by Geoffrey Churchman
Not only the methodology of totalitarian regimes is interesting, but also the iconography, particularly of Communist ones. Their highly politicised public art — murals, statues and structures — was not only banal, but also often quite weird. This was no more the case than in the former Jugoslavia during the Tito years following World War II.
Pushing architectural design to its limits, Spomeniks were what happens when brutalism, symbolism, space age aesthetics and abstraction meet.
Spomenik means ‘Monument’ in Serbo-Croatian, the main language of what are now the six separate countries that made up the union of Jugoslavia, which fell apart, quite violently in areas, in the 1990s.
The Jugoslav government made a point of conspicuously plonking strange shapes made of concrete, some with metal, in the middle of nowhere during the 1960s-1970s. Once they counted in their thousands and attracted huge numbers of visitors. Today there are only a few of the super-sized structures left, spread throughout the Balkans, which French photographer Jonathan ‘Jonk’ Jimenez decided to track down and record for posterity.
Most of the monuments were erected to mark important battles and massacres, with some on the sites of concentration camps such as the one at Jasenovac. Nearly always they involved the communist resistance and partistans against the fascists (the Nazis and their allies / collaborators like the Ustaše.) Others were celebrations of the communist victory overall.
In a full colour collection of photos over 200 A4-size landscape format pages, this book is a reference to 50 of these creations, all different but with the same purpose. Because local architects were involved, they have aesthetic appeal even in their neglected state and add a touch of surrealism to the experience of exploring the landscape (which, one hopes, is now a safe thing to do with the removal of mines and unexploded shells from the 1990s.)
The book is published by British-based Carpet Bombing Culture who describe themselves thus: “your counter-cultural publisher par excellence. Our aim is to provide you, dear reader, with premium quality art and photography books littered with vitriolic and highly subjective commentary to aid you in pursuing the guerrilla warfare that is 21st century everyday life.” Right on, then!