Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

Graffiti and the silence of poets










 Courtyard of bookstore 'POEMS and CRIMES' in Athens

 Graffit work at Fine Arts School, Athens

July 2013










Once dreams are shattered then everything else goes silent

Pavements become silent in the hot summer days of late July, beginning of August. Athens empties itself as if a giant tide has retracked from the city. No more demonstrations. Just tourists in search of the new Acropolis museum, and some shade to enjoy frozen yugort. In this computer age also no typewriter can be heard anymore in a back court yard. The silence equals the new motors of cars becoming ghost like images gliding through the now empty streets. If that is the silence a city seeks, then let it be. It is a mirror of calm water for things to come in September, and which is already beckoning for some answer to the question but what shall break this silence? It is not intended to break the glass separating the recent past from now but rather a matter of many dreams lying around in the now empty streets like broken glass left behind by the rubbish trucks when they emptied during the previous night the trash bins.


                                When the poets are silent, then the graffiti screams off the walls! 



Graffiti and 'the writing on the wall' can be one way of perceiving what situation prevails in Athens during the economic crisis. For instance, a newspaper article written in January 2011 about austerity measures not working, states:

"Greeks are answering with a swelling tide of black-clad workers at near-daily anti-austerity marches and splashes of graffiti reading "Help," "No more pain" and "We won't pay" on walls across the country."

(Source: "Greeks grow weary of austerity measures" by Anthee Carassava, Los Angeles Times, January 29, 2012, http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/la-fg-greece-austerity-20120130,0,4231249.story)


Street Art

Naturally not everything written, sprayed or painted onto the various walls proclaims to be street art. Rather it is a variety of protest which expresses itself on whatever wall which might serve this purpose. Already graffiti artists have become most knowledgable as to which surface is suitable, where to find a ready made contrast and what are signs of walls being used and therefore likely to destroy the work as soon it is up.

There is another aspect to all of this anti aesthetical surge of tagging and marking many places in the city. For all seems to be done without any sign of resistance against sheer vandalism! As if there is no sense for what the eye can take in, what not? Perhaps gone out of the mind are the poems by Seferis or Elytis when they would describe just walking through vine yards and reaping the wind like leaves. Gone is that natural landscape within the urban grid. It means like at home when the walls are splashed and pasted over with all kinds of idols or screaming forms of protest, this kind of revulsion overfloods like sewege can to ruin a city landscape. It ruins it by overdoing it and thereby becomes highly arbitrary.

When referring to the 'aesthetics of space', then it means every square, small corner, elongated corridor and staircase can be a definite tension field. This physical world has naturally been transformed the moment streets have been widened to make way for the flow of a traffic no longer heeding what lies left and right. It has created new spaces with a lot of shadows and empty feelings just like the underground passages where some of the first areas where graffiti started to appear. Or else at the freight car depot, or some tunnel entrance! Yet as a reminder of what it takes to emancipate the eye from such urban space is not to flee necessarily the city, but to think again what kind of 'occupation of space' graffiti implies. Too often it is done without acknowledging that art is about the ability to create space without occupying it oneself (Michel Foucault).

Especially young people engaged in the protest movement would stem themselves immediately against any such attempt of criticism. The break-down in dialogue means also not to acknowledge that there is a kind of violence against the city which can ruin the urban environment. Things can drag anyone down when there is no longer a breathing space. Already Belfast with all its wall murals reveals what such street art can mean in the end, namely a kind of constant frenzy to think only about this one issue and only this grievance with the other side.

Consequently for any good discussion, there has to be declared that not everything qualifies as 'street art'. What can be seen, for instance, in Exarchia, but also in the old town underneath the Acropolis or throughout the city, that varies from artistic motives to just slogans wishing to take a hold of the minds of the by-passers. By seeking to express 'attitudes, they need not to be only political ones. For graffiti and tags include as well hooligan declarations which express a fierce loyalty towards one football team. Such absolute screams in spaces transformed into an apparent need to take sides makes plain what some seek after all, namely some 'certainty' amidst all this uncertainty.


