Monday, July 12, 2010

Trg Revolucije


The reason why I was in Maastricht (see below) was for a conference on Yugoslavian Black Wave film, and coincidentally I had to be in the former Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia later in the week, specifically in Ljubljana, for a different conference. As this blog is now a peripatetic architectural study of the Problem of Europe, I am minded to say some things about it here. Yugoslavia is something which people on the far left tend to think about less than they should. Trots like to imagine what might have happened if Imre Nagy or Dubcek had managed to prevail against the Soviets, without really considering that it might have looked distinctly like Titoism, with its anti-Stalinist Stalinism, its far more interesting experiment with Workers' Self-Management, and its demise, to be replaced with a particularly bloody revanchism.


What was interesting in Surfing the Black was that, in the Black Wave, all Yugoslavia's contradictions were fully on show, in films which often seemed more like pre-emptive critiques of neoliberalism than of Stalinism, where those who fall through the safety net make their way through a society with consumerist substance and communist rhetoric. I might put my paper on the subject up at some point, but first of all, the place in Ljubljana which seems to embody these tensions most fully.


This post is about a square called Revolution Square, designed and planned on a site formerly occupied by a convent, by a team led by Edvard Ravnikar from 1960 to the early 80s, renamed Republic Square in 1991 on Slovenian independence. You first get a sign of its rather extraordinary architecture from the '30s boulevard next to it, where the Ayn Rand moderne and Mendelsohnisms built under the preceding right-wing dictatorship (and worth another post in themselves) are ruptured by a mammoth Brutalist housing block, an asymmetric ziggurat with prickly, detailed brickwork, cantilevered balconies and what looks like vaguely medieval turrets, all with appropriately Babylonian hanging gardens spilling from them.


Part of it, by being so ornamental, with its hints of Amsterdam School or a rough, proletarian art nouveau, seems to prefigure some of the less annoying elements of postmodernism - but whoever designed the hat that sits on one of its wings was more literal.


The stepped brick structure that faces the main road becomes something straighter as it turns towards the square, where it aggressively confronts some '30s luxury moderne.


Ravnikar was a former student of Joze Plecnik, the most/only famous Slovenian architect, one of those few 20th century classicists who managed to create something genuinely new, creating a fragmented, dreamlike neoclassicism of randomly arranged stone, columns whose rustication runs out half-way-up, sheathing extraordinarily atmospheric interiors. His pupil went off to work for Le Corbusier before returning to Socialist Yugoslavia, but after some early essays in Plecnik imitation, his work here seems to have little obvious allegiance to either of his tutors. It has no Corbusian truth to materials, no classical references, however elliptical. If anything, the references sometimes seem British, with combination of verdigris, brick and brutalism that evokes good old Basil Spence, and planning which suggests the Barbican, though the vocabulary is more original than both.


As a showpiece for the Yugoslav Socialist Federal Republic of Slovenia, it combines several different functions, all of them seemingly conflicting. There are two tall office blocks, the tallest in Slovenia, one of which used to be known as Iskra; they are clad in metal, with a triangular footprint, with upper stories in copper; there's an art gallery, a conference venue, a concert hall (Pat Metheny gurns out from the posters), a shopping mall, restaurants, various monuments and an (earlier) Parliament building, most of this on multiple levels.


Time has been a mixed blessing to the place, aside from the renaming - while the shrubs and creepers are perfect compliments to the Brutalism, the purple holiday village gating is less so.


If there is something particularly Corbusian here, it's the sense of the architectural promenade, the cinematic feeling of movement between several levels, the changes of mood and material that develop alongside, from the wide open space of the plaza (converted, against the architect's wishes, to a carpark, although a pleasingly empty one) to the enclosed, shadowy underground restaurants, to the subterranean mall itself.




This is apt enough, as Ljubljana was always one of the most affluent parts of the Federal Republic, as it remains - a calm, quiet and, in the centre at least, clearly moneyed city. To understand Slavoj Zizek's spluttering, demonstrative persona, it's instructive to see how buttoned-up, neat and Mitteleuropean his hometown is. There's even only slight hints of the giant advert disease that has taken over most post-socialist capitals.


The other part of Revolution Square, and the element that precedes Ravnikar's design, is the Parliament, of the component Republic of the new Socialist federation, planned from the '40s on and finished in 1960. Plecnik had his own ideas about what this should look like, and his proposal entailed the demolition of the city's historic castle, and its replacement with a 'Cathedral of Freedom' rising to a Babylonian point. This being a bit too mental, the end result is in the most sober, tasteful modernism of the era, a building clad in unimpeachable stone with a rigorous grid, while the turbulence of revolution is limited to the outrageous vitalist outbreak around the portal.


