Rick Lowe first came to Athens from Houston in late June 2015 via a philanthropic conference in Vouliagmeni, a seaside town twenty kilometers from the city center. Determined to get to know the Greek capital and its environs in his own time, he did what he does best: he walked. It took him nearly four hours to reach Syntagma Square by foot. Months later, I am still learning about the pedestrian in his art.
Lowe, who was born in Alabama in 1961, is best known for co-founding Project Row Houses, an ongoing transformation of a segment of the Third Ward in Houston, underway now for more than twenty years. His mentor, the artist, scavenger, and local sage Jesse Lott, comes to play dominoes at the regular Saturday morning gathering in the corner house adjacent to a row of long and narrow “shotgun houses” refurbished for showing art and for living. Witnessing one session, I wondered about the links extending from Houston to Athens, and to Kassel. Each city has different social needs and yields distinct opportunities when grasped at the street level.
In Athens, working closely with Klea Charitou and Elli Christaki, Lowe has opened a dialogue with key initiatives operating across the fields of arts and culture, business, and higher learning, as well as support networks for immigrant and refugee groups. He asks them to direct their attention to Victoria Square. This historic crucible of the Greek middle class has slowly transformed, since the departure of its well-to-do inhabitants to the suburbs in the 1970s, into a contemporary cultural crossroads. In the summer of 2015, it made news, overwhelmed by refugees and their traffickers. Today, the tents have departed, but walking in the square, one hears Greek, Arabic, Albanian, French, Farsi, Polish, Turkish, Swahili.
People seeking refuge and better lives in Kassel today may have passed recently through Victoria Square in Athens. Many others previously arrived in the decades of German recruitment of Gastarbeiter (guest workers) that began in the mid-1950s, around the time of the first documenta. Looking for the inscription of immigrant lives into the fabric of the city with the help of local activist Ayşe Güleç, Lowe found Halitplatz, where a plaque commemorates the murder of a young Turkish man, Halit Yozgat, by members of the neo-Nazi National Socialist Underground. This was not an isolated incident: much work remains to be done.