Guerrilla archaeology in the Heraklion Seafront: Distress, Ruins, Debris, and Amalgams
gratifying anguish — unfathomable
three cierges turn four
I fade in their splendour
This short essay is an attempt to revisit — through informal photographic documents, poetic sketches, and a few autobiographical notes — a field exploration of a certain part of the Heraklion seafront that took place the morning of the 5th of November 2020. Early morning of that day, the author’s pregnant wife was transported to a hospital in that area to undergo a very stressful and very painful operation (eventually lasting around 14 hours) as a result of a five months old foetus dying inside her womb by reason of a genetic anomaly. The author could not stay with her during those dramatic hours because of the measures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic (that was still in its prime at that time). As a response to this rather devastating personal mishap, the author drifted alone the broader region surrounding the hospital for several hours, partly guided by place itself and partly by his inexorable need to cast away intense feelings of agony, sadness, and grief — despair even.
let life shape me
let me witness what shall never happen
let me be the fold that shall never unfold
Such an improvised act of drifting is nothing new to the author, notwithstanding. Indeed, he has conducted extensive prior research in walking/peripatetic practices as well as in landscape exploration in various creative contexts —see for instance (Koutsomichalis 2022a; 2022b). His practice generally draws from a wide array of empirical and theoretical fields of study, such as psychogreography (Smith 2010), more-than-human archaeology (Pétursdóttir 2012; Pétursdóttir and Olsen 2018), dark-ecology (Harman 2016), and others. With this photo essay, he aligns with the emerging tradition of non-representational theory/methodology, and as such he intends to present neither an account nor a record of his drifting endeavour; instead, he hopefully seeks to foreground the
“power of the precognitive as a performative technology for adaptive living, as an instrument of sensation, play, and imagination, and a life force fueling the excesses and the rituals of everyday living” (Vannini 2015:4)
More, through the inclusion of photography and poetic sketches, this essay also aspires to demonstrate that such a performative technology can become a powerful means to conduct archaeological research and to put present day cities under scrutiny. That is, a powerful means to experience and to fumble about the multi-temporalities the latter entail and the ways in which different species of objects (that often originate in, or that evoke different times) come to co-exist and to interrelate with one another at the present.
Accordingly, what follows is an exposition and a brief presentation of some of the different kinds of urban amalgams encountered during the author’s drift in order to foreground their qualities in terms of texture, structure, and constituents. Maybe more importantly (to the author), this photo essay also serves as an implicit record of the author’s attempt to denounce certain feelings of his for the sake of other ones (that are more convenient for him to manage). In this continuum, it is embellished with English/Portuguese adaptations of a few verses that he wrote on that particular morning on the 5th of November 2020.
The map above roughly delineates the part of Heraklion where the drift took place. Heraklion is the capital of the island of Crete in South Greece — one of the biggest islands of the Mediterranean Sea with a rather complicated history that goes back no less than five millennia. Fortifications had been constructed during the Venetian period of the city in the 13th century CE and have undergone all sorts of damage, repair and re-construction ever since. In the area shown above, fortifications meet the dominant coastal avenue forming a T-like shape with it (and the smaller roads at the sides of the former). This cityscape is predominately mixed, characterised by several layers of rather chaotic ad hoc architectural interventions next to — or on — ruins of the distant or the recent past. As a matter of fact, it is rather typical that modern looking apartment blocks sit next to constructions in various stages of decay and even to an altogether abandoned industrial complex. For its greatest part, the rhyotomy of the residential subareas in that part of the city seems to follow patterns that existed during the Venetian (13th-17th centuries CE) or Ottoman (17th-19th centuries CE) eras and make little sense nowadays where car transportation and flats are the norm. At least in this area, the city defies notions of urban planning and seems to very often adhere to chance altogether. It should be emphasised, nevertheless, that this is by no means some ghettoed part of Heraklion, but instead, a moderately vibrant part also hosting hospitals, restaurants, offices, public services, shops, parks, child care, and others so that individuals from other parts of the city do often commute to this area for work, personal affairs, or recreation.
splashes of salt on my face
rough-hewn ripples in shades of washed-out green
Unruly interventions over the course of time on both public and private constructions often have a ‘patchwork’ like effect. That is to say, that structural ‘patches’ of different texture or substance are evident across surfaces and volumes. These may have occurred anytime from a couple of days to several centuries before the author’s drift and they could have been meant as either temporary or permanent solutions to some kind of structural or other problem. Patches of a sort succinctly expose the nature of the area as an amalgam of different temporalities that come to compliment or to clash with one another. In doing so, they either rescue/sustain patterns of older times or bring forth entirely new ones that, nevertheless, remain in an unintentional dialogue with the former. On this continuum, the present appears as seeking to project itself back into the past (and maybe vice-versa). The images below reveal several such instances.
