Thursday, December 21, 2017

Thinking on Your Feet

Thinking on Your Feet (Partial Reconstruction of Joaquin Garcia Torres Toy Figures
as an Instrument of Research for Politics), 2017
Wood, acrylic, stucco, cement
172 x 30 x 47 cm

Between the Private and the Public, the Intimate and the Political

Kostis Velonis’s sculptural work often refers to historical events and art historical movements, while his markedly political work has at the same time a very personal aspect. He creates narratives characterized by the linking of personal stories with the reworking of past happenings. His personal experiences and reference points inflect his theoretical pursuits, and historical leaders and literary heroes often play a leading part in his newly invented scenarios. Velonis’s sculptures have a modest character, and they are usually made of wood, cardboard, small objects, and materials from the natural environment, which the artist finds and reuses in a process of bricolage. His works often transmit emotions such us loneliness, failure, melancholy, and uncertainty.
Kostis Velonis’s solo exhibition A Puppet Sun is organized by NEON and curated by Vassilis Oikonomopoulos. It is on view through January 14, 2018. It features twenty-five new works that the artist conceived for 11 Kaplanon Street in central Athens, responding to the history and architecture of the building. This neoclassical residence has a remarkable history. It was constructed in 1891 and first occupied by Pavlos Kountouriotis, the first president of the Second Hellenic Republic (1924–35, the second period in modern Greek history where Greece was not headed by a king). At the beginning of the twentieth century, the Zouzoula family acquired the residence, and the ground floor became the office of the politician Apostolos Zouzoulas, one of the founders of the People’s Party. Between the 1910s and the 1920s the building served as party headquarters. Later, during the authoritarian Metaxas Regime (1936–41), it was transformed into a residence for female students.
Kostis Velonis and Daphne Vitali in conversation
Mousse Magazine. Between the Private and the Public, the Intimate and the Political : Kostis Velonis

This Modern House for Sale

Within the history of modern architecture in México, collaboration is a recurring theme. Urban planners, architects and artists praised collaborative actions as a way to integrate new buildings into the city in a coherent manner as well as to achieve a synthesis of the arts with architecture. Through these collaborative efforts, outstanding works of architecture were raised, such as the modern campus of the National University (1953) and the Housing Complex of Nonoalco-Tlatelolco (1964), just to mention a pair. Nevertheless, there were some projects that, with time, ended up contradicting the original spirit of collaboration through intense debates concerning authorship. The Towers of Satellite City, built by Luis Barragán and Mathias Goeritz between 1957-58 are infamous in this regard. The dispute around authorship for this monumental sculpture broke any sort of relationship between the architect and the sculptor from the late 1960s until Barragán’s death. Even today, followers and fanatics of Barragán’s or Goeritz’s production continue arguing about this dynamic.
In contrast, the history of modern architecture in Mexico is full of examples of fruitful collaborations. A case in point is the exemplary collaboration between Juan O’Gorman and Max Cetto, sustained in great part by their close friendship. O’Gorman, credited as the first architect to construct a modern building in Mexico, met Cetto shortly after he arrived to the country in 1939 as refugee escaping from Nazi Germany. Friendship between the two developed rapidly; they shared, among other things, progressive ideas regarding art, architecture and politics. No one knows with certainty the extent of their collaborations, dialogues and mutual influences; however, their use of stone and other natural materials in the process of construction in an almost expressionist fashion, the stair as a sculptural element, and their respectful and close attention to the relationship between architecture and the landscape are some of the interests and defining characteristics that their architectural practices share.
Collaboration between Cetto and O’Gorman has not yielded any sort of polemics, even though the Mexican architect signed and registered the work of his friend until he became a national citizen. This absence of disputes can be understood, partly, if the nature of their relationship beyond their professional practices and dialogues it is taken in consideration. Juan Guzmán’s (Hans Gutmann) series of color photographs from the 1950s in O ́Gorman’s well known residence/studio at Avenida San Jerónimo, features images of what appears to be Cetto playing chess with O ́Gorman, an activity that they practiced habitually. In other photographs, the daughters of the German architect play and lounge around the property, as if it were their own house.
In 2005, Anuar Maauad found an architectural drawing of Rufino Tamayo ́s house and studio located in the Anzures neighborhood. The building, completed in 1949, is part of Cetto ́s production, although Maauadńs finding is signed by O ́Gorman and the drawing showcases some architectural features that easily relate to his functionalist period. There are differences between the drawing and the final buildings, like the stair in the studio, but the general concept of the construction is very similar. Intrigued by the history of this project, Maauad began researching the work of O’Gorman and Cetto, and also included the presence of Tamayo who commissioned the construction. Without finding any reliable information about this house’s history, Mauuad’s speculation began: Is this drawing a preliminary study of the construction signed by O’Gorman shortly before Cetto became a Mexican citizen in 1947? How much discussion existed between the architects, as the project demonstrates s shared interests and solutions between the two? Did Tamayo play any part in this story, since his confrontational stance against figures such as O’Gorman increased during the 1940s?
For this exhibition Anuar Maauad has built three models of Tamayo’s house and studio--as it appears in the drawing that he found, as it was constructed in 1947, and as it appears today after decades of unfortunate interventions and modifications. Each structure represents a point in the history of this building that, miraculously, is still standing. He also gives a physical presence to Cetto, O’Gorman, and Tamayo who were involved in the mythology of this house. The large-scale plaques made of stretched canvas with their signatures rendered in bronze serve as an index of identity and authorship. The artist has collected and displays photographs and documents that serve as fragments from which to speculate about the house’s history and the three characters involved with it. In one of these images, it is possible to see the functionalist houses built by O’Gorman for his family and Diego Rivera in San Angel between 1929 and 1932. In the photograph, a sign on his family’s house reads “This Modern House for Rent.”
It is from this document that Maauad borrows the title of this exhibition. If in this case, the title announces This Modern House for Sale it is because this project aims to be an open invitation for someone to acquire Tamayo’s former residence and workplace. As part of his initiative, the artist seeks to find a buyer for the house, in order to restore it and redefine its history. As such, This Modern House for Sale is an invitation to collaborate with the artist, in the spirit of O’Gorman and Cetto, in order to preserve an example of modern architecture and launch a platform to advance research and programs on this matter.
- Daniel Garza-Usabiaga
Anuar Maauad
This Modern House for Sale
November 18 - December 10

