Something that hit us as we walked the streets of Athens was the visual filth. As it had when we walked the streets of cities in Asian, Phnom Phen, Sengiggi and Bankok. In Asia it was the volume of rubbish piled knee deep on streets and waterways. A distraction from the beauty and heritage of those places. But in Athens the rubbish is managed and hidden from view replaced with antisocial urban artwork. Lots of Graffiti and especially tags.
Of course we familiar with this form of urban artwork. It happens in Launceston and our oldest son Jake used to be involved in the practice. A form of self expression imposed on a cities landscape by disenfranchised, rebellions youth and often part of the drug culture.
The difference here is the plethora of tagging throughout Athens. Athens must have a very high level of youth disenfranchisement or a lack of social will to keep up appearances. It make the city look untidy but is strangely appealing at the same time. From ground level up to two meters and sometimes much higher names and signatures are visible in blue, black green and red. Scrawled in a complete assortment of angles and directions on concrete, rock, marble, glass and plastic. Often in large bright colours interspersed by a few artistic images recognised as graffiti. But a very limited volume of social comment. Not that my greek is fluent enough to even guess a percentage of the writings. It does appears to be mainly latin with a significant English influents but only a handful of slogans or political rhetoric amongst them.
Why do the young of Athens feel its imperative to develop their own signature and then scrawl it on every available surface in this tagging ritual. Likewise why is it acceptable to the general populous of Athens. It appears that very little is done to hide or coverup these scrawls. Theres no evidence of paint overs or sand blasting to hide the tags. Its like the permanent marker and spray paint form a separate layer of decoration and artwork on most building in Athens and the people are happy to accept it.
After spending three weeks in Paris it was quite a surprise to find so many visible tags here in Athens. Paris of course doesn’t go unscathed and signs of tagging were present through the city but not in the number seen here in Athens. In paris we encountered a new form of tagging where the perpetrators use steal wool or wire brushes to literally scratch their tag into glass, plastic and stainless steel surfaces. Probably a more permanent inscription and therefore more destructive innovation in tagging.
But the reason for the prolific nature of the phenomenon eludes us. It would be interesting to study the phenomenon as it invokes feeling similar to those we experienced with the very visible rubbish strewn through the streets of Asia. Initially unpleasant and a distraction from the architectural and aesthetic beauty of the place. It soon became invisible. Our brains filtered out the rubbish and multicoloured filth leaving just the interesting and beautiful. Perhaps thats whats happened to the people of Athens, the tags are there but they just don’t see them anymore.