The symbolic figures, carved by Karel Putrih and Zdenko Kalin, are literally bulging out of the grid, a series of naked men, women and children involved in labour of various kinds, all of them heavily stylised, and all of them verging on a peculiar socialist-realist eroticism - they're less upright than the norm, the men lighter and more feminine, the women with extraordinarily wide hips and voluptuous proportions. It says the same things as any of the other socialist realist monuments, while stirring the parts others do not reach. The actual entrance is boarded up.


The beaming, contented look while holding unsubtly symbolic fruit is a particular favourite.


This skinny youth is prancing about above the names of the sculptors...



Two other monuments occupy Revolution Square, both sculpted by Drago Trsar. One is a monument to Edvard Kardelj, the apparent theoretician of workers' self-management, who died in 1979. The monument appears as a parade of Giacometti bureaucrats, becoming ever more abstract and depersonalised the further they fan out from the central bespectacled figure, yet all striding vaguely towards the plaza pedestrian.


The other is something more extraordinary. Yugoslavia had various memorial complexes - Spomenik - erected from the '50s to the 80s in an abstract, frequently architectural idiom, which have turned up lately in parodic form in all kinds of Ostalgie art (I've seen one series of them remodelled in brightly-coloured perspex) in various camp attempts to exorcise their profound emotional and physical charge. This much smaller Spomenik is a Revolution Spomenik, and fuses almost imperceptible figures into a bursting, bristling collective object.


The square itself was recently bought by a Swiss company, who collect the proceeds of the car park.

26 Comments:

Anonymous namhenderson said...

This is perhaps the perfect ending The square itself was recently bought by a Swiss company, who collect the proceeds of the car park.

2:15 am  
Blogger Post-Continental Satyr said...

that it might have looked distinctly like Titoism, with its anti-Stalinist Stalinism, its far more interesting experiment with Workers' Self-Management, and its demise, to be replaced with a particularly bloody revanchism.

The mythology that the fall of Self-Management was ''replaced'' by ''bloody revanchism'' is completely identical to the official policy of the NATO coalition. There was no intrinsic bloody revanchism in any single ex-Yugoslav nation. The revanchism came as a consequence of the fact that Tito and Kardelj's regime privileged (financially) the Western proxies, such as Slovenia, in the country, so that when socialism fell in the world it would be all that easier for capitalism to appropriate these republics and annihilate the Russian proxies, like Serbia. You could have at least had the decency to ask Zelimir Zilnik about this, and THINK about your claims, since you got that undeserved chance at Van Eyck.

4:15 am  
Blogger owen hatherley said...

Dejan! Is that you!? It's been so long!

There was no intrinsic bloody revanchism in any single ex-Yugoslav nation.

Agreed that it wasn't remotely 'intrinsic' to anywhere - but surely that it occurred is fairly indisputable? You can look over this blog post for evidence that I was making any assertion whatsoever about which of the republics was 'to blame' for said revanchism, and if you find it, you can claim five shiny Slovenian euros. Btw, Zilnik was forthcoming on this, and many other matters.

12:28 pm  
Anonymous parody center said...

Btw, Zilnik was forthcoming on this, and many other matters.

I don't see how this could be when I just read his article on the events of 1968 where he clearly said that the Self-Management project consciously and deliberately fostered the asymmetry (principally financial) between the ex-Yugoslav republics, most notably in disfavor of Southern republics, i.e. Serbia and Macedonia, and in favor of rich Western republics. Whether you interpret it as a Communist or a non-Communist is totally beside the point, because it's about stealing federal Yugoslav funds for the purpose of mounting Western-sponsored seccession.

But you've never even been to Serbia, you only hop around the Austro-Hungarian empire, and hang out with Zizekians and other such trash, so it's completely obvious why you remain in the dark, or pretend to be.

2:41 pm  
OpenID yorksranter said...

The mythology that the fall of Self-Management was ''replaced'' by ''bloody revanchism'' is completely identical to the official policy of the NATO coalition.

The mythology that the acceleration due to gravity on Earth is 9.87m/s^2 is also, as it happens, completely identical to the official policy of the NATO coalition.

The building in photo 3 (or 2 if you count like a programmer) is beautiful and I want one.

2:43 pm  
Anonymous parody center said...

Here's the article




http://www.ghi-dc.org/files/publications/bu_supp/supp006/bus6_181.pdf


In all of Yugoslavia, the most dangerous political volcano had
erupted—that is, criticism of the regime inspired by Marxist ideas.
It threatened to spread the solidarity of workers and intellectuals in
confronting “the red bourgeoisie.” The experienced Tito regime used
every means at its disposal to crush its opponents and, in the process,
sowed the seeds of the country’s disintegration: it emphasized regional
diff erences and sparked disputes between regional party leaders, who
accused one another of displaying less caution toward “the enemy.”