Efrain Lopez Gallery

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Dead Feathers Unfolded

Dead Feathers Unfolded, 2017
Wood, plywood, acrylic, oil
 93 x 166 x 192 cm

Peacocks: The Pomp of Power

Peacocks: The Pomp of Power presents a display of artworks and objects from the Nottingham City Museum and Art Galleries fine art, decorative art, lace, costume and textiles, and natural history collection. The selected works are inspired by the beautifully elegant peacocks that grace the grounds of Newstead Abbey, the ancestral home of the Romantic Poet Lord Byron. Byron was both a sartorial peacock and lover and keeper of these extravagant creatures; hence the title of this exhibition has been taken from Don Juan: Canto The Seventh, a poem by the poet and great eccentric.
Peacocks have taken on important roles and various identities in many countries and cultures: their vivid feathers or designs resembling their shape and beauty continue to feature heavily on interior décor, garments, ceramics and accessories.
The Henry the Seventh’s Lodging, situated along the East Gallery from the Charles II Room, is one of the main bedrooms at Newstead and is also known as the Japanese Room. The upper walls are fitted with screens and painted panels that were brought back to Newstead by the Webb sisters, who travelled to the Far East in the 1890s. They depict the beauties of the natural world and date from the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries.  They are hand-painted on gold leaf with peacocks, cranes, ocean waves, pine trees and cherry blossom.
The peacock and its colours are synonymous with Indian identity and in 1963 the peacock was declared the National Bird of India because of its rich religious and legendary involvement in Indian traditions. The bird is indigenous to India and Sri Lanka, but now features in countries all over the world and is as much a part of the country-house tableau as fountains and parterres. Taken from its homeland by traders thousands of years ago, the Indian peacock eventually reached England, where it became something of a country house status symbol. A number of vibrant and detailed Indian textile items are included in Peacocks: The Pomp of Power along with a beautiful wooden plate with a copper inlay and a ceremonial sword.
In Russian folklore the peacock carries a lot of meanings, it symbolises the spring and the sun along with its many attributes such as warmth, light and power. In the 11th century, the peacock motif appeared in Russian embroidery, and is thought to have come from Byzantium art to Russia, along with Christianity. Different regions developed their own depictions of peacocks and some of these stylized peacock designs can be seen within this exhibition, used by embroiderers on a number of 19th century linen bobbin lace borders.
The exhibition is open alongside a display of Japanese Woodblock prints from the Nottingham City Museums and Galleries collections in the Charles II Room.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Parapolitics: Cultural Freedom and the Cold War

Lene Berg, Stalin by Picasso or Portrait of a Woman with Moustache, 2008. Façade-banner. Courtesy the artist.

