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SHARING PERAMA: Walking Memory

Updated: Mar 14, 2019

by Barbara Polla and Christos Panagos

SHARING PERAMA is an ongoing project in Greece that aims to convey art to the people of Perama, in the public space, with the background consideration that if the arts’ goals and potential are not to change the world, art does have the potential to open and change our gaze, to modulate our feelings about the world and render it more viable for all of us. The artist we have chosen to concretize this project is the Scottish, London-based post-situationist visual poet Robert Montgomery[1], who proposes light poems in the public space, throughout Perama and more.[2]

Perama is a former slum in the outskirts of Athens, settled around the development of the shipyards between World War 1 and World War 2. Perama was an extremely poor neighborhood until the 90’s when more sustainable construction started, but was hit again by the economical crisis of the turn of the Century, with major subsequent unemployment and social problems. In order to implement the light sculptures by Robert Montgomery in Perama, we follow multiple approaches, among which “walking Perama”. Both authors of this paper have specific, strong memories about Perama, which are inherent to the process of SHARING PERAMA. Polla lived in Perama in 1966-1967, before and during the coup by the Colonel Junta on April 21st, 1967. Panagos has been working in Perama along with the movement of the musical activist group “Active Member” around the turn of 2010’s.

In this paper, we consider how “walking Perama” may deepen our understanding of the space and conceptualize the reception of Robert Montgomery’s art in Perama. Walking for hours and days through the city, evoking memories that are essentially bodily, recalling memories meant to serve as a basis to construct a future becomes a live experiment that enhances our ability to transmit and share images, sounds, perceptions, feelings, and ideas.


This project is in memory of the early years of the construction of Perama, in the sixties, when Polla spent a winter in the growing “favela” – indeed it was a slum at that time – and in tribute of Georgios Dimitriadis, a Greek orthodox father who took care of Perama’s inhabitants, in particular of the poorest of them, and of the children for whom he had created a shelter where they were served meals, care and love. Georgios Dimitriadis was a humanist of the everyday life, a man with a social vision for both present and future, never tired to give, to help, to find solutions, to distribute hope. Polla was seventeen years old at that time, spending a year in Greece with her family, in a journey organized by her father, who was a convinced philhellene. She studied Greek History, Greek as a language, helped in the shelter, discovered the shipyards. It was a most serene wintertime, but the following spring was obscured by the coup of the Colonel’s military Junta, on April 21st, 1967. Georgios Dimitriadis was immediately imprisoned and the perception Polla had of Perama deeply changed, as did the Greek reality. Fifty years later, Polla comes back to the slum of her teenage, that in the meantime has become a city. Together with image-maker Christos Panagos, Polla goes “Walking Perama”, so as to root the current assay and the whole SHARING PERAMA project in their shared walking experience.

Perama circa 1960’s. Post card

Mental Memory and Body Memory

Memory, a crucial aspect of our lives, is generally viewed as a mental phenomenon, a faculty of the mind whose function is to record, conserve and recall information, essential for learning and for civilizations to evolve. But memories also reside in the body. This is particularly the case for memories of spaces[3]. Furthermore, sensorial memories such as olfactory or taste memories are probably the strongest of all.[4]

Greek writer Tilemachos Doufexis-Antonopoulos defines memory as a pending action: “Memory (…) dives into the unconscious and recovers what is repressed; what is hidden; what was defeated and had to sink into oblivion, … revealing something unknown yet familiar… the demand for some future, for a geometry of the intangible.”[5]Doufexis-Antonopoulos further states that “The method and object of art is the pending process of a not-yet-finished-world, a not-yet-finished-form, the memory of the experience of the future, memory as a pending action.” Walking is also a processing experiment of a not-yet-finished-world, in a not-yet-finished-form, the memory of an experience of the future, memory as a pending action, as a possible “walk-through”.

The city of Perama is constructed in a very particular way, between mountain and sea, with no throughway. Once you enter the city, coming from Athens, Piraeus, Drapetsona, Keratsini, you have to take the same road to go back out of the city. There is no “emergency exit” – except the sea. The memories one holds from that space are thus very contained. Polla has memories of the streets of Perama in her feet, the dirt roads, the clay sidewalks, the bumps, the sand; Panagos has memories in his ears, from studio recordings to open-air concerts; both remember the smells of Perama, flowers in the spring, seawater in the wind from the shore, mixed with the industrial smells.

Panoramic view of part of the city of Perama and of the “Free Zone”, 2018 © Christos Panagos

Walking through Perama also allowed the authors to find back the childcare shelter that was built in the first half of the 20th Century on what has become since Elefterias street. The shelter has become a Kindergarten and is still active today.

