mask itself reminds of gas war fare. Wearing a mask became a necessity when protesters were attacked by the police ready to shoot at them more than mere tear gas patrons. The chemical substance was heavy and made it immediately difficult to breathe. Designed to disperse masses of demonstrators, it had an adverse impact upon the health who were exposed to these chemical substances.


         "The gas mask figure"

Two prime observations can be made about this specific graffiti, so that others are invited to add their observations while the question has to be extended to those who made this graffiti. What was their concept or rather imagination of First World War when the first attacks by gas were experimented with? There is the story by Andre Malraux which describes how the gas caused confusion in the lines once the wind turned and the own troops were as much affected as those of the enemy. What happened was everyone panicked. People were running in all kinds of directions. Many carried on their back someone. They did not care if dead or alive, friend or enemy. Kafka had attempted to follow those scientists who had gone much further than what human understanding could follow. Consequently he got lost in the castle as a labyrinth of bureacracy by which was meant the inhuman face of modern states which seem not to care about individual lives when these deadly chemicals, indeed weapons of mass destruction are used. That all can be related to the empty eye sockets of the figure with mask.

The second observation to be made is a focus on the abstract figure beside the mask. It has a resemblance to those many demonstrators. The linear shape along with the texture or colour is in clear contrast to the black colour of the masked figure. It says something about what can happen when urban space is transformed into a negative one and it becomes more than just a black hole. The abyss of violence may be hinted at, or rather the omen can say 'violence begets only more violence'. Whatever the message may be, all the more significant is what writing on the wall next to the masked figure says:


     "Sitting still is never enough"                                                 7.01.2014

Of course, rolling out an action when shooting a film for the silver screen or nowadays for the video screen, may not touch upon those still sitting to contemplate what to do next. It is, however, an implicit demand for action, but also with regards to the need to do something, there is being formulated and emphasized an abstract measure of what everyone would consider under the given circumstances to be 'not enough' or rather what would be enough, if done in such a way that it gets people up from their seat? In the football stadium it would be the goal shot by the home team. In other cases, it could be the accident at the corner. Yet curiosity and interest in substantial news are too often mixed as they have become intertwined with other things which motivate people not to go down that wrong lane, but to chose a proper course of action. In short, something else is needed to reinforce this judgement of what is definitely like sitting 'not enough!'



   Date graffiti 2012 'mono Klaudia'  (mono = only)             

This rather playful, equally abstract intervention in the series of graffiti to be found along the school wall running parallel to the Oct. Merlie street shows some of the works are being claimed. It means in the language of graffiti artists, this space is reserved and should not be touched by others. A kind of code does exist. It speaks apart from other things the language of that wall with its paint coming off at the top.

Next to this beautiful abstractions, there follow huge letters which are a bit cryptic as they are playful. Again concept and perception interact to alter the impressions one can get by altering either the one or the other. For instance, a face can become a fish or vice versa.


  "adict" (sic)

The word 'addict' reflects another serious aspect happening in the scene: not just people, but young people becoming addicted to drugs, and then never free to enjoy a 'normal' life. If the other graffiti seem to rule out this possibility, all the more a reason to poke at least with a sense of humour as to what society considers to be the problem of addiction and what real addicts are going through. Not enough is said about the recruitment of young people if they have not gained in time resistance against such temptations. There are many ways to fall into that trap, being called a coward for not trying the stuff just one of the many ways which can evoke a wrong decision or a giving in. Interestingly enough, many official programs initiated by the health authorities to free people from addiction is usually unsuccessful, if this is not supported by the so-called 'scene'. In it dominate certain views and trends which can rationalize the consequences once drugs replace food, for where to get the money if no longer even integrated into society? It is known that parents have to battle for ten years or more to free their children from addiction, and only those parents succeed if they do not allow their love for the child they once carried in their arms to be destroyed by what happens in the phase of adolescence. Naturally this is only one of many possible reflections about addicts. There are other forms like smoking, drinking, even hanging out all night and not attending to what needs to be done to keep up with the learning process at school.

