The Serbian and Croatian word Spomenik means cenotaph, memorial or monument. These monuments were commissioned by former Yugoslavian President Josip Broz Tito from the late 1950s to the ’80s to commemorate sites where World War II battles took place or where concentration camps stood.
Designed by different sculptors, they conveyed a powerful visual impact intended to show the con dence and strength of the Socialist Republic. These monuments attracted millions of visitors per year, especially “young pioneers” receiving a “patriotic education.” After the Republic dissolved in the early 1990s, they were completely abandoned and their symbolic meaning lost forever.
The monuments always stand amid untamed nature, outside of cities and away from urban life.This adds to their impact,but what really makes them extraordinary is that they are always abstract in form, as if the artists wanted to pour their feelings into concrete, as if they had freed themselves from literary and figurative forms to lure the narrative away from the subject: heroism, power and the meaning of winning independence. During WWII, Yugoslavia had the largest partisan movement in Europe and was almost the only nation to free itself from Nazi occupation, with no outside help. Because of this, Yugoslavia held a special position after the war, not only in the region, but also throughout Europe. The country seemed to freely choose the Communist system, apart from Soviet influence.
Looking at these objects, one appreciates how abstract forms can express meaning and feeling in a certain way. Many have geometrical and organic forms, which aroused my interest, not because I wanted to document them with photographs, but because I wanted to find a way to capture the feelings awakened by these pure, abstract forms. That is why I chose to use the camera obscura and to build cameras that follow the form of the geometrical elements in the original structures.
These monuments, which often have geometric shapes, reawakened in me an old idea – a theory of the relationship between image and geometric forms. I selected a few Spomeniks that I wanted to focus in on more closely, choosing those that used cubes, cylinders and triangle-based pyramids (tetrahedrons).
Aside from approaching geometric bodies from a standpoint of scientific methodology, many examples can be found for their metaphorical or architectural use, since, through the course of history, these bodies were assigned mystical, esoteric, religious and symbolic value. They were believed to hold special powers and used in many fields of art, just as – in this case – they were called upon to express partisan power.
The cameras I built take the shape of the selected geometric monuments and are big enough for the 8×10 inch cut sheet lm I wish to work with to t inside the three- dimensional geometric forms. The cameras operate like camera obscuras but simultaneously capture images of the forms of the geometric body in 360 degrees on the entire inner wall. The resulting image assumes its final form when it is spread out on a two-dimensional plane and creates a certain pattern. The complex system of images in this difficult-to-access format further abstracts an already abstract object.
The final images are not an interpretation but a deconstruction of the geometric body and its metaphorical significance, recomposing the symbolic meanings. The question is how the relationships of various aspects change their trajectory through this bizarre reflection and whether deconstruction can be a projection of newly found reconstruction. I hope that these newly created abstract elements will express the recomposed meanings.
Gábor Őszall images © the gallery and the artist(s)