Walking as an experiment

According to Walter Benjamin, the experience and the ability to transmit it are linked; by “walking Perama” we experiment the city and become able to share it. We share micro-experiments that pave the way to new perceptions. Polla is walking, recalling memories from her feet and body; Panagos is making images. The fact that we share our respective micro-experiments of walking by walking side by side makes them more “sharable” with others. As stated by Jacques Rancière, quoted by Thierry Davila in Marcher, créer…[6], “The real needs to be fictionalized to be thought”. By “walking Perama”, we create a new reality, we rethink the psycho-geography of the space, its stories and history. Along with Clare Qualmann and walkwalkwalk[7], we live “…walking as a freedom, as a subversive practice, as a visual art practice, and as a performance … a practice that begins with a re-examination of the places that you think are familiar – a kind of anti-derive, research method for developing text, installation, film, audio and performance works.”

The walls have been canvases in the streets of the cities forever, canvases of the immense open-air museums that the “polis”, whether mega- or micro-, offer to their people. The memory of walls is a very specific one, one that many artists have used, cultivating the appearance-disappearance-reappearance flux that city walls constantly offer to our gaze. With his texts and installations, Robert Montgomery will invade the walls of Perama.

© Robert Montgomery, 2017, mockup for SHARING PERAMA – a memory of the future to come

As part of our walking experiment, we also entered for the first time spaces we never were before, as the so-called Free Zone[8], generating new memories and new images that defy time. It was like entering through a hidden portal for traveling to the past: here the tools, the cranes, the ships, all are from the 60’s and even the workers look from another time. We live a very strange feeling of time, of the past but a past that pretends to be in the present. We wonder how the workers knew, the workers of today, to repair these boats of the past. May be as we have “walking memories” – they have “sailing memories”.

New, old, ancient… those become blurred notions that we have to reinvent. We feel like walking in a “collage”[9]: according to Turkish artist Nilbar Güreş, “We are Walking Collages“. 

We are walking in time.

Perama, inside a shipyard, 2018. © Christos Panagos

Walking in time with utopia as companion

As Davila states in Take the time[10], “The time passed walking, the duration of displacement, is the very medium, the very material of the action of the pedestrian, the ferment of the plasticity of his movement.” The time is what the walker works with.

The time for walkers in Perama seems elongated in a similar way as the city itself. The time here has also one way out only: the way back to the past. Shipyards are relics of the past; the “Terma” (literally, the end of the road), although still active, the ships, the industries, the churches, the shacks all look like relics of the past. And whenever one tries to film something in the present, in Perama, the resulting film will always refer to the past. We travel to the past when we are in Perama – a past that, unlike in other places in Greece, does not particularly refer to the glory of Ancient Greece, even if the hills still tell about the battle of Salamis, the shadow of Xerxes’ throne and the victory of the outnumbered Greeks. A victory gained, in those remote times, thanks to the narrowness of the natural harbor of Salamis, which was as narrow as the city of Perama still is today.Perama is showing its short term past rather as decay than as glory: here life plays in decay. At the end of the road, a small, dirty beach faces the military boats resting on the other side; elderly people and children bath here despite the prohibition to do so and walk on the algae-covered pebbles together with their dogs. The evidence of the decay that occurred in Perama over time, despite the new constructions, makes us strongly aware of the decay of our future. We are walking from past to future with utopia as the only way for survival. Concrete utopia may well emerge from Montgomery’s works, creating new perceptions and virtual spaces for artists to gather and create, as did, once upon a time, Active Member, when the sound of music and its rhythm took over Perama. Concrete utopia however also emerges from today’s political dreams and creations such as the newly created open-air theatre above Terma or the renewed open-air cinema near the entrance of Perama.

Perama, 2018. © Christos Panagos

Perama, open-air Mikis Theodorakis Theater, 2018, © Barbara Polla

Walking like dreaming

Walking and dreaming are very similar activities, although this does not seem so at first sight.

We walked through Perama. We did not stroll. A one-way street, even with meanderings, does not incite to stroll – rather, it encourages a rhythmical walk. Walking is dancing. We walked – we danced – at the rate of dreams: before we were able to capture what we saw as a complete picture, as an overview of the surroundings, it was gone, and the images had turned back into the unfathomable folds of our memories. In dreams as in city walking, only few details remain, very sharp though. Indeed, the attention to and the persistence of details is a characteristic of dreams widely used by Freud in his theories of dream interpretation. Walking art is an art of the detail.

Furthermore, walking and dreaming induce physiological variations in the body’s tone and rhythm, both physical and mental. It is well known that rocking – whether in the arms of an adult when we are babies, or by our journeys in trains or cars as adults – induce cerebral slow waves, and that these slow waves are sleep-inducers[11]. Walking to a given, constant rhythm may be compared to a “self-rocking motion” – and although it obviously does not induce sleep it certainly favors daydreaming[12] and promotes inspiration. The extreme of that inspirational daydreaming may well be sleepwalking. Panagos (who was a sleep-walker as a child) conceives his scenarios walking: “scripts come to my mind, they come out of nowhere…”. That “nowhere” hidden somewhere in the folds of our brain.

