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Artists' Performative Interventions in the Refugee Houses on Alexandras Avenue, Athens

Since the mid-2000s, site-specific interventions in public space by artist collectives have become a frequent phenomenon in Athens. Less known and discussed are the earliest examples of this phenomenon. Three such performative interventions took place in the so-called refugee houses on Alexandras Avenue (construction 1933–1935), two by the group Αστικό Κενό (Urban Void) and another by Λάθος Κίνηση (Wrong Movement). They took place in 2000 and 2003, in parallel with a citizen protest againstgentrification plans for the houses' demolition. Being site-specific meant that they were intervening in the physical, architectural site, as well as in a public debate mobilized by the protest and focused mainly on the site's significance as a monument. The article argues that through the form of their interventions, the groups approached the site through the experience of the past in the present. They foregrounded the experience of time and space in the instant of their actions, in which past and present come together and dynamically interact with one another, but without offering a coherent historical narrative. This approach deviated significantly from the dominant public discourses that saw the houses primarily as markers of national, political, and social history, often characterized by selectively constructed and ideologically laden narratives of historical continuity from the 1930s to the present.

Busy Alexandras Avenue, like many other areas in central Athens, demonstrates a tight succession of buildings that do not seem to conform to any easily graspable logic of urban planning. Walking west from the Ampelokipi metro [End Page 181] stop, right after passing the small hospital of Agios Savvas, one encounters a series of almost identical, two-story social housing blocks. They are in a state of striking disrepair. The first block's half-dilapidated façade on Alexandras Avenue is out of place with its surroundings: the Panathinaikos football (soccer) stadium is just across the way; the massive, well-maintained buildings of the Police Headquarters and the Supreme Court on either side. These housing blocks, known as οι προσφυγικές κατοικίες στην Λεωφόρο Αλεξάνδρας (the refugee houses on Alexandras Avenue), date to the 1930s, and they have been witnesses of several important episodes in the social and political history of twentieth-century Greece. Since 1999, they have also become the site of citizen protests against urban gentrification plans aiming to demolish the houses due to their location's prime real-estate value.

In this article, I refer to three performative artistic interventions that occurred in the context of or parallel to these protests: two by the architect and artist group Αστικό Κενό (Urban Void), and a third by the choreographer Konstantinos Mihos in collaboration with choreographer Maria Gorgia, his dance company Λάθος Κίνηση (Wrong Movement Dance Company), and nine visual arts students. They all took place at the site of the refugee houses during different periods of the aforementioned protests, but only the first was explicitly part of activities organized by protesters. It took place on 25 May 2000, during a half-day event organized by residents together with architects from the Technical University of Athens. Urban Void played μήλα (dodgeball) in the open space between two blocks. Three years later, in September 2003, Konstantinos Mihos with the dancers and artists he brought together developed and presented the site-specific performance Πρώτη Κατοικία (First Residence). It was a multidisciplinary piece consisting of dance and music sequences, art installations and performances, as well as singing and storytelling, and it was structured as a tour between, inside, and on top of the buildings. In December 2003, Urban Void organized another action in which participants waited in line in front of the locked entrances of the first block on Alexandras Avenue, which at that time stood empty (each block has four entrances on one side). The first person in each line peered silently for a few moments through the door's window into the vacant building.

I first became interested in these actions because they are among the earliest examples of collective, performative, site-specific artistic interventions in the public space of Athens that also coincided with the mobilization of citizens for the same cause—namely, the protest against the demolition of the refugee houses. In recent years, such art actions have abounded in Athens. Thus, my interest as an art scholar has an historicizing touch. The most compelling [End Page 182] aspect of these actions, however, was their approach to the past of the site, which deviated significantly from the general discourse on the history of the refugee houses as this discourse became apparent in: numerous press articles (Bistika 2003; Kaytatzoglou and Margariti 2003; Rigopoulos 2003, 2004); the gradual registration between 2000 and 2010 of all houses as protected heritage; the installation of a marble monument to the Greek Civil War by the Communist Party of Greece (KKE); and even in statements of antiauthoritarian Greek squatters. In all these cases, the past as history, perceived as national and linear, and specifically as an urban history of social struggles, political repression, and architectural exception lends symbolic importance to the houses and legitimizes their preservation. The houses are considered significant because of their relevance to the 1922 population exchange between Greece and Turkey; to the subsequent social struggles of refugees to settle down in Greek cities; to the political repression of the Greek Left after the second World War; and to the earliest examples of architectural modernism as a rare case of urban planning and construction of quality social housing centrally organized by the Greek State during the twentieth century.

I definitely do not question the historical significance or the accuracy of events linked to the refugee houses' history. Yet I am drawn to the way in which Urban Void and Wrong Movement approached the past of the site—and, more generally, the question, "What should we do with urban history?"—from a perspective that does not point to the significance of the site as monument of history, but rather emphasizes the experience of the past in the time and space of the present. This does not exclude the fact that the groups were motivated by the loaded historical past of the site and were in favor of the buildings' preservation. In their performative actions, however, they do not refer to or represent any part of the houses' history as a coherent and meaningful whole that would justify the monumentalization of the houses. Rather, they present the past as fragmentary and often lacking precise identification—and yet they also bring it into a dynamic and dialectic interaction with the present. In essence, the performative actions allow a different understanding of temporality in the relation between history, memory, and contemporary urban space.

This understanding draws attention to two important aspects of the local perceptions of history in relation to urban space in Greek public discourse. First, within the campaign for keeping the houses, some arguments went beyond the houses' importance and function in the present primarily as monuments of history. This was the case, for instance, in the approach of architect Anni Vrychea, who advocated resident participation in socially driven urban regeneration (Vrychea 2015). She was also one of the organizers of the half-day [End Page 183] event on 25 May 2000, when Urban Void played the dodgeball game. Vrychea's approach balanced historical memory and present social needs in architecture and urbanism. Nonetheless, the arguments that dominated when the issue was brought to the attention of a broader public attempted to attract attention and render the houses a matter of public discourse by focusing specifically on the houses' importance as monuments of unresolved social, political, and national histories. As mentioned earlier, this approach is evident in the press, the monument installed by the KKE, and the houses' listing as a heritage site. Second, in the local public discourse, the refugee houses on Alexandras Avenue represented suppressed, ideology-laden histories, marginalized for most of the twentieth century in dominant (capitalist, bourgeois, ethnocentric) histories of Modern Greece. However, both the suppressed and the dominant histories are two sides of the same coin with regard to their perception of time and their ideology of a history in which the past is selectively used to legitimize the present in a linear historical continuum.

It is probably apparent that the object of study and the questions of this article exceed the limits of a single academic field: urbanism, interdisciplinary artistic performance, twentieth-century history in recent public discourses. The article is part of long-term research that brings together two interconnected interests. On the one hand, as an art historian, my starting point is the "spatial-cultural" discourse in the tradition of art and architecture historians Rosalyn Deutsche and Miwon Kwon since the 1990s, both of whom analyzed the role of contemporary artists' interventions in public space with regard to urban politics (Deutsche 1996; Kwon 2002). As I am interested particularly in performative and collective interventions that exceed the visual arts' discourse, this study is also located in the context of more recent studies of performance theoreticians, such as Nicolas Whybrow and Silvjia Jestrovic, who relate performance art and theory to urban space and its discourses (Whybrow 2010a, 2010b; Jestrovic 2013). On the other hand, my research has been motivated by the observation that a turn towards performative artistic interventions in public space happened in Greece around 2000 (much later than elsewhere in the West) in response to changes in public space (for example, due to the 2004 Olympic Games and several urban regeneration projects). Since then they have increased significantly. As mentioned earlier, the interventions at the refugee houses on Alexandras Avenue from 2000 and 2003 are among the earliest examples.

