For a number of years now, cities around the globe have been experiencing phenomena that have been labelled “crisis”, whether economic, political or social, and both local and global. The phenomena of economic recession such as the abandonment of commercial spaces, shifts in real estate values, as well as the phenomena of protest and civil disobedience, have left their scars and have transformed urban spaces and everyday life. The radical and often abrupt character of such phenomena has, time and again, led to their treatment as events, as exceptional, temporary situations that will gradually return to “normal” within a few years. These interpretations have, on numerous occasions, paved the way for and justified the deployment of emergency measures. Nonetheless, by now, city residents’ experiences of continuous rearrangement and transformation of public space and the public sphere, as well as everyday life’s long-term infiltration with emergency measures, demonstrate that scars and consequences of the crisis are both effects and causes within an on-going, indefinite process.
For this platform we have searched almost exclusively through published articles for approaches to the event as a process, including the city as a mediated portrait, artists’ responses, and the pursuit of spatial justice. While our motivation and departure point concern the current local situation in Greece, and Athens in particular, the texts also explore other geographies, representations and discourses. We have tried to bring together texts that offer ways of thinking that are potentially relevant beyond the spaces and cases of the of the authors’ direct interests.
In the first section, “The city as narrative”, Miriam Meissner’s observation about mediated representations of the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) is relevant for other articles as well: “As a discursive event existing ‘insofar as it is proclaimed and recognized as such’, the GFC has been dependent on the media. However, this crisis also epitomises a crisis of the media, challenging the general capacities of media representation and critique. How to illustrate the instantaneous yet systemic, rational yet exuberant, virtual yet highly consequential functionality of contemporary finance capitalism? This question has been particularly troublesome for filmmakers and journalists who have been trying to make the crisis sensible in audio-visual terms.” Nearly every article in this section brings together cultural products such as fiction and documentary films (Meissner), a TV series (Gray), an urban landscape architecture project (Lindner), and a chronicle (Chryssopoulos), which are either about, or acted out against, the backdrop of cities in economic, political or social crisis.
In the second section, “The artist as public intellectual”, we focus more closely on art, and especially to artists’ approaches and perspectives. The section opens with a general article by the art sociologist Pascal Gielen, in which he addresses the question of the relation between contemporary art and democracy within today’s neo-liberal world order. Most of the texts that follow provide artists’ approaches (or interpretations thereof) to resistance and protest within the same context. Interestingly, while the legacy of 20th century social and political engagement usually evolves around concepts of art-activism, the mobilization of art or artists in politics and society, several proposals in this section might, at first glance, strike one as expressions of passivity (Denekamp on sleep), deactivation of the artist’s work (Bempeza on artists’ strike) or retreat (Siouzouli on exodus). Accordingly, the analysis of artistic research as part of an artist’ practice (Steyerl) seems to move the latter from political activation to academic contemplation. However, this first impression soon evaporates as the authors provide acute and nuanced readings both of what needs to be resisted against, as well as how, taking into account the specificity of today’s economic, social and political conditions of art’s production and circulation.
Finally, the third section engages with the notion of “spatial justice” and the production of discourses that directly or indirectly relate to this notion. According to Edward Soja in his book Seeking Spatial Justice, before the 21st century this term was almost entirely absent from literature in the social sciences1. Most of the contributions in this section elaborate historically (e.g., Harvey), theoretically (e.g., Harvey, Stavrides, Maeckelbergh) or contextually (e.g., interview with Tony Alotta ) on concepts, terms and rhetoric such as the “urban commons”, “emancipation” and “the right to the city” to name a few, which are frequently employed by various sides – from city authorities, to occupy movements – for the articulation of their approaches to resistance in cities. Almost invariably, these conceptual and practical approaches propose social, economic, political or cultural rearrangements of city spaces with direct or indirect consequences regarding who may access and use (what) space, and how.
We would like to express our gratitude to all the authors and publishers who have given us their approval to include texts on this platform. We will gradually add more articles during the 4th Athens Biennial AGORA.
Eva Fotiadi & Nikos Doulos
1. Edward Soja, Seeking Spatial Justice. Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press, 2010, p. 26.
Nikos Doulos holds an MA in fine art (MFA) from the Dutch Art Institute (The Netherlands). Since 2011 he is a member of the Expodium collective, where he employs artistic means in a continuous search for a sustainable, innovative and human approach to challenges that cities are confronted with as a result of ever-ongoing urban processes. Within Expodium, Doulos focuses mainly on the initiation and coordination of projects, the creation of artists’ networks, as well as the development of systems and practices of artistic research. Website: www.expodium.nl
Eva Fotiadi is a lecturer in Contemporary Art and Theory at the University of Amsterdam and the Gerrit Rietveld Academy Amsterdam. Her interests include ephemeral and participatory art, art in public space, socially and politically engaged art, performance, theories of play and games, as well as histories of exhibitions and curating in the 20th century. She has completed her PhD at the University of Amsterdam in 2009 and published it in 2011 under the title The Game of Participation in Art and the Public Sphere (Maastricht: Schaker Publishing).