Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

5. The experience of Guernica Youth – cultural actions becoming community wide ones



To come back to what constitutes the experiences in the use of space when children / youth start to paint on a canvas which has the same size as Picasso's Guernica, something else has to be added. The painting is a single action, but can go easily further to encompass the entire community in which it took place.

When an exhibition was organised on the Greek island of Chios in early 2007, not only did Takuya Kaneda come with 30 fellow Japanese, amongst them 10 of his students all being educated as future teachers for children, but the Prefecture of Chios supported the event. This meant everything from coverage of all costs, including what it takes to put up an exhibition of the murals on the public square and hosting all the participants, to taking care of the press work and finally creating further going linkages to the entire community.

There was especially a concert for peace in which a choir sang and for which was prepared especially a peace banner with peace being written on it in all possible languages.

"Peace is not a ghost" - painting of banner


Moreover, the participants visited a school to ask the pupils there what they knew about Japan with one boy immediately saying "earthquakes". That was before the earthquake Tsunami combination struck the Japanese coast line and damaged severely the nuclear plant in Fukushima in 2011.

Likewise there was held a literary-philosophical discussion between the American writer George Crane and a monk from Japan in a nearby bookshop.

Finally, the closing ceremony entailed not only speeches and various dances on stage, but a free for all food which had been prepared especially by the Japanese delegation. Significantly in the crowd were many refugees or those who felt otherwise to be outsiders to the community of Chios, but found now easily access. Efforts were made to have also Turkish children come over to participate. Instead a follow-up to the exhibition was to organise a youth delegation which went to Izmir and painted there together with students and pupils a joint mural, itself a continuation of what had been drawn on the canvas while the exhibition was being shown in Chios itself. This Greek-Turkish dialogue fulfilled a wish of Takuya that the painting of Delacrois called "The Slaughter of Chios" would be followed up by a gesture of peace. Accordingly it meant also examinating what kind of peace manifestation could be formulated in terms of what are local news. The Turkish-Chios mural was then shown at an exhibition later that year in conjunction with the ECCM Symposium "Productivity of Culture" held in Athens, and meant a first attempt to link Kids' Guernica to the European Capitals of Europe. For the latter was missing badly a children and youth dimension in their cultural considerations. That too is a matter of giving space to which voices often not heard in society!


Thomas Economacos initiating the action by playing games with the children



When children / youth start to paint, naturally their parents, relatives and friends become curious. They may bring something to eat or even cannot hold themselves back, but grab as well a brush to leave a mark on the canvas. The entire process is that tempting. Out of this participation things can grow, and indeed a single cultural action can become a community wide action.


                  Outreach into the community

Other activities involved a reaching out e.g. visiting a school to talk about Japan, and a discussion in a bookshop, or else to go to another school where the youth together engaged themselves along one wall in graffiti.


Youth + Graffiti action



The graffiti was painted around the corner of the huge school yard, itself an experience of space where school children spend most of their time during recess or when the school has some outdoor activities. Alone the confinement of a school yard leaves a deep impression upon everybody's mind as to what space means.

Elsewhere the group thematized "Peace is not a ghost" - painting of banner for the peace concert. They wrote on the banner the word peace in various languages. The banner was shown later at the peace concert to all the community gathered. Chios is well known to do a lot for the education of its children and youth. At the national average they usually do the best when sitting for exams.


  Exhibition space – the entire public square

Space needed for what purpose? The village square e.g. exhibition in Chios meant to have the support of the Regional Authority which has supported such extra educational programmes. The murals were hung on construction fences, but had to be secured against the force of wind. It became a space within itself.



          "Enough. We want to live." Tripoli, Lebanon 2007

Crossing different experiences – woman on her way home noticing the mural from Lebanon and stops, begins to cry. This was in 2007, that is just half a year later after the war between Israel and Hezbollah. Especially the figure in the middle, half skeleton, half dressed in the traditional custom expresses what Iman Nouri stated that we live nowadays in a world marked by a schizophrenia of peace, since on the one side the youth comes back from surfing and goes to a music disco, while on the other side a bomb can go off. In Tripoli is one of the largest refugee camp for Palestinians who have been retained there since 1948. It indicates how messages cross borders and walls while everyone is touched by human pain.


Other creative use of space - reading on a bench

To say the least, a creative use of space does not have to be a hyper activity. It can be equally a person sitting down on a bench in the shade to read a book. Each person can contribute to finding such a creative outlet in public.


        Public gathering on square

The use of space means as well a much wider access to the public in Chios at that time. This is because there took many activities on the square in conjunction with the exhibition of murals: besides the painting of one mural, many children painted on a long strip of paper below the murals, while one evening besides official speeches and dance performances on stage, there was made available food thanks to a joint Greek-Japanese kitchen. Interestingly enough those who were outsiders to the society in Chios joined, thereby underlining the importance of the philosophical dictum that everyone has a Right to Access to Community.