It is important to note that art in public space has been a relatively limited phenomenon in twentieth-century Greece, with the exception of ancient monuments and other sculptural works. Examples of ephemeral interventions [End Page 184] in public space have existed, as in the work of visual artists Dimitris Alithinos and Maria Karavela since the 1970s, or the couple Chondros-Katsiani since the 1980s. Yet in Greek art historical and theoretical scholarship, such cases were mostly analyzed within the context of performance art or of the work of individual artists. Attempts to approach these artists' works from a different angle have been rare until recently. The example of Areti Adamopoulou's study of "interventions in space" in postwar Greek art, where the notion of "space" includes also public space and its discourses, is a rare exception (Adamopoulou 2000).

The local lack of interest in public space started changing in the late 1990s. Since then, particularly in the visual arts, artists' interaction with architects has played a key role. Members of the Urban Void group constitute characteristic examples of these exchanges—both in their collective actions as well as in the individual work that many of them continue to do today. Other artists, such as Maria Papadimitriou, and architects, such as Yorgos Tzirtzilakis, but also the small publishing house Futura have all been active in shaping this small yet vibrant field of practices and discussions between visual arts and architecture in Greece, where public space is the common denominator. Soon after, apart from the influence of architecture, young artists began experimenting with performance. These included Georgia Sagri, Mary Zygouri, and Yorgos Sapountzis, as well as curators and writers involved in the major exhibition Outlook that took place in 2003 as part of the Cultural Olympiad (linked to the 2004 Athens Olympics), such as Maria-Thalia Carras, Sophia Tournikiotis, and Theophilos Traboulis. They too contributed to the dissemination of mostly performative artistic practices in public space (Carra 2013).

By and large, until the 2000s, the above artistic activity did not attract attention or enter discourses outside the local Greek art and architecture scene. This has been changing gradually since 2010. Obviously, there is a chronological and to some extent a causal coincidence with the Greek debt crisis. While this is not the place to discuss the relations between the two, I would like to point out three aspects that are relevant to the motivation behind this article. First, since roughly 2010, a scene of interdisciplinary performance to which agents from theater and dance also play a leading role has engaged powerfully with contemporary transformations of public space, especially in Athens. Examples of such initiatives include the performances of the Mavili Collective—most famously the reactivation of Embros Theatre (2011) and later of Green Park (2015) by some of Mavili Collective's members—as well as various projects supported by the Onassis Foundation. Several individuals involved in the three case studies of this article are still involved with public [End Page 185] space and its discourses, often as initiators or members of other collectives (for example, Δίκτυο Νομαδική Αρχιτεκτονική [Nomadic Architecture Network], Μικρογεωγραφίες [Microgeographies], Errands, Expodium). Finally, the recent political and social turmoil in Greece has evoked the curiosity of Greek artists, curators, and art historians to explore neglected episodes and aspects of political or social engagement with an emphasis on collectivity in the local art of previous decades. Exhibitions held at the Contemporary Greek Art Institute (ISET) in Athens and based on its historical archives, such as Vasso Kyriaki "Journey" (15 October 2013–18 January 2014) and Deferred Action: Adaptations of Artistic Radicalism (8 October 2015–9 January 2016) are examples of this tendency.

In order to most effectively bring into this context of Athens my own longterm interest in how ephemeral and collective artistic interventions function within urban discourses, it would seem relevant to follow Rosalyn Deutsche's popular path of applying political theory of radical democracy to public art, or Miwon Kwon's model of a genealogy of site-specificity in art since the 1960s. The former path was taken by Kostis Stafylakis (Stafylakis and Stavrakakis 2008; Stafylakis 2015). From the latter, I am keeping the idea that the "site" in site-specific art is no longer understood mainly as the physical or architectural environment within which a work is placed (a "phenomenological" approach to the site, as Kwon calls it). Rather, it refers usually to social or political issues, or to communities, for which the work is made specifically (a "discursive" approach).

Urban Void's practice throughout all of their actions is akin to Situationist International and its legacies, between art and nonart (activism, play). Yet, as this article is also referring to the performance First Residence and the common denominator is the question of the past in the present, I consider it more useful to turn to theories of time and their relation to conceptions of history, as developed in philosophy and cultural critique. More specifically, I will draw from the writings by Giorgio Agamben, Gaston Bachelard, and Walter Benjamin, relating them to the articulation of time in the form of the performative interventions, in order to interpret the way in which the two groups approached the past in the time and space of the present.

My particular focus on taking the form of the performative interventions as a departure point for the two groups' approach to the site's past in the present would at first sight make Hans-Thies Lehmann's theoretical framework of postdramatic theater a pertinent one. Lehmann's work on practices that break down the basic formal aspects of drama includes site-specific performances in nontheatrical spaces, as well as performances that collapse drama's linear [End Page 186] narrative coherence of the actions that take place on stage. Particularly with respect to time in postdramatic theater, he emphasizes "the disintegration of time as a continuum" and the creation of a "time 'shared' by the performers and the audience as a processuality that is on principle open and has structurally neither beginning, nor middle, nor end" (Lehmann 2006, 155). One may notice further down in this article that these formal aspects are absolutely relevant for the case-studies. Yet there is a significant drawback in adopting Lehmann's, or any other approach from theater scholarship. The majority of agents involved in Urban Void and Wrong Movement, with the exception of Mihos, Gorgia, and five more professional dancers, neither come from nor see themselves as primarily linked to the performing arts. Lehmann's explicitly stated concern with the transgression of the traditional theatrical apparatus (for example, the presence of a stage, the dominance of text, the linearity of time) can only have limited relevance for performative actions of architects and visual artists.

I turn first to the most broadly known episodes of the houses' twentieth century history. With an eye to this particular history, I will then explore how the early writings of Agamben treat the relationship between the conception of time and the conception of history more broadly, in order to create a general theoretical framework for analyzing the three performative interventions, especially with respect to the conception of the categories of time and history that they disrupt. Within that framework, the association and function of the references to Bachelard and Benjamin's work will also be clarified. I will go on to analyze how each case-study addresses the dynamic presence of the past on the site of the refugee houses, beyond a narrow understanding of their symbolic function as markers of a linear historical continuum. In closing, I fast-forward to the period of writing of this article in 2015–2016 in order to briefly link the discussion to the current situation at the refugee houses, where most apartments are squatted in by locals and contemporary migrants and refugees.

