Sunday, December 5, 2010

Spomenik: propaganda or pure beauty?

   
Recently, I spotted a book by Belgian photographer Jan Kempenaers called "Spomenik: The End of History." There are 26 photos of 25 weird but powerful structures, seemingly under poor maintenance, standing eerily on completely deserted lands. They are usually of gigantic scale and abstract geometry, resembling flowers, mushrooms, crystals, or blown-up micro-organisms. Most of them were built with concrete or stone, while some others with metal cladding or partly glazed. They make you wonder: what are these things?

Spomenik #1 (Podgarić), 2006
Spomenik #2 (Petrova Gora), 2006
Pomenik #3 (Kosmaj), 2006
Spomenik #4 (Tjentište), 2007
Spomenik #5 (Kruševo), 2007
Spomenik #6 (Kozara), 2007
Spomenik #7 (Grmeč), 2007
Spomenik #8 (Ilirska Bistrica), 2007
Spomenik #9 (Jasenovac), 2007
Spomenik #10 (Sanski Most), 2007
Spomenik #11 (Niš), 2007
Spomenik #12 (Košute), 2007
Spomenik #13 (Korenica), 2007
Spomenik #14 (Knin), 2007
Spomenik #15 (Makljen), 2007
Spomenik #16 (Tjentište), 2007
Spomenik #17 (Kolašin), 2009
Spomenik #18 (Kadinjača), 2009
Spomenik #19 (Mitrovica), 2009
Spomenik #20 (Brezovica), 2009
Spomenik #21 (Kamenska), 2009
Spomenik #22 (Ostra), 2009
Spomenik #23 (Sisak), 2009
Spomenik #24 (Nikšić), 2009
Spomenik #25 (Sinj), 2009
Spomenik #26 (Zenica), 2009

Spomenik literally means monument. These structures were commissioned by former Yugoslavian president Josip Broz Tito in the 1960s and 70s to commemorate sites where WWII battles took place (like Tjentište, Kozara and Kadinjača), or where concentration camps stood (like Jasenovac and Niš). They were designed by different sculptors (Dušan Džamonja, Vojin Bakić, Miodrag Živković, Jordan and Iskra Grabul, to name a few) and architects (Bogdan Bogdanović, Gradimir Medaković...), conveying powerful visual impact to show the confidence and strength of the Socialist Republic. In the 1980s, these monuments attracted millions of visitors per year, especially young pioneers for their "patriotic education." After the Republic dissolved in early 1990s, they were completely abandoned, and their symbolic meanings were forever lost.

From 2006 to 2009, Kempenaers toured around the ex-Yugoslavia region (now Croatia, Serbia, Slovenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, etc.) with the help of a 1975 map of memorials, bringing before our eyes a series of melancholy yet striking images. His photos raise a question: can these former monuments continue to exist as pure sculptures? On one hand, their physical dilapidated condition and institutional neglect reflect a more general social historical fracturing. And on the other hand, they are still of stunning beauty without any symbolic significances. I know this may sound schizophrenic if you also read my last post. But maybe there are forms that can transcend meaning...
          

25 comments:

h a n c y said...

Did you watch the "20th Century Boy" trilogy? These reminded me of the imaginary Tokyo "future Olympics" buildings.

These are refreshing and I have to look more into them!

Human said...

hmm, no, i haven't seen that. seems i need to look for it, hehe...

h a n c y said...

(the plots of the films are actually ok... watched it because of childhood memories of reading the original comics, which were great. i kinda only recommend to those who like alt. history constructs)

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Steve Hollier said...

Great pics. I have been "collecting"old Soviet era monuments in Azerbaijan but here is nothing like this!

Here is a link: http://stevehollier.wordpress.com/2011/03/11/baku-days-the-ghost-of-sergei-kirov/

Kovach said...

Actually the one in Krusevo is not abandoned, and it represent the macedonian uprising against the Turks, it is not a communist propaganda monument. Every year on august 2 macedonians held a ceremony there in honor of the uprising

War Tard said...

Nice Warsaw Pact Art from the "good old days".

Vladimir said...

Hi folks... Neither of those monuments are from Soviet era... Yes they are from socialistic period of the ex-Yugoslavia, but that is something completely different from Soviet Russia...
And in the most cases, as it was mentioned, they are the symbolic representation of popular uprising and struggle against fascist in the WW2

Anonymous said...

This is the WW2 monument near Veles, Macedonia

http://www.ii.edu.mk/predmeti/mm/20052006/mmproekti/Veles/images/Spomenici/kosturnica/DSCF1587.JPG

http://www.ii.edu.mk/predmeti/mm/20052006/mmproekti/Veles/images/Spomenici/kosturnica/DSCF1593.JPG

Anonymous said...

23 looks like an ayleid ruin from Oblivion.

Claudio Juliá said...

Hay algunos magníficos; sean de la época socialista, en conmemoración de la 2ª guerra u otros, el arte hay que motivarlo, mantenerlo, exhaltarlo y protegerlo; habla del espíritu humano.

Anonymous said...

I've seen some of them in real life. They're huge, beautiful and yet give you a melancholic feeling. My father used to take me to such places when I was younger.

East L.A. Dirigible Transport Lines said...

Terrific pictures, tremendous ideas. More!

matthew pace said...

mmm...I am now re-thinking Stonehedge.. very cool series.

nebojsa said...

another one near trstenik in central serbia (ex yugoslavia)
http://www.pionirovglasnik.com/print.php?content=557

shouldntbutiam said...

Just remove the plaques and let nature take over. The ones most in decay are the loveliest of all.

Anonymous said...

Where can one get more information on these structures? Looking for construction details and what they represent/comemorating

Tio Coco said...

These structures remind me somehow to the monumental pieces that the italian architect Francisco Salamone did in the Pampas in Argentina. Colossal art deco / futurist figures in the middle of the farmlands.
I've spent four weeks traveling that region and taking pictures that you can see in my own blog www.seguncoco.com
Pls let me know what you think

Claire said...

Surely an inspiration for www.gric.at

Anonymous said...

Those monuments had almost nothing in common with the Eastern bloc socialist realism. Unfortunately a lot of them were destroyed during the war in 1990's. The most beautiful one, made by Vojin Bakic in Kamenska and gone in 1992 could be interpreted as the largest abstract sculpture of European modernism. Unfortunately I do not know how to upload the picture of that monument to this site.

plugav said...

Pretty amazing. I'm reminded of "The Call of Cthulhu" or "Roadside Picnic." I'd love to get my hands on Kempenaers's book.

Anonymous said...

Some of them are beautiful. Some of them are beautifully ugly. All are captivating. Their decay is the same as the societies that created and now neglect them.

sanchypanchy said...

Here is the monument in Kamensko created by Vojin Bakić (1958 - 1968)

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/sr/thumb/8/87/Spomenik_pobjedi_revolucije_naroda_Slavonije.jpg/450px-Spomenik_pobjedi_revolucije_naroda_Slavonije.jpg

Ian Thal said...

I'm traveling to Kosovo next month; are any of these sculptures located there?

Cadisch MDA said...

Great pictures, I would love to visit and see them.