Design Notebook by Sias SA

CITY TALKS: FLANEURS IN FOKIONOS NEGRI

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Surprisingly a few weeks ago Flaneur magazine popped in my newsfeed with some familiar images. Oh yes, it was Athens! One of my favourite magazines was literally around the corner, working on issue 5. I guessed that they were looking for their next street.

 

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Photography:Ricarda Messner

 

Flaneur is a nomadic, independent magazine focussing on one street per issue. The magazine embraces the street’s complexity, its layers and fragmented nature with a literary approach. I met the berlin-based team in Omonoia, to realise only from my first question, that their backgrounds of constant movings and project-based work life, have created the perfect mix for the magazine’s concept.“The magazine is the perfect excuse to visit other cities and interact with people who live there and we would have never met in other cases.” says the founder and publisher Ricarda Messner, pointing out the magazine’s potential of experimenting and mixing things. For each issue the team spends two months on location collaborating with locals from various disciplines, in order to create the content. “It is so specific that it becomes universal” Fabian Saul, editor in chief explains.

 

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I am wondering how even with such a unique and bright concept, they don’t fall in the trap of reproducing specific city images like other magazines. “There is no interest in sharing a certain kind of truth. If there is any truth in Flaneur magazine it comes in contradictions” says Fabian. That’s why every issue is framed under the phrase “This could be (Fokionos Negri) street”. When reading the magazine it feels like wandering in the streets of a certain novel, or even in an urban movie set. Its timeless editorial approach makes it an object that you want to keep and maybe discover again in a few years without loosing its relevance. Grashina Gabelmann, editor in chief clearly defined the thin line which removes Flaneur from the travel magazines genre. “Flaneur is not writing about things that people have created, we are a literary publication, we create things.

 

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I am asking for their website and social media, which they use in a quite sparring way. “Website is not a replacement of the printed. People paste printed material to the web, but it doesn’t work that way. Online publications are horrible because it doesn’t work that way.” Fabian explains, while I appreciate their critical stance in times of continuous post consumption. They prefer to concentrate on the work than in their social media presence, the same goes with city exploration, it takes time and focus. Recently they invented the section “unprintables” in their website, which work only as an extension of the magazine. “Never double content” Fabian insists. There goes only complementary content that emerged from the research, but its medium can’t appear in the magazine. They keep experimenting with this, also from the editorial and the design side. “How do you present a musical piece in a printed format?” Fabian wonders. And I can’t omit asking about the design, which follows the content. “The designers were excited and wanted to move their studio in Athens for a while, they got a lot of inspiration from store’s signs and greek typography.” mentions Grashina.

 

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The process of making an issue starts with two weeks of walking and no research beforehand. In the case of Athens they also had a short list of people a journalist gave them, but at the end everything happened on the street. “We met an artist at Aiolou and then introduced us to another person and we talked for two hours about the stories of the street. It was too easy, we felt spoiled, story after story, one person led to another and the network got bigger and bigger.” says Grashina fascinated. For the Athens issue they spent much more time listening than the other issues and they couldn’t decide about the street. There was a dilemma between Aiolou and Fokionos Negri street, but the latter enchanted them with its urban myths. “We became part of the local network and we were falling for the stories, not that much for the place.” Grashina adds. When I asked which are the criteria of choosing a street they only had one, to be subjective about it. The team acts like travellers carrying their memories, so after the big and impersonal Corso Vittorio Emanuele II in Rome, they were looking for a cosier street. “Every issue brings the other cities with it, there is also a reference from the first issue to Athens issue.” Ricarda reveals. I am delighted by the street-based concept which allows such spontaneity and experimentation even visually, while keeping a strong identity.

 

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Talking of openness, I am asking them about the Athenian clichés and the image they created on their stay here. “It is hard with Athens, because it was a city I didn’t have any expectations at all.” Ricarda replies, “Of course I ‘ve knew the Acropolis, but I ‘ve never really seen images of the city. Except the media images, that was just political talk. This is what I am saying about Rome, that was a city that you ‘ve seen in so many movies. Here you come to a blank canvas and it is all about the people, how they welcome you. I was intrigued by the diversity, the architecture, it is incredibly interesting.” That makes brings another question about cities identity. Fabian believes that identity has nothing to do with the true everyday experience of people, that it is just an imposed simplification that hold places together. “You google Athens and you get this dusty jungle of white and greyish houses under the throne of Acropolis, but in fact it is way more organised and calm than you expected. It is a city a celebration to modernity, to modern architecture, it is a modern city that thrives on a myth of ancient times. The image of Acropolis is insult to the place which is way more complex.” Fabian adds. At the end Grashina picks a lively everyday athenian image, which most of us take for granted “The stray cats and dogs, palm trees and orange trees. Animal and plants!”.

 

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In the question of what makes a city Ricarda instantly replies “The people” and Fabian makes again a link with Athens and the idea of antiparohi. He found interesting that people are the owners of the city. “The great thing of Athens is that it can be based on private initiative as an idea of urbanisation, building cell by cell with minimal governmental influence. You can only understand it once you are here. This idea of ownership creates another idea of a collective, which it was not hit by the liberal western idea of investment and entrepreneurship imposed in huge amounts of land.” he explains. The results are the city’s contrasts, which make the citizen’s experience of the city richer, but this quality starts to disappear with gentrification. “Not having a plan can be a plan! It is a pity that this model did not survive” he adds. And as always we ended our interesting discussion with favourite urban books or films. For Ricarda was hard to choose, but she went with “A night on earth” by Jim Jarmusch, Fabian is currently reading another flaneur’s story “Nadja” by André Breton and Grashina’s chose the film “Downtown 81” by Edo Bertoglio. We talked a bit more about Athens and then they headed to Fokionos Negri.

 

For more information about Flaneur you can visit their website http://flaneur-magazine.com. Issue 5 will be out around Sept 25th and there will be a launch on Fokionos Negri street. (the magazine will come with a supplement of selected articles being translated into Greek) You can already pre-order the issue here: http://flaneur-magazine.com/shop/

Natassa Pappa