Tuesday, March 13, 2007
Because our society already punishes people with exile and homelessness I need to focus on a particular set of issues relating to the cityless man (apolis) which was the subject of the exhibition that took place in Hellenic American union at the end of 2006. I am going to use the arguments of my introduction to the catalogue of Hellenic American union in Athens..By understanding that in the artistic avant-garde movements of the 20th century those influences that were opposed to the traditions of metropolitan modernism were few, any idea of seeking an environment in which the language of architecture is invalid seems ineffective. Throughout the period of -isms, the tactics of the trailblazers advocated the idea of the hypsipolis (one who is high or honoured in one’s city), not so much in the sense of acceptance, of principles, and active participation in preserving them, but mainly in the sense of defending new ideas and attitudes which, although in some cases can be different to the status quo, are proposed within the context of upgrading the state. The Aristotelian definition of man reveals the necessity of identifying every human activity with the principles of an organised community. During the previous century, radical proposals remained consciously dedicated to the koina, or common concerns, in order to renew and modernise society more rapidly. Even the issue of “revolution” became directly related to the social groupings that were created in urban centres, and it was because of these that conflicts arose.
In the 19th century, the classic dual label of Beast or God for those unable to live in a society was supplemented, and partially negated, by a third convention: that of the solitary walker who seeks the truth and the meaning of life in communion with the natural environment.
The modern age, having chosen an exploitative relationship with unsullied nature, created resistance to the “exiled poet” who, as a former inhabitant of the city, was henceforth called upon to recompose his primeval nostalgia by comparing it to the sinful image of his metropolitan starting point. With this attribute, the participating artists and architects have begun from the experience of the “city-problem”, without so much posing the question of why, but stressing the ways in which the hypsipolis -he who was once lauded in his city- is transformed into apolis, citiless, who wanders beyond its boundaries and lapses from virtue.
Certainly, the person who is citiless or stateless these days is not only he who by nature rejects society; even more so he is one who, due to circumstances, is forced to abandon his own community. This choice can be explained exclusively in terms that have to do with immigration and expatriation . After a century of commitment to the tenets of modernism, what kind of strange “escapist” neo-modernism would reject the city? And if in the past the city provided energy and inspiration for the avant-garde, who, today, would want to praise it?
Athens, as an architectural dystopia that has suffered unbridled development, offers much material for questioning. It is perceived as an anti-model city, where all architectural testimony is unpleasant and oppressive. The belying of the expectations of the international style of architecture, and especially the Greek model of multi-storied buildings, prompts us to question the need for the city, as well as the ways in which it preserves its supremacy . However what we would like to address, and what this exhibition emphasises, is the “place” of that person who disowns the city, or at least ceases to seek it. But how necessary is it for us to speak exclusively in the terms of geography? Within the flow of events in a city, the citizen’s experience of being citiless is a phenomenon that remains unnoticed. It is perhaps more a psychic process that expresses the general tendency towards the poetics of transfer. It is an internal journey that remains uncovered and replaces the “object” of architecture with the “airy materialism” of the ephemeral which leaves no history, no trace, no evidence . If, despite all this, there were some reason to justify wandering under any conditions, perhaps it would be the quest for a destiny that was open to visibility by seeking infinite freedom. Far from the city and its troubles, which means distance from people. How much solitude fits in this confrontation? And how could it be portrayed?
“From these things therefore it is clear that the city-state is a natural growth, and that man is by nature a political animal, and a man that is by nature and not merely by fortune citiless is either low in the scale of humanity or above it…” (Aristotle Politics, I, i.7-9, Harvard University Press, 2005, p. 9)
While a man who is incapable of entering into partnership, or who is so self-sufficing that he has no need to do so, is no part of a state, so that he must be either a lower animal or a god. (Aristotle Politics, I, i.7-9, Harvard University Press, 2005, p. 13)
In the same text, Aristotle uses three adjectives used by Homer to describe Nestor, the man who was in favour of civil war (Iliad, I., 63). Is the “clanless, lawless, hearthless”, that is, the person who is without family, laws and a home, truly a supporter of domestic turbulence today?
It would be interesting to look at a story of passing into the city, and out of it, literally, at the gates. The comment of the Roman orator Pomponius (D 1, 8, 11) is useful to distinguish the legal framework of the Roman empire with regard to violating city walls:
“Si quis violaverit muros, capite punitur : sicuti si quis transcedet scalis admotis, vel alia qualibet ratione : nam cives romanos alia, quam per portas, egredi non licet : cum illud hostile et abominandum sit : nam et romuli frater remus occisus traditur ob id, quod murum transcendere voluerit.”
[Whoever desecrates the city walls is punished by death: for example, anyone who climbs over the walls, using ladders or by any other means; indeed, Roman citizens must leave the city only through its gates. To do otherwise is to commit a hostile and abominable action, for Remus, brother of Romulus, was killed, history tells us, only for wanting to climb over the city walls.]
However, a survey of the collective fantasies of the youth culture of the 50s would help us comprehend the spirit of escape in trips to the country, where the shell of a house was replaced by the shell of the car, offering millions of teenagers a pleasant way to escape from the restrictive environment of the city.