The refugee houses on Alexandras Avenue in the political, social, architectural, and urban history of twentieth-century Athens

The housing blocks were originally erected for refugees of the Greco-Turkish war of 1919–1922. The Greek defeat brought about 1.1 million refugees from Turkey to Greece on the basis of their identification as Orthodox Christians, at a time when the existing population of Greece was less than five million (Clogg 2002). The massive population influx forced the Greek state to initiate a huge urban planning and social housing project. Despite their violent uprooting, the newcomers were not always welcomed by the locals. Refugee settlements, [End Page 187] especially for the working class, were mostly planned outside of cities to avoid disturbing locals and to segregate the lower from the middle classes (Leontidou 1989).

Alexandras Avenue was at that time an existing road just within Athens' city boundaries with limited infrastructure. The housing complex comprises eight rows of buildings altogether, starting with the first row on Alexandras Avenue. It includes 228 apartments of roughly 55 square meters each. They belong to the third and last generation of social housing for refugees and to the best quality ones. The architects followed Bauhaus principles of functionality and hygiene, in the modernist spirit of the large 1933 meeting of CIAM (Congrès Internationaux d'Architecture Moderne) that took place partly in Athens (Van Es 2014). CIAM's architects and urban planners addressed the pressing needs of low-cost housing in cities by proposing a vision of a functional city. Even though CIAM's members never reached consensus expressed in a single document, they generally favored: housing in high blocks of flats with large green areas in between; circulation of air and exposure to sun for all apartments; and division of function-based zones for housing, transport, work, and leisure. These priorities are generally found also in the houses on Alexandras Avenue. CIAM's members tried to rationally envision a better life for masses of people, and their ideas played a key role in shaping cities in Europe, its colonies, and in the United States before and especially after World War II. Only the ample open space left between the buildings on Alexandras Avenue, which positively distinguishes the housing complex from neighboring residential blocks today but which did not have a clearly defined function then, is probably closer to the garden cities movement or to preindustrial neighborhoods than to the strict functionalist zoning of modernist urbanism (Parmenidis 2015; for the garden cities movement, see Domhardt 2012). In later decades, during the delayed postwar reconstruction of Greece, centralized planning in housing construction was practically abandoned in favor of αντιπαροχή (compensation), in which landowners hired a contractor to construct an apartment block on their plot, receiving one or more apartments in return.1 The footprints of the buildings usually occupied the entire buildable area of the property, which is partly why Greek cities today look so congested.

In December 1944, the site of the refugee houses became one of the stages of the street battles of the Dekemvriana, the preamble to the Greek Civil War of 1946–1949 which took place less than two months after the liberation of Athens from the Nazi occupation in October 1944. During the Dekemvriana, forces of the Greek Government and the British army fought against the Greek communists of the National Liberation Front (EAM) and its military leg, the Greek [End Page 188] People's Liberation Army (ELAS), despite their key role in the resistance. Several refugee settlements were known for being sympathetic towards EAM-ELAS. Traces of shells fired by British forces against left-wing partisans hiding in the houses on Alexandras Avenue are still visible today.2 In 1967/1968, a legal decree was issued by the junta government (1967–1974) for the buildings' demolition. It was never executed, but officially it was only annulled in the late 2000s. This delay is one of the reasons why many owners avoided renovating the blocks, as for about forty years their future was uncertain (Eytaxiopoulos 2015).

Between 1999 and 2000, as part of gentrification plans for the entire area in preparation for the 2004 Athens Olympics, the Greek state bought or expropriated and emptied about 180 apartments. Owners were addressed with letters threatening expropriation if they did not sell their apartments to the state. Some of the remaining owners, several architects, and other citizens protested. The owners appealed also to the courts against the demolition, which was eventually deferred. Today, demolition should in theory be illegal because all eight blocks have gradually been listed as «νεότερα μνημεία» (listed monuments, literally recent monuments, as distinct from ancient monuments).3 Meanwhile, hundreds of foreign refugees, migrants, local homeless people, and antiauthoritarian squatters have occupied the empty flats. In 2014, the entire property was handed over for sale to the Hellenic Republic Asset Development Fund (TAIPED) as part of the government's attempt to privatize public assets in compliance with its bailout obligations.

The past in the present

Agamben's book Infancy and History: On the Destruction of Experience (1978; English translation, 1993) is of particular relevance for understanding how the performances at the refugee houses on Alexandras Avenue differ in their approach to this site. In the book, Agamben constructs a concept of infancy that relates his ongoing question of the meaning of language and of speech to a conception of history. If something that could be called an "infancy" of human language exists, Agamben links it to the beginning of human history. This beginning is not understood in the sense of an origin within the order of some chronology that would separate a time before and after and would presuppose the existence of humans in that chronology. Rather, for Agamben, the beginning of history, which links to an infancy of human language, refers to the "possibility of there being any 'history'" at all. It refers to "the origin of a 'being' of this kind [that] cannot be historicized, because it is itself historicizing" (Agamben 1993, 49). [End Page 189]

For the purposes of this article, the core of Agamben's philosophical pursuit regarding language is not directly relevant. However, in constructing the path towards his concept of history in his theory of the infancy of language and history, the philosopher engages in discussions and accounts of conceptions of time and of history in Western thought from classical antiquity to the twentieth century. It is this path that interests me here. More specifically, for a general framework of the concepts of the past and of history in this article, I will draw from Agamben's account of modern conceptions of time and history and his critique of Marxist philosophy of history as he constructs them through the relation between the notions of the instant and the continuum. This relation plays out in all three case studies. It serves as a way of explaining the differentiation that the three performances make between their approach to the past of the houses in the experience of the present and the approach that prevailed in public discourse, for which the houses' preservation was primarily justified by their role as monuments of history.4

In the book, Agamben dedicated the chapter "Time and History: Critique of the Instant and the Continuum" to the key role of the instant and the continuum in conceptions of time and history. He paid special attention to Marx' theory of history. He criticized Marx for omitting to elaborate on a conception of time that would match his conception of history. In the latter, according to Agamben, the central role of man's5 "praxis" entails that the instant of praxis must be of great significance. This should logically be incompatible with the Hegelian theory of time and history as a linear continuum, within which time cannot be experienced in the instant. Nonetheless, Marx did not elaborate on a difference between his and the Hegelian conception of time. Instead, he retained the Hegelian notion of time, according to which the instant, the "now," is merely the fleeting passage from nothingness into being and from being into nothingness. As such, the instant can hardly be experienced as a point: it is pure negation—double negation—and history can never be grasped or experienced by man in the instant, but only as process, specifically as continuum. If this is the case, however, man would be unable to perceive the instant of praxis, despite its central place in the Marxist conception of history.

Every time the refugee houses are threatened with demolition, this history of theirs is evoked and matched with the present to create historical associations and even a continuity of social inequality, marginalization, or political repression of people associated with the houses (Kaytatzoglou and Margariti 2003; Stavridis 2005; Argyropoulos 2014; In.gr 2014; SY.KA.PRO 2014). The prospect of demolition is seen as an act of erasing collective memories of the refugees, the working class, and/or the political left (Argyropoulos 2014), memories not [End Page 190] always fully accounted for in mainstream national history. Articles like ones entitled «Προσφυγικά Αλεξάνδρας: Μας ξεπουλήσατε το 1919–1924, ξεπουλήστε μας και τώρα, το 2014» (Refugee houses on Alexandras Avenue: You sold us out in 1919–1924, sell us out again now, in 2014; Infognomon Politika 2014) or statements by the antiauthoritarian squatters that «[η] ιστορία και το παρόν των προσφυγικών φωτογραφίζει τον αγώνα των εργατών και των λεηλατημένων» (the history and the present of the refugee houses captures the struggles of workers and those plundered; SY.KA.PRO. 2014) reveal that some people today see a line connecting them to earlier residents as the latter's social and political descendants who share a comparable fate. Bearing marks of all episodes of their history (for instance, the bullet traces from the Dekemvriana; the unmaintained exterior walls because the 1967/1968 Junta decree for their demolition remained active for about four decades), the buildings function as emblems or symbols, ever-invested with new meanings and appropriated for new claims and struggles.