The city as my gallery

When the artist Astrid Kokka undertook it to photograph various 'sculptures of time' - a wooden fence whose blue colour had faded under the sun - she meant to capture a kind of street art which would transform the entire city into 'my gallery' or exhibition space. However that has changed. What can be found nowadays on many walls, and this at almost every street corner, is not graffiti but a tagging of walls. As if sign posts for sometimes such scribbles, this defacement of a wall ends up being for outsiders unknown declarations and for insiders just another arbitrary act. However, they can scream out their own muted messages since they are done in a way that it is acknowledge these kind of messages shall go far too often unheard or at best merely annoy. Many walk or more so drive simply past them in their cars. They try to ignore this defacement but in so doing that, they do not seem to realize that this is a part of an overall confrontation with what the urban space offers or rather does not seem to offer.

There is, however, as well a reduction of aesthetical tension once space is used up like this. Most of the symbols and writings on the wall appear to follow a similar pattern. Only here and there something else happens. This may be due to an artistic explosion of creativity or is a direct result of a felt anguish about all kinds of things: interventions by the police, injustice combined with hunger and desolation due to many having sunk into apathy after all the protests had flared up since December 6th, 2008 when Alexandros was killed in Exarchia and the city erupted. Since then the city has been transformed if not into a grave yard or cemetery which keeps the dead alive and ones alive as if dead.

At the street corner of Navarinou (which becomes Skoufa once in Kolonaki) and H.Trikoupi, that is just vis a vis the park, there can be observed with a quick glance that four men have gathered on this cold December day (20.12.2012) underneath an archway to find some shelter. By the looks of it with sleeping bag and blankets spread out, there they sleep at night and find a resting place during the day. It is early afternoon when spotted. They are awake and are talking with one another. Cigarettes are turned. Someone has brought a bottle of wine. Old cushions are used as if sofas at street level. It is possible to image they had seen other things in former days. Now they are exactly needed, in order not to feel only the cold of the pavement. But the winds do not take that into consideration. They punish till the four men simply ignore the cold. What solution would bring any worry about that?


The silence of poets

Are poets silent about these conditions? Do they perceive what is happening to especially migrants, students, young and old people, all pushed so it seems aside by the austerity measures which have taken a grip during the years since the state deficit had been declared at the end of 2009?

Dionysis Savvopoulos, a popular song writer, stated in an interview with the Conservative Newspaper Kathimerini that the arts world has stayed 'silent' when it would have been important to speak up before it is too late. It is according to him as if the cultural sector had experienced a kind of 'mental ambush'. The latter could be called a 'corruption of the mind' which came with developments since 1981, when PASOK entered government and started to integrate the former opposition to the Junta into the system. Insofar many succumbed to a comfortable life, they did not heed Adorno's advise, namely to throw themselves out before too comfortable that they grow afraid to say any truth.

In the interview Dionysis Savvopoulos stated that “everyone has lost their bearings and artists are no exception. What kind of intellectual world are we talking about here? Why did the economic departments of our universities keep silent all these years? Just like the Athens Academy and the literary association. As for individual artistic voices, most of them adopted a vague, pseudo progressive style to earn applause. There were exceptions, but no one paid attention to them. We were nowhere near reaching the point of humiliation and forgiveness. We need to acknowledge the past and forgive each other. Only then can we speak honestly and turn the page.”

(Source: Iota Myrtsioti, “Ahead of elections and Thessaloniki shows, Dionysis Savvopoulos ponders Greek crisis”, Interview, Kathimerini, May 3, 2012, p. 2)

Socrates Kabouropoulos at EKEVI describes the situation as having become increasingly difficult to network writers, poets and translators and to maintain the contact to publishers and book sellers. He would describe 'silence' as a lack of appreciation for what is being despite the crisis. For instance, he managed to have a joint publication in English-Greek of English-Greek poets, but so far he misses any feedback to that.


