Athens is the sum total of its representations: events and images in which the city describes itself, gauges its hours and captures its collective mind, broadcasting in constant flow.
On the near end of the transmission: morning television shows, National Tourism campaigns, a jabbering press, billboards promoting dog-clubs and politicians; 1960s slogans, pointless art shows, books with pretty covers, buildings less artful than the delivery menus on their doorstep: humdrum, backhanded, indifferent forms, made in fatigue to satisfy an apathetic audience, peddling dated wares. A culture of the everyday snoozes over its jammed traffic.
Then, on the far end of the transmission: remarkable radio voices, unsparingly straightforward blogs, ephemeral facebook novellas, oral coffeeshop legends, scarcely formal institutions that finally fall into step, no longer softly displaying, but actively nurturing culture: DESTE, Bios, Filmmakers in the Fog, the Dionysiou Areopagitou walkway, the basement of the Athens Odeum, the new Athens Festival, soon the Onassis Cultural Centre. Fledgling and fragile, poor or rich, these venues are ready to burst out of their bubbles. They are only missing one step, from nurture to production: their fruitful encounter with the culture of the everyday.
Athens is the sum total of its citizens. When these representations reach a state of common motion they powerfully collide with individuals, individual desires, the zeitgheist, and innovation follows: new identities form in such venues; new virtual maps come to focus defining place and identity in the city. The creativity and pressure of scattered minorities builds up and resonates in community; it becomes contagious; and soon everything is possible. The 1930s. 1960s. The late 1990s till the Summer of 2004 (missed by a hair’s breadth). Athens 2010 has moved to and transmits from Berlin, San Francisco and Shenzen in teleconference with Kypseli, Faliron and Plaka. The quality of the transmission is now a mere question of broadband.
A hipster city imitates other hipster cities: a venue for the time-off amusement of its physical/mental suburbia, it melds a softscape of display and consumption, accommodating hyper-connected yet solitary individuals in the make-believe of community. A post-global city, low on public resources, in constant inner motion, likewise hyper-connected, creates places where people anxiously flock to, network nodes that magnetize with their unraveling production of informal history. A hardscape and a fantasy machine, such a city features, oscillates and registers all over the world, even if its pictures are dark and violent, even if its sounds play on for all the wrong reasons.
Athens is the sum total of its states of exception – an average of its meanwhile moments. Just around the corner from its emerging venues, a web of places disconnected from actuality, working under another space-time, over much older layers of history, continues to exist: things are very different there. The city runs unmediated. A sweet inertia persists. In those places, Athens does not rush, anxiously congregate, display or nurture culture; content in its routine, it disregards short-term history. In courtyards, gardens, back alleys, terraces, sidewalks, warehouses, old convenience stores, underground streams, urban beaches, the intermediate spaces of its dense and intense fabric, it gets quietly by. It does not care to broadcast its story; its everyday is as it always has been, a state of constant negotiation, of oral culture and impersonal labor, bathed in unique light. That city is not self-luminous; it does not need to be, because its light exists nowhere else.
A version of this text was published in: Kathimerini, December 5 2009