Aesthetics of Crisis is a longitudinal research project that has documented and examined political street art and graffiti in the Greek capital of Athens since 2013. The project’s initiator Julia Tulke was recognized for this work with the Prosser Award for Outstanding Work by Beginning Scholars in Visual Methodologies from the International Visual Sociology Association.
Aesthetics of Crisis began as my MA thesis in European Ethnology at the Humboldt University of Berlin, for which I conducted two months of patchwork ethnography in Athens between January and April 2013, supported by a PROMOS mobility grant from DAAD. The central objective of this initial research was to examine the political street art and graffiti that had densely proliferated on the walls of the city as an artifact of and performative response to the Greek economic crisis. Visual methods were central to this endeavor: psychogeographic photo walks were my primary mode of engagement with the Athenian crisis-scape. The resulting visual archive of 850+ photographs alongside 15+ artist interviews formed the basis for my Master’s thesis as well as a research exhibition at Berlin’s Raum für Drastische Maßnahmen.
Since the formal conclusion of my MA, Aesthetics of Crisis has continued, with varying intensities, as a longitudinal project, mapping the shifting currents on the walls of Athens. I have returned to the city at least once almost every year since 2013, each time adding new photographs and interviews to my archive. This recurrent pattern has allowed me to put into practice Lyman Chaffee’s notion of political street art as a “barometer” by tracing, sometimes in real time, newly emerging discourses and events on the walls of the city, many of which are documented in this website’s blog. Notable examples include the austerity referendum of 2015, the growing visibility of feminist and queer protest and expression since the mid-2010s, the emergence of anti-Airbnb graffiti since 2019, the response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and most recently the turn to graffiti removal as an aspirational performance of the end of crisis.
The project has always been committed to (digitally enabled) public scholarship: this website is a central repository for my work and research outputs and my photographic archive of now nearly 7000 images is available via Flickr, complete with metadata and geotags and under CC licensing.
Through my longitudinal visual engagement with the walls of Athens, I have developed an approach to street art and graffiti not as artifacts or discrete objects of analysis but as methodological approaches in their own right, able to render visible and sensible gradual changes in particular urban environments over time. By weaving together ethnographic and documentary sensibilities, my work on Athenian street art and graffiti has sought to decenter narrow and fetishizing representations of the “crisis city” Athens (i.e. through the persistent trop of the city as a “the new Berlin”) to instead provide a perspective grounded in the complex and often contradictory material realities of everyday life.
The Book Project
My edited volume Aesthetics of Crisis: Political Street Art & Graffiti in Athens, 2013-2023 is under contract with the Digital Press at the University of North Dakota for a Fall 2023 publication. Inaugurated at the 10 year anniversary of my first field trip to Athens in January 2013, the book’s central aim is to create a physical record of the project’s first 10 years, documenting how various currents and transformations have unfolded on the walls of Athens through a decade of urgency loosely bracketed by the economic crisis and the COVID pandemic. This endeavor is not, however, a myopic exposé of a singular project. Rather, it foregrounds the deeply collaborative and dialogic character of my work in and on Athens, positing Aesthetics of Crisis as an entry point into broader conversations about the city’s shifting crisis-scapes, political momentum, and creative ambiance. The book will juxtapose a selection of photographs from my archive with short reflections written by myself and more than 30 collaborators and contemporaries of Aesthetics of crisis.