The actions of the Poetry Circle

The poet Yiorgos Chouliaras does not to agree that poets have remained silent. This has prompted in turn a discussion about 'Graffiti and the silence of poets' after reading an article by George Fragopoulos. The latter has written about the Graffiti scene in Athens and how the poem 'The Refuge' by Yiorgos Chouliaras has found its way into one of these graffitis.

Indeed, graffiti can link to what has become throughout Europe and the world a solidarity with Greece. For instance one friend spotted a graffiti in Zürich of all places. It had the heading:

"money creates loneliness - Solidarity with Spain and Greece"

That reminds still of another most telling slogan once read in Berlin West during the oil crisis:

'were it not for unfaithfulness in love and marriage, we would not have the oil crisis'

All these slogans are most telling, especially if linked to some hot topic. In case of the Greek crisis, this is how to deal not only with silence, but as well with rage. A blogger would call it:

                                 "Silent Rage Deafening Silence"

More about this can be found out on the blog of Θέατρο Εμπρός or Embros Theater on Ρήγα Παλαμήδου 2 / Riga Palamidou 2 Street in Ψυρρή / Psiri, Αθήνα / Athens. It is housed in the occupied Amalias villa. Source: http://embrostheatre.blogspot.gr/, embros.gr

There shall be staged on Friday 4/1/2013, 21.00 a Film Poetry Festival organised by The Institute of [Experimental Arts] in conjunction with the web-video poetry anthology.
Moving Poems is presenting the Film Poetry Festival with the participation of artists (poets, filmmakers, video-artists) from Europe, Asia, Africa and America, following the history from 1830 until today.


Staying silent for false reasons

The topic of silence preoccupied already poets, philosophers and playwrights of Ancient Greece. During the train exhibition organized in 1997, these thoughts were traced carefully on the basis of that wonderful book by Robert Payne about 'Ancient Greece'. When writing about self governance, not contemplative silence was asked for but that men and women dare to raise their voices and not stay silent by even looking the other way while power decides on a fateful course of history.

Poetically speaking, democracy in Ancient Greece was not only a short grasp of truth. It meant conceptual thinking, and not merely the unknown prevailed as made evident by these thoughts remaining until today very modern. This philosophy of government is a matter of the rule of the law. Human beings can convey it through the conviction their voices carry forth when debating with others. Such convictions is not a reflection of strength linked to all kinds of of power, e.g. wealth, land, slaves, battle fame etc., but is based itself on the conviction in man himself. If denied as being reasonable and capable of showing practical wisdom when it comes to making decisions, then the sharing of power is effectively made impossible.

Abuse of power can be questioned often more indirectly than directly, e.g. when the women of Troy started to refuse to go along with the men engaged in war. As the women in Aristophenes' play show, their alternative was a kind of self-governance at home, but that has not been the rule in history. Rather it stayed to be an outstanding example, an exception and more so a theatrical reflection of a tragic flaw in real life. For history with its many grave yards after countless wars establishes the silence of the cemeteries in more than just one sense. For before they died the real issue is the case that most of the voices either abstained or faded away into the darkness, never to be heard again, and this because they failed to speak up in time.

In a poem a reflection can find it to be remorseful what is happening in a world of strange silences:

My heart darkens at the thought

of so many being silent

as if someone had come

and cut out their tongues,

or else they would speak with no other thought

but to gain that little money

which had been promised to them,

if they would look the other way

or else not seek justice, but let

power decide for them what was best

in the meaning of words

not to be heard while men

went on killing themselves,

thus too many went silently

to their graves not having said a word.

Refusal to listen, and failure to speak up, all that ends up as a negligance of language and more so of other human beings, including their plights, fears and needs. Subsequently thoughts of men are reduced immediately to what is defined negatively as being the capacity of man to understand things. It is based on fake definitions such as friendship when in reality a way to make use of the other without being concerned about the form it takes on reality, namely exploitation. Once that continues as if nothing disturbing is happening within human relationships, that silence makes man to be but a pawn once waves of changes crash over him and which leaves after this destruction of dreams only terrible traces in history.

Hatto Fischer

Athens 2013


Materials about the Train exhibition can be found at:




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