Metronome is the first short video in Mass Transient, a research strand of the project The City at a Time of Crisis.
Mass Transient is an ethnographic study of spaces of mass transit in Athens — and beyond: it is a study that seeks to reveal the ever-growing antagonisms and tensions in these quintessential spaces of the everyday, as the crisis deepens. At this historical conjuncture, buses, trolleys and metro carriages become the primary public spaces: on the one hand moving around are the ‘fallen angels’ of the bourgeois dream, and on the other, those swirling through the city are the undocumented, seeking survival. A close, meticulous reading of these spaces can help us understand how the transitory flux of a society in turmoil becomes a galvanized reality; how a transient mass becomes critical.
Produced by Ross Domoney & Antonis Vradis
Directed by Ross Domoney
Research by Antonis Vradis
Cinematography, editing & sound mix by Ross Domoney
Assistant editing by Antonis Vradis
I. The metro is the quintessential blood-line of the metropolis. It traverses it, just like the veins traverse the human body. This, then, becomes one of the fastest rule-of-thumb we have in understanding whether a city holds a metropolitan calibre: is it big enough to have a metro? And so, it seemed perfectly fitting for Athens to acquire its metro system at that exact moment when it had also believed, momentarily, that it gained metropolitan status... the Olympics, the construction boom, the apparent prosperity (for some) –– and the relentless exploitation to match it (for most): somehow, without anyone really ever being able to explain how or why, Athens appeared to be making it; it seemed like it was firmly standing with both feet in the West. For a fleeting moment, Athens had become a Metropolis.
Tick. “I never thought it would come to this. But I probably have to go, I have to get out of this place. And soon, you know it, so will you”.
Tock. The middle-aged man has one of the most shy but frenzied gazes that I have seen in a long while. The combination is a peculiar one, and it gets me thinking. In the metro, in the bus or in the tram, our utmost struggle is to rest our gaze somewhere; better even, to allow it a private thoroughfare, a trajectory to reach beyond the point where we stand. In a space of intense togetherness, every single other sense of ours is exposed naked: we may overhear conversations, we may smell and we may touch our fellow passengers. Taste aside, the only sense acting as line of defence against this cramped and forced conviviality is sight.
The date is January 24 and the time is somewhere in the early afternoon. As of the past few hours, not a single medium of mass transit traverses the city of Athens: workers at the city's Metro have been on strike since January 17. Today, eight days later, the Ministry of Transport has announced their civil conscription – an order, that is, for their forced return to work. In response, workers at Athens' Urban Transport Organisation (OASA) have called rolling 24-hour strikes in solidarity, while the workers at the Metro's Green Line (ISAP) and the Tram have followed suit.
It is impossible to predict exactly when history is about to take one of its turns, but it is entirely possible to feel swivels prior. For such change to actually happen, a critical mass is required; a mass of people convinced that change is necessary or — perhaps more often so — convinced or coerced to believe the existent is insufficient, therefore prepared to allow for such change to take place.