If there is a common secret to be shared in democracy, then it is that public space in which people share things while basing their interactions on a mutual trust as part of a self understanding. It allows an assumption the others will behave likewise 'rational' or according to common expectations as far as human behaviour is concerned.


      Local news

Local news and responses as to what is happening in the world has something to do with awareness, but also how responses to the news indicate how people feel to be affected in their own locality by what is happening elsewhere in the world. Already in Chios the people can look across the water towards Turkey, and say the relationship between people on both sides is not the problem, but it is the politicians who intervene and cause frictions, if not conflicts leading to war. Chios is naturally well known ever since Delacroix painted 'The Slaughter of Chios', and Jürgen Mittag in his account of the steps leading up to the concept of European Capital of Culture, mentions that Turkey always protested to have this painting included in any representative exhibition of European paintings.

For the sake of peace we need to connect the village square with the world being one common space. Whether or not we include outer space, the problem being created by expansionist and indeed imperialist drives is the occupation of space to secure above all a command over resources, including human resources. Since this connection between village square and the world as a common space is not self understood, there needs to be reminded a term Thomas Mann used when he returned from Exile back to Germany and arrived in Hamburg. He felt the city lacked a 'worldliness' in its immediate surroundings and thus in the absence of an openness which would allow liveliness to be heard as not noise in the street, but as sounds of life coming close to music, he felt to be a stranger.

Outlook and use of space go together in the knowledge to be connected at least in an indirect way with the rest of the world. This would mean as well not to be indifferent to the fate of fellow men whether living just across the street or around the world on another continent. No doubt all of this affinity to humanity has been more than silenced by what is suggested by the term 'globalization', but which manifests itself more clearly in the bombs that rained down on Aleppo and an entire world seemingly merely watching as 300 000 people suffer a slow but certain death.

Some general remarks about use of space

In reference as to what is rational behaviour, this underscores the problematic relationship of the individual to the whole. Altdörfer in his painting 'The Alexander battle' shows what happens if people become soldier like and run only after the flag of their unit so that they create within their own confinement rational behaviour but which is completely irrational in the overall sense.

As to social perception of the other, if Cavafy could write about 'Waiting for the Barbarians' to describe a need to delineate oneself from the other so as to attain identity, the poet Amir Or in Israel adapted the same thought to say in his poem that the barbarians are already among us, and therefore social perception is at best confused by not knowing whom to trust. This is because public trust in the other has been abused beyond any point of human self recognition. For no one knows any more who will stand with the others at the bus stop and carries with him explosives since he has been by unknown forces into a suicide bomber. The bombs that go off and which maim and kill innocent by-standers reflects human vulnerability but it exposes also those who take advantage of public trust.

Creative use of space can also be reflected in opposite terms by asking ourselves what disturbs us when walking through the streets or crossing a public square? For some it is the pigeons flying up while for others it is the noisy children or else cars parked where people would like to walk. While all these indicators of potential disturbances are particular modes, altogether they do not sum up to one of the biggest disturbances: the wrong use of space. Too often public art works reveal how little artists know how to use space.

However, in the age of a new kind of civil war (Enzensberger), public spaces of all kinds have become the most vulnerable spots of a city. It reflects likewise the vulnerability of the human being since life is based on trust and openness. It goes hand in hand with how others are perceived and depends upon social perception not being reduced to stereotypical categories and mere symbolic interactions expressing in public needs for recognition but without reflecting the conditions under which such needs can be fulfilled.

Terrorism comes in multiple variations. Already the writer Robert Musil predicted in 'Man without Attributes' the moment society has replaced the search for truth (Michael D. Higgins) with 'probability calculations' as basis for making decisions, that this will lead to terrorism. He suggested terrorism is a kind of panic due to having experienced the complete loss of truth and thereby transforms the demand for truth into an absolute negation of life as the only way out. It is furthermore suggested people are driven into such a frantic denial of life by being no longer active citizens who can contribute to life in the community of mankind. Thus it should not be forgotten what Pericles stated in his funeral speech: Athens is not protected by an army but best by active citizenship.

Guernica Youth in relation to European Capitals of Culture

The creative use of public space reflects the extent to which active citizenship can be and has been realized at different levels with all ages involved. Such an informal creativity indicates that society is not merely alive but is still engaged in what Michael D. Higgins calls the making of culture as a search for truth. Important are the stories in need to be told of how space can be shared. The experiences made within Kids' Guernica and Guernica Youth are a good example thereof.

Three murals in European Capitals of Culture


           Wroclaw 2016



   San Sebastian 2016: The magic vacuum cleaner



      Zabbar / Malta 2014 Contra dictatorship


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