Maria Eichhorn

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.[1] 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[2]. 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[3]. 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. 

 

[1] 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

 

[2] 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

 

[3] 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/

雅典對民主、哲學、藝術、科學和建築作出極大的貢獻,是西方公認的文明起源地。雖然雅典是世界上最重要的歷史名城之一,擁有許多豐富而令人著迷的古代遺跡和文物,奠定數千年來西方文化的基礎,但卻失去了相對近代歷史的文物建築。最近有報告顯示,在19世紀和20世紀初建造的80%的建築物已被拆毁。有人指出,由於金融和經濟危機,雅典政府一直未能保護現代文物建築。(舒密夫Smith 2017)

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。

她的作品不僅是在希臘債務危機導致的經濟緊縮問題時出現,而且當時也是雅典現代文物建築危機時期。啟發她這構思的建築是建於1928年的新古典主義復興建築,位於Stavropoulou街到15號的Amerikis廣場,附近是一個工人階級和多元文化的社區。走過街頭,不難發現建築物已經空置一段時間並且殘舊不堪:門被黑色自行車鏈鎖鎖著;一樓的牆身畫著塗鴉。在雅典,不少大廈建築也是落得如此光景,許多空置的私人物業,因為經濟蕭條,人們再也無法承擔建築物的維修費用。

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。

她於雅典國家當代藝術博物館(EMST)舉辦了一個展覽,在展示櫃中展出法律文件。這些文件紀錄了如何限制將建築物的所有權轉讓給任何人的法律意見和過程。該展覽品現在由為documenta 14提供資助予該項目的米格羅當代藝術博物館收藏。

筆者在2017年7月到訪雅典時,該宗買賣尚未作最終確定,這座建築的去向如何仍是未知之數。期間,很幸運能夠遇見擁有該建築物的夫婦。到達後不久,就看到他們將一些傢具和雜物搬到汽車上,便向他們打招呼。

那對夫婦是Giannis Petridis(ΓιάννηςΠετρίδης)和他的妻子。Giannis是一位音樂製作人。他告訴筆者,這座建築是他的叔叔擁有的,現時住在希臘的其他地方。這房子相對大,位於過往是中產階級的社區,有一個大後院,座落在同一風格兩座建築物之間。但正如Giannis所說:「這種類型的建築現在在雅典十分罕見,雅典只有少數這種建築。但是不遠還有一個保存得完好的建築。」可以想像這座建築在這個社區內的曾頗常見。

當被問及這座建築的歷史時,Giannis指,這座建築可以追溯到他的祖父的時候。他的祖父從1920年開始在雅典開始他的巧克力生意。他的生意十分成功,使他躋身富有的中產階級,有3個兒子,後來他在同一個街區建造了3棟彼此相鄰的建築物,送給他的兒子。

Giannis和他的家人搬出了這座房子,住在雅典的其他地方,因為他們再也無法負擔維修費用了。從90年代到2014年,該建築被用作青少年吸毒者的社交中心。從那時起,這座建築物一直空置著。

Giannis知道文獻展購買這建築物的意欲,他把事宜交給姊妹處理。他表示,房子未正式賣出,並解釋道,還有另一位來自希臘北部的買家,以更高價格與他們接洽,並希望在該大樓內營運類似Airbnb旅館。但他們承認,不知道出售後建築物會被如何處置。

艾治漢的計劃只能在購買建築物後並且得到有關當局(文化部長、負責管理希臘近現代歷史遺址的委員會、近代和現代建築遺產的管理局)認可後才能實現。雖然實際上實現的可能性很低,但整個構思是為了表達對拆除建築物的抵抗和從根本開始宣揚意識。

 

 

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