Like fireflies that survive.
Eleni Tzirtzilaki, Nomadic Architecture
Walking through Fragile Landscapes, Futura, 2018
This text wishes to contribute – through symbolic artistic practices– to what is considered as nomadic art, community art within the public sphere.
The ground and its relation to the body is of great importance as far as this approach is concerned. The city is a dyamic, social space in transformation. The city is connected to the society as a whole, therefore it changes when society as a whole changes too. However, the transformations of the city are not the passive result of the global character of society, of the modifications it undergoes. The city also depends on the direct relations between the people and the groups that constitute society (Lefebvre 2007, 63).
So this question comes up: which are the ways of practicing freedom, today, in our field? What are the autonomous grounds and where are they created? How can one give space and time to new relations and to the multiple identities that emerge?
How can we create, within the city, spaces and temporalities able to produce new forms of art and life, forms that include every different identity, that offer new views within the field of politics, new methods of artistic practices that create –at the same time– multiple spacial expressions and shapes? How can these fluid spaces produce communities and networks?
The Nomadic Architecture site-specific participatory actions-performances began approximately twelve years ago in Gazochori –the residents of which were being displaced at the time– with the action Yikma dujami yalvaririm (I Beg You Not to Tear Down My World), and at the Reception Center for Asylum Seekers in Lavrio with Kurd and Afgan refugees with the action Apolis. Since, much has changed in the city and the public space, on the world map, in the Aegean and the Mediterranean, as well as in the way we perceive the political activist art. Conditions today have intensified the need to create collective subjects and spaces of the commons, as well as artistic practices that are oriented accordingly.
Immigration in the sense of an urban nomadic displacement was from the very beginning a central theme of our actions-performances (Tzirtzilaki 2009) Under the current circumstances, the refugees travel in violent conditions and have to violently cross borders built by oprressive forces along their passages towards Europe, a continent that has been transformed into a fortress, with fences all over its borders and all over the borders of the countries that constitute it. Those trying to move around suffer significant losses, their bodies are fragile, vulnerable – pariahs. They lose their life in the sea and trying to traverse the land borders; they form endless queues of humans in wait. Nevertheless, these passing bodies have the dynamic to subvert sovereign narratives and what is therefore happening for the first time is that “the vulnerability” acquires a voice. Spaces, temporalities and cities transform as they pass through. Conditions radically change, as loss, death and abandonment seem like a part of the everyday. We are therefore obliged to use new tools, given that something new seems to approach, which is menacing and ominous, something for which the actions of Nomadic Architecture could help us prepare, could act a “spell against the evil”, the current state of emergency.
Any interpretative approach takes into consideration the political-activist significance of art today, as well as the transformation it can cause on public space and urban voids – consequently on the lives of women and men, especially of the vulnerable ones.
Determining factors of this journey –along the routes of the various subjectivities that come together–, of exploring new relations between the bodies and the social and territorial conditions at hand are the concepts of “community”, “ experience” and of the “nomad”. The point of departure for many actions is the displacement. Overcoming the limits of race, gender, religion, nation has been a challenge right from the beginning.
Is it really a nomadic art? Moving around in the city, or in different cities, re-defines the conditions. Passages, ruptures, newly created local and international; relations are of interest here; the fluid identity that emerges in these conditions and becomes a new status quo. The nomad woman, as said by Rosi Braidotti, does not represent the homeless or a forced displacement, but rather a shaping of the subject that no longer has claims upon ideas of, a desire for, or a nostalgia of stability. It expresses her desire for an identity made of transitions, consecutive displacements and coordinated changes lacking in unity. However, the nomadic subject does not completely lack unity: it functions on set, seasonal movement patterns on rather fixed routes (Braidotti 2014, 110).
The work of art, through this path, has gone beyond the production of objects for the viewing pleasure of others and is, now, produced directly through the relations between people, through active forms of community, and may include ways of coming together and inventing new relationships.
