Oral Accounts as Post-Industrial Design Tools
Yorgos Maraziotis

Patras is the third, in terms of size, city in Greece and it is situated at the foot of Panachaikon Mountain. The city borders the Patraikos gulf and it has been inhabited for more than four thousand years. Due to its crucial geographic position including its port, which upgrade the city as the gate to Greece and, by extension, to the wider Eastern Mediterranean Sea on its west side, Patras has always been characterised by its intense commercial activity from its very foundation. This activity has acquired a kind of modern character and blossomed from the second half of the 19th century until the middle of the 20th century and thus elevating the city to an important industrial and craftsmanship hub. Raw materials and products such as threads, leather, currants, beer, spirit, cereals, timber and plenty more were all transported to central and northern Europe, America, Canada and Australia establishing Patras as the main exporting and transporting centre for more than a century.

From 1960 onwards, the city has followed along the route of commercial centres across the world resulting in its gradual de-industrialisation. Its main production and exporting potentiality began its serious decline during the 1970s and 1980s only to come to an end within the first years of the 1990s. The world changes that took place during the interwar period (1918-1939), the Civil War in Greece (1946-1949), the passage from an agrarian to an urban society, the new terms that were laid down as a result of the economic globalisation – such as the widespread increase of international competition, the insufficiency of the local products or the interest shifting towards rendering and handling services rather than that of the primary production – all led to the closedown of hundreds of industries, craftsmanship and commercial units. Moreover, the very nature of the industry in Greece (lacking in significant investment plans on the part of the state along with an inadequate technological know-how), the improvement of tertiary education or the hectic rhythm of the intra-community competition after joining the European Communities [1], they all collectively account for the valid reasons of the de-industrialisation of the country. Finally, capitalism as an economic model that is fuelled through debt increase and by promising that every employee is a master of his/her own self, accumulates capital in private establishments, paralyses the economy of social relations and contributes towards the de-industrialisation landscape.

However, in the middle of the great economic, political and living differentiations that took place in the previous century, the activity of many commercial units that started at that time reaches our times with an even, very frequently, positive sign of progression. In recent years, there has been an appearance of tens of new commercial entities as well as development and prosperity agents. Factories, craftsmanship and commercial centres produce, handle and export products, information and services, leading the country to the 21st century. It is taken for granted that the creative and cultural intensity that was observed during the 1870 – 1960 period is not related to the present reality but – as it was mentioned above – the relations among countries worldwide including their economic models which define them, have been altered forever. However, the port of Patras is still considered as a main commercial and transporting point, the bicycle company IDEAL is one of the biggest worldwide with an exporting power both in Europe and the East, the wine-making company of Achaia Clauss has been producing and exporting wine and culture since 1861 and the LUX company is the leading refreshments and juice producing company in Greece, to mention but a few of the active modern commercial units of the city.

Approximately sixty years from the outset of de-industrialisation, at the age when information handling along with non-material technologies define our everyday life, the notion of post-industrial assumes a special dynamic meaning. This particular term made its first appearance in 1922 on a book under the title Post-Industrialism authored by the architect Arthur J. Penty. From a socialist’s perspective this term called for a return to manual labour as well as to small-scale production units [2]. From 1950s onward the post-industrialism concept changes, first in the USA and then in the rest of the world, to be used in order to describe the upcoming social and economic changes. Nowadays, the post-industrial condition, on its attempt to define the social, political and developmental process, is also connected with a new theory of structures and functions: it considers education and research along with new technological networks as the main means towards a modern productive activity.  

The new factories of the 21st century are the universities, the academies or the technological units of such giant corporations as Google, Apple and Robinhood, which not only control a considerable slice of the global economy but also parts of the public domain. In addition, there are public libraries, schools, or museums; all places where historical knowledge and cultural information are produced and disseminated. The modern post-industrial workers can be scientists, artists, social workers or students, who study and analyse data, handle information, present new needs or cater for physical, mental and aesthetic health [3]. The use of manual work as a main means of production is constantly diminishing while the great machines, at the start of the previous century, have been replaced by computer systems, online networks and intangible services. With reference to Patras, we may consider its annual Carnival – the third biggest of such events in the world [4] – as a post-industrial structure which offers its huge economic benefits to the city through the services rendered as well as the human power employed during this event. In addition, the Higher Education Establishment of this city comprises a central example of a post-industrial agent – the largest supplier of the local economy – with 7 schools, 35 departments and more than 33,000 students, 693 teachers including 438 administrative staff members [5] who all participate in the process of producing and exporting knowledge, education and culture.