In addition, the site has a strikingly low built-surface ratio compared to its surrounding area, a mere 1.6 against an average of 3.8 (Eytaxiopoulos 2015). The density of construction that has significantly decreased the quality of life in many areas of the Athenian center is seen as a result of the capitalist ideology of the socioeconomic and political urban elites who dominated postwar reconstruction. To the contrary, the spatial qualities of the refugee houses' plot are seen as representing a brief, exceptional episode of centralized, state-controlled, and socially minded urban planning in the history of Modern Greece® Such a model of quality social housing planned and constructed on the state's initiative can be found mainly in some of the housing provided for the 1922 refugees and later in projects of the Οργανισμό Εργατικής Κατοικίας (Workers' Housing Organization). It represents a small percentage, however, in the overall housing construction in Greece throughout the twentieth century. In many cases, housing provision for the economically weaker classes occurred through the concession merely of land (not houses) with favorable conditions for the recipients (Gizeli 1984; Leontidou 1989).

As shown above, in all the intertwined social, political, and architectural approaches to the refugee houses on Alexandras Avenue, struggles of the past play a key role in justifying struggles in the present. A historical continuity and a kind of ideological coherence are constantly reproduced by these initiatives for the protection of the houses. Thus, while efforts to protect the houses appear critical of the mainstream bourgeois history, with its exclusions and oblivion, they nonetheless often use very comparable mechanisms of understanding the past and foregrounding a suppressed national, linear [End Page 191] history of struggles, within which the houses on Alexandras Avenue function as monuments.

Agamben's critique of Marx claimed that because Marx did not elaborate on a theory of time adequate to his idea of history and the centrality of praxis, Marxist thought thus enters a critical contradiction: on the one hand, the idea of time and of the experience of time is a Hegelian idea of a flow of elusive instants that only as a continuum and as total social process produce true history; on the other, according to Marx's idea of history, man is history, because he or she is at the origin and the essence of history through his or her praxis; man is a historical being because he or she is an active being-in-history. However, the necessary relation between act and instant in the experience of and relation to time is not reconcilable with the Hegelian conception of the instant as pure negation and of people's inability to grasp history in the instant, or rather their ability to understand it only as continuity. Agamben maintains that all attempts from within modern thought to reconceptualize time have started with a critique of continuous, quantifiable time. As examples, he mentions in particular Heidegger's incomplete analysis of temporality in Being and Time and his later concept of event, as well as Benjamin's philosophy of history (Agamben 1993, 102–105). One could also add Gaston Bachelard's (1994 and 1997) criticism of Henri Bergson's theory of time as duration.

The theoretical framework created by this need to reconceptualize time as described in Agamben can also help us to analyze how the three case studies break away from notions of historical continuity, as well as the priority of duration over the instant of praxis. An emphasis on playing down the priority of duration and historical continuity characterizes all three case studies, as well. Each of the cases had a quite different form as a performative intervention. The action of playing dodgeball took the form of a preexisting group game that is not art. The performance First Residence was structured as a guided tour that combined sequences in multiple media (dance, music, singing, narrating, art installations, and performances), while the overall logic in the use of space and time that structured them into one piece was a choreographic one. Finally, the last action of queuing in front of the houses functioned as a kind of performative activation of the extraordinary image of the dilapidated architecture among its surroundings.

In order to be consistent with the function of the aspect of time in the particular performative form of each case study and with each one's respective approach to the presence of the past in the time and space of the present, I will also be drawing theoretical tools from separate sources. All of them, nonetheless, fall within Agamben's account of the relation between the instant and the [End Page 192] continuum in conceptions of time and history in modern Western thought as presented in Infancy and History as discussed above (though they do not need to be fully consistent with his own overall theory of infancy and history).

In short, for the dodgeball game, I will draw also from Agamben's model of the relation between play and history, which he bases on ethnological and anthropological theories—most notably, those of Claude Lévi-Strauss. (The respective chapter in Agamben's book, entitled "In Playland: Reflections on History and Play," is actually dedicated to Lévi-Strauss.) It should be noted that theater and performance scholars, such as Richard Schechner and Erika Fischer-Lichte, have demonstrated how ethnological work on rituals and play is relevant to modern and contemporary practices in an expanded field of performance. Elsewhere I have analyzed extensively how theories of play and games—including Agamben's in Infancy and History—are most suitable for examining the form particularly of participatory hybrid events between art and nonart practices in public space, of which the dodgeball game of Urban Void is an example (Fotiadi 2011). In First Residence, the relation of its choreographic concept of time and the understanding of how the past is present in the time and space of the site results from how Mihos directed the dancers and artists to experience the site and to develop in situ materials for the choreography, as well as the ways in which he manipulated the audience's perception of time and space during the performance. In analyzing First Residence, I will refer to philosopher Gaston Bachelard's theory of how humans experience time in the instant. Finally, in Urban Void's 2003 action of forming queues in front of the entrances of the first apartment block on Alexandras Avenue, the prominent role of the image of the dilapidated architecture—as in the public image of the refugee houses and of their history—will be analyzed with reference to Walter Benjamin's philosophy of history and his theory of the dialectical image.

Play and de-monumentalization

Urban Void was an open group of seven architects and three artists who engaged in collective actions in Athens between 1998 and 2008. Their objective was to bring into discussion the social and political parameters of seemingly vacant urban sites that, in the group's own words, were "places in limbo, undergoing changes and transformations, urban spaces characterized by ambiguity in respect to their identity, use or legal status. By temporarily inhabiting these spaces, Urban Void [wa]s testing the relationship of the sites to the citizens and the city life" (Urban Void 2007, 8). Participation in the actions and in informal discussions before and after them were open to anyone interested. In practice, [End Page 193] even though the group's members hoped that random passersby would join their actions, participants were generally limited to a circle of friends and acquaintances.7

The action of playing a game of dodgeball for a few hours in May 2000 was the Urban Void's contribution to the initiative of a half-day event organized by residents and architects. The rest of the event included a public discussion, a shadow puppet theater performance (Karagiozis), and late evening concert of folk music and rebetika. The members of Urban Void put on white T-shirts with the group's name and player numbers on them, recruited local children, and played in one of the open spaces between buildings. Their stated aim was to "de-monumentalize the modern ruins … and to reinforce the impression that what was really at stake there was whether we could reorganize urban living with the tension, playfulness, and easygoingness of everyday life on the scale of an urban neighborhood" (Urban Void 2007, 89). In other words, for Urban Void, it was not the past as history that would give to the refugee houses their future form of existence. Rather, it was the potential in the present to reinvent and reactivate spontaneous and collective forms of life at the middle level of the neighborhood, between the privacy of the home and the publicness of the city.

