RELICS OF A UTOPIA

With the Spomeniks (English: monuments), Tito's architects created a bizarre utopia of concrete and steel: at sites of tragic world war history, brutalist monuments were erected in honour of the partisans - a vision of the future built on the bloody past. However, since the Yugoslav Wars of the 1990s, many of these memorial sites - symbols of the controversial Tito regime - have been forgotten. My photo project got shortlisted at the Sony World Photography Awards 2020.

Podgaric

Kosmaj

Ostra

Jasenovac

Jasenovac

Kozara

Krusevo

Krusevo

Tjentiste

Tjentiste

Obadov Brijeg

Petrova Gora

Barutana

Sisak

Gevgelija

Bihac

Mitrovica

RELICS OF A UTOPIA

With the Spomeniks (English: monuments), Tito's architects created a bizarre utopia of concrete and steel: at sites of tragic world war history, brutalist monuments were erected in honour of the partisans - a vision of the future built on the bloody past. However, since the Yugoslav Wars of the 1990s, many of these memorial sites - symbols of the controversial Tito regime - have been forgotten.

 

Hundreds of monuments in the former Yugoslavia commemorate the soldiers and civilians who fell in the fight against the fascist occupying powers in the Second World War. Josip Broz Tito, former head of state, had the Spomeniks built across the entire national territory, which includes today's Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Montenegro, Macedonia and Kosovo.

 

To date, dealing with these bizarre concrete giants is controversial: some are well-maintained and are visited by locals and tourists as a place of remembrance. Others have been destroyed or neglected, a means of displacing the memory of these monuments, which are inextricably linked to the memory of the Tito regime.

 

Tito propagated a "third way" in non-aligned Yugoslavia, with the aim of combining the best of the ideologies of the communist East and the capitalist West - a utopia that his architects and sculptors turned into concrete and steel. The harshness typical of Brutalist architecture and the enormous size of the monuments create a feeling of surrender; the supremacy of the state seems omnipresent. At the same time, the futuristic, sometimes absurd forms of the Spomeniks seem to symbolize the need to overcome the past and to focus on a hopeful future of togetherness and strength.

 

I photographed the monuments in full moonlight. The futuristic aesthetic of the moonlit monuments in front of the starry sky contrast with the surroundings, which disappear in the sombre darkness of the night. Through the interplay of light and shadow, a scene out of science fiction is created, one which is detached from any civilization and which is also reflected in the contrasting symbolism of the Spomeniks: future and past, remembering and forgetting, appreciation and destruction.

 

In 2019, over a period of six months, I visited over 50 Spomeniks during full moon phases. The seclusion of many monuments, adverse weather conditions and manmade artificial light forced me to visit several places several times until the light and weather conditions were right. I photographed the structures with a tilt/shift lens, with which I could create geometrically correct photos with a resolution of up to 180 MP.

© 2019 by Laurin Schmid

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