Aigaleo City Publication
Maria-Thalia Carras & Olga Hatzidaki
Date of publication:
Aigaleo City is as complex as a(ny) city to pin down.
It contains a multitude of strands: a human and humane network of people and places, of stories, memories, images and connections. At each turning you meet another ‘character’ another ‘place’ and with each step the foundations for a new narrative are laid. Aigaleo City brings to the forefront the importance and necessity of forging relationships based on equanimity and equal conversations, of bridging divides and of talking about histories whilst preparing for the future: a city’s life which contains the constant flow of life and death, love and loss, a palimpsest of haphazard situations.
During divisive economies and politics, Aigaleo City looked into the essence of what a community project could be. It asked, for whom? towards what? It looked to the origins of commune and communion (the way both touch on the possibilities of the sublime)?* questioned the validity of shared experiences and aimed to navigate past the objectification of communities per se and instead to sow the seeds for an exploration of alterity. Through exploring and working with micro-communities and each of their heterogenous zones that vibrantly overlap, in Aigaleo’s physical and mental space, locus athens aimed above all to lay no claims on universalism – Aigaleo City is a project that is as local as can be. Under the city’s low rise buildings and in its intimate courtyards we listened and learned.
Aigaleo City also aimed to dissect what a project commissioned by a visual arts foundation should or could be. Indeed, it was hardly visible, instead it dissolved into a network of relationships, existed only as exchanges of knowledge and ideas through shared experiences that surfaced only to be seen momentarily through different social networks as dispersed fragments. Aigaleo City’s resources was this fluidity and lack of apparent structure; whose currents could rather be seen as overlapping gestures, incomplete ebbs and flows, running like veins through the city at its public’s disposal.
The project’s format was based on an invitation to co-author subjectivities. locus athens asked architects, archaeologists, students, photographers, theatre directors, actors, musicians, film directors to each reach out to different micro-communities and find their own point of contact, develop their own unmediated relationships with the city. These relationships had two fundamentals; the creation of a mutual trust and bond and then, through the very possibility inherent in the act of trust, the forging of a sort of individual faith and imagining a world into being.
Aigaleo City started with research into a locality based on the trauma of displacement: three refugee peoples from Asia Minor, Pontos and Assyria were installed in the area in the early parts of the twentieth century, and slowly a city on the edge of Athens was born. A city that remains stubbornly rooted in its past: the contemporary body/city still has its history inscribed onto to it with street names (language de-rooted) referencing lost homelands and refugee populations’ pain. Aigaleo then welcomed internal migrants from the rest of Greece as Athens rapidly grew in size to accommodate them, they too in turn remained linked to their former homes, as if unable to accept or adapt to the ever sprawling city scape. Nostalgic refugee houses stand still side by side with more contemporary architectural borrowings, they stand together sometimes awkwardly, under the same expansive Athenian sky.
Internal migrants moved to Aigaleo to work. Even the first refugees were placed there as potential labourers for a large scale gun-powder factory (now the city’s park). Later major industries and factories were developed in the area as Aigaleo was developed into one of Athens’ major industrial zones. Nowadays, both more connected to the center of Athens, whilst de-industrialized, caught uneasily between its past and its hesitant future, Aigaleo can easily be read as paradigmatic of the shifts and changes in Athens or Greece at large.
Aigaleo City aimed at first to explore these uneasy spaces – of histories that are increasingly relevant to this day, to look into the possibilities of plurality in a Greek city space, and by necessity co-existence. Co-existence not only of different migrant populations but also of historical narratives: an Ancient city (the Holy Way to Elefsina), Byzantine churches, Asia Minor housing, constant movements and migrations, multiple layers transcribed onto each other (sometimes eradicated other times ignored).
In its second phase, (young) Aigaleo City looked to shift forward to imagining the city’s future space. A space which has been literally shattered in recent years in Greece, with nearly 50 % youth unemployment. The future does not look pretty. In response and by activating younger generations, from infants to teenagers, locus athens hoped to create some sort of civic engagement; asking teenagers to identify their city and their role in it, inviting children to engage in participatory design of their schools, imagining new forms of play, encouraging collaborative processes and allowing for new forms of learning and exchange based on improvisation and play. Aigaleo City by reaching out to different schools and age groups, tentatively hoped to illuminate new forms of knowledge and experiences, empowering children in Aigaleo with new tools to understand the radical shifts and movements of their contemporary world.
Through these gestures, Aigaleo City hoped to create small incisions within the very fabric of the city, creating a sort of resistance to stasis, an antidote to spectacle, gathering stories from the past in order to change the very form and fabric of the city and by extension, our lives.
*Communion – act of the receiving of the eucharist; a religious denomination; association, fellowship; interchange, sharing of thoughts and emotions; intimate communication; the act of sharing or holding in common; participation; the state of things so held.