Petrova Gora, the sculptural memorial to the partisan victims of World War II in Croatia, is being dismantled as we speak. As reported on the AN Blog last year, the memorial was already abandoned and in disrepair, but new photographs taken on July 24th show that Petrova Gora has largely been stripped of its metallic skin. It is not clear yet who ordered or approved such dismantling of the memorial. Nor is it known to what extent or to what purpose this is being done. Maroje Mrduljas, a leading architecture critic from Zagreb, said that parts of the monument's facade notoriously have been stolen by the locals for use as building material on private property. Mrduljas recently spoke to the governor of the municipality about documents related to the security of the memorial as well as legal intentions to protect it. But Mrduljas discovered that Petrova Gora had never any legal documents to begin with. Thus it became a convenient target for thieves gradually stripping the memorial of its material for personal use. The majority of the population, Mrduljas said, does not consider this edifice as a national memorial at all. For them, the symbolic meaning of the anti-fascist resistance has vanished along with the country of Yugoslavia. Yet cast in heavy concrete, the basic structure of Petrova Gora memorial is virtually indestructible. Marko Sancanin, urbanist and director of Platforma 9.81 from Zagreb, said that he plans to discuss the current state of the Petrova Gora memorial with the Croatian Ministry of Culture. Why is saving Petrova Gora important? Former Yugoslav politicians took a stand against the East Block through commissioning art and architecture inspired by American post-war modernism and the neutral visual force of abstract expressionism. For architecture, this ultimately led to an official policy of commissioning memorials based on American modernism. Petrova Gora is one of the clearest examples of this former Yugoslav policy. This object is not just a monument that belongs to one nation or to the expanded former Yugoslav nationalities--Petrova Gora belongs to a much wider and international public. It needs to be protected as an international symbol of anti-fascist resistance on its own ground.
Posts tagged with "Petrova Gora":
The School of Missing Studies and Slought Foundation have recently returned from a “photo safari” to Petrova Gora in Croatia, one of many languishing memorials from the socialist era of the former Yugoslavia. Conceived in 1981 by Vojin Bakić, a Croatian sculptor who won many state-funded commissions, working with the architect Branislav Šerbetić, the project was designed as a 12-story-tall social center, set on the site of a Partisan field hospital used during World War II. Finally completed in 1989 as a monument to Yugoslavia’s resistance fighters, the memorial was used as intended for only a brief period before the Balkan crisis erupted. The wars that ensued scattered refugees around the region, and practically erased the political cause this structure was meant to embody. Today, Petrova Gora stands unused and empty—but not secured with lock and key. Thanks to the neglect of Croatia’s democratic government, which looks away from its socialist past, the memorial is more approachable and free than ever intended. Anyone can come here, enter the site, walk inside the monument, and wander upward through 12 interconnected levels all the way to the roof. The feeling of melancholy inspired by Petrova Gora is overwhelming, but it is irresistible to call it beautiful. Furthermore, an astonishing aspect of this monument is that inside, it is the size of a small Guggenheim museum, positioned on a dramatic hilltop site. It also is significant that the building is the work of an abstract artist, and that the architect played a minor role. Today’s contemporary artists have discovered this inhabitable monument, and are cementing careers by embracing Petrova Gora in their work. Take the video produced by David Maljkovic, which portrays the structure deep in the future as a neglected fiction. Other projects and expeditions to the site have produced similar imagery, evoking “nostalgia for the future.” All of these projects raise awareness about this exceptional work, and about the exceptionality of Yugoslav socialism when compared to the idolatry of the Soviet bloc. However, these artists’ projects fail to ignite strategic thinking and analysis, especially within the context of contemporary practice, about ideologies deploying art in place of design. Moreover, little if no work has been done to relate this monument to American influence upon Yugoslav cultural policies during the Cold War, making Yugoslavia an ally to the West and offsetting the Soviet East. American abstract art, conceptual art, and corporate architecture all play provocative roles in this history. So while artists exhaust the repertoire of visual interventions, the time is ripe for architects to step in. In contrast to socialism, which tended to freeze time and artistic competence, today in the emerging democracies in the Western Balkans the situation is much more open. Paradoxically, perhaps the best aspect of emerging democracy is that being behind may mean being next. Yet time is also limited for further action. Visitors to Petrova Gora have already spotted men with geodesic equipment measuring the site of the memorial and the monument itself. This may mean that we are already late on the scene, and that there is perhaps little time to think of a strategy to put this monument back in the future, either for an authentic use (which few would fund without a neoliberal zeal for profit returns), or preserved as a beautiful ruin. The time of earnestness may be over. This text is part of a forthcoming book created by Srdjan Jovanovic Weiss in collaboration with Berlin-based photographer Armin Linke, which explores the fate of a number of Socialist memorials in the region. The photo safari to Petrova Gora, along with further discussions among the participants in Zagreb, was part of the Slought Foundation’s traveling exhibit at the Croatian Association of Visual Artists and the School of Missing Studies’ workshop “City as a School of Politics,” held in Zagreb with local participants and curated by Katherine Carl.