The productive structures lying interspersed, both within and outside, urban planning can be testaments of the modern post-industrial environment, thus enriching their topography and exerting influence on their future design. However, the main witnesses and, at the same time, agents of the post-industrial element are the female and male workers who are an integral part of such structures. It is those workers who define modern reality through their action – both present and past. It is the working class of the powerful industrial centres who forms the great economic, political and cultural benefits of the cities across the centuries. It is the working hands that have contributed to the fact that the city of Patras has become a port of crucial importance, has enjoyed a lyrical stage since 1872 or has managed to be the first city in Greece to have founded a municipal hydro-electric power station (1927) providing cost-effective energy for its citizens.

It is, however, the workers who first suffered the blow of post-industrialism at both an individual and a collective level [6] and who were called to face the social and political changes. Despite the focus on the description of the working class manual action during the 19th and 20th centuries, the post-industrial landscape of today should shift its focus on the actual reason of such actions. Since modern development units are primarily based on knowledge, information, needs handling, and the intangible form of production means, it may seem obvious that the human mental functions along with the human speech comprise the main means for the action of the afore-mentioned units. Speech - that is thought - which defines everyday life and future time, may – through its expression and documentation – become a significant tool for a further collective path on the part of cities and states. Since the word of thousands of workers is connected with the main political and social care - as long as this is not isolated, nor is it systematised – only then will we be able to imagine a more democratic future where credit markets will not be a predominant administrative value. However, the word of labour cannot possibly blossom if it is severed from the rest of the body. Especially nowadays, when the dynamic functions of the body are falling into disuse and, at the same time, the very body itself is being cut off both socially and politically – for instance, as is the case in the middle of a pandemic where teleworking becomes the norm or the fact that physical contact in a public place is being considered as a criminal act and calls for police intervention – thought, as a means of awakening, assumes a significant meaning.

[1] Maraveyas, Napoleon. Agricultural Policy, Greece in the ’80s. Athens: Epikentro Publishing, 2014. 10-13
[2] Spielmann, Max & Bahtsetzis, Sotirios. Post Industrial Design - Our Standpoint. Basel: Institut HyperWerk for Postindustrial Design, 2016. 17
[3] “Today’s working class is more possible to change sheets in a hospital rather than producing steel” John Merrick states in his article ‘The Healthcare Crucible’. The Baffler. 8 April 2021. thebaffler.com 

[4] Accessed 09.2021, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patras_Carnival
[5] Accessed 09.2021, https://www.upatras.gr/el/university
[6] According to a research by the Technical Chamber of Western Greece, in a twenty-year period (1976-1996) twenty industrial enterprises, that employed more than 4,000 workers, stopped their production.

Research Objectives and Methodology

Shifting our focus upon the decades from 1960 onwards, the research initially questions the value of scale as a means of understanding urban landscape. In co-operation with five graduates from the School of Architecture of the University of Patras (Nikiforos Ziros, Sofia Panagiotopoulou, Stergios Kaloudis, Eleni Chatzi Nestoros, and Aliki Kontela) along with the architect Dimitrios Theodoropoulos, a discussion on the geopolitical and industrial nature of Patras – including any changes that have been brought about within its urban network in recent years – is developed. In January 2021 we engage in two different peripatetic walks around the city; from the neighbourhood of Ayia to the South Park, from the promenade of Agios Nikolaos and up to Pantokratoras square, from the Psila Alonia square to the Saint Andrew hospital and up to the borderline of Sinora. The main target of those walks is the physical awareness of the landscape including its accompanying architectural structures. Upon completion of those walks and in discussion with the museologist Georgia Manolopoulou, we select fourteen production units – both active and inactive – on which the research will subsequently focus. Historical significance along with their post-industrial character, including their position within the city network or their contemporary collective use, comprise the selection criteria of each unit. Focusing on both the structures and the areas where are based on, we study the topographical design adopted by the state through the passage of time including what is being considered as cultural industry nowadays.

