Building as Unowned Property
Stavropoulou 15, 11252 Athens, 2017
With its contributions to democracy, philosophy, art, science, and architecture, Athens is considered to be the birthplace of Western civilization. While Athens is one of the most important historic cities in the world—with many rich and entrancing ancient monuments and relics from thousands of years ago that helped lay the foundation of Western culture—it has lost its built heritage of the relatively recent past.A recent report showed that 80 percent of its buildings built in the 19th and early 20th centuries have been demolished. Meanwhile, the Athens government has fallen short in protecting modern built heritage in the midst of Greece’s financial and economic woes.
The conception of documenta 14 came at a time when European debt and refugee crises were at the heart of political debates and societal discussions within European countries and beyond. On the occasion of this major contemporary art exhibition in 2017, Maria Eichhorn presented Building as Unowned Property in Athens, which attempted to change the legal status of a disused historic building in Athens into that of an unowned property. Through this project, Maria Eichhorn identified a possible way to preserve a historic building that can withstand any changes caused by financial speculation, redevelopment, and gentrification pressure in the area.
Her work was not just set against the backdrop of Greek debt crisis that has led to widespread economic austerity, but also the modern architectural heritage crisis in Athens. The building that attracted the artist’s interest was a Neoclassical Revival building built in 1928 (located at 15 Stavropoulou Street, Amerikis Square). In the building’s vicinity is a working-class and multicultural neighbourhood. Just from looking at it, the building has obviously been unoccupied for a length of time and is in a state of dilapidation. A black bicycle chain locked the door, and graffiti appeared on the ground-floor part of facade. The tone of this scene feels familiar across many parts of Athens. There are many vacant private properties in Athens because people can no longer afford the upkeep of the building due to economic downfall.
Eichhorn’s project set out to convert a privately owned property into a public one so that it loses all its economic value eternally, as no individual can claim its ownership. To implement this plan, Maria Eichhorn tried to purchase the building with a funding of €140,000 received from the Migros Museum für Gegenwartskunst in Zurich. Furthermore, she sought to convert the legal status of the building within the existing legal framework in Greece. She hired a legal consultant to give her legal advice. Through the legal consultations, she dug into the laws and regulations in relation to the protection of cultural heritage environment and cultural objects. She also identified the relevant legal provisions that govern the process of declaring protected monuments.
An exhibition was held in the National Museum of Contemporary Art, Athens (EMST), in which the legal documents were exhibited in a display case. The documents record the legal opinion and process explaining how to restrict the transfer the ownership of the building to anyone. The exhibit is now collected by the Migros Museum für Gegenwartskunst, which funded the project at documenta 14.
At the time of my visit to Athens in July 2017, the building’s purchase had yet to be finalized, and its future was uncertain. During my visit, I was lucky enough to meet with a couple members of the family that had owned the building. Soon after I arrived, I saw them moving some furniture and stuff from the building to a car. I walked up to them and said hello.
The couple I met were Giannis Petridis (Γιάννης Πετρίδης) and his wife. Giannis is a music producer. He said the building was owned by his uncle, who is living in other part of Greece. The building was a relatively large house, with a large backyard in a nice middle-class living area. It was sitting in the middle of two other buildings in the same style. But as told by Giannis, "this type of building is now a rare gem in Athens, only a few buildings of this style remain in Athens. But there is another well-preserved one located a few blocks away.” One can imagine this building was once a common style in the neighbourhood.
When asked about the history of the building, Giannis told me that ownership traces back to his grandfather, who came back from the United States to start a chocolate business in Athens in the 1920s. His business success made him a wealthy middle-class man with three sons; he later built three buildings next to one another on the same block, one for each of his sons.
Giannis and his family moved out from the building and live elsewhere in Athens, as they could no longer afford the upkeep of the building. From 1990s until 2014, the building was used as a social centre for youth drug abusers. Since then, the building was unused and empty.
Giannis knew about the artist’s will to purchase the building. He left the negotiation for his sister, who was dealing it. He said the deal was not closed yet, and he explained that there was another potential buyer from Northern Greece interested in the property (who approached them with a better price and wanted to run an Airbnb in the building). They confessed that they did not know what would happen to the building after its sale.
Maria Eichhorn’s plan could only be taken forward on the condition that the purchase of the building is made—and if the relevant authorities accepted her proposal (i.e., Minister of Culture, Central Council of Modern Monuments, and Directorate of Recent and Modern Architectural Heritage). The possibility of her plan being actually realised was scarce, but the whole idea was to generate resistance to any attempt to demolish the building and spread awareness from the ground up.
 Helena Smith. “Forget the Parthenon: how austerity is laying waste to Athens' modern heritage.” The Guardian [online], 2017. https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2017/sep/12/athens-modern-heritage-austerity-neoclassical-architecture-acropolis-greece
 Polly Staple. “Maria Eichhorn: Talks about Her Forthcoming Projects at Documenta 14, Building as Unowned Property and Rosevalland Institute.” Artforum International [online], 2017. https://www.questia.com/magazine/1G1-491256509/maria-eichhorn-talks-about-her-forthcoming-projects
 Andrew Russeth. “Pick a Lock: On the Hunt at Documenta in Athens.” Artnews [online], 2017. http://www.artnews.com/2017/06/07/pick-a-lock-on-the-hunt-at-documenta-in-athens/
documenta 14籌劃於歐洲債務和難民危機在歐洲以至其他國家成為至關重要的辯論和討論核心之時（Staple 2017）。在這個全球矚目的當代藝術展，瑪莉亞·艾治漢（Maria Eichhorn） 在雅典展示了《無主之宅》（Building as Unowned Property），嘗試將一座廢棄雅典歷史建築的法律地位改為無主財產。通過這個項目，艾治漢提出一種方法來保護一座歷史建築，使其能夠承受該地區金融投機、重建和士紳化帶來的威脅。
該作品旨在將私有財產轉變為公共財產，使其永遠喪失所有經濟價值，因為任何人都無法擁有其所有權。為了實施這一計劃，Maria Eichhorn用從蘇黎世的米格羅當代藝術博物館（Migros Museum für Gegenwartskunst）（Russeth 2017）獲取140,000歐元的資助嘗試購買該建築。此外，她還試圖在希臘現有的法律框架內轉變該建築物的法律地位。她聘請了一名法律顧問為她提供法律意見，並深入研究有關保護文化遺產環境和文物的法律法規，還確定了管理受保護古蹟申報程序的相關法律規定。