Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Small Change - An Occupation as a Small Beginning

In the first of a series of posts exploring themes around Small Change, exhibition curator Sevie Tsampalla gives us some valuable insight in to a very relevant case study.


An Occupation as a Small Beginning

How an Autonomous Space Re-builds the Sense of Community in Athens

Network Nomadic Architecture is one of the collectives participating in the exhibition small change. Together with other groups of artists and residents they have re-activated Embros, a historical theatre building in Athens, which was desolate and left empty for five years by the Greek Ministry of Culture.

The walking action by Network Nomadic Architecture on show at AirSpace gallery starts from Embros and follows the difficult journey of displaced people to find their way to the city. In Athens, immigrants and other vulnerable groups (drug users, homeless, prostitutes) are being chased as individuals or groups out of the city centre, whenever certain areas are being gentrified or 'polished' on the occasion of important events.

Since it came under collective occupation, in 2011, the theatre has hosted numerous performances and events, which are offered for free to the general public. Functioning not only as a cultural hub, but also as a self-organised space, Embros is run by a weekly assembly, open to all those who believe that the theatre should remain in public hands.

The building dates from the 1930's and was once the base of a printing press company. It is a listed monument, owned by the state. As the privatisation of national properties has gained ground due to the financial crisis, the state is planning to rent the theatre for unknown private uses. The privatisation agency has recently padlocked the building, while the police arrested two actors who were rehearsing in it on October 30 2013.

Psirri, the area where the theatre is situated saw a transformation in its economy in recent decades, when the small industries and arts and crafts workshops were replaced by a monopoly of restaurants and bars. But today, Psirri is not so 'fresh' and the entertainment business has moved its focus
to other areas in Athens, leading to a further decline of the area.

Embros is a strong voice of community-building against developer-led gentrification and cultural commercialisation in the area. The re-activation of the theatre is a suggestion for Embros as a “common good” in Athens, as Eleni Tzirtzilaki, architect from Network Nomadic Architecture argues. A place of exchange, free circulation of ideas and collaborative practices. A place accessible to everyone. At Embros, a network of multiple communities is woven together: a community of interest, as residents bond through the theatre and get to have a say in the decision-making around the collective heritage of their neighbourhood; a community of practice, as artists of diverse disciplines explore ways of
co-producing art; and a community of resistance that acts for a placemaking that is inclusive.

Small Change -the book- is about a bottom-up way of thinking about the city. Forming communities and making the city together starts with small efforts. small change -the exhibition- looks at what art and collective action do to change things around us.

To support Embros, you can sign this online petition:

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