The Athens Municipality Arts Center at Parko Eleftherias (Freedom Park) and the Museum of Anti-dictatorial and Democratic Resistance belong to a nineteenth-century complex of military quarters. Indeed, the recent history of this site is related to repressive governmental measures including censorship, persecution, and the torture of dissidents. During the military junta of 1967 to 1974 in Greece, sometimes called the Regime of the Colonels, the building that documenta 14 currently inhabits in Parko Eleftetherias was used to house the military police headquarters; the building just behind, which currently houses the Museum of Anti-dictatorial and Democratic Resistance, meanwhile, was a detention and torture facility. While both buildings still belong to the Greek Ministry of Defense, they have nevertheless been the object of different forms of political reinscription within the sociocultural landscape of the city of Athens. They represent two distinct approaches to history and memory, as well as distinct tendencies toward dealing with public cultural industries within contemporary neoliberalism.
The Museum of Anti-dictatorial and Democratic Resistance is operated by the Association of Imprisoned and Exiled Resistance Fighters. Although the building has been partially reconstructed, the interior spaces have been preserved as they were during the 1960s and 1970s. Lacking funding and run on a nonprofit basis by some of the fighters themselves, the museum presents the historical walls, doors, and enclosures as “evidence,” alongside a series of personal archives consisting of photographs, photocopies, journals, and maps. Within the museum, open to the public for a few hours each day, the association’s members reconstruct the history of the junta through in-situ visits and oral histories of their experiences.
Conversely, the building allocated to documenta 14 was transformed in the 1980s into a traditional “white cube” so that it might be used as a contemporary art venue and public gallery. Its interior was paneled with white sheetrock that was used as a neutral support for exhibition displays. The disconnection of both buildings and the paneling of the walls of the art gallery effected a “de-historization” of the site, creating the conditions for institutional amnesia. Aleida Assmann has argued that political violence and terror can’t be easily recalled. Rather, trauma becomes the object of collective strategies of forgetfulness and repetition. With post-dictatorship Argentina, Chile, Portugal, and Spain, Greece is still trying to make sense of this violence.
Greek architect Andreas Angelidakis was invited by documenta 14 to transform the architecture of the Athens Municipality Arts Center into the site of the Parliament of Bodies (the name given to the Public Programs of documenta 14), and later into an exhibition venue. Angelidakis proposed an exercise of “investigative restoration.” Trying to interrupt history-as-repetition, per Walter Benjamin’s terms, Angelidakis enacted a series of minor yet crucial cuts. First, the paneled walls were partially cut, allowing the stone walls to emerge and bringing the material history of the building forward. Second, a direct connection to the museum behind has been created by reopening the back door of the building, onto the front of the Museum of Anti-dictatorial and Democratic Resistance. Third, Angelidakis covered the windows with black curtains, acting as mourning “widows.” Finally, Angelidakis designed Demos, a soft architecture consisting of sixty-nine blocks of fake-concrete “ruins” that can be assembled and reassembled in multiple ways that reorganize the inner structure of the space, which became the site for the Parliament of Bodies from September 2016. During these months, artists, performers, activists, and critical thinkers were asked to find ways of interrogating the public use of the building by rearranging the soft “ruins,” creating different platforms for enunciation, speech, display, or action.