One might say that Athens is the city of cities – the cradle of democracy, science and occidental philosophy, it has once again become a focal point – albeit for European crisis and criticism.
Seen as a point of culmination or turning point, crisis is a moment of in-depth deliberation and new departures. Athens can thus be regarded as a European starting point and arena. The free space brought about by uncertainty mobilises people, enabling them to generate new cultural strategies and leading to revaluation. The social dynamics of resistance, cohesion and resignation has an immediate effect.
The fact that the “Athens Charter” (1933) – manifesto of avantgarde urban planning and concept for a functional city – bears the name of a metropolis that has evolved in such a disorganised manner may come as a surprise. The modern radical changes towards the “car-friendly city” envisaged by Le Corbusier – along with all of the destructive consequences – did not take place here. Yet modern-day Athens appears similarly unbridled to Los Angeles when the balance of urban planning and organic autonomy is upset, when segregation holds sway over diversity, when the city continues to grow uncontrollably and cars dominate the city.
Athens came to be a magnet for migrants, growing from 20,000 to around four million inhabitants over the past 150 years. The metro trip from the airport to the city crosses those undefined zones between city and countryside that feature as the metropolitan region in statistics. Where the city (polis) comes up against its supposed borders, new things come about. A place of encounter and a space of transfer between local peculiarities and global conditions.
City is a concurrence of the other and the own, difference and sameness, unity and diversity. These components lay the foundations for thought, discussion and resistance. The city is a moving home, a safe haven in foreign parts.
Wolfgang Lehrner’s idea of Metro/Polis is to think beyond the real urban situation with all of its principles. A fictitious aspect comes into play. The pictures of Athens speak to us indirectly but forcefully. The impenetrability and shapelessness of Athens induces the viewer to discover in order to be inventive. At a time of uncertainty, certainty must make way for assertion.
Text: Dajana Dorfmayr, 2016