In Amos Tutuola’s 1954 novel My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, the young protagonist is running away from slave-catchers when he accidently crosses the border of reality as he knows it. His flight from bondage, however, does not earn him freedom. Rather, he finds himself in an absurd, liminal world of conversing symbols and delirious phantasms, in which the entire regime of meaning-production is subject to tectonic shifts. Tutuola—whose idiosyncratic use of English language and Yoruba folklore propelled a battle of interpretations—would later become a member of the Mbari Clubs, the first of which was established in Ibadan in 1961. These cultural centers, initiated by the German-Jewish expatriate Ulli Beier, were a gathering place for a generation of African artists, writers, and musicians. Together, they spearheaded a renaissance of Yoruba culture.
One of the sponsors of the Mbari Clubs was the Paris-based Congress for Cultural Freedom (CCF), an organization founded in West Berlin in June 1950 by a group of writers driven to consolidate an "anti-totalitarian" intellectual community. Its ten-year anniversary was celebrated at the then newly inaugurated Kongresshalle, today’s Haus der Kulturen der Welt. With offices in more then 30 countries, the CCF subsidized countless cultural programs from Latin America to Africa and Southeast Asia, developing a network of journals, conferences, and exhibitions that advanced a "universal" language of modernism in literature, art, and music. By 1967, it was revealed that the CCF was secretly bankrolled by America’s espionage arm, the Central Intelligence Agency. The CIA scandal confirmed the lingering suspicion that had trailed the CCF from the days of its origin: not quite an autonomous entity, the organisation had been enlisted in shoring up an anti-Communist consensus in the service of US hegemony during the Cultural Cold War. The disclosure destroyed the CCF’s reputation, exposing the ideological contradictions and moral ambiguities of advocating freedom and transparency by means that are themselves outside of democratic accountability.
The term "parapolitics" refers to the use of soft power in the Cold War. Employing the history of the Congress for Cultural Freedom as an optical device, the project brings Picasso’s famous dictum  "art is a lie that tells truth" into relation with the work of an intelligence agency whose "art lies in concealing the means by which it is achieved."
In the shadowy underside of liberal consensus, freedom appears as always contingent on its foreclosures. Tracing tectonic shifts in intellectual affiliations across political conflict lines through the 20th century, the exhibition explores artistic strategies of engagement and subversion. It underlines how the play with meaning in an increasingly conceptually and semantically oriented world of art production has acted on the assertion of an endangered, precarious autonomy. Within the choreography of parapolitics, the canon of the Cold War modernism becomes a bush of ghosts.
Parapolitics brings together archival documents and artworks from the 1930s to the present by artists that prefigure and reflect the ideological and formal struggles arising from the cultural Cold War, but also works by contemporary artists critically reassessing the normalized narratives of modernism. It features magazines such as Der Monat (Germany), Encounter (UK), Sasanggye (South Korea), Quest (India), Africa South (South Africa), Black Orpheus (Nigeria), Transition(Uganda / Ghana), The New African (South Africa), Hiwar(Lebanon), and Mundo Nuevo (Latin America), that were either initiated or at times supported by the Congress for Cultural Freedom.
With works by Art & Language, Doug Ashford, Michael Baers, Antonina Baever, Alessandro Balteo-Yazbeck (with Media Farzin and Paolo Gasparini), Robert Barry, Romare Bearden, Samuel Beckett, Lene Berg, Broomberg and Chanarin, Fernando Bryce, Daniel Buren, Luis Camnitzer, Alice Creischer, Didactic Exhibition, Liu Ding, Charles and Ray Eames, Miklos Erdély, Peter Friedl, Liam Gillick, Sheela Gowda, Philip Guston, Gruppe Gummi K, Max de Haas, Chia Wei Hsu, Iman Issa, Voluspa Jarpa, David Lamelas, Jacob Lawrence, Norman Lewis, İlhan Mimaroğlu, Moiseyev Dance Company, Museum of American Art in Berlin, Solomon Nikritin, Irving Norman, Guillermo Nuñez, Branwen Okpako, Boris Ondreička, Nam June Paik, Décio Pignatari, Howardena Pindel, Sigmar Polke, Rebecca H. Quaytman, Walid Raad, Steve Reich, Ad Reinhardt, Gerhard Richter, Faith Ringgold, Norman Rockwell, Peter Roehr, Martha Rosler, Charles Shaw, Yashas Shetty, Francis Newton Souza, Frank Stella, The Otolith Group, Endre Tót, Suzanne Treister, Twins Seven Seven, Josip Vaništa, Wolf Vostell, and Susanne Wenger.
An accompanying conference titled "Freedom in the Bush of Ghosts" will be held on December 15 and 16, 2017 at Haus der Kulturen der Welt.
Curated by Anselm Franke, Nida Ghouse, Paz Guevara, and Antonia Majaca.