Of particular interest is the image of the medieval Venetian wall below. On a closer look it reveals patches realised on very different periods and in order to repair damage in a rather makeshift fashion.
a frame that fits it all:
rotten scantlings, concrete blocks, medieval structures,
rust, urban failures, the vastness of the horizon
reverberations – sound reflections
loss defines us all
Maybe more than in any other part of Heraklion, in this particular part of the city drifting matter gathers and mingles with human and more-than-human activity so as to set out a counterpoint of various species of things. The sea waves and the wind contribute to an ever increasing mass of debris that is added to the stuff produced or redistributed as a result of various animal (seagulls, hooded crows, pigeons, stray dogs, cats, rodents, insects, etc), human, and even vegetal activity. The images bellow give a quick taste of the infinite ways in which stuff finds itself living alongside other stuff so as to shape assemblages that largely defy formal classifications. They instead seem to choreograph unique micro-worlds of their own that emerge and collapse following overlapping city activities, natural forces, chance, and accident.
Zeroing in on surfaces also reveals an inexhaustible richness. Contingent textures organically ‘record’ the effect of the natural elements/forces, the local climate, and the local (more-than-)human activity onto different kinds of matter.
it’s dawn by now
everything has taken its place
The effects of everyday causal human activity mingles with the drifting, the built, the renovated, and the decaying environment in idiosyncratic and often poetic (in the author’s own subjective opinion) ways. The images bellow illustrate such ‘mundane stains of the quotidian’: the ‘household’ of a homeless individual; a rusty drying loft in juxtaposition with rusty window railings; an outdoors ‘living-room’ setting; and two occasions of drink containers strategically abandoned — and eventually becoming part of haphazard stuff-building compositions — rather than thrown away in some rubbish can (or recycled).
palms sticking of saltness and antiseptic
the sea is ferocious today
Text and images: Marinos Koutsomichalis*
Published on 23/04/2023
*Marinos Koutsomichalis is an artist, scholar, and creative technologist. He is broadly interested in the materiality of self-generative systems, (post-)digital objecthood, sound, image, data, electronic circuitry, perception, selfhood, landscapes/environments, and the media/ technologies we rely upon to mediate, probe, interact, or otherwise engage with the former.
- Harman, G. (2016). Living Earth: Field Notes from the Dark Ecology Project 2014-2016. Amsterdam, the Netherlands: Sonic Acts
- Koutsomichalis, M. (2022a). Exploring North Nordic Landscapes in a ‘Hyper-constructive’ RUUKU: Studies in Artistic Research 18.
- Koutsomichalis, M. (2022b). Tactics against antiquity: the contemporary ancient Messene Journal of Contemporary Archaelogy 8(2): 274–298.
- Pétursdóttir, Þ. (2012). “Small things forgotten now included, or what else do things deserve?”. International journal of historical archaeology 16(3):577-603.
- Pétursdóttir, Þ and B. Olsen. (2018). “Theory adrift: The matter of archaeological theorizing”. Journal of social archaeology 18(1):97-117.
- Smith, P. 2010. “The Contemporary Derive: A Partial Review of Issues Concerning the Contemporary Practice of Psychogeography.” Cultural Geographies 17(1):103–122.
- Vannini, P. (2015). “Non-representational research methodologies: An introduction”. In Vannini, P. (ed.) Non-Representational Methodologies (pp. 1-18). London: Routledge.
 The original Greek verses have been published under the title “3/4”, as part of the author’s art book “ΡΟΜΠΟΤΑ”, Limassol: Self-published. 2022. See https://marinoskoutsomichalis.com/projects/robota
Text and imagens: Marinos Koutsomichalis *
Published on 23/06/2023
* Marinos Koutsomichalis is an artist, scholar, and creative technologist. He is broadly interested in the materiality of self-generative systems, (post-)digital objecthood, sound, image, data, electronic circuitry, perception, selfhood, landscapes/environments, and the media/ technologies we rely upon to mediate, probe, interact, or otherwise engage with the former.