The relationship between individual memory and collective truth is the second field on which the research concentrates. Following the selection of the units, a considerable number of workers who were involved – or still are – in those places, are invited to have an oral account of their professional course. The peripatetic dialogues that take place from February to the end of April 2021 project personal moments, collective convictions, tales and truths. Like a pedagogue in Ancient Greece, who imparted knowledge, shared experience and educated the youth while accompanying them on the road to gymnasium, in the same manner, the invited participants will act likewise by walking and narrating, offering historical knowledge, education and vision for the future. Through internal and external course around the building structures, the body leads and is led to, ponders and remembers. A space is created for the recall of events that have taken place but also for others that are simply a figment of imagination. The process of memory shapes the present, while there seem to be introduced such questions as: What is the post-industrialist truth of the working class of Patras? Can we possibly talk about the truth as “a thing by itself” [7] or should we refer to it as a combination of different beliefs and memories? How do the oral accounts create different levels of subjective information which, through the passage of time and the strengthening of new technologies, are transformed into a collective truth?

The third objective of this research is to test the relationship between individual - collective and that of private - public. Upon completion of the peripatetic walks, the individual narrative speech of the working class is recorded, analysed and certain parts of dialogue from the meetings are selected. To test the work within a wider audience, the selected accounts are publicised in both audio and printed forms. Under the supervision of the soloist Nicolas Maraziotis, the narrations are re-enacted by citizens of different ages and, under the direction of the radio producer Zakelina Kyrousi, are broadcasted online within the framework of an hourly podcast. At the same time, the Peloponnisos newspaper publishes the total of the selected narratives in three different issues. Thus, the individual stories will invade the everyday life of the online audience and that of the newspapers’ readers. Both of them will be informed and called to participate in the shaping of the post-industrialist space and time, through their own desire and experience. The personal stories, like other modern monuments, may form the private and public domain: as a piece of sculpture simply lies in public view in a city and is experienced by its inhabitants or visitors, the same may happen with the oral accounts of the working class – they also lie out there, accessible to be fully enjoyed both individually and collectively.

Material Translation of Speech

The collective social functions which form the city can be reinforced through the translation of the working class accounts into sculptural artworks. Words, phrases or speech acts will be developed materially – through the use of metal, such as iron and bronze, including sources of light such as neon and LED - within three large scale sculptural premises at different public areas of Patras. Every piece of work will discreetly intervene through its sheer volume and its meaningful base on the shells or on the surrounding spaces of post-industrial structures while their view will be perceived from a distance and in conjunction with the existent landscape. In this way, there will be an activation of “blind” spots within the urban network, an artistic reinforcement of the public space of the city, as well as an introduction of antithetical concepts such as accessibility/prohibition, public/private, monumental/ephemeral to be explored.

The main objective of the creation of the above mentioned sculptures is to enhance the relationship between oral history and design. The term “design” can be read as a means of world formulation and as a tool of social and cultural formation. The formation of cities and states – that is the way we relate to societies within which we act, how surrounding objects and structures are defined – are all topics which are connected with design both in theory and in practice. Today, both designers and constructors are continuously trying to increase the predictability and the uniformity of different manufactured products [8]. The post-industrial design is primarily based on clinical designs created for massive use and “easy” satisfaction while the dynamic of the non-predictable, the “fervour” of the asymmetric, or the monumental aspect of the individual are all increasingly banished. At the same time, it is worth noting that there is a lack of democratic element in terms of vision including our future formation, since the majority of the exciting and visible ideas for tomorrow are designed and developed almost completely by private companies owned by tech billionaires in contrast with the past when academics, artists, scientists and government agencies used to jointly work for the future [9].