Even though the action was extremely simple, not to say extremely naïve, as a contribution to the campaign against the state's urban masterplan, it expressed a specific approach to the relation between body, space, time, and the social at the specific site. The white T-shirts with player numbers and the amateur character of the dodgeball game (in Greece, it is played only by children) created a temporary situation of egalitarianism8: all bodies were turned into parts of the collective body of each team, individual identity had no importance, any body was potentially interchangeable with any other body of another resident, friend, child, campaign supporter, neighbor, or passerby who wanted to take part in the game. Moreover, play created its own space through which the players claimed the undefined empty zones between the buildings, usually appropriated as free parking. Through the tension and playfulness of the game as a temporary social activity of collective effort and fun, the group became acquainted with the physical site, its architectural qualities and shortcomings, its scale, its atmosphere, and its textures.

Playing group games in urban spaces as a hybrid architectural-artistic practice is reminiscent of Situationist practices. In his "Report on the Construction of Situations," Guy Debord attributed the particularity of the Situationists' game to its negation of the element of competition and, most importantly, to its radical refusal of separation from real life.9 For Debord, "the situationist play is not distinct from a moral choice, the taking of one's stand in favor of what [End Page 194] will ensure the future reign of freedom and play" (Debord 1957, 702). Indeed, the action of playing dodgeball at the refugee houses was an attempt to insert an instance of playfulness, curiosity, and experimentation to the contested site. It was a temporary occupation of the space that could operate as a generator of future projections. The logic of future time in a game of dodgeball is one of contingency, of dependency upon chance and circumstances for the final outcome, as well as of excess of effort, since the game's result does not generate any profit or capital. As such, the game is a kind of reverse counterpart to the logic of future time in real-estate speculation, which is also characterized by risk, excess, and dependence upon chance, but in which risk is calculated and directly linked to profit or loss of capital.

Nonetheless, one should not forget that the stated aim of playing a game was to "de-monumentalize" the site, to decouple the relation between its past and present from that of national history. Agamben becomes helpful here. In the chapter, "In Playland: Reflections on History and Play," he formulates how play could articulate a conception of history as human time different from the ideologically constructed continuum of mainstream ethnocentric histories—and the signifiers that these histories create (such as monuments), with which they perform and sustain favored connections between past and present. Following anthropologists, ethnographers, and mainly Claude Lévi-Strauss, Agamben draws a hypothetical formula for the relation of ritual and play to the calendar and to time. "Ritual fixes and structures the calendar; play … changes and destroys it" (1993, 69). In sacred acts, the myth articulates history, and the ritual reproduces it: "the function of rites is to adjust the contradiction between mythic past and present, annulling the interval separating them and reabsorbing all events into the synchronic structure" (1993, 74). For example, commemorating rituals in Western culture also function in such a way. On the other hand, play preserves and repeats the form of ritual, but the myth has been forgotten or abolished. Agamben takes from Lévi-Strauss a definition of ritual and play, according to which "ritual is a machine for transforming diachrony into synchrony," and play a machine that performs the reverse process. But the philosopher makes also a crucial adjustment to this definition, which responds to his own definition of history: in practice, ritual and play are constantly found within each other in cultural practices. Every game includes a ritual aspect, and every ritual a play aspect. There is no cultural practice in any human society where the transformation from diachrony to synchrony and vice versa could ever be complete. Therefore, there are not two machines, but a single one, a single binary system that contains both opposing tendencies: "What is produced by the system, by human society, is in every [End Page 195] case a differential margin between diachrony and synchrony: history, in other words, human time" (1993, 75). Time in human society can never be either absolute synchrony (ritual) or diachrony (play), but rather the differential margins between them.

To bring this logic to the case of the refugee houses, the half-day event of the residents' and architects' campaign could be seen as a kind of ritual, an act of articulating national history (myth) by means of performing speeches, music, and puppet theater (rituals), which generally had national history as direct or indirect content or reference—refugees, modernist architecture, Civil War, and so on. Of course, the staged speeches, the concert, and the theater are performative acts, and, as such, play forms are inherent to them. The difference with the dodgeball game is that the game is almost only form: the form is the message. Its "de-monumentaliz[ing]" function was to bring to the foreground the presence of the past in the present of the refugee houses not as an articulated meaning but primarily in the experience of time and space of playing the game as event (diachrony).

The body as medium

In 2003, the choreographer Konstantinos Mihos was running contact improvisation classes in Athens, a form of dance that uses improvisation techniques based on the physical contact between moving bodies and between bodies and space. In August, Mihos, together with his dance company Wrong Movement and nine visual arts students who had been taking his classes, spent a few weeks working on a site-specific piece for the refugee houses.10 They used contact improvisation techniques for the physical exploration of the site and the creation of material for the choreography. According to interviews with participating artists, some collected information about the site's history and the pending issue of the buildings' demolition and also started talking to residents whenever they felt that communication was welcome. They entered abandoned apartments, although they tried to be as discreet as possible towards remaining residents, realizing that a degree of voyeurism was entailed in this unusual project (Doulos 2013, 2015; Bempeza 2015). Apart from photographs, there exists neither a choreographer's score nor any audiovisual recording of the performance.

First Residence was presented in September of 2003. An announcement was published in the press inviting interested individuals to call and reserve places. At the meeting point on Alexandras Avenue, the audience was received by Benno, a Dutch performer who spoke to them only in Dutch (Figure 1). [End Page 196]

Figure 1. Dutch dancer Benno Voorhaam receives the audience. Courtesy Konstantinos Mihos.
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Figure 1.

Dutch dancer Benno Voorhaam receives the audience. Courtesy Konstantinos Mihos.

He acted as a kind of guide at different times in the piece, which was structured as a guided tour. Obviously, the audience was not expected to understand the Dutch language. They could potentially assume what Benno was referring to through his gestures when, for instance, he would show them something while speaking. This meant that they had to remain alert to the ways in which the body of their occasional guide, rather than the content of his words, mediated between them, the site, and what was happening in the performance.

Signaling the transition from the meeting point to the first stop, a group of performers holding stones started moving towards the back of the houses, leading the audience. Reaching the rear blocks, they encountered a series of objects—a chair, a suitcase, a typewriter, and so on—spread on a mantelpiece and covered in resin. Some objects had been taken from abandoned apartments, others brought for the performance. An important concept when developing the entire performance was that it should not always be clear what belonged to daily life and what to the framed event, in the sense of what was found in the houses and what was brought or changed by the performers.

A resident, Mrs. Eleni, then appeared, who on her own initiative became involved in the performance. Every evening she improvised a different [End Page 197] monologue (Figure 2), partly linked to the subsequent appearance of one of a number of unannounced special guests—the singers Savina Giannatou, Domna Samiou, Martha Fritzila, among others—who would sing or narrate something. They had been invited by the choreographer and did not have contact with the dancers and visual artists during the rehearsals. After the guest's solo, the performers signaled a move and guided the audience further.

Figure 2. Resident Mrs. Eleni improvises a monologue. Courtesy Konstantinos Mihos.
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Figure 2.

