The Balkans Project

Words and art from the Balkans

Olivia and Nicolás: arrive in Mostar

By • Jul 15th, 2012 • Category: Blog

Monday July 9, 2012 arriving in Mostar

We flew from Barcelona to Sarajevo via Vienna and then got on a bus in Sarajevo at 3:30 arriving in Mostar around 6PM. The heat wave that was enveloping Europe was worse in Sarajevo and Mostar where temperatures were over 100. The bus’ air-conditioning was anemic at best, but the drive south from Sarajevo is spectacular. In sections small farms nestle on the step slopes of the river, with Van Gogh style haystacks punctuating the modest fields, the rivers and reservoirs extend for miles along the roadway. Turquoise blue, seemingly clean and clear, but dotted with floating plastic bottles and detritus. The icy waters are spring fed and host a small industry of trout farms.

Neretva River on the drive from Sarajevo to Mostar

Long stretches of the mountains are completely uninhabitable with its sheer rock and steep cliffs. It was hard to wrap my head around the punishing heat of this mountainous region that we were told was (according to Mostarites) the hottest place in Europe.

The bridge and the cobblestone street lined with tacky tourist shops filled with trinkets, mostly made in China, is the town’s major destination.

Nicolás on the street of Stari Most (old bridge)

In the tower museum at the foot of the bridge there is a book store. When Don and I had visited last, there was also a great book and music store amongst the dreadful souvenir shops that sold local and international publications, interesting cards, and CDs by local and regional bands. Like many bookstores world-wide it succumbed to the drain of on-line sales and the stresses of the poor local economy.  Buying paper books is just too expenses for most local residents and it seems that the tourist trade did not make up for the modest local market.

The obligatory bridge photo

In the bookshop of the bridge museum a video of it’s 1993 bridge destruction played on a constant rotation. There were two sections, one shot in August, which took down the middle section – about 1/3rdof the center stones – and a second shot in September of repeated mortars that plunged all the rest of the tenacious structure into the river below.

Visiting the mosque in the old town

While the bridge and has been beautifully restored so many of the destroyed buildings on both sides of the river remain in abject condition. And in spite of the reconstruction, the segregation of the two sides of the city has hardened. In a complex project (Re)collected Mostar, Mela and Amila worked with local students who, through interviews with local citizens, mapped places people felt were unattractive, uncomfortable to visit or simply did not use before and after the war.  Before the war there were sketchy sections of towns where prostitution flourished or where there were rowdy bars; these relatively small and isolated areas would be avoided by the general populous. Their survey of recent space use depicted much larger areas of current avoidance in the post-war period. A graphic and spacial rendering of the complex behavioral aftermath of the war’s battleground lines. Abrašević is a conspicuous exception surrounded by bombed out buildings, the youth arts center occupies a prominent, meaningful space between the two sides.

Mela and Amila and their colleagues in the curatorial collective ABArt’s Re(collecting) project culminated with a series of public interventions that animated this territory between the divide one on a derelict abandoned plaza just two blocks from the recently reconstructed City Hall by Božidar Katić.  His piece, a series of painted shadows and recorded sounds of children at play, conjured the memory of better times in this neglected sector. The stenciled shadows, permitted only for three months, have remained for almost two years.

Božidar Katić's shadows

Another work by Gordana Anđelić-Galić, activated the river’s edge with a performance entitled Washing. Gordana sewed 24 flags from throughout Bosnian history, each with a special insignia. The insignias, painted with fugitive dies, were washed by the artist in the river staining the waters red like blood.  For this project she solicited the complicity of the local divers club who were witness to her ritual and cheered her on as she struggled to hang the massive flags out to dry on a make-shift clothes-line that buckled under the weight of the wet fabric.

Another artist who performed as a part of the (Re)collecting series was the esteemed Croatian artist Slaven Tolj.  Tolj, founder of Lazareti a contemporary art center in Dubrovnik, was one of the 1500 men that held Dubrovnik during the war in the early 1990s. He has shown ritualistic installations and performances around the region and internationally. For (Re)collecting he reprised several signature works including: Anthem of Croatia, where he re-enacts a series of iconic military salutes; another piece consisted of his drinking a beer that is equal parts from Bosnian and Croatian breweries; and Human Bomb, where he asks, “I am dangerous, kill me in front of my children’s eyes.”

The research conducted by the students and participating artists for (Re)collecting has been assembled into an archive that Mela and Amila hope to make available to others in the future as basis for other exhibitions and projects.  The parallels between the Mostar archive and Nicolas’ Passerby Museum were noteworthy. Part of Mela and Amila’s motivation for the archive arose from the fact that Mostar does not have a museum; the (Re)collecting project was an opportunity for the creation of a an open archive with the city’s history written by the locals, which in their words, “…can function as a temporary museum, as there is no museum of the city of Mostar, only the Museum of Herzegovina, which, in our opinion, does not answer the contemporary needs of its citizens.”

ABAart has continued to commission projects in public spaces. Just days before we arrived they had completed a project with a collective of skate-board artists, Alan Fertil and Damien Teixidor, who conducted a workshop with local youths on how to build structures like barriers for sliding, or partial pipes for flips, etc. One structure was clad in tiles scavenged from a bombed out building adjacent to Abrašević.  The skateboard park/workshop took place on the west side of Mostar, but all of the kids who wanted to participate were from the east and they had been warned by their parents never to go there, in spite of the fact that it was perfectly save.

In addition to the photos from Mela you see here, you can view additional images on the Fertil/Teixidor website

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