The three pieces of sculpted work that are proposed as a result of the interdisciplinary study reveal the emotional fervour, the quality and the surprise that are all characteristic elements of oral speech. They introduce the notion of individual narrative as a predominant tool for a viable post-industrial design that will enhance the equality and pluralism of the public space. The word of workers, already accessible to the public of the city, communicates its political entity, contributes to the modern formulation of the everyday making and creates space and time for multiple readings. The TELL ME artistic research can be read, listened to and viewed as a reinforcement method of the sanctity of the ephemeral and the everyday, the public and the private, as well as the working action and the future time

[7] Nietzsche, Friedrich. Ueber Wahrheit und Lüge im Aussermoralischen Sinne. Athens: Ekkremes Publications, 2009. 108
[8] Koren, Leonard. Wabi-Sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers. California: Imperfect Publishing, 2008. 86

[9] Shaw, Matt. ‘Billionaire Capitalists (…) Let them’. The Guardian. 5 February 2021. theguardian.com

Speech Co-Shapes the New Social Sculpture of Patras
Georgia Manolopoulou

What are those voices behind the isolated post-industrial buildings at the heart of the urban network of Patras? Which is that liberating, creative speech that depicts the productive and lively activity?

The architectural and industrial shells of this city are seeking their own voice – their “speech” – their reuse within an artistic dialogue with the city and its people that shaped them. Which, one may wonder, can be that voice that structures both the notions and the accounts of the nowadays inert city?

Social Sculpture

The interdisciplinary research project TELL ME is making an attempt to provide an account and – both artistically and in a semiotic way – overturn the post-industrial landscape of Patras by recalling and converting individual and collective memories which have shaped the modern city. Through the creation of a contemporary type of sculpting by the artist Yorgos Maraziotis, the co-formation of a new artistic imprint in terms of “social” sculpture including as mediums the notion of speech, the human being, as well as the dynamic of expression and the individual and collective memory, under the shell of the public open space. The purpose of the social sculpture is not only to condense the speech within the material but also the transcendentalism of abstract thought aiming at an optical comprehension of values – mainly of experiences and emotions of a productive generation: that of Patras in recent times. It is an artistic intervention in the city from a different perspective – both artistically and in terms of research – which has nothing to do with that of mere compilation, citation and presentation of material documentation but it is connected – through its reference – with the sphere of the immaterial such as the oral speech. This is an account of stories whose target is to activate critical thought, emotional charge and social reinforcement.            

Is it, perhaps, viable and realistic to talk about artistic composition, exhibition, interpretation and version of immaterial documents through innovative artistic forms within the architectural shell?

The desire of the project team, under the inspiration and guidance of the artist Yorgos Maraziotis himself, is precisely this: the lively and illuminating representation of language through contemporary materials that may take by surprise, cause a turmoil in a pleasant and unexpected way, to the visitors of Patras through unusual and unknown streaks. The objective is the activation of the mind along with the sensitisation of emotions.

The Incorporation of Art within its Everyday Dimension

The experiences and life memories of the workers of the MAMOS brewing company, the Mills of Saint George, the Skiadaresis company of Turkish delights, the Municipal Carnival workshop and other units of production are all at the very heart of the TELL ME multidisciplinary project. Their speech is thus materialised into a bright artistic sight within the central urban network depicting, in this way, their own personal sensitivities along with their own visual experience. At the same time, there is an attempt to project the identity of a certain community in terms of their work accompanied by particular accounts within a free, open and unbound dialogue. The voices of the factories, the human dimension of the landscapes of the city’s past productive process acquire, as it were, sound and light: that sound and light of the artistic vision and the upheaval of the public space in the city. And, as the artist himself mentions, the project upon discussion “will be viewed as a post-industrial portrait of the city in its making’’. The idea is to create artistic interventions which will render the memory and the oblivion of a post-industrial city – now seeking its past and future – to its local, cultural dynamic.

Public sculpture is inextricably influenced by the notions of space, individual and collective memory as well as the emotional charge which is diffused in the social landscape of the city. Nowadays more than ever, art is called upon to actively participate in the recreation of cities through an aesthetic reformation and, thus, reassuming its supervising role as a defining factor towards the formation of the identity of the citizen of the world. Art, with its holistic interventions – either artistic or sculptural concepts – is bound to be out there: in buildings, in public squares, in schools. It has to become a part of everyday life within our indifferent cities entailing a range of individual and collective memories or creating new, contemporary accounts or simply creating the long-desired euphoria. Not only artists but also the cultural society of the citizens in total are morally bound to promote the meaning of the city as a living cell, both in terms of memory and as an open-air museum where people and public exhibits will interact on a daily basis.