There are many like me.
I was made in a world of wood and old wives' tales.
I was made, with rings in my head and heels, to hold only
the strings that hold me.
Vaclav made me with his several knives.
His middle daughter made me with her milk and silver needle.
I lost my sword at sea when the captain ran off with me
in the play
and Sundays by the Vltava.
I was laid aside, like Czechoslovakia.
My strings were made of raw silk, red, and rotted
at sea and knotted themselves around me.

Gillian Allnutt, 2004

Thursday, December 7, 2017

You Glow in my Heart like the Flames of Uncounted Candles

You Glow in my Heart like the Flames of
Uncounted Candles, 2017 
Cement, wood, plywood, paper, acrylic, oil, watercolour
136 x 45 x 36

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Now Man's Bound to Fail, More

Bruce Nauman, Henry Moore Bound to Fail,1970

 Text by Robert Slifkin

October 135 (Winter 2011)

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Is it really brutalist architecture in Blade Runner 2049 ?

Blade Runner 2049's cityscape has been heavily influenced by brutalist forms. But the hyper-capitalist society in which the film takes place is completely at odds with the style's underlying philosophy.

Text by
Alice Sweitzer and Charlie Clemoes

We Keep this Flame

We Keep this Flame, 2017 
Wood, iron, plasticine, acrylic, oil 
90 x 93 x 38 cm 

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

The Spiritual Canticle (fragment)

Songs between the soul and the Bridegroom


Where have you hidden, Beloved, and left me moaning? You fled like the stag after wounding me; I went out calling you, but you were gone. 

Shepherds, you who go up through the sheepfolds to the hill, if by chance you see him I love most, tell him I am sick, I suffer, and I die. 

Seeking my love I will head for the mountains and for watersides; I will not gather flowers, nor fear wild beasts; I will go beyond strong men and frontiers.

Saint John of the Cross

Thursday, November 9, 2017

As if Only Through the Stage I Could Restrict My Desire to Live

As if Only Through the Stage I Could
Restrict My Desire to Live, 2017
Wood, bronze, acrylic, oil
50.5 x 33.5 x 20 cm

Paper Airplane

Harry Smith's paper airplane collection, photographed by Jason Fulford, published by Anthology Film Archive

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Kwaito's Promise

In mid-1990s South Africa, apartheid ended, Nelson Mandela was elected president, and the country’s urban black youth developed kwaito—a form of electronic music (redolent of North American house) that came to represent the post-struggle generation. In this book, Gavin Steingo examines kwaito as it has developed alongside the democratization of South Africa over the past two decades. Tracking the fall of South African hope into the disenchantment that often characterizes the outlook of its youth today—who face high unemployment, extreme inequality, and widespread crime—Steingo looks to kwaito as a powerful tool that paradoxically engages South Africa’s crucial social and political problems by, in fact, seeming to ignore them.
Politicians and cultural critics have long criticized kwaito for failing to provide any meaningful contribution to a society that desperately needs direction. As Steingo shows, however, these criticisms are built on problematic assumptions about the political function of music. Interacting with kwaito artists and fans, he shows that youth aren’t escaping their social condition through kwaito but rather using it to expand their sensory realities and generate new possibilities. Resisting the truism that “music is always political,” Steingo elucidates a music that thrives on its radically ambiguous relationship with politics, power, and the state.

