The city of Athens looking out over the buildings towards the sea.

Half the House

Work made during a residency at M55 in Athens.

 

As an outsider I wanted to explore the idea of contemporary ruins appearing in a city famous for ancient ruins, as a result of the financial crash. Ruins as a cultural attraction, and how this sits in the conscience when the sites are modern, and the occupants are, in some instances, in states of extreme hardship. The search led me to a number of different types of buildings which, as I discovered, now symbolise how sites have been re-appropriated, both literally and metaphorically, to meet the new and necessary needs of the people of the city, both newcomers and locals. I was struck by how the grass-roots "movements" of people organising themselves as a result of the government's austerity, has collided with the "movement" of people across land and sea who are fleeing war.

In recent memory Athens has undergone huge change. In 2009 Greece was hit by the financial crisis and more recently in 2015 the European Migrant/Refugee Crisis has made a huge impact on Greece with unprecedented numbers of people migrating across the Aegean sea via Turkey, arriving on the shores of Greek islands. People have travelled predominantly from Syria and Afghanistan, fleeing Daesh.

 

 

National Technical University of Athens

 

 

I speak to different students at the university. There is a sense of parallel planes of activity converging in the campus. The students express their desire to do the right thing, to help their fellow citizens and the asylum seekers landing on the Greek islands each day. But they are also profoundly aware of the economic erosion in their country which makes it difficult to get by, day to day. Their expectations of the future are shifting. Will they have to leave Greece to find work? The students on this campus study architecture and there is a feeling that their plans are being built on sand. The university has long been a site for the expression of the students of Athens, the unrest. It was the site of the 1973 uprising which instigated the process of the dictatorship being overthrown. Parts of the campus are off limits due to the amount of damage caused during protests in more recent times. Today one building houses refugees in a squat-shelter set up by anarchists and the solidarity movement.

 

 

The marble on the streets are damaged during protests outside the university.

 

 

Prosfygika Housing Estate

 

 

As I walk between the buildings I am aware of being watched through the gaps in the boarded up windows, whilst being unable to see the occupants myself. There is a contradiction between the blue skies and the heat of the city, the dignity with which the front stoop of some of the flats have been maintained, and the cold dark stair wells and the rooms without doors, the tension pulled taught in the absence of external activity. Originally built to house Greek refugees from Asia Minor who were relocated after World War One, the Prosfygikas Estate is a set of 1930s buildings which have faced demolition a number of times. The site was ultimately saved from being turned into a mall in 2008 when it was declared historically important. However, without the finance to renovate the site, the buildings have fallen into further disrepair. Today a number of descendants of the original tenants live here, along-side squatters, anarchists, and immigrants.

 

 

The Supreme Civil and Criminal Court of Greece towering over the Prosfygikas Estate.

 

 

Old School Squat Shelter for Refugees

A hair dresser volunteers in the old school. The children go first. One lady puts in a request for blond hair dye and skin lightening cream.

 

 

 

We tap on our phones and forge a conversation through a translation app. "My family in Syria under the war, beatings and mass...My husband was threatened with danger every moment. It was not in our power to stay." She tells me she is a teacher, her husband an economist. It's no longer possible to keep her child safe in Syria. But she loves Syria, speaks of it's beauty and her hope to one day return. Her parents have refused to leave Syria. Now she passes days in Athens with no sense of what her future holds. The school squat receives lots of donations of clothes, food, toiletries. But there are no beds, no sofas, no hot running water. Volunteers are proactive and one woman is visibly stressed by the magnitude of the task at hand. How can she help the occupants hold on to their dignity whilst they must sleep on the floors of old classrooms? A place of education becomes a place of shelter. The children play in the yard. I'm dragged towards the haunted house in their games. Water balloons are thrown high into the air and land to exclamations of joy. I am taught words in Arabic. Greetings and words for family, mother, brother... school, work, clothes, swear words and sunflower seeds.

Later, I meet a professor from a university. She tells me of her concerns for the refugee children that have arrived in Athens. What languages should they be taught? What is most useful? Who will teach them? Will they stay? A lot of money has gone into educating the students of Greece, now there are no jobs, so they leave. "There is a hopelessness in the city...but we have the sun."

 

 

 

There is a spider man costume donated to the shelter which one of the children claims as his own.

 

 

 

Notara Refugee Squat Shelter

Formerly the "Single Fund for the Subsidiary Insurance of Salaried Employees."

Like other individuals from across the European continent, two women have travelled from Denmark to volunteer at the squat, compelled to help in any practical way they can.

 

 

The squat has not been open long the first time. There are people temporarily housed here that have arrived from Afghanistan and Syria. There are not many people who speak the same language amongst the volunteers and refugees. The volunteers are organised, efficient and willing. The refugees are tired, waiting, their futures uncertain. Most people living in this building have arrived via boat. There is an endless supply of art materials. People in the local community are willing to help. I spend some time with two volunteers who have travelled from Denmark to help. "In Denmark refugees are arrested at the border." In Athens it is possible to take direct action as part of the grass-roots movement to help refugees.

 

 

"From our hearts we thank you, the children of Syria." 

 

 

 

A New Squat Shelter for Refugees

 

 

 

In the organising assembly there are more than thirty volunteers, and many languages spoken - Greek, English, French, Farsi. We sit in a high ceilinged old house in central Athens, left long ago by it's owners. There is much work to be done. There is a British girl who seems to be leading the meeting. She runs a tight ship and has been involved in establishing a number of squats that have opened up for the refugees. There is fundraising happening in Paris, London, money will arrive soon to cover the cost of timber. The word "beams" is confused with "beans." This entire house is undergoing a major renovation. Does anyone know a carpenter to do the windows? One will arrive from London later this week. I can't help but play out in my head the scene of the owner's return. Perhaps they will be delighted their house could be put to good use in their absence. If it was once a family home, it will soon be again.

The term "volunteer" suggests a formality that is absent from the proceedings. There is no NGO organising this movement, no committee bank account. This is grass-roots action in is clearest and most active form.

 

 

 

 

 

Ellinikon International Airport

Ellinikon has not been used as an airport since 2001.

The barricaded door way between the closed museum and the rest of the airport terminal currently housing refugees. The Olympic Airways sign displays the words "Embracing the world".

 

 

 

This family of four will soon be five. She is eight months pregnant when we meet. Her husband's direct look solemnly communicates how he feels at the prospect of his wife giving birth to their next child in an old airport terminal building currently housing some 2,000 people. The airport is in a suburb of Athens, out of the way, slow to reach without a car. They have travelled a long way from Afghanistan, across mountains, to get here. 

I'm invited into the museum, closed at the moment to the public. Memorabilia of an era that no longer exists. Not here anyway. I'm told the museum doesn't have the funds to open, and there is a much larger archive of artefacts in storage.