Exhibition Text

Bogdan Bogdanović 2013/2014

Following the political split between Tito and Stalin, Yugoslavia raised the curtain to the world in 1948, for those who held Yugoslavian passports, and provided (almost uncensored) access to literature, despite ongoing regimentation of national publications. For all dispute and controversy in the Soviet-Jugoslav relationship, the presence of the so-called ‘Social Realism’ was still undeniable. In the late 1950s, facing international expectations, Yugoslavia started to feel the urge to deal with its own, long-neglected role during WWII. Bogdan Bogdanović – architect, essayist, and urbanist, rooted in metaphysics and influenced by Belgrade’s surrealist legacy (Nemoguce, Belgrade’s equivalent of Breton’s 1924 Manifesto, was published in the same year) was to assume a critical role in dealing with the country’s recent history.

Jasenovac was Europe’s last uncommemorated scene of continuous atrocities during the 1940s, starting with the infamous handshake of Hitler and Pavelić (the leader of the Ustaša). Bogdanovićs concept was well received by Tito; the fact that his first draft was made of nails might have captivated the Head of the State, being a trained metalworker himself. “It’s tremendous”, Tito is said to have stated, “nails instead of woods!” (Bogdanović, 1997). Or was it the rather profound fact, or momentous coincidence for that matter, that the proposals presented by other architects echoed enshrined nationalistic statements which lead the Yugoslavian officials, in the face of international expectations, to endorse this unorthodox thinker and architect.

In the course of decades, a peculiar and (even) fascinating remembrance culture relating to WWII evolved in Yugoslavia: The architect created social spaces – spaces of encounter, where life and death meet – amidst scenes of atrocities. Bogdanović “created the most striking memorial places in Europe: imposing and reconciliatory, molded into the landscape, supranational” (Archleitner), very much unlike the sites we find at one-time concentration and extermination camps. From 1951 to 1981 Bogdanović installed eighteen memorial spaces in all parts of Yugoslavia (except for the area of present-day Slovenia).

My personal encounter with his work began while standing in front of one of them – ignorant of Bogdanović and his work. I started to learn about and discover more and more of his work – I filled gaps and tried to get the fuller picture. Last year, during one of my stays in Belgrade, I went to search his first work made in 1950/51. The effect on me was magnetic. I decided to go on three trips during 2013/ 2014 to see more of his work. So, I set out for Bosnia and Herzegovina (Mostar), Kosovo (Mitrovica), Croatia (Jasenovac and Vukovar), Macedonia (Štip and Prilep), Montenegro (Berane), and Serbia (Bela Crkva, Belgrad, Čačak, Leskovac, Popina, Sremska Mitrovica and Vlasotince).

Far from showing a synopsis of his work (for that purpose, one might refer to Achleitner’s 2013 publication), my pictures rather focus on long shots, or details at times. Impressed by his (almost daunting) architectural compositions, I would often spend several hours contemplating those settings: architecture and landscape, including men and animals striding within. The effect of different seasons, day and night times or weather phenomena would sometimes even intensify these impressions.

Translation: Norbert Sander