Bojan Fajfrić: Eagles, Army Headquarters