in essence, a science slam is a format where young scientists and researchers are challenged to present their academic projects in an understandable and entertaining way. the problem: you only have exactly 10 minutes to do so. a few weeks back i was kindly invited by the organizers of policult to take part in one of their events and ended up on their potsdam stage in the beginning of february. here’s the video of my appearance there. as it is only available in german, i provided an english translations below.
as you can see above, i will talk about street art today, particularly political street art in athens in the context of the crisis. as this is an extremely visual topic, i also employed visual methods – particulary photography – strategically to approach my field. as an introduction i would like to invite you to travel to the crisis city of athens with me and my photographs.
welcome to athens.
symbolic epicentre of the european crisis,
city of conflict,
city of contradictions,
city of decay.
the cradle of democracy stuck in limbo between a present that doesn’t seem to pass and a future that still needs to be designed.
a city marked by 5 years of crisis,
a city full of marked people.
the walls tell their stories, in the cracks of reality.
by now almost noone cares to remove them.
βασανίζομαι (i torture myself),
words cover the streets like tags of the crisis
as a game of life and death,
projected on broken and vulnerable bodies,
often of children and young adults,
with hollow cheeks and empty eyes.
a city in a state of emotional exception.
welcome to the civilization of fear.
the protest on the walls cannot be kettled in.
the city in flames,
everywhere and at all times.
the only terrorist are the 8 o’clock news
the only terrorist is the state
and as the fires burn our hearts will unite
almost a little romantic.
and maybe love will save the world,
but until then – at least in athens – the struggle goes on.
but even on the walls of the crisis city there are moments of hope,
new blueprints of society,
geographies of solidarity.
i think we all actually should feel lucky – in quotation marks – because [the crisis] makes us more creative. we are creative now because if we were in a period where everything is calm and nothing really happens we wouldn’t have the motivation to express ourselves. it’s not a good situation to be in, i’m not saying that, but i think it makes you creative. – refur
welcome to athens,
city of creative resistance.
i hope you made it into the crisis with me and i hope this wasn’t too depressing. despite all, athens is still a very beautiful and dynamic city where lots of exciting things happen! the one question i face quite often when i tell people what i did my research on is the question how this qualifies as science. after all, street art is a rather universal phenomenon, everybody knows what it looks like, passes it by every day, there are millions of pictures on the internet – so how do you approach it scientifically. first of all i had a clearly defined research question: how do the walls of the city reflect the situation of crisis, which rhetorics and iconographies are mobilized therein and how do they refer to what politics and mass media say and depict about the crisis.
first of all it might not bee all that obvious that there is a connection between crisis and street art but there definitely is. first of all the city just lacks capacities and possibly has other priorities that scrubbing graffiti off the walls. as a consequence works stay longer so that there is a possibility for dialogues to develop on the walls. at times artists can also take quite some time to work on an artwork. secondly the crisis produces a whole new set of surfaces that are interesting for street artists to engage with, for example empty shop windows, nailed shut doors, abandoned construction sites. an thirdly, as was already made clear in the quotation that i read out earlier, the crisis has generally initiated a creative boost, not only for artists but for activists and regular residents. and of course as a universal reality, the crisis has a strong influence on the contents of the works. as a consequence we have more street art in athens – in fact street art has only matured into an important political medium in the past 5 years – the works are much more political and much more personal. while in berlin street artists motivation mighr rather be beautification or putting something fun into urban space, the works in athens have much more to do with the artists everyday realities.
so what did i do? i conducted a lot of interviews, with artists, activists, and residentes and as i said earlier i strategically built my own photographic archive. in my time in athens – 2 months at the beginning of 2013 – i took more than 1000 pictures of which i selected 850 for scientific analysis. those 850 photos were geotagged and scientifically coded acoording to their location, form and technique as well as some more symbolic elements like gasmasks or a euro sign. i eventually identified 3 so called aesthetics of crisis, ways of representing and dealing with the crisis. the first was direct engagements with the crisis and its institutions – the smallest group with 36 out of 850 photos – representations of the crisis as an everyday reality – almost 250 – and political works, potraits of activists, protest scenes as well as political slogans – 316 of 850. and here my codes helped me to analyze in a more complex manner. for example i figured out that for direct engagements with the crisis, symbolic elements like the euro sign or the logos of institutions play a much bigger role. in works dealing with the crisis as an everyday reality the scientific techniques tend to be much more personal. for example we find a lot of paste-ups which means a painting or drawing is made on paper and then glued to the wall. of course that is a different way of putting yourself in public space than cutting a message into a stencil and copy-pasting it all over town. lastly political works have a much more meaningful relationship with space. you find them most densely along classic protest and demonstration routes and in neighborhoods that activists social movements call their homes. eventually, you can follow those works to the significant spaces and places of the crisis.