Resident Mrs. Eleni improvises a monologue. Courtesy Konstantinos Mihos.

As the piece unfolded, the audience was led into and around the buildings and viewed a series of installations, mixed with short dance and live-music sequences, as well as art performances inside vacant apartments, stairways, between blocks, and on rooftops (Figures 3 and 4).

When the tour would lead to the inside of buildings, the audience was forced to split up, because the staircases and apartments were too small for all of them to fit simultaneously. Consequently, they had to choose individually how to move inside the buildings, and it was practically impossible for everyone to follow the different parts of First Residence in the same sequence. Moreover, while all viewers could potentially see all the installations in any order, they were not likely to attend fully all performances that took place inside various rooms, because it was hard to arrive on time and find space each time a [End Page 198]

Figure 3. Performance by visual artist Nikos Doulos in vacant apartment. Courtesy Konstantinos Mihos.
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Figure 3.

Performance by visual artist Nikos Doulos in vacant apartment. Courtesy Konstantinos Mihos.

Figure 4. Dancer on rooftop. Courtesy Konstantinos Mihos.
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Figure 4.

Dancer on rooftop. Courtesy Konstantinos Mihos.

[End Page 199] performance started. All audience members could potentially reunite around the blocks' entrances, when reaching the rooftops and in the open spaces between the buildings, where there was ample room for everyone. On purpose, there were parts in the choreography that had a predetermined duration and other ones the duration of which was adjusted every evening, according to the audience's rhythm. The latter was happening, for example, when the audience was moving vertically up and down the apartments of a building. Moreover, when something was happening close to the viewers, often something else suddenly started somewhere distant. For instance, when the audience was outside, a dance or live music sequence would start on one of the rooftops.

The choreographer wanted time to be experienced through space. His general concept about the structuring of time in the performance was that it should be articulated through constantly stopping and continuing without predetermined timing («σταμάτημα και προχώρημα χωρίς προκαθορισμένο χρόνο»; Mihos 2015). This was why, for instance, inside the buildings, viewers had to find their own way and to decide on the spot how much time they would spend on this or that installation, performance, or empty room. This was also what the sometimes abrupt alterations of near and far events produced. Spectators were forced to shift and readjust their attention, decide where to go, when to move on, or even whether to abandon the group altogether and follow their own route. One audience member, in an informal discussion with me, confirmed that he indeed had left the group. He only realized when I told him this that the choreographer had hoped for such deviations. According to Mihos, the reason behind this fragmentation of time that occurred also through the use of space in the choreography was that he wanted to sharpen the audience's perception of space and time by constantly keeping them alert and forcing them to readjust their attention and decide individually where and when to go. He wanted to avoid a sense that what they were attending was given and neat («η αίσθηση του δοσμένου που είναι τακτοποιημένο»; Mihos 2015).

The audience's experience of time brings to mind Gaston Bachelard's understanding of human perception of time, as in his early book, The Intuition of the Instant (1997; original in French, 1932). Bachelard attacked Bergson's understanding of time as duration, a Hegelian linear approach that reduced the instant to a nonsignificant abstraction. For Bachelard, duration is an external construction that cannot be experienced as such. Rather, it is based on memory, and as such, it is by definition an ability of the imagination (36–37). Bachelard followed, instead, the historian and folklorist Gaston Roupnel. For both of them, the instant is the only reality of time, because only in the instant can humans actually experience time (17–18). Moreover, attention plays a [End Page 200] key role in the experience of the instant. Clarity can only exist in will, in the consciousness, when attention is focused on something and stretches until it decides upon an act (πράξη), and an act is first and foremost an instantaneous decision and the beginning of something (30–31). Based on the primacy of the instant, for Bachelard the experience of time is articulated not as continuity but in its "restartings," in those moments when something happens that catches one's attention, the small or big event that makes one notice that something happened, that makes one think, potentially act, and may afterwards remain in memory (30–31). This conception of the experience of time in the instant, as well as the relation between attention, instantaneous decision-making, and the act, resonates with the audience's experience of time as manipulated by Mihos through the creation of distractions (for example, abrupt alterations of near and far events), which fragmented the flow of the piece. One would do better to talk not of a flow, but of continuous "restartings" to describe the audience's experience of how the piece unfolded in time.

Although Mihos was motivated by the site's history, he avoided the representation of any form of historical narrative (except probably in the special guests and Mrs. Eleni's self-determined contributions). Forms of representation were left out of the final performance in favor of abstract formulations, even if the latter had extremely concrete departure points. For example, where the departure point of a movement during rehearsal exercises was "I am a bullet hole on the wall," in the performance, the audience could potentially make related associations only when a dance sequence on a rooftop unfolded within the viewing horizon that included the bullet traces. The use of contact improvisation for in situ explorations and the development of the choreography, into which the performers' prior historical knowledge and their communication with remaining residents were also filtered, was indeed a choreographic approach to the past through a temporal experience of instants in the present. Each sequence was processed separately by one or two participants and installed as a separate station of the guided tour. For the participants, the performance was constructed as a stapling together of sequences, rather than as a coherent whole. This was how the choreographer wanted the presence of the site's historical past to be experienced and perceived by means of the performance.

Performing the dialectical image

Την παρουσία τους στην πόλη η εικόνα τη μεσολαβεί, δηλαδή τη σημαίνει. Ακριβώς γιατί η ζωή, η όποια δύσκολη ζωή στεγάζουν, μας διαφεύγει εμάς των περαστικών, εμάς των θεατών. [End Page 201]

[It is the image that mediates, that signifies their presence in the city. Precisely because life, any strenuous life hosted under their roof, escapes us passersby, us spectators.]

In December of the same year, around the time of the trial for the owners' appeal to the courts and when they were facing pressure from the preparation for the Olympic Games, a second action by Urban Void took place (Urban Void 2007, 140–143). Entitled Queuing, it emphasized the presence of the past in the instant of the visual experience of the architecture at the time of the action. While in their first action Urban Void had used a game as methodology and later Mihos used physical contact, this third action employed the act of looking. Looking at the architecture mobilized an approach to social and political history from the perspective of the history of architecture and urbanism. In front of the locked main entrances of the first row of buildings facing Alexandras Avenue, Urban Void formed lines of members, residents, and passersby. One after another, each person approached the entrances, silently peered into the emptiness behind the doors' windows, and then withdrew to the end of the line, waiting his or her turn again.

The departure point of Queuing was that the presence and image of the buildings signified uncomfortable issues. A statement on the project reads: "In a city swelling with waves of refugees and immigrants, it is the last point that still lays literal claim to the label 'refugee.' In its desperate attempts to stage-manage Athens' Olympic image, the state is torn between demolishing the buildings and partially restoring them on certain conditions" (Urban Void 2007, 140). Occupying the pavement in front of the façade, the lines activated a double action of looking. Within the action, participants peered through the emptiness of the locked buildings. With the action, they appropriated and accentuated the incongruous image of the decaying architecture by adding yet another element: "the unexpected appearance of an everyday image—forming a queue—outside the most public of the abandoned building of the housing complex" (Urban Void 2007, 140). In other words, while the façade of the buildings alone comprises an unanticipated feature, a visual event, interrupting the urban aesthetics of its surroundings, the temporary presence of the queues accentuated further these strange dialectics of the urban landscape.

