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Tagging a WWII detention centre in Athens: drawing biographies on/of the walls

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The Nazi troops enter Athens on April 27, 1941. A few days later they commandeer several governmental and institutional edifices in the city centre. Among them is the imposing National Insurance Company headquarters building at 4 Korai Street, the air-raid shelter of which is turned into a Detention Centre. The Centre develops in two levels, six meters below the ground. It has four rooms on the upper level and three on the lower, the walls of which are covered with numerous well preserved graffiti written by the inmates: poems and songs, beloved and heroic figures, familiar landscapes and everyday life scenes, and, prevalently, dated signatures and names. 
This short paper offers a design – and, therefore, incomplete and subjective – reading of this surprisingly underexplored space (cf. Minos, 1991). It is framed by and positioned in relation to other studies of extensively written war spaces (Backer, 2002) and prison graffiti (Wilson, 2016). The paper critically re-examines a series of architectural drawings of the Centre’s dark-grey surfaces which were produced as part of my by-design doctoral thesis (Avramidis, 2018). The goal is to reconceptualise the meaning and function of the writings and the walls that host them (see also Brighenti & Kärrholm, 2019) whilst offering a design methodology to study tagging beyond the New York style expression of this repetitive mark making practice (see also Avramidis & Tsilimpounidi, 2017; Ross, 2016). The paper focuses on both the content and form of the drawings of the writings, and reflects on the methods followed for their production. It begins with the form of the drawings which raises the idea of the panorama and then moves to the content of the writings that is linked to the movement in space and the passing of time. The concept of presence – and, by extension, absence – is a central subject in the paper given its indissoluble link with tagging and writing more generally (cf. Avramidis, 2014, 2015).
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)31-35
JournalLo Squaderno
Volume54
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2019

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