Gavin Steingo, Kwaito's Promise: Music and the Aesthetics of Freedom in South Africa, University of Chicago Press, 2016  

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Killing me Softly

Killing me Softly, 2017
Cement, iron
195 x 33 x 38 cm

Friday, November 3, 2017

La teoría del duende

Federico García Lorca desarrolló una teoría estética donde despliega sus ideas acerca del proceso de creación artística: "El teatro y la teoría del Duende", conferencia dictada primero en Buenos Aires y luego en La Habana, en el año 1933. Aquí, Lorca manifiesta que el gran arte depende de un conocimiento cercano de la muerte, de la conexión con los orígenes de una nación y de un reconocimiento de las limitaciones del raciocinio. 

ACTOPOLIS | The Art of Action

Help Desk, 2015
Wood, plywood, oil, varnish
200 x 61 x 78 cm

The Actopolis exhibition is showcasing works produced as part of the project since 2015. Materials from the more than 45 individual projects show a rich repertoire of options for action to shape and change the cities in which we live in. 
The Athens chapter of Actopolis was co-curated by Elpida Karaba and Glykeria Stathopoulou who - as Temporary Academy of Arts - developed the performative Soft Power Lecture series together with a group of artists, journalists, architects, and scientists. The Temporary Academy of Arts (P.A.T.) questioned power relations in the fields of arts and culture, challenging institutional practices in times of massive economic, social and political transformations.
Artistic works as part of the Soft Power Lectures were produced by Panos Sklavenitis, Sofia Dona, Despina Zefkili, Contantinos Chatzinikolaou and invited artists Giannis Papadopoulos, Kostis Velonis, Angelos Krallis, Vangelis Vlahos, Natassa Bisa, Stefania Ablianiti, Stavroula Morakea, Dimitris Antoniou, Efthimis Theou and Elektra Angelopoulou.
Mariela Cvetić (Actopolis Belgrade) will be present with her lecture performance "Gaudeamus igitur: The Self-Organised Artist in a State of Domestic Agoraphobia". Actopolis Ankara/Mardin will be represented by the video works "Donkey Work" by Önder Özengi and "Foucault's Typewriter" by Ahmet Öğüt. 
ACTOPOLIS | The Art of Action
A project by Goethe-Institut and Urbane Künste Ruhr.
Concept: Angelika Fitz
Artisitc direction: Katja Aßmann, Angelika Fitz and Martin Fritz
Project management: Juliane Stegner, Goethe-Institut Athen
Project coordination: Natalia Sartori, Goethe-Institut Athen
Project management Urbane Künste Ruhr: Daniel Klemm
Local curators: Ankara / Mardin: Pelin Tan, Athens: Elpida Karaba/ Glykeria Stathopoulou, Belgrade: Boba Mirjana Stojadinović, Bucharest: Stefan Ghenciulescu/ Raluca Voinea, Oberhausen: geheimagentur, Sarajevo: Danijela Dugandzic, Zagreb: Ana Dana Beroš.
Co-producers: Goethe-Institut Ankara (Thomas Lier; Raimund Wördemann); Goethe-Institut Belgrad (Matthias Müller-Wieferig); Goethe-Institut Bucuresti (Beate Köhler; Evelin Hust); Goethe-Institut Bosnien und Herzegowina (Charlotte Hermelink); Goethe-Institut Kroatien (Katrin Ostwald-Richter), Theater Oberhausen (Peter Carp)
The exhibition at the Athens School of Fine Arts will also feature Soft Power Workshops. 
Exhibition Opening: 3 Nov 2017, 7pm.
 Nov 3rd - Nov 16th

Theory and Play Of The Duende

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Between 1918 when I entered the Residencia de Estudiantes in Madrid, and 1928 when I left, having completed my study of Philosophy and Letters, I listened to around a thousand lectures, in that elegant salon where the old Spanish aristocracy went to do penance for its frivolity on French beaches.
Federico Garcia Lorca
Translated by A. S. Kline 