For sure, addiction destroys the rhythm of life. Other necessities over ride the principle concern for a proper day-night rhythm, including a healthy sleep. Once the night is turned into day, then a French philosopher once said let the youth experience this fear of the night for if taken away from them, they shall never learn to walk on their own two feet. Definitely much is to be said to a youth which can burn out very quickly, as Albert Camus observed, but then he was writing at a time when the madness of humanity encountered still another kind of violence. It was the colonial war in Algier or before that the resistance against German occupation, but in today's world, addiction to the social media world can bring about many new dependencies and lost causes, for violence has become much more invisible - itself an expression of a lost cause with no one concerned as to what is really happening to the youth of today.


     "Naked beauty in jungle"

Of interest is that just beside the word 'adict' (sic), there can be found reference to the city as a jungle. The latter stands for a maze of completixities in which it is easy to get lost. There is another reason for what belies urbanization or the trend for people to move away from farm lands and the countrysite, if not remote islands, and into a huge city like Athens. Karl Popper himself suggested while in the rural area everything is pre-determined, and indeed for long in Greece there existed only two models of political attitudes as articulated by the newspapers of either the Communist Party or of the Conservative Establishment and Right Wing orientation, in the city everyone is free. There prevails an abstract order of things. Everyone can meet anybody, including the person one ends up marrying and living with. Yet in this supposed freedom of abstraction as if not determined by much, there is the negative side of so many decisions being taken which affect how the streets, houses, stadiums are build so that while all affect life, no one seems to have been consulted, never mind participated in that particular decision making process. Naturally an extrapolation is possible for there are architects, engineers and bureaucrats which combine to award contracts to construction companies which have in turn their models of design in mind and thus a city receives a certain stamp. Unfortunately Athens was rapidly built up. There was really no time for proper planning and hence the absence of public spaces and the like. And it seems instead of correcting mistakes over time, far worse ones are committed by letting again those with all the money put their stamp on the city, claim this to be a contribution to the public, while it is in fact a private privilege to be able to set up business at that precise location. Thus what does this naked beauty suggest is the case of being in a jungle like environment? It does not seem to suggest a wish to pit wildness against civilization, for the underlying rhetoric brought out by a certain use of colours indicates a remoteness from such a self understanding. Rather it seems to be about enticing the onlookers to see what nakedness still means within such an urban mess. If anything, it is an attempt to reclaim both innocence and beauty at one particular spot not to be missed since there all the sensuality centres as does the name Julia (plus another but unreadable name) of 2013 leave a definite signature and claim to this art work. It amounts to an individual act within a collectivity of compounded meanings.

Walking further along this wall of the school,


                   "Free Tamara - Bigger - Violence against the violence of Power"

Three different hand writings suggest layers of meanings, with the bottom one most famous when calling for 'violence against the violence of power'. Obviously the last one is signed in the name of the overall anarchist movement. Since it is difficult to authentificate the signature, much has to be left to assumptions about the authorship. But if it has been stated that graffiti can also become the writing on the wall with a call to free someone from jail, then the top message has this intention. Obviously such a writing appears immediately after an incidence has occured. That it is written in English, says also something about the intention and even about the authorship. Perhaps a wider audience is supposed to be reached. It may also reflect at times an universal language i.e. English is used, to replicate the linkage a modern youth seeks within a world gone global. On the other hand, the violence felt is very local and very specific to the situation even if there is a common pattern when the police squashes demonstrations in Spain or the military moves into Tahrir Square in Cairo to remove the last bastions of demonstrators who had taken up the Arab spring and ousted Mubarak. Likewise uprising could have happened in Athens at the height of the huge demonstrations and daily assemblies held at Syntagma Square. That it did not happen so that the established politicians could implement some austerity measures in accordance with what has been agreed with the Troika makes this wall into a spotlight of variious layers of experiences which have accompanied the management of the crisis. At the same time, it indicates that famous political slogans tend to be repeated when people feel apt to use them again to designate and to describe the situation in accordance as to what seems to be needed. Clearly the slogan does not rule out use of violence to question power, but rather by linking power to violence counter violence is justified. It is an indication of what can be easily said but which reflects no mature opposition to abuse of power can result out of such a movement. Rather it is constantly being mislead that violence is the only way to alter things. The anarchism in the street comes close to making the permanence of violence into an alternative institution, even though the claim within that movement is to be free from any institutional i.e. habitual repetitions. So far there has not been noted a political failure to reason with this protest movement since the leading political ideas and theories are not really being questioned. Rather the spirit is one of resoluteness reinforced in how the world is perceived. Gone is this thought the artistic graffiti tend to underline, namely the dialectic between concept and perception.


