April, 1941- the Axis force invasion and a retaliating war for liberation marked the soil of Yugoslavia red, inscribing its name in the history of World War II forever.
Marshall Tito, the “benevolent dictator” of Yugoslavia and the leader of the “Partisans,” which played a major role in the War, commissioned in the 1960s and 1970s, numerable memorial sites and monuments dedicated to the war. Noteworthy Sculptors and Architects like Dušan Džamonja, Vojin Bakić, Miodrag Živković, Jordan and Iskra Grabul, Bogdan Bogdanović, Gradimir Medaković came forward to build structures that would defy all standards of War-Architecture.
Indeed, the sculptures take you by awe, being not at all like the usual triumphal arch or column. “Spomeniks,” as they are called in the Serbo-Croatian tongue, are spread throughout Yugoslavia.
Photographer Jan Kempenaers clicked 26 of these, now abandoned, monuments traveling from one to the other for over three years, having come across them in an encyclopedia by chance.
His work inspired, in turn, Andy Day, who himself is a prolific photographer with an avid interest in Parkour Athletics.
Day traveled to Serbia, Croatia and Bosnia and documented a series of photographs over the course of three months, titled, “Former”, in which Parkour Athletes explore several of these monuments. In an attempt to enliven the now-almost-forgotten art work and War memorials, he provides a different perspective to them.
Parkour Practice is an offshoot of military training wherein the practitioners delve into the best possible and efficient ways to get from one point to another without assistance.
Looking at the photographs, the almost palpable view-point of the athletes and how they engage the sculptures as their potential practice space, is apparent. The athletes lend a dynamic edge to the whole arrangement, occupying the frame in a balanced way along with the monuments. Together they form a becoming pair to the nature around them.
Interaction between the two radically contrasting forms brings out the prominent feature of each, which complements that of the other. The monumental scale of the Spomeniks and their weight and strength is evident as the lesser humans touch, follow and adapt to their contours. The Sculptures, together with the life-force that we represent, evolve into ‘Beings’, with a dynamism that makes one ponder the probability of them having just been woken from a deep slumber.
The twisted shape of the monuments also makes for an adventurous practice session for the Parkour athletes who, when Day approached them, were found easily willing for the task.
The Spomeniks and the site they are built upon have stood their time for so long now, they carry a hoard of emotions and memories- of celebration, of War and of being forgotten. The attempt by Andy Day rekindles their spirit and urges people to remember, and, to know. While at the same instance, it presents a new outlook blending the past with the present and in-turn celebrating its hand-shake with the new times.
Day himself was fascinated by the concrete strength of the Spomeniks and the ease with which they would respond to the athletes. The other-worldly built of the Sculptures in question only helped him lure further.
He was found exclaiming thus, “I’m fascinated by concrete and the unlikeliness of these bizarre creations was enticing, in addition, I knew that the parkour communities of Serbia and Croatia were incredibly strong. the athletes I spoke to were keen but, being cautious, I read up on Yugoslav history before visiting Belgrade and Zagreb to meet as many people as possible and discuss my ideas….trying to understand how the ‘spomenik’ are perceived is incredibly difficult, especially if you don’t have an understanding of the circumstances that led to their creation and everything that has happened since. The complications and internal contradictions are endless.’”
The title “Former” is a sort of word-interplay, suggesting the past of Yugoslavia, that is, its ‘former’ self which the monuments obviously represent and the ‘former’ as in the body shape-builder for the athletes.
Day’s photographs are unique and bring to the lime-light his refreshing artistic sensibilities. He captures the essence of Parkour perfectly in combination with the historical and the substantial aura of the Spomeniks.
By: Antara Jha