In these conditions, the art and politics are linked together rather as forms of disagreement, as attempts to reshape the common experience of what is perceived through the senses.
If politics –taken litteraly– consists in producing subjects that give a voice to the anonymous individuals, the politics that resembles art –aesthetically speaking– consists in composing a sensory world of the anonymous, of forms of “that” and of “me”, from which real political worlds emerge, that is us. But if this result presupposes a rupture in aesthetics then no pre-defined calculation is in order (Rancière 2015, 83).
The actions-performances of Nomadic Architecture happen by traversing the public space and the urban voids of the city and by connecting the body to the city ground and to other bodies. They stand between architecture and art, containing urban geography, anthropology and social sciences elements.
Its practices have to do with the participation in squats of empty spaces, city voids, such as the Free Self-Managed Embros Theatre, to defend the idea of a common space open to the many different urban elements (Tzirtzilaki 2015), the participation in the children’s centre/school (Scholeio) of the Prosfygika complex (prosfygikes polykatoikies) in Alexandras avenue, every Saturday of 2014-15.
The testimonies and the connection of past situations with the present (so as to find the thread that links them and to heal the trauma), the tracking down of the impossible revolution that was –for us– the civil war, they all characterise the projectPartisan guerrigla fighter Nitsa-Eleni Papagiannaki, Electra.
Poetry as a study-field of painful, everyday situations, experienced by men and women in different stages in history, in various places; the language and its many different expressions, the testimonies of the journey and the sojourn, all these constitute the basic directives of our work method at the performance Walking the Routes of Displaced, Here and There, The Unrealized Journey.
The important thing in this case was the creation of a mixed group, in which everyone would tell their story and all the stories and their narration through the body and the voice would, in the end, constitute the work. The testimonies regarding the journey, the sojourn, human relations… everything was significant. What really helped, at the time, was the Embros Theatre, a squat in the heart of Athens, but also a common space, where new forms of art and life were produced. The process followed, the meeting of people, the involvement of the participants and the stories of those coming from Syria, Afganistan, Afrika and Greece were of the utmost importance.
In Copenhagen, where the project continued, in close collaboration with the collective YNKB, that invited us there, and with the mebers of the visAvis magazine, we processed the everyday experience, our own difficulties as to the language and the daily contact with the immigrants in the camps and in the city areas they frequented, such as the Trampoline House. We created a connection with freshly arrived in Copenhagen Greek immigrants too. We listened to their stories regarding their life in Athens, their journey and their staying there.
Through the actions-performances in Athens and in Copenhagen, a temporary common space was created, where the borders momentarily disappeared and the participants experienced a small interval of freedom expressing what they had gone through during their journey, their sojourn and at the borders. The main corpus of the story was the narration of Omar – his journey from Syria, his life in prison, when he was, once, arrested in Athens during the lab, and then his journey to Copenhagen that never happened, since he was not granted permission to travel, even though he had been invited there by the artistic collective.
Actions and performances in general, have to do with the life that is fragile, with the vunlnerability and with the loss, and their attributing value to these lives that to not count as such, that face unlimited violence during their journey and sojourn, having crossed the sea borders and finding themselves in Athens in order to continue their route. Who counts as human? Whose lives count as lives? And, finally, what makes for a grievable life? (Butler, 2008).
They implicate the citizens; they do this through walking, the movement, the body expression, their everyday gestures or even acts, the participation in the creation of a community garden, that have to do with “rituals, as in a feast or a dinner that calls for special gestures and rituals.
Usually, a fluid mass is created, that connects to those who live a naked life in the city, who live under precarious conditions, who are ever more excluded by the biopolitical and post-colonial state; and it tends, every time, to become an ephemeral community.
Issues are been examined, issues that have directly to do with the centre of Athens –though not exclusively– and with its transformation; relations are being established, looking for the identities that are constituted by transitions and consecutive displacements.