2:52 pm  
Anonymous parody center said...

I correct myself - Zilnik did not explicate in detail, he called the situation ''emphasizing regional differences'' but what this means practically is that the Northern regions were financially privileged, or do the Zizekians in your little red bourgeoisie club think that Slovenia just got the money from nowhere?

2:58 pm  
Blogger owen hatherley said...

I've never met a 'Zizekian', but they sound fun. Do they dress like him too?

I'm well aware, by the way, that the former Hapsburg parts of Yugoslavia were financially privileged, though more by the market reforms of the mid-60s, the encouragement of tourism and the exploitation of southern gastarbeiter than anything inherent in the principle of workers' control of industry. If you feel that any time I write about architecture in Slovenia or Croatia that I need to append this disclaimer, then you can imagine it at the bottom in fine print.

3:04 pm  
Anonymous parody center said...

though more by the market reforms of the mid-60s, the encouragement of tourism and the exploitation of southern gastarbeiter than anything inherent in the principle of workers' control of industry.

Complete and utter copout as usual. The principle of workers' control of industry was introduced as part of the larger program that Tito's KPJ had called ''decentralization'', which meant conceretely that Serbia, being the strongest Russian ally and the biggest region in the federation, had to be kept at bay and ultimately dismembered, which you and I as contemporaries had the opportunity to witness during the last decade. This because the privileged ''decentralized'' republics cooperated with Western capitalism and I MEAN ALL THE TIME.

Now you can stick your NATO-compliant ''socialism'' up your tush and I''m sorry I didn't have time to pay a visit to Van Eyck and embarass you out of your lingerie with some, erm, pertinent questions that the Dutch would never dare ask.


If you feel that any time I write about architecture in Slovenia or Croatia that I need to append this disclaimer

You mean the sad rag copies of superior Austro-Hungarian architecture interspersed with shitlets of Courbisiet's mistakes that nobody in the West wanted to buy so they dumped them in Ljubljana? No thanks, I prefer to admire the architecture of the imperial center.

And for the rest, I think you mean to say that whenever the politics doesn't fit the Party Line, you can just talk about ''architecture for the sake of architecure''.

3:20 pm  
Blogger owen hatherley said...

Aiiee! I fed the troll!

3:28 pm  
Anonymous parody center said...

SIT DOWN, Agnetha, you're a bloody Stalinist !

4:52 pm  
OpenID yorksranter said...

Incidentally, Agnetha, can you point me to anything on how WSM actually worked? I read the libcom.org piece, which was sort of the powerpoint marketing presentation for it - I'm looking for the developer manual.

5:55 pm  
Blogger owen hatherley said...

Yorks - there's a book by Kardelj called Self-Management Planning on the subject which I haven't read but have on order, though there's little on the subject in English on how it directly worked in the factories and firms themselves, which is kind of what I was bemoaning in the first paragraph.

There are some good essays online which are all fairly macropolitical or cultural (this one is good, for instance); and there are a couple of grumpy critiques by Anarchists where the presence of Bolsheviks of some sort invalidates the project from the start. It seems a murky area - a few things I've read that touch on it (eg Kuron/Modzelewski's Open Letter to the Party) argue that it gradually got monopolised by 'technocrats', minimising direct worker participation. Mind you, Yugoslav 'self-managed' companies themselves were successful internationally, with construction companies building all manner of projects in 'non-aligned' countries (apparently they built a lot in Iraq...) and the Jugo was by all accounts a lot less crap than the Lada. But I do need to find a good book on the subject, not least so I can find out how it was all designed to keep Serbia down.

6:22 pm  
Anonymous parody center said...

Here´s a good resource, Agnetha.

http://www.questia.com/googleScholar.qst;jsessionid=M8FHch3G7LlQFMFKG3kkNkvp7h9mp5LCVr6d0d1RvSLnLnMh2jY8!-1120226195!1380883283?docId=5002296405

My argument is that the socialist self-management system "invented" by Edvard Kardelj(1) and introduced into the Yugoslav political system in 1950 made a significant and largely unrecognized contribution to the ethnic violence and disintegration of Yugoslavia. In this process Yugoslavia was transformed from a community of nations to a community of nation-states through permanent constitutional engineering and decentralization. The political power was gradually shifted over 40 years from the national center to the ethno-national periphery, creating the conditions for development by the republics of extreme ethnocentric policies. This outcome led to ethnic violence and disintegration in a period when an already weakened Yugoslavia tried to transform its socialist self-management system into a multi-party democracy.