Art does have a unique way to intervene, overturn, co-shape, to structure the innate human tendency towards beauty, according to Joseph Beuys [1]. Social sculpture, from my own point of view, is exactly that human-centred, moving power of art to sculpt, to aesthetically break our individual and public genetic material using noble chromosomes which carry cells of cultural intelligence. In this way, it enhances the character of art through an intense positive sign and reinforces notions and values such as aesthetics, solidarity, consciousness, acceptance of the different, responsibility, creation of cultural education as well as social awareness. After all, is it not true that those are the very values that strengthen the role of a society including a healthy democratic state?

One such excellent example is that of the Greek artists of the Hellenic Diaspora [2], who managed to leave their own unique artistic imprint in the contemporary “social” sculpture within the public space of France under the value code: “Art as a public good”. Art comprises a dynamic agent of messages, values and symbols which embody human experience and feed our everyday life. It is a source of creation of social capital in terms of political, social and cultural intelligence that, under the present circumstances, is bound to stand out as a definitive factor for social cohesion, harmonious co-existence and dialogue as well as create a psychic euphoria which will, thus, teach cultural multiformity and democracy within the terrain of public sphere.

[1] Beuys, Joseph. Social Sculpture, Invisible Sculpture, Alternative Society, Free International University. Gerpinnes: Éditions Tandem, 1988

[2] https://www.hellenicdiaspora.org/home/documentaries/

The Peripatetic Dialogues

TELL ME is based, to a great extent, on field research, experiential dimension in relation to the structure of the buildings, architectural interventions as well as the possibilities of both exploitation and activation of the “secret spots” of the selected units, as the artist himself mentions, according to his initial proposed concept. In addition, the peripatetic dialogues, the planning of special routes covering both the past and present entrepreneurial activity of the city, the study of sources, the interviews held with the working community, the documentation, the bibliographical endoscopy along with other multiple informal discussions with people of the city who are well acquainted with the artist himself, all gave life to the project as a whole. The project was also empowered by visits at the Press Museum of the Union of Daily Newspaper Editors of Peloponnesus, Epirus and the Ionian Islands, the Chamber of Commerce, the House of Kostis Palamas, and the Labour Union of Patras. Moreover, a certain part of the research was dedicated to the development of the themes under discussion as well as to the discovery of additional records in order to reveal both immaterial and material documentation which will structure speech and will transform it into an artwork.

The peripatetic dialogues held at public places in the city – especially during a difficult period, in the middle of a pandemic – functioned in a redeeming and creative way for all the collaborators of the project. After all, according to Aristotle’s Poetics our natural community is the city; its unique objective is its wellbeing, its interaction along with its social cohesion: an ultimate ideal for a good life. The total should always precede its part. Today’s Patras, having as a compass its rich cultural heritage and an intense contemporary activity within all forms of art does have all those promising options and perspectives at its disposal. The challenges are endless.

Our City

Patras, our city, is a restless, impatient and enthusiastic city. It is a creative place, a unique meeting point where East meets West. These are elements which are engraved in the genetic code of everyone whom the city’s womb accommodate. The capital of Western Greece traces its identity through the passage of centuries and claims its position, that belongs to the modern framework of social and cultural making. The city of Patras is considered as the economic, commercial and cultural centre of Western Greece, with direct access to the West, as its port lies at a pivotal point in relation to other European ports. Due to this fact the city has been inhabited since the prehistoric times and already enjoyed a great boom during the Mycenaean period, reaching its glorious peak in the Roman times, as it was a Roman colony, and was thus transformed into a cosmopolitan centre with an economic and cultural development. Patras has always been a centre with a multinational character and a huge commercial and cultural activity. Its significant geographic position as a gate from East to West has definitely determined the city’s history.