Just as with the dodgeball game in 2000, the formation of a collective body for an action that imitated daily life, that required no professional performing skills, and that made no differentiation of roles or identities lent a character of equality, interchangeability, and inclusiveness to the participatory event, however symbolic or naïve. Only in this case, the action functioned primarily with and within the striking image of the refugee houses in their urban landscape. [End Page 202]

Svetlana Boym's writing on the ruins of modernity is relevant to the refugee housing on Alexandras Avenue. Ruins of the modern world, she writes, "point at possible futures that never came to be," but in the twenty-first century, they do not awaken any nostalgia to be restored. Rather, "they make us aware of the vagaries of progressive vision as such" (Boym 2011). The image of modern architecture in a state of decay also brings to mind Walter Benjamin. For Benjamin, the nineteenth-century Parisian shopping arcades as ruins were an allegory of bourgeois modernity, industrialization, and consumerism, bringing together in a dialectical image the "then" of the mid-nineteenth century with the "now" of Benjamin's present in the 1920s and 1930s.11 Benjamin saw in this allegory the critique of a modern ideology of bourgeois progress. According to Susan Buck-Morss, a major scholar of his work, the arcades were "Benjamin's central image because they were the precise material replica of the internal consciousness, or rather, the unconscious of the dreaming collective. All of the errors of bourgeois consciousness could be found there … as well as … all of its utopian dreams. Moreover, the arcades were the first international style of modern architecture" (Buck-Morss 1989, 39).

Modernist social housing projects could also be seen in a different sense, as a replica of the unconscious of another dreaming collective. A modern European ideology of progress that matched technological development with social planning in state-controlled urbanization was materialized from the 1930s to the 1960s in the form of social housing projects often situated on the outskirts of cities. This came about under the auspices of the international modernism of CIAM, with its socialist and functionalist vision of urban planning and architecture, apparent also in the famous Athens Charter published by Le Corbusier in 1943 and based on his elaboration of ideas that dominated in CIAM's meeting in 1933 (Van Es 2014). The architecture was part of a kind of top-down socialist dream offered to the masses of people who were entering a process of becoming part of an urban working class and lower middle class. At least for some of the people concerned, the housing projects represented a dream of a better life. Housing projects offered a standard of functionality and hygiene to everyone, even if they often segregated social classes. Specifically in the case of Greek refugees who had lived in slums upon first arriving from Asia Minor in the 1920s, the houses on Alexandras Avenue (offered to them in the 1930s at about the time of the CIAM meeting), with their bathrooms and laundry rooms, must have been a substantial improvement.

Nonetheless, in various countries, modernist housing projects were heavily criticized in the decades after their construction for their totalitarian approach to designing the space and life of the masses (Glayer 2007). People often rejected their monotonous models of life, austere functionalist design, [End Page 203] and the small size of the rooms. Several such housing projects gradually turned into hubs or ghettos of the poor population groups. A variation of this rejection of the architecture can be claimed about the very early 1930s, modernist social housing in Greece. However well-designed, the refugee housing blocks of the 1930s offered apartments far smaller and more austere than the more spacious, private bourgeois apartment blocks. The latter also appeared in the 1930s in Greece, and for several decades, they represented the horizon of desire in housing for the Athenian middle and even the upper middle class.12 Living in refugee houses signified belonging to the working class with a lack of social mobility. Later, from the postwar years up to the late-twentieth century—when prejudice against the refugees of 1922 had become irrelevant, but the houses' external image of decay was worsening—there are testimonies of young people who felt embarrassed to tell others that they lived there (Eytaksiopoulos 2015; Parmenidis 2015).

Time after time

As a way of closing, let me fast-forward to 2015. The Greek crisis, with its complicated economical, political, social, and cultural parameters, has been instrumental in changing meanings attached to urban spaces and ways of life. Poverty and homelessness have become more socially accepted than before. Squatting has gained a new political, social, and financial legitimacy in many people's eyes. These and other transformations are too complex to sketch out here. Interestingly, in the midst of these developments, the refugee houses on Alexandras Avenue have again become a site of sociopolitical identification and desire as contemporary living space.

A group of antiauthoritarian squatters—in collaboration with some of the refugees, migrants, and other more or less temporary occupants of the 180 blocks expropriated by the state in anticipation of the Athens 2004 Olympics—have turned several apartments into a self-organized commune, with its own social, educational, cultural, and other organizational structures and activities/3 They call themselves Κοινότητα Κατειλημμένων Προσφυγικών Λ. Αλεξάνδρας (Community of Occupied Refugee Houses of Alexandras Avenue), and they are run by two assemblies: ΣΥ.ΚΑ.ΠΡΟ (Συνέλευση Κατειλημμένων Προσφυγικών; SY.KA.PRO., Occupied Refugee Houses Assembly) and Α.Σ.Α.Κ.Α. (Ανοιχτή Συνέλευση Αγώνα Κοινότητας και Αλληλέγγυων; A.S.A.K.A., Open Assembly of Community and Solidarity Struggle). The former is only for squatters—local, migrant, or refugees—of the houses. The latter is open to anyone caring to support the squatters and their efforts to remain [End Page 204] there. They run various self-organized structures, such as regular weekend activities for children and self-education, a collective kitchen, a bakery, which are mainly oriented towards squatters but may also be accessible to others. They have created a lively, multicultural, and family-friendly neighborhood, and even managed to reduce drug trade in the abandoned houses.

On the one hand, they are the first in daily life to have made the past of the houses meaningful in the present, approaching it through a physical, temporal, and even aesthetic experience of the site. In this respect, they are close to Urban Void's and Wrong Movement's approach, which took the time and space of the present as their starting point for the use of the site in their interventions. On the other hand, while they reject the αστική (bourgeois) national historical and cultural construction, they nonetheless approach history using similar construction mechanisms of a linear history of social and political repression of the working class and the political left during the twentieth century. This is made explicit, for instance, in their statement from 2014 (as quoted above) against the state's decision to hand over the houses to the Hellenic Republic Asset Development Fund. There, they declare that "the history and the present of the refugee houses captures the struggles of workers and those plundered"(SY. KA.PRO. 2014), and subsequently they refer to the partisans of 1944, as well as to the political prisoners held in the Averof prisons (which once stood on the land now occupied by the Supreme Court of Greece but have since been demolished). This statement thus calls on the houses to perform a symbolic function once again and sets the current precarious residents up as the legitimate heirs of the refugees and partisans of the first half of the twentieth century.

Questions such as whether and why some of the historical refugees may not have been happy to identify with the refugee houses, or whether leftist, antiauthoritarian ideology is compatible with CIAM's ideology of top-down, urban social housing planning and design, do not seem to bother the Greek antiauthoritarian squatters. Nor does a consideration of reasons that led to practical and ideological rejections of modernist social housing projects elsewhere in the world, including also ex-colonies in Northern Africa, from where many of today's displaced people in Europe come (Avermaete, Karakayali, and von Osten 2010). The local squatters' approach to political and social history in relation to the houses seems rather selective, focused as it is on specific episodes of the history of the Left in Greece, connecting them into a linear whole, and even interpellating today's refugee and migrant squatters within this local history. [End Page 205]

Eva Fotiadi
Free University Berlin
Eva Fotiadi

Eva Fotiadi is an art historian specializing in contemporary art and a postdoctoral fellow in Theatre Studies at Free University Berlin, Germany. She has published the book The Game of Participation in Art and the Public Sphere (Maastricht, 2011) and essays on public art, on process-based interdisciplinary forms of art, on exhibition histories, and on contemporary art in Greece.



