The city of Athens is home to a secret world, bristling on the slopes, in the clearings and in the hollows. The peri-urban hills of Athens, lining the outskirts of the “normal” city, have their own eccentric physiognomy.
“Although one could say that there are fewer parks in Athens than in other capitals, there is a strong botanical presence here. From balconies full of pot plants to explosions of organic life in empty urban plots and along the streets, there are plenty of green spaces. Life seems to spring forth from every crack in the pavement. This contrast demands that we observe the city from a different angle,” says 28-year-old French-Canadian Nicolas Melemis, who is indicative of the new wave of love for and curiosity about Athens.
Far beyond the city’s earlier stereotypes, Athens appears – especially in the eyes of those under the age of 35 – as a laboratory of ideas, contradictions and primordial origins; an anarchic, autonomous and irrational place, poetic and gritty as one leaves behind the dense urban fabric.
Melemis, who lives in Paris but is increasingly devoting more of his time to Athens, focuses his poetic gaze on the free city of the hills – a refuge from the city of urban deviations. His photographs present new ways of seeing and interpreting the fluid, ephemeral and not always predictable patterns in the confines of the urban sprawl.
Melemis’ photographs form the body of a new, bilingual (Greek-English) book, titled “What Simply Happens,” which captures the parallel narrative of the city from its surrounding hills and slopes. It is a genuine photographic essay. Of particular interest – adding an international dimension – is the tendency to deconstruct the physical bricks and mortar and attribute a poetic dimension to the city’s roughness. In this way, the book not only overcomes tired stereotypes but establishes nature as the primary focus of the city. Melemis’ conversation with the subject not only reveals a photographic poet with a grounding in architecture, but a harvester of the beautiful in the most unpredictable of places.
Athens, through his gaze, is presented as a city that allows its anarchic, unregulated nature to completely appropriate the sanctuary of urban space. To that end, Melemis responds to questions that tap into international currents of thought on the future of cities, the coexistence of buildings and nature, and the ways in which a resident of a large city has the ability to deviate and find autonomy.
A climate of anarchy that exists endemically and diachronically in Athens is also associated with the ancient beliefs in the hills, caves and hollows. It contributes to a search for that parallel world that seems to be whispering muffled codes. Nicolas Melemis has given us a deeply personal look that exudes an understanding and tenderness in an Athens that is ingenious, elusive and unpredictable.
The book contains texts and poetry by Nicolas Melemis, Ioanna Gerakidi, Marc Delalonde and Odysseas Simos. It can be found at select bookstores (Meteoritis, Anana, Little Tree, Lexicon, Adad Books, Hyper Hypo) and through Nicolas Melemis ([email protected]).