However, Patras has not limited itself within the influential bounds of its geographical position including its open-hearted landscape and its atmospheric aura but, mainly, focused on the action and coherence of its social network. The existence of social cohesion for many years along with the creation of strongly populated communities with an international feature have both functioned successfully in the city for a very long time. During the 19th and at the beginning of 20th century, Patras, once more, finds itself taking the booming lead. It is a continuously changing topos, an urban centre where historical, social and economic changes take place because of the special circumstances of this time period.  

The upgrading of its port due to the enormous exports of black currants to Mediterranean destinations along with a great industrial activity that was accompanied by neoclassicism - the dominant architectural feature for the erection of public, private and religious buildings for many years – blew a fresh air to the city. Most of its inhabitants came, apart from the indigenous population, mainly from Eptanisa, from the provinces of the Ottoman Empire such as Epirus, Chios, Constantinople, Smyrna, Crete, as well as from the communities of the Diaspora: Livorno, Trieste and Vienna. At the same time, there was a settlement of investors and grand traders, in the city of Patras, who came from England, Germany, Italy, and who took charge of the industrialisation of the city. Thus there is a creation of a multicultural urban centre, a small mosaic-work of cultures, language and religion with the inhabitants being the small tesserae.

The city-port of Patras follows a full-scale development in terms of industry. The city constitutes, above all, an important transporting and commercial centre because it is the gate of the country to Europe by means of its port as there is a considerable amount of importing and exporting products. This economic prosperity contributed towards the physiognomic change of the city, the industrial activity development, the social life and the creation of a newly-formed urban class: a cosmopolitan city, in an attempt to align the local market with that of the rest of the world. Bavarian, Danish and Greek architects and urban planners (Zilller, Hansen or Kleanthis Voulgaris among others), according to the vision of Governor Kapodistrias, will take over the construction of the urban network of the centre following the Western-European schemes.

The researcher of the industrial history of Patras, Nikos Sarafopoulos, characteristically mentions in his pivotal publication, Historical Album of the Industry in Achaia 1825-1975, that the history of Achaia is interwoven with economic and productive activity. The golden age of Patras is the period 1840-1940. Several years later large units operate with great prosperity until their final cessation. Today in Achaia and the wider region of Western Greece there is an optimistic dimension, that of growth, innovation and recent business activity, which is now evolving through start-ups with the parallel training of young people in mediums of healthy entrepreneur venture having culture as a developmental tool. The cultural industry is an important part of the scheme in the area. And as the drafting of a new development strategy in the field of culture has an international character, it is now considered imperative the need to formulate a new cultural strategy in the city of Patras, in order for it to respond culturally and at the same time developmentally to this new era. With two poles; the purely humanitarian, in order to contribute to the cultivation of creativity, critical ability, aesthetics and sensitivity, but also the purely productive, creating pillars of economic prosperity.

TELL ME artistic research project coincided, in terms of time, with the important European initiative: New European Bauhaus [3]. A creative, interdisciplinary platform which began in January 2021 and whose target is to create new meeting points as well as to design future ways and attitudes of public and private life with the co-existence of art, architectural culture, social inclusion, science and innovation. It is a unique chance for the collective attempt to encourage us to imagine and build a future that will be viable without exclusions, adopting creativity within our everyday life.

Our city includes a great number of buildings which are an integral part of its historical heritage in terms of both architecture and art. The list of such constructions may include monumental complexes or representative industrial units, which have retained important features within their architectural and structural design. In the context of a successful strategic policy – with reference to the projection of their cultural value, the diachronic course of the city and not excluding modern creation – there could be a series of initiatives being under way in order for the citizens to become acquainted with their relatively recent past but also contemporary present. We envision a “rebirth” of abandoned historic buildings through their holistic redesign, but also of the public urban fabric, with contemporary artistic installations and interventions, along with the creation of a new cultural structure; a center for contemporary art in our city. Let TELL ME become the starting point of a dynamic initiative in Patras in order to overturn and sculpt its architectural and anthropological relief with modern and lively histories in the way they deserve to be told | tellme.

[3] https://europa.eu/new-european-bauhaus/about/about-initiative_en