The actions wish to be a promise of solidarity and reconciliation in the context of social restrictions, exclusions, and of all the fierce destructive confrontations that surround us today. In this process, it seems that the memories and the testimonies of people –the trauma– become ever more interesting.
Through the actions-performances, Nomadic Architecture proposes a temporary encountering-cohabitation in the city and a life of common goods in places and temporalities that are autonomous, that are ephemerally created, during an action that often lasts only a few hours, or more; and the establisment –through these actions– of “autonomous collectivities, capable of giving a different meaning to their life” (an influence the Cornelius Castoriades philosophy had upon us).
Many characteristics of these actions come from the experience acquired with the group Urban Void, a group defending the right to the city and space, in which the author of this text participated and helped shape. Another decisive influence has been that of a friend and teacher Aristomenis Provelengios, and his approach to Architecture as a thoughtful act; as well as his talks on urban voids ,such as:’May we fill the voids, make them nests…” and the city: “The city as a symbolic representation of the world is our task” (Provelengios 1965). These actions were also influenced by the ideas on Architecture and the city that evolved around the ΤΕΥΧΟΣ magazine.
The influence of the living experience of the Italian Autonomia movement, the participation in various artistic and political groups at the University of Architecture in Florence (1972-1978), in women’s groups of self-knowledge in Florence and Rome, in cultural and social centres in Italy, as well as the influence of the anthropological theatre of Jerzy Grotowsky and Eugenio Barba define this work.
The methodology is directly linked to the living experience and has its roots in urban theories such as the theory of Walter Benjamin and the flâneur, the Situationnistes and the dérive, the actions in abandoned buildings by Gordon Mata Clark, the mappings by artists of Land Art; mainly it has its roots in the method of Richard Long, the wanderings of Bruch Chatwin.
These actions often concern the city’s social and ecological issues, like gentrification (cf. Tzirtzilaki & Alexandri 2010). They are crucial to these issues, they introduce the concept of emergency and they create new, ephemeral and unpredictable spaces and temporalities in the urban network.
All the concepts are nomadic, that is they pass from one speach to the other and they allow multiple connections – an immigration of ideas. What we have here is a form of resistance against the assimilation and acceptance of the prevalent ways of being – these concepts have to do with transitions and passages.
The actions point at the emergency of the concept of the public space as a common good, as well as of the concept of the transformation of space in general, taking into consideration the contemporary nomads’ needs.
They seek their elements in various forms of communal life, of sharing, of non-property, of autonomy, in communities such as the Chiapas, the Australian Aboriginals, but also in the ritualistic character of a ritual popular feast[panigyri] of Sifnos island (in which people walk for long in order to attend the mess in isolated chapels and monasteries, lost in the landscape – then they all have supper together), in theories regarding the transformation of the society through the re-distribution of the goods, in events like the Festival dei poeti at the Castel Porziano, in Rome, which propose another way of communal life.
The bodies, the emotions, the memories and the various identities, as well as their way of being expressed define the performative character of the actions.
The groups that we usually meet and collaborate with, during the actions, are the inhabitants of the areas concerned, often living in precarious conditions, the old inhabitants of the neighbourhood and craftsmen that are severely threatened by gentrification, the excluded communities of the city, the immigrants, they who experience the journey and the wandering as obligatory situations, imposed by globalisation.
We wish to explore and corporally express –through actions-performances– the emotions and the situations of negation, exception, but also of compassion, reconciliation, rebellion, triggered by the state of emergency we experience. We are urged to raise our bodies against this injustice, as a rejection of the state of exception. The bodies leave the unbearable opression of a space, in which they are objected to politics of control, to enter the space of the politics of action, of gesture. During these actions, in the city, the bodies express their opposition to the exception, their rejection of it; or they even express a form of support to those suffering these conditions. Every such support is an open practice of resistance, a negation of the uniformity, through body expressions. This resistance tends to become more solid when the bodies, that used to be excluded, are placed within the public sphere and produce, among them, actions of corporal negation and, following that, acts of reconciliation – being together and creating a sort of community, at the same time that anencountering of bodies is being performed.