I also argue that the decentralization of Yugoslavia caused by self-management was not a sufficient condition by itself for disintegration. However, accompanied with an unfavorable, divided, and inconsistent international community, the ideology and practice of self-management appeared to be major factors associated with destruction in the former Yugoslavia.

9:02 pm  
Anonymous parody center said...

And this here

http://books.google.nl/books?id=0_3Wt46vBv8C&pg=PA171&lpg=PA171&dq=decentralization+kardelj&source=bl&ots=9pVwtWbyfv&sig=b_8Bgw5mYZCqhyLWqjA7FZAc1Kw&hl=nl&ei=wMU8TJvXEc-bOIbNsO8O&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=4&ved=0CCEQ6AEwAzgK#v=onepage&q=decentralization%20kardelj&f=false

9:07 pm  
Anonymous parodijski sturm und drang said...

The political power was gradually shifted over 40 years from the national center to the ethno-national periphery,

And see Agnetha the ''national center'' is an euphemism for SERBIA (central republic) while the ''ethno-national periphery'' refers to Slovenia and to lesser extent, Croatia, as well as the autonomous provinces of Kosovo and Vojvodina respectively.

8:49 am  
OpenID yorksranter said...

That Pages link is the single worst example of Architecture Mag Website Syndrome I've ever seen. Navigation links placed at 90% to the horizontal!

Parody: you do see the irony of ranting about Serbia, the National Center, while accusing everyone else of nationalism?

12:57 pm  
Blogger owen hatherley said...

Oh, the best bit about Pages is the way it randomly flits to showing you some of its photos if you leave it for a couple of minutes. Like, you're not really here to read are you?

1:01 pm  
Anonymous ante said...

"a few things I've read that touch on it (eg Kuron/Modzelewski's Open Letter to the Party) argue that it gradually got monopolised by 'technocrats', minimising direct worker participation."

i'm too young to give other than anecdotal commentary on this, but yes, in the final years at least, the management appeared to be in essence a class in itself, with workers being mostly as impotent as they are now, in the capitalist system.

that was not the rule though, there are some really interesting stories from the older colleagues at the company where i work. the wages determined by productivity and monthly profits, and directly voted for by all the workers, for instance. something we can only dream of now, when the company is privately owned, and the workforce has just been cut down by a quarter, wages by 20%, and minimum wage temporarily instituted (to be fair, the situation in architecture and urban planning is abysmal at the moment, and everybody is laying off people).

also, at the risk of feeding the conspiracy theorist troll - the imbalance between in western and eastern republics can among other things be explained in terms of inherited structures of economy and industrial basis, as well as in matters of geography (political and otherwise).

mind you, one of the strong themes of the discontent that lead to secession, was the feeling that the central government in belgrade (equated in the nationalist discourse to serbia) was siphoning of the wealth of the western republics. of course, that is not a unique reaction, roma ladrona anyone?

and funnily enough, in the first years of croatian independence, it was something that was translated to the regional level - for instance in dalmatia, with "zg = bg" (zagreb equals belgrade) slogans.

9:46 am  
Anonymous parody center said...

can among other things be explained in terms of inherited structures of economy and industrial basis, as well as in matters of geography (political and otherwise).

Yes indeed, Slovenia and Croatia inherited the wealth of their Austro-Hungarian sponsors, as well as the sponsor's ''carve up Yugoslavia'' political geography, my dear Ante.

9:46 pm  
Blogger DiSCo said...

Really trustworthy blog. sesli Please keep updating with great posts like this one. sesli sohbet I have booked marked your site and am about to email it

to a few friends of mine that I know would enjoy reading.. sesli chat

12:44 am  
Blogger DiSCo said...

Thank you for sharing a nice article.
seslisohbet

4:09 pm  
Blogger ekle paylas said...

nice blog Thanks for sharing. voicesohbet was really very nice.
sesli chat siteleri sesli sohbet
sesli sohbet siteleri sesli chat
seslichat seslisohbet
sesli siteleri chat siteleri
sohbet siteleri sesli siteler
voice sohbet sesli sohbet siteleri
sesli sohbet seslisohbet
sohbet siteleri sesli chat siteleri
seslichat sesli chat
herkesburda herkes burda
sohbetmerkezi sohbetmerkezi

2:48 am  
Blogger Op Dr Ali Mezdeği said...

Thanks for the information. I really enjoyed, I would like get more
information about this,because is very beautiful, thanks for sharing
Web Tasarım

1:44 pm  
Blogger Uzumaki Naruto said...

Good Article, toko online souvenir resepsi pernikahan. thanks for your article. :)

12:20 pm  
Blogger Uzumaki Naruto said...

Good Article, shika-lirik-nasyid.blogspot.com. thanks for your article. :)

7:11 am  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home