Perama, detail of a street. 2018. © Christos Panagos

Another strong link between walking and dreaming is the constant impression of strangeness. Images of dreams are recomposed from millions of images stored somewhere in our memories. “Walking Perama” – as would also be the case for walking through any unknown city, or city not walked for a prolonged time – leads to the recollection and re-composition of a mixture of images, old and new, that generate a similar feeling of strangeness as dreams may generate. Everything looks different. Walks, as dreams, create unseen worlds. That square was more crowded once upon a time, that dog skinnier, those stones not as sharp, that dust less volatile.

Perama, door open to light . 2018. ©Nicolas Etchenagucia

We were also walked as a bigger group through Perama by the theater-director Dimitris Bambilis. Bambilis, originally from Nikea, has a deep long-lasting knowledge of Perama; he participated in many walks (some thousand kilometers through Athens in the last ten years) and invented the concept of “pedifestation”. He has his groups walk as small columns, and in silence. After an hour silent walking in a group, with a group, the return to sharing experiences by voice sounds like an awakening from another world.

Sharing walking

Walking together creates bonds beyond reality and induces sharing of fantasy-inducing slow waves across brain borders. Walking is a drift. The authors of this assay shared a drift into their different, though convergent memories about a specific place and generated new ones: memories of a possible future. A drift into interstices that are usually unseen and unheard when you cross a place by car, public transportation or even bikes. A drift in a world of utopia, where trees grow on the hills of Perama, the seawater is crystal-clear, the kids of Perama are playing with golden sand on the beach and invent submarine science, Robert Montgomery’s pieces floodlit Perama’s tongue on land and foreign language poetry becomes the shared memory of beauty. Through walking together, looking, hearing, smelling, dreaming, these utopias became part of the authors’ shared experience of Perama’s space, a shared experience that may serve as basis for future realization: a cinematographic-like experience that could soon evolve into a film about Perama, possibly entitled “στον κήπο του παραδείσου”.

Author's Bio

Barbara Polla is a Swiss medical doctor and a researcher, former MP in Switzerland, a writer, gallerist and curator. She taught creativity at HEAD, Geneva, Switzerland. Christos Panagos is a Greek filmmaker based in Athens, Greece, currently focusing on documentaries, who’s films are screened at national and international film festivals.

[2] SHARING PERAMA, work in progress.

[3] Barbara Polla, BODY MEMORY, Topographie de l’art / La manufacture pour l’image, 2015.

[4] “When from a long-distant past nothing subsists after the people are dead, after the things are broken or scattered, taste and smell alone, more fragile, but more enduring, more unsubstantial, more persistent, more faithful, remain poised a long time, like souls, remembering, waiting, hoping, amid the ruins of all the rest; and bear unflinchingly, in the tiny and almost impalpable drop of their essence, the vast structure of recollection.” Marcel Proust, Rememberance of Things Past.

[5] From: Utopia in Pavlos Nikolakopoulos’ work, in: Pavlos Nikolakopoulos, Oblique; American Hastanesi, 2018.

[6] Thierry Davila, Marcher, créer. Déplacements, flânereies, dérives dans l’art de la fin du XXè siècle, Regard, 2002.

Member of walkwalkwalk :

[8] The Free (industrial) Zone of Perama belongs to the Organization of the port of Piraeus since mid 60’s and it is the place where most of the large shipbuilding repairs take place.

[9] Works involving collage and montage combine concrete reality and the fantastical, the here and the elsewhere, the non-contemporary and the current, the identifiable and the bizarre. They trace and erase the contours of new territories to be explored. They build ephemeral passages in which figures of the unknown are there to be deciphered. They disorient, perturb, destabilize and provoke.” Jean-Marc Lachaud.

[10] Thierry Davila, chapter of Marcher, Créer… op cit.

[11] Why do we cradle babies or irresistibly fall asleep in a hammock? Here we aimed to demonstrate that swinging can modulate physiological parameters of human sleep. To this end, we chose to study sleep during an afternoon nap using polysomnography and EEG spectral analyses. We show that lying on a slowly rocking bed (0.25 Hz) facilitates the transition from waking to sleep. Rocking also induces a sustained boosting of slow oscillations and spindle activity. It is proposed that sensory stimulation associated with a swinging motion exerts a synchronizing action in the brain that reinforces endogenous sleep rhythms. These results thus provide scientific support to the traditional belief that rocking can soothe our sleep.

[12] Many people daydream while walking. This can be a particularly pleasant environment if you are actually Out for A Walk, strolling with nowhere in particular go. Walks of this type are designed to be carefree and rich in visual stimulation, and if you are out on your own, a walk is perfect for daydreaming.


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