    "300 stories to pile on"

An interesting interlude, fitting for the space used, since in between a barred window and a barred entrance door, is a combination of abstract signs and written proverbs spelling out to what one should say 'no' or 'orchi' say to. Even if it might remind only remotely of the famous book by Klaus Heinrich with the title "The difficulty to say 'no'", such a no on the wall reflects an effort to attain a point when things can be turned around. Aside from the sky scraper like construct at the bottom, there are two signs of the same icon: an electricity like bolt cutting through a circle. Revolt begins with a jolt and then everyone is electrified, so it seems, by a common idea as to where it matters to stand one's own ground. Many more associations can evoke a closer reading of these messages, but they assume what is written can be readily understood when trying to find out what lies on the road ahead.


    "Tantalized subjects"

Still further up, and leading towards the end of the wall of the school building, something here reminds of how a subject can be tantalized. The wall is full of scribbles but equally tantalizing are the abstract figures in between the barred windows or between window and corner edge. A definite technique was used here to create the effect of something similar to fizzling out. Taken further, the evidence of how children were kept at that school, namely literally behind bars, all the more shocking is what has become of these children. What evidence have they left behind, what do they take with them from those school days into their future lives? The bars are the window speak naturally a much stronger language than the graffiti itself in this case for they were afixed to the wall without further thought. This lack of care about the future of children growing up in a city can easily reproduce a careflessness easily transformed at any given moment into recklessness and thoughtlessness.

How else to circumscribe the crisis Greece finds itself in. Literally risks are taken as if life is to be faced best as if a gambler and only a gambler, but the architecture of the crisis does not allow this simple walking away from the table after lots of money has been lost. For not caring about the losses is equal to not admitting any mistakes have been made. Consequently the youth and those who wish to join the protest are also at loss on how to make this gambling society at all responsive to their needs?

Reflective of state of affairs at the corner of the school as the two walls depicting an abandoned building. Many schools were closed down to save money. The state needs to fire as well teachers to reduce the number of civil servants it has employed over the years lying now back some time, and still nothing, so it seems, has changed except that the outlooks for a decent employment are quite deem, if not catastrophic. Critical is not only to be marginalized within the country but that Greece altogether will find itself struggling for years since at the Southern periphery of Europe. So much was promised in the past, insofar a good education would mean a good job. None of that is true anymore. 


     The entire wall of the school used as gallery


    View into the pedestrian area and side wall of school

It  should be noted that the graffiti extends itself into that pedestrian space and continues around the corner when entering Valtetsiou Street. The pedestrian walk runs parallel to the wall enclosing the entire compound of the French Institute plus the Archaelogical Institute.



These references indicate that Greece has been dominated by Western powers ever since 1821 when the emancipation out of the Ottoman Empire was immediately followed by having to accept a Baverian king and therefore a royal system to preserve the unity of the country. Given the vast cultural heritage in Greece, it was only too natural to attract many archaeologists and therefore the dominance of archaelogical institutes from Germany, France, Italy, Canada, England. At the same time, the special brand of culture to be experienced in Athens is due to the cultural institutes such as Institute Francaise, Goethe and British Council seeking to involve and influence the major decision makers within the Greek society. All that makes explicit what cultural diplomacy really implies, namely to foster relationships between Greece and countries like France. These relationships are sustained by the fact that many Greeks have studied and worked in these countries. Especially during the Junta period, a large portion of Greek intellectuals lived in Paris, London or Berlin while the American schools ensured that a part of the Greek elite has always adopted a friendly attitude towards the United States.


   "Becky & Stage" on gate to French Institute compound

After the pedestrian, there starts the compound of the French Institute and the French Archaeological Institute. It is a huge compound not visible from the street due to a high wall. Along that can be found scratches of time but also some familiar icons of popular Greek culture.