The research for this article has been supported by fellowships of the Seeger Center for Hellenic Studies of Princeton University and the Dahlem Research School of Free University of Berlin.

1. Postwar reconstruction in Greece had to wait for the 1950s. Prior to that, about 58% of the postwar financial aid of the Marshall Plan actually went to war equipment for the government-led Greek army during the Civil War of 1946–1949 (Karadimou-Gerolympou and Kardamitsi-Adami 2004, 64).

2. Refugee housing complexes in other areas of Athens, for example, in Kaisariani and in Doyrgoyti (Neos Kosmos), have also been of historical significance for the end of the Nazi occupation and the Greek Civil War.

3. For more about the monument status, see its entry in the monument database created by the Εθνικό 'Ιδρυμα Ερευνών (National Hellenic Research Foundation) for their digital publication Αρχαιολογία της πόλης των Αθηνών (Archaeology of the city of Athens; 1996). According to a recent estimation by the squatters, about five hundred people live in the refugee houses (SY. KA.PRO. 2014).

4. To avoid confusion about Agamben's theory, I note that in Infancy and History Agamben is not yet focusing on messianic time as in his later work, most famously in The Time that Remains: A Commentary on the Letter to the Romans, first published in Italian in 2000.

5. I maintain the gender-specific term "man" in order to keep consistent with the English translation of Agamben's book. It would be problematic to replace "man" with a more gender-neutral term, such as "human," "individual," or "people," because in most English texts I have found about Marxist or Hegelian thinking about time and history, terms such as "human" or "individual" have specific meanings that have little or nothing to do with a correction of the gender-specific English translation of the German noun "Mensch" (used by Marx and Hegel) as "man."

6. It seems that after World War II there were attempts for a centrally organized reconstruction of the destroyed infrastructure, but they clashed with the priorities of the Western allies and the Greek government during and after the Civil War of 1946–1949 (Karadimou-Gerolympoy and Kardamitsi-Adami 2004).

7. The members of Urban Void were Phoebe Giannisi, architect; Jimis Efthimiou, artist; Lia Kanagini, architect; Nikos Kazeros, architect; Zisis Kotionis, architect; Panos Kouros, artist; Zafos Xagoraris, artist; Christina Parakente, architect; Eleni Tzirtzilaki, architect; Hariklia Haris, architect. After 2008, the group practically dissolved. All members pursued individual careers in architecture and the arts parallel to the group's actions, which they then continued after 2008. Some members came together again as "Urban Void" in later years in response to invitations. The first one was in 2009, when they organized a new action for the exhibition Expanded Ecologies, organized by the National Museum of Contemporary Art in Athens. The second time was in 2015, when they reenacted an old action at the site of Plato's Academy, as part of the events of Avtonomi Akadimia, a project by the artist Joulia Strauss. In their book Urban Void: Actions 1998–2006, they transcribed their dialogue during a group meeting in 2006, in which they discussed also the issue that their actions did not meet with much response by people who randomly came across the group's posters and press releases about upcoming actions or the actions themselves. For all the information about Urban Void and their projects in this article, see Urban Void 2007, 2015. [End Page 206]

8. According to the theorist of games Roger Caillois, all categories of games imply company rather than solitude, but mostly company of restricted size. Specifically, games in the categories of "alea" and "agon" share the characteristic that they create for the players' conditions of pure equality, which are denied in real life (Caillois 1962, 40 and 19, respectively).

9. For more on Situationism, see Debord 1957, 702; Wollen 1989, 20–61.

10. Choreography: Konstantinos Mihos and Maria Gorgia. Performers: Benno Voorham, Konstantinos Mihos, Markella Manoliadi, Irida Kuriakopoulou, Kostas Tsioukas, Vana Kostayola, Filio Louvari, Sofia Bempeza. Visual Artists: Sofia Bempeza, Christos Delidimos, Nikos Doulos, Maria Karathanou, Vana Kostayola, Rallou Panagiotou, Eleni Panouklia, Litsa Sepyrgioti, Lida Tentoma, Artemis Vasilopoulou. Musicians: Joe Tornabene, Giorgos Sumeonidis. The description of the preparation and of the final performance is based on interviews with Konstantinos Mihos in 2005 and 2015, with participating visual artists Nikos Doulos and Sofia Bempeza in 2013 and 2015, as well as on unplanned discussions in 2015 with three individuals who had attended as audience members. It should be said that in all interviews and discussions since 2013, both the artists and audience members emphasized that it has been a very long time and their memories were blurry.

11. In Benjamin's thinking, the concept of the dialectical image and its function in relation to history are closely linked to his philosophy of history, which was a central inspiration for Agamben's Infancy and History (see, for example, Agamben 1993, 13–14). It is also one of the examples that Agamben uses in his book of philosophical attempts to reconceptualize time from within modern thought by means of criticizing the understanding of the experience of time as a continuum (Agamben 1993, 102–105).

12. In 1929, a law was passed in Greece that made horizontal ownership legally possible, thus opening the way for the construction of apartment blocks with multiple owners of individual apartments.

13. Information about the squatters can be found on the Community of Occupied Refugee Houses of Alexandra's Avenue (2016) website: http://prosfygika.espivblogs.net/?lang=en. Some clarifications I give in the text come from personal communication and attendance of their open assemblies.


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Bempeza, Sofia (Μπέμπεζα, Σοφία, visual artist, participated in performance First Residence, 2003). Interview by Eva Fotiadi. Skype interview, notes. 14 April 2015.
Carra, Thaleia-Maria (Καρρά, Θάλεια-Μαρία). Interview by Eva Fotiadi. Tape recording. Athens, 2 September 2013.
Doulos, Nikos (Δούλος, Νίκος, visual artist, participated in performance First Residence, 2003). Interview by Eva Fotiadi. Tape recording. Amsterdam, 2013.
Doulos, Nikos (Δούλος, Νίκος, visual artist, participated in performance First Residence, 2003). Interview by Eva Fotiadi. Digital recording. Amsterdam, 9 April 2015.
Eytaxiopoulos, Dimitris (Ευταξιόπουλος Δημήτρης, architect, resident of refugee houses on Alexandra's Avenue). Interview by Eva Fotiadi. Digital recording. Athens, 16 June 2015.
Mihos, Konstantinos (Μίχος, Κωνσταντίνος, choreographer of First Residence, 2003). Interview by Eva Fotiadi. Tape recording. Athens, 31 March 2005.
Mihos, Konstantinos. Interview by Eva Fotiadi. Digital recording. Athens, 22 June 2015.
Parmenidis, George (Παρμενίδης, Γιώργος, architect, Professor at the National Technical University of Athens and participant of May 2000 protection campaign event at refugee houses on Alexandra's Avenue). Discussion with Eva Fotiadi. Notes. Athens, 16 June 2015. [End Page 210]