“One more document…”
The Willows in Vardar and the Problem with the Elites
Text: Lazo Plavevski, curator
Right behind the Stone Bridge in Skopje there are two new bridges. They are named (I checked the map) “Bridge of the Civilizations in Macedonia” and ” Bridge of Art”. Both the bridges and their names are a real reflection of the huge cultural decline we’ve been experiencing in the past fifteen years. Between the mentioned bridges, in the riverbed of Vardar, is the artwork of Iskra Dimitrova “Faith, Hope, Love” which is the topic and the incentive for her current project “@Traces”. At some ten meters from “Faith, Hope, Love” there is a huge static galley, while within a 50 meters radius you can see located or erected, believe it or not, 96 sculptures of people, wild animals and some allegories in life-size or larger. Closely surrounding them are many more such gimmicks, but I found it fair to limit myself the 50 meters radius,
It is the embroidery of the project “Skopje 2014”.
In its center, as if in some Theater of the Absurd, stands “Faith, Hope, Love”, a piece that can in no way be part of the context of SK014 (this is the abbreviation used by the opposition websites when referring to “Skopje 2014” and I’ll be using it as a convenient substitute for the mentioned project). Some people are referring to this context as populistic, as a kind of an urbanistic articulation of the political and cultural circumstances, but it is more than that. SK014 is an attempt of the newly formed political and economic elite to materialize itself as a value. Picking the most sensitive location, the center of the capital, it fulfills its own value models, its own appearance. For such a procedure they don’t need institutions, they don’t need professionals in particular fields because they don’t see them as part of their own, as part of the group meant to acquire, materialize the desired value models. This new elite defines the key values because what elite would it be if it doesn’t see itself as the pillar value of the society. The civic aspect of Skopje, conceived in the period of conquering of the modernity, and as a form of modernity is degraded and humiliated with the attitude/supposition that it had previously produced some “commy modernism” that has to be erased from its center and make the facade of the new reality instead.
Does this deterioration of the values of our society point to the incapability of the present elite to create real value models? Or is it just the first unsuccessful attempt of their first generation?
Nevertheless, the key agent of SK014 is marking the values of the society we live in and the future directions to which these values point to. If the identity is something that is constantly being developed and evolved, then our viewpoint, if there is such a thing, will be, at least symbolically, evolving in the direction of the values of SK014. And since this project is already completed and we are constantly living it, like it or not, it constantly influences us. Today and in the future. Getting more and more stronger. The open criticism of the current administration does not discard the actuality of its presence. This process keeps reflecting the negative values it has been made of. Not doing anything (except for the removal of the monument to Andon Lazov Janev – Kjoseto) in the direction of its elimination can point to different clues that were probably sensed when reviewing the problem with the perception of “Faith, Hope, Love”, an artwork that has no artistic connection with anything in the context and the attitudes of SK014.
“Faith, Hope, Love” is and artwork compatible to the relevant artistic tendencies on our artistic scene, that is, it is a postmodern intervention
within the city ambiance pointed towards certain formal statements which are expected, as contemporary idiom and in the contemporaneity, to carry
out the message of St. Paul in the New Testament. Or, what’s more, this artwork, as Liljana Nedelkovska points in her contribution to this
catalogue: “…calls for redefining of our attitude towards nature, as well as towards our social life through reinvesting in three basic spiritual
values: faith, hope and love. But not in their theological of metaphysical meaning, but in their environmental dimension: as a particular ecology of love, faith and hope, as an ecological spiritual gear which will help us adapt, ‘by facing Gaia’, to the new living conditions.” “Faith, Hope, Love” has a clear ecological direction. We are part of the world of ecology that lacks the dimension of limits and divisions. We are all connected and we are all responsible. The art in North Macedonia must be pointed in this direction. The problem is that here we must deal with the ecology of values, as well.
SK014 is, most of all, a value model, a terribly polluted value model. It is a compact viewpoint emptied of any ambiguities or concessions. Except in the case of “Faith, Hope, Love” by Iskra Dimitrova. It is not clear why is it included there. It is possible that it accidentally happened to be mentioned in its context because it was selected within an older competition, before the project SK014 was even conceived, that is, the insisting to persevere was meant to show no weakness before the attacks of the opposition.
Anyway, the only segment of SK014 that does not formally belong there became its most quoted example – it was accepted or it is an actual part of SK014 without any deliberate collaboration.
Although the attacks on “Faith, Hope, Love” had started immediately after it was completed, the position of becoming the stamp of the entire project was reached gradually. Somehow invisibly the mention of the erected fooleries that became our visual representatives was gradually omitted. People stared getting used to them. As if there is no critical mass that would eliminate them, that is, that would critically influence for their removal. Populism seems to have found its own new way.
Yet, the notion “Faith, Hope, Love” has remained, pointing to nothing significant from SK014. Maybe it was its basic, subconscious function.
In the opposition circles the populism of SK014 was addressed in a populist way and Dimitrova’s project kept changing as a certain indicator of the entire venture, probably with the belief that it would be easily understood by the people. The possible reason for this approach is the unclear opinion of the voters on SK014.
Do they accept them or not? The roots of SK014 are much deeper and more structured than it seems at first glance.
The long transition period resulted in more value shifts than expected. The project SK014 is something that occurs by inertia, as a certain “ration”, and is expected to be completed. Maybe we don’t deserve this, but it is a result of all the previously lost battles, fights that, actually, never started.