       "A masculine-femine head"

The typical profile of this head along with the pronounced nose reminds of the Karaghiozi figure as part of the Greek shadow puppet theater. To see such a profile on the wall means the street gallery retains a link to popular tradition, or the artist had something in mind to set something everyone knows in-between all the other strange and much more abstract configurations. The moment this figure makes its appearance, there goes with it an audible, equally hoarse voice which does not refrain of pointing out the stupidities of the others. Who does not listen, gets hit over the head. It may be a reflection of old educational methods inviting the children and adults to a show in the midst of the Platia with everyone soon laughing as they follow the fate of Karaghiozi.

As to the art work itself, the pronounced lines have all coloured shadows with further and similar nuances repeating as if mere scratches on the wall as is the case in the upper right hand corner of the image on the wall.


     "Purple face"

In some cases, the graffiti is full of ambivalence especially when a face resembles much more a mechanical mask than what could be expected. That a football fan has written over the face the logos name of the football club AEK adds to this strange in between being human and then not really a face. Hollow are the eye sockets. Likewise the lips are pronounced and appear to be like a huge bird spanning out its wings when flying against the purple sun. Even the surrounding contours reveal the quality of borders, for a face differs from a mask insofar as mechanically drawn lines disappear and the chin takes on a softer contour. Over and again such an expression startles because it has another quality of emptiness in its stare and fixation. There is nothing contemplative nor active about it. Rather the face has taken on a posture of "I can wait".


    "Wild fire"

Even though below it does not appear to be kindled and therefore standing in flames, the underworld is depicted like roots struggling to reach the surface of the earth and therefore air. Above things stand already in flames. The kindle effect of someone wishing to put the entire area on fire may be one assumption as to where energy flows presented in the colours of blue and yellow can go to. In Harry Potter's story there are wild bushes which can lash out. Likewise the willow tree with the long hanging branches. Somehow the image depicted on the wall ressembles as well a kind of jungle. Hence the reference has been made to under world. It says something about the smoldering unrest underneath the surface while a top things stand already in flames. This may be a precise account of what has taken place in Athens between 2009 and 2014. From there to predict what the future shall entail, if not more of the same, should not be that difficult.

  "Daku 2013"

The large letters reflect a common pattern when graffiti turns to prototypes of letters suggesting a three dimension attempt. Daku may refer to a children's song known in the Philippine. It is the stuff which can make out of dreams reality. In the world of cartoons, there appear images as much showing a bearded Arab with the face half masked to make him look even more mysterios, as there are all kinds of Hollywood star like resemblances depicted. It is a magic word for the one who came out of the desert and found gold or at the very least what he has been searching for all life long. Daku may also be called for when protesters seek to change reality. By resorting to such a powerful imagination, they may well achieve to convert their wishes into reality.


  "Veux du Boulot? - Do you wish a job? Suces la bite - suck your prick"

   Below the French text one Greek word standing for "Indignation"

As the wall approaches the upper part of the Octave Merlier Street, and therefore coming ever closer to the main building of the French Institute with class room windows looking out onto the street below, there appear some French sayings on the wall. The question, do you wish a job, could not be more appropriate to the overall situation with many in search of not only a job but a paying one. Over and again the youth are offered jobs but connected with the question if willing to do so without any payment. Exploitation to the fullest has become a general rule. But then the entire writing turns vulgar. It can be that the Greek word is a comment to what has been written before by someone else onto the wall. Nowadays there are in multi media format walls which can be written over just like blogs work, but obviously along this wall such multiple write-overs is not possible as of yet. Rather it shall take time before new responses will add other layers of experiences.


At the top of the street, there is an unusual plate for the street name. The usual plates are blue with white letters for the Greek name and yellow for the English version thereof. This being, however, the French institute, an exception may have been allowed by the Municipal Authority which oversees street names. And then from atop looking down the street, the entire gallery can be perceived in one glance.

Octave Merlier Street - the famous Street gallery in Athens


Text and photos by Hatto Fischer

Athens 10.1.2014












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