Wednesday, October 25, 2017


Weathered, 2017
Iron, ceramic, wooden clay, veneer
41 x 20 x 13 cm

Inscribed Vandalism: The Black Square at One Hundred

In October 1882, the poet Paul Bilhaud (1854–1933) exhibited a painting of a black square entitled A Battle of Negroes at Night (Combat de nègres pendant la nuit) at the first “Salon of Untethered Art,” of which he himself was the founder, in the Masonic artistic tavern The Black Cat in Paris. In subsequent Salons of Untethered Art—in Russian translation, a synonym for this phrase could be “cheeky art”—at the same venue, his friend and drinking companion, the writer and humorist Alphonse Allais, exhibited a monochrome white picture (1883) and then a red one (1884).
The derivative imitator Allais cut his masterpieces to a pattern invented by Bilhaud: an illustration was created for a rationally composed amusing phrase—the red rectangle was “Tomatoes being harvested by apoplectic cardinals on the shores of the Red Sea,” and the white one was “Anemic girls making their first communion in snowy weather.”1
Fifteen years later, in 1897, Alphonse Allais published his April 1 Album, dedicated to April Fools’ Day, with Paul Ollendorff’s publishing house.2 It included seven “magnificent plates” interspersed with texts by the author and publisher; they took the form of monochrome rectangles set in fanciful graphic frames above pompously solemn captions. First came a black rectangle, with a more prolix title than the original: A Battle of Negroes in a Cave on a Dark Night(a reproduction of a famous picture). Allais was obliged to provide the explanation in brackets, since he was not the originator of the jest. Later on, Allais “forgot” about Paul Bilhaud’s authorship (they had quarrelled), and he attributed the creation of A Battle to himself; this version has become firmly established in history.
More than a century later, in late 2015, the State Tretyakov Gallery in Russia revealed the results of an expert art-historical and technological analysis performed, using the very latest equipment, on a different painting of a black square. The analysis indicated that Kazmir Malevich’s The Black Square (1915) was the third composition to have been painted on this canvas: the first was a Cubo-Futurist work, and its colors were already dry when Malevich set an abstract composition on top of it. It was on this second layer, while it was still wet, that the artist painted The Black Square. The new analysis also turned up an inscription on the white margin of the Square: “A battle of negroes … [continuation illegible].” It wasn’t long before the authorship of these words was attributed to Malevich himself.

Text by Aleksandra Shatskikh
Journal #85 - October 2017

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Dead Feathers Unfolded

Dead Feathers Unfolded, 2017
Wood, plywood, acrylic, oil
 93 x 166 x 192 cm

Το παγώνι

Γιάννης Κεφαλληνός, "Το Παγώνι" , 1946. Χαρακτικό για εικονογράφηση στο"Παγώνι" του Ζαχαρία Παπαντωνίου

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The social and cultural roots of whale and dolphin brains

Encephalization, or brain expansion, underpins humans’ sophisticated social cognition, including language, joint attention, shared goals, teaching, consensus decision-making and empathy. These abilities promote and stabilize cooperative social interactions, and have allowed us to create a ‘cognitive’ or ‘cultural’ niche and colonize almost every terrestrial ecosystem. Cetaceans (whales and dolphins) also have exceptionally large and anatomically sophisticated brains. Here, by evaluating a comprehensive database of brain size, social structures and cultural behaviours across cetacean species, we ask whether cetacean brains are similarly associated with a marine cultural niche. We show that cetacean encephalization is predicted by both social structure and by a quadratic relationship with group size. Moreover, brain size predicts the breadth of social and cultural behaviours, as well as ecological factors (diversity of prey types and to a lesser extent latitudinal range). The apparent coevolution of brains, social structure and behavioural richness of marine mammals provides a unique and striking parallel to the large brains and hyper-sociality of humans and other primates. Our results suggest that cetacean social cognition might similarly have arisen to provide the capacity to learn and use a diverse set of behavioural strategies in response to the challenges of social living.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Debate on Chimneys

Debate on Chimneys, 2017
Wood, plywood, ceramic, acrylic
128 x 48 x 131 cm

Man contemplating the expansion of the 20th century city, Athens

Man contemplating the expansion of the 20th century city, Athens, 1957. Credit: Benaki Museum, Costas Megalokonomou Archives

Unsung heroes of Athens cityscape

Builders, Housewives and the Construction of Modern Athens is a book for those of us who, blinded by the classical wonders of the Acropolis, have never given much thought to the nondescript cityscape below.
This is not about architect-led building design but an effort to understand the positives of Athens’ 20th century urbanism, warts and all. The heroes of the book are the polykatoikia – the prolific post-war apartment buildings that were built at impressive pace using reinforced concrete frames with masonry infill.
While their white facades, flat roofs and horizontal lines bore some similarities to the forms of modern architecture, these were, as author Ioanna Theocharopoulou points out, extremely simplistic versions. Polykatoikia differed from modern architecture in important ways. Not only did they lack the modern movement’s political and aesthetic agenda, they relied on informal ‘quasi-craft’ processes of construction and avoided innovation, precision and standardisation. Typically they had commercial uses on the ground floor with a marble lobby and staircase leading to a few floors of balconied apartments above. A roomier version was popular in middle and upper middle class areas, often with a maid’s room and a penthouse.
While there were exceptions, the design of this building type was the domain of the builder rather than an architect. It was, says Kenneth Frampton in the foreword,  ‘built for the people, of the people, by the people’.
These were ultra-desirable as symbols of modern city living, especially when combined with the then groundbreaking domestic appliances. This was lifestyle living, 1960s style, that represented progress, optimism and access to ‘the good life’.
The book sets polykatoikia firmly in the context of the preceding century as well as the strife of war and civil unrest of the 20th, and the densification and expansion of Athens. We learn how home ownership swelled as these apartments were constructed as joint ventures between developer and landowner. Typically this involved replacing 19th century neoclassical villas that had gone firmly out of fashion, with the landowner donating the land in exchange for a few units in the new development. In time, the migrant tradespeople working on the developments would become those buying the apartments.

There was a culture of ‘craftiness’ with regard to construction, with the 1955 Building Code legalising existing illegal construction and itself prone to amendments and deviations. Self-built humble dwellings on the city outskirts in time became ‘up-lifted’ to larger buildings as their rural immigrant owners  acquired the money to build polykatoikia and become landlords themselves. Here, the author draws links with the work of Alejandro Aravena’s Elemental practice today in designing homes that facilitate incremental construction and expansion.
Rather more interesting, to me at least, is the account of the social dimension of the polykatoikia and their representation in popular culture. Photos show women involved as labourers in the construction of the apartments but it was inside that they really held sway as interior stylists and consumers. Of course they were still doing all the housework, even if they did now wear a mini-skirt and wield an ultra-modern vacuum cleaner. Men, we learn, might have their own ‘masculine corner’ or room where they could relax in a comfortable leather armchair. Some might even have their own bachelor pad apartment.
Polykatoikia were important as representing a new idea of modern life and of Greek identity, and in doing so, says Theocharopoulou, blurred the previously separate realms of ‘informal/formal, local/foreign, traditional/modern’.
This informative – although sometimes a little dense – book closes with a look at some of the more innovative, recent architect-designed polykatoikia buildings and consideration of how a new generation of civic minded urban activists are responding to Greece’s financial crisis and huge influx of refugees. Some are renovating abandoned polykatoikia as housing, proving once again the resilience and adaptability of these buildings. Faced with such economic and social challenges, Athens needs the resourcefulness, wit and economy of means that this unlauded building type embodies. 

Text by Pamela Buxton

Builders, Housewives and the Construction of Modern Athens by Ioanna Theocharopoulou, foreword by Kenneth Frampton, Artifice

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Turmoil of the Blue

Turmoil of the Blue, 2017
Iron, wool fabric

133 x 157 x 155 cm

Historiosophical Scheme

Andrei Bely, Historiosophical Scheme, Tcikhis -Dziri, Georgia,1927
Watercolor, ink, pencil on paper

From Doxiadis’ Theory to Pikionis’ Work: Reflections of Antiquity in Modern Architecture

In this book, Tsiambaos redefines the ground-breaking theory of Greek architect and town planner Constantinos A. Doxiadis (The Form of Space in Ancient Greece) and moves his thesis away from antiquity and ancient architecture, instead arguing that it can only be understood as a theory founded in modernity. 
In light of this, the author explores Doxiadis’ theory in relation to the work of the controversial Greek architect Dimitris Pikionis. This parallel investigation of the philosophical content of Doxiadis’ theory and the design principles of Pikionis’ work establishes a new frame of reference and creates a valuable and original interpretation of their work. Using innovative cross-disciplinary tools and methods which expand the historical boundaries of interwar modernism, the book restructures the ground of an alternative modernity that looks towards the future through a mirror that reflects the ancient past.
From Doxiadis’ Theory to Pikionis’ Work: Reflections of Antiquity in Modern Architecture is fascinating reading for all scholars and students with an interest in modernism and antiquity, the history and theory of architecture, the history of ideas and aesthetics or town planning theory and design