“However, those who don’t have a clear opinion on SK014 are quickly made aware of it with the syntagma “Willows in Vardar”. Probably, the logical
stream of their thoughts, interpretations and attitudes would go like this: “What? Willows in Vardar? Art? 270.000 euros? They can stick them… you know where!” It works, it still works with those whose attitude towards the values of SK014 is not clear.”
But what was the way and the order of events that lead to the completion of the “Willows in Vardar?
The briefly summarized comprehensive documentation of Dimitrova presented at the exhibition “@Traces” could be seen as follows:
On 11.03.2008 the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Macedonia opened a competition for design, construction and installation of sculptures in the central area of the city of Skopje and Iskra Dimitrova applied with two projects:
– Three willows in concrete cubes in the river Vardar and
– Inox cube with a bush
Following the confirmation on 25.08.2008 that both her projects were accepted, an agreement was made between her and the Ministry of Culture for:
– Construction of a sculpture “Willows in the Vardar Riverbed” and
– Construction of a sculpture “Bush on a Reflecting Block”
Dimitrova had started the preparations for the projects even before 2008 and intensified her work by 2009-2011.
The “Bush on a Reflecting Block” was completed by April 2010. More than a year later this work was relocated and somewhat later it was destroyed.
In the period 2009 – 2011 Dimitrova worked tirelessly on the project “Willows in the Vardar Riverbed”, but she encountered considerable problems that were beyond her competences and affecting the very formal idea of the artwork. For a particular period she was exposed to pressures regarding the appearance of the concrete cubes originally meant to hold the willows. There were suggestions to cover them with certain relief that would probably “fit” this work into the context of SK014. She somehow managed to resist these “suggestions”.
On 09.08.2011 Dimitrova and the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Macedonia concluded an arrangement to terminate the agreement for executing the construction works.
The project “Willows in the Vardar Riverbed” was completed by mid 2012. The concrete cubes were plated with inox sheets, like in the work “Bush on a Reflecting Block”, and each of the blocks received it own name – Faith, Hope, Love. It was the actual title of Dimitrova’s work.
This would be nearly everything that seemed important to me regarding the “Willows in Vardar”. The project started before SK014, but SK014, as a pervasive value model, still radiates with its polluting structure. Occasionally, a statement or addressing would include the syntagm “Willows in Vardar”, but there’s no mention of SK014. The significant social and political tensions that were dealt with in the past period are not an excuse for avoiding the attention regarding this problem because it is a problem that pertains to the dominant values of our ambiance. Do we have any concept of them, because if nothing changes, then SK014 would remain our dominant value model! It actually surrounds us and affects us all. The compliance with the fact that it will remain and that we’ll somehow get used to it, while the current social circumstances do not suggest anything different, will be our worst cultural defeat with unforeseeable consequences. Worse than our current cultural elites could imagine. The absence of a minimal critical mass, especially the absence of young people that would change the course of these events will permanently shift the civic normality of our environment. Sounds horrifying, but it’s quite predictable.
The occurrence of some civic awareness movement meant to maintain a certain normality of the value models is required also because the idea of the value references of the actual elites is not quite clear. Maybe it doesn’t exactly fit into their esthetic criteria, but they have no structural objections against it. The taste and the values of the political elites is maybe close, to some extent not “that” different. Maybe this is the reason why the problem of SK014 is totally ignored and placed out of the public focus.
All that remains is the occasional mention of the stigmatized syntagm “Willows in Vardar”.
The pain inflicted in the course of all these attacks on “Faith, Hope, Love” was the reason for Iskra Dimitrova’s latest project.
But, regardless of the mentioned incentive, the project “@Traces”, same as any other real artistic project, is an accomplishment of an idea that shows how to plastically accomplish an intention. Dimitrova approaches this topic with extreme artistic responsibility, carefully focusing on all of the details particular for this way of expression.
“@Traces” includes the complete documentation of the artwork “Faith, Hope, Love” presented in several plastic forms: as “hard documentation” displayed to the audience, but also as material that touches us as a plastic element that with is own presence conveys the messages as plastic messages, messages that possess plastic values of their own and together with them render an artistic idiom, I would say, a minimalist plastic idiom willing to show data and attitudes and create certain stories. Dimitrova seems to try and create an “Anatomy Lesson” of her own: she wants to argue in order to achieve a particular formal discipline of the expression. Although the entire project “@Traces” is emphatically polemic (because it articulates the inhibition by the condition in which she was forced), this call for polemic can not be argued with. Some attitudes, conditions, positions in “@Traces” are not to be argued because they are artistically modeled attitudes, and the acts of art are not to be argued with, except with or by means of artistic polemic, a possibility that is beyond this text.
That’s why the attention should be also focused on the project “@Traces” as a language project rendered from an almost fanatical dedication to the “what and how is it presented” aspect. The sense of form in her rhetoric idiom is a gift that Dimitrova applies and achieves in an extremely responsible, disciplined and rational way. The expressive background of the incentive for “@Traces” is completely disregarded and put aside. All that is presented are “bare data” with a minimalist approach in their conceptualization. This work, the project “@Traces”, actually arouses a particular satisfaction of certain needs for concise and balanced expression in the space where the case of the installation (and not only that) is located.
“@Traces” is a project that deals with the artwork “Faith, Hope, Love” and shows how it was exploited in the polemics regarding SK014.
Maybe this is the end of the “misunderstandings” around it, but it does not end the aspect these “misunderstandings” point to or might point to: what is the current attitude, our attitude regarding the case of SK014.
Shall we get used to live with this project as we got used to live with all the garbage left around us?