Through the exposure of our bodies in the city, we are also able to exist politically. Contemporary nomadic activism of this type constitutes a productive and embodied political practice.
The Survival Of the Fireflies is the title of an essay by George Didi-Huberman, written on an older text by Pasolini 1999, 404-11), that had to do with the disappearance of the fireflies. His view was one of a politics of survival through art, through the fragile images and the vulnerable perfomativity, just like images –fireflies– that open the space for such a resistance (Huberman 2009). The actions-performances of Nomadic Architecture are characterised by this vulnerability, by a fragile condition in which they appear in the form of fragmented, fragile, moving images in the urban landscape.
These are the images of people who come from many different places, who survive inside a squat, perfoming an action, walking in the heart of Athens, or in neighbourhoods of the outskirts of the city, eating together in abandoned squares, discovering corporal expressions of the rebellion in the National Garden of Athens or in Akadimia Platonos. They often aim at juxtaposing the real, found i.e. in a political action, and the dissolution of the subject in a collectivity, as in the case of our participation in the children’s centre-school (Scholeio), and the collective drawing with the refugees’ children at the Prosfygika complex [“Polykatoikies”] in Alexandras av.; or as in the case of our four-year-long participation to the squat of the Free Self-Managed Theatre Embros.
It’s there that the testimonies, the witnesses now appear: the testimony constitutes a perfectly unique and irreplacable topographical position in relation to an event. The uniqueness of this position consists in its paradoxal connection to the inside and the outside (cf. Felman & Laub 1992, 232). Witnesses to the impossible revolution that was the civil war, just like Argyro in the documentary Partisan Nitsa-Eleni Pa[pagiannaki, Electra, witnesses to the journey towards the fragile monument of immigration.
Concluding, I would like to thank everyone who accompanied me through the years and who actively participated in these encounters-performances of the bodies. As one may see in the material exposed in the following pages they are women and men, who make up a group to perform a specifc action-performance each time. There are those who continued perfoming with us and others who stopped – pointing thus out the great difficulty in the continuity of the work of artists groups in Greece. Nevertheless, their participation in these encounters-performances remains invaluable, like flashes of light, flares in the dark. And the spirit of companionship in artistic practices and performances is unique, every time, thus establishing a form of resistace through the encountering and the performance,μεσα απο αυτή την σύνθετη τέχνη.
Braidotti, Rosie. 2014. «Για τον νομαδισμό» [“By Way of Nomadism”], in Νομαδικά υποκείμενα [Nomadic Subjects], tr. A. Sifiaki & O. Tsiakalou. Athens:Nissos.
Butler, Judith. 2008. Ευάλωτη ζωή, οι δυνάμεις του πένθους και της βίας [Precarious Life. The Powers of Mourning and Violence], tr. M. Laliotis & K. Athanassiou. Athens:Nissos.
Castoriadis, Cornelius. 2012. Η δυνατότητα μιας αυτόνομης κοινωνίαs [The Possibility of an Autonomous Society (collection of texts)], tr. M. Tsoutsias. Athens: Stasei Ekpiptontes.
Didi-Huberman, Georges. 2009. Survivance des lucioles. Paris: Les Editions de Minuit.
Felman, Shoshana, “The Return of the Voice: Claude Lanzmann’s Shoah”, in Felman, Shoshana & Laub, Dori. 1992. Testimony: Crises of Witnessing in Literature, Psychoanalysis, and History. New York: Routledge.
Lefebvre, Henri. 1977. Δικαίωμα στην πόλη [Le droit à la ville], tr. P. Tournikiotis & Claude Laurent. Athens: Papazisis.
Pasolini, Pier-Paolo. 1999. Saggi sulla politica e sulla societa, ed. W. Siti & S. de Laude. Milan: Arnoldo Mondadori (“L’ articolo delle lucciole”, 1975).
Provelengios, Aristomenis. 1965. Association of Architects Bulletin.
– Οδοιπόρος προς την πηγή [Wayfarer To the Source]. Athens: Gavriilidis,1990
Rancière, Jacques. 2015. «Τα παράδοξα της πολιτικής τέχνης» [«Les paradoxes de l’art politique»], in Ο χειραφετημένος θεατής [Le spectateur émancipé], tr. A. Kioupkiolis. Athens: Ekkremes.
Tzirtzilaki, Eleni. 2009. Εκ-τοπισμένοι αστικοί νομάδες στις μητροπόλεις. Σύγχρονα ζητήματα για την μετακίνηση,την πόλη και τον χώρο [Displaced Urban Nomads in the Metropolises. Today’s Issues on Moving Around, the City and Space]. Athens:Nissos.
– 2007. “KM Remap and the Displacement of the Residents” (A discussion that took place in the FUTURA editions bookstore, on Thursday, November 15, 2007), in http://networknomadicarchitecture.blogspot.gr/2007/11/remap-km-futura.html (03/27/2017).
– 2015. “As all stories within Capitalism and –which is more– in a state of exception, this one has limits as well”, in www.networknomadicarchitecture.blogspot.gr (4/7/2017).
Tzirtzilaki E. & Alexandri G. 2010. “Breaking off the Boundaries in Athens’ City Centre”.<http://www.academia.edu/286652/Breaking_off_the_Boundaries_in_Athens_City_Centre> (03/27/2107).
 Poetry has been used in most of the actions-performances.
 Participants in Athens: Lia Giannakou, Gianos, Kostis, Abdul Nazari, Sara Santoro, Vassilis Spyropoulos, Christina Thomopoulou, Alphonso Tiaby, Abdullah Tzavadi, Eleni Tzirtzilaki. Participants in Copenhagen: Eva La Cour, Stoffer Michael Christensen, Mahmoud Billy Haydar, Markos Karayannos, Rasmus Pedersen, Liv Nimand Duvå, Kirsten Dufour Andersen, Finn Thybo Andersen, Eleni Tzirtzilaki, Christina Thomopoulou. Project by Christina Thomopoulou & Eleni Tzirtzilaki [see www.menychiakaimedontia.wordpress.com (04/07/2017)].
 Ydre Noerrebro Kultur Bureau (http://www.ynkb.dk/).
 visAvis / voices on asylum is a magazine that focuses on migration and asylum (www.visavis.dk/).
 Trampoline House is an independent community centre in Copenhagen that provides refugees and asylum seekers in Denmark with a place of support (https://www.trampolinehouse.dk/).
 Urban Void is an open group of architects and artists working on collective actions in the city of Athens. Since 1998 the group has performed thirteen actions. For more information see Urban Void.
Συμμετείχαν οι: Φοίβη Γιαννίση (αρχιτέκτων), Τζίμης Ευθυμίου (εικαστικός), Λία Καναγκίνη (αρχιτέκτων), Νίκος Καζέρος (αρχιτέκτων), Ζήσης Κοτιώνης (αρχιτέκτων), Πάνος Κούρος (εικαστικός), Ζάφος Ξαγοράρης (εικαστικός), Χριστίνα Παρακεντέ (αρχιτέκτων), Ελένη Τζιρτζιλάκη (αρχιτέκτων), Χαρίκλεια Χάρη. 2007.Urban Void, Actions 1998-2006. Athens: Futura.
 ΤΕΥΧΟΣ, International magazine of Art and Design. Τ. Koumpis, Ch. Papoulias, G. Simeoforidis & G. Tzirtzilakis (eds.). Athens, 1989-1993.
Festival Intermazionale dei Poeti di Castel Porziano in Ostia, Roma (1979) (http://www.leparoleelecose.it/?p=19739).