It took a long time. We spent at least six months, made 87 visits, stayed for 174 hours on site, conducted 15 interviews and extensive research, in order to start slowly penetrating its world. Temporarily it served as a location for a Fine Art Exhibition, but for the past century it has been a University with an intense student (animal and vegetal!) life, before that, it was an experimental botanical garden for new species brought over from faraway lands, according to Queen Amalia’s will, further back the estate and villa of a blood thirsty local ruler during Ottoman times and even further back agricultural land for countless generations of local farmers, with olive trees, said to have shaded Plato and his students.
This location is none other than the Agricultural University of Athens, the subject of an audio walk we created after the invitation of curators Locus Athens. The aim was to introduce the University campus, as the vast and exciting ecosystem that it is, hidden behind bars, to a wider audience, through this engaging auditory medium.
The sheer volume of information on the one hand and the complexity of the physical 250-acre property on the other, appeared indomitable. We had to investigate everything, to examine, to imagine, to walk everywhere, to listen again and again in order to start weaving a cohesive narrative, in order to trace a clear route between the layers that were invisible, those that were visible and those that were not what they seemed. It was the only way to make sense of the place, to explain its current state and understand its underlying richness.
The product of this effort is a 30-minute bilingual audio walk, heard through an mp3 player and headphones, where a voice, the “spirit” of the Agricultural University, guides our footsteps and eyes, gives us directions, recounts historical data, oscillates between truth and fiction, repeats urban myths and fantastic tales and projects all that on what we see as we go along, assuming at the same time, a critical stance.
With the central University building as a starting point, visitors walk on, get lost, stop and retrace their way again, through gardens, gates, ruins and structures, ending high up on a protected terrace. From there, they can finally survey the whole campus, as it sits in the surrounding urban fabric, more familiar now thanks to the audio walk. Hopefully, they can also see its astounding hidden potential, its possibilities for future evolution.
The general feedback was very positive. Our greatest gratification however, came from the reaction of certain faculty members and students, who spoke about a shift in perspective and a real awakening, in relation to the place they come to every day.
We can only hope that the audio walk remains available in the library there, for the faculty and student body to use freely, in order to connect more deeply with the site of the Agricultural University of Athens.