The outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic significantly affected the perception of public space. Social distancing and the abrogation of publicly accessible areas were introduced to decrease the spread of the virus. Improvised barricades and warning tools now control the access to such spaces, regulating the movement of people.
The transformation of the urban landscape with warning signs of temporary nature, reflects upon the collective hope for a limited duration of the prolonged state of emergency. What was invented as momentary safety measures turned permanent and such materials proved to evolve into an enduring and unexpected state.
The standardized red-white striped plastic ribbons are part of the urban scenery and used for a variety of purposes, indicating construction sites, crime scenes, reserved parking spots, traffic obstruction, demonstrations etc. Yet, these safety ribbons got extensively employed during the pandemic to designate canceled places and to suggest distances due to the novel regulations. Bars, restaurants, stores, parks, and squares are some of the most popular places where the overuse of this material is manifested.
Safety ribbons gained in popularity because they are easily accessible, inexpensive and communicate an explicit universal message. Everyone can buy enough material to cover large areas and an assumption was established, that whoever places it has the authority to do so. Thus, as every citizen can place it according to her or his own criteria, every other one can remove it according to the opposite criteria. It seems that there is no efficient regulation for regulating the use of this regulative convention.
Since March 2020, I started removing safety ribbons from public areas in Athens, which were restricted in the interest of health protection, and rolled them up in a packaging similar to the original shape, by taping the individually collected pieces together. The process of taping the removed ribbons into a single piece recalls the process of the celluloid editing workflow, where the different shots compose a complete narrative. The most common width for safety ribbons is 70 mm, which is identical to the width of the high-resolution film gauge for motion picture photography.
Each unique ribbon removal resulted in uncontrolled and unpredicted situations. Everything that happens after these removals, every step into areas that were inaccessible prior to my interventions and every change in the urban landscape are all parts of the narrative of this project. The ribbon roll contains hints of the situations that these interventions generated and it can be seen as a memorial for this unprecedented time.
Monument Lab, one of the most specialized platforms for research and debate on public art, defines the monument as “a statement of power and presence in public.” My intention is to challenge this definition, reversing the monument as “a statement of weakness and absence in public”.
This project is immaterial in the public space, yet it is materialized in the private one. The displacement process from the public to the private is accompanied by the transformation of the extrovert gesture of unrolling the ribbon outdoors, into the introvert gesture of rolling it indoors. This decisive shift comments on the nature of the most common strategies to fight the invisible enemy, such as lockdowns and curfews, that force people’s activities to take place anywhere but in public space.
These interventions focus on subtraction and dislocation as artistic values and use a plain yet evocative language. In this case the creation is invisible and can be traced in the leftovers of the artistic process. The ribbon roll is a document, it has become about the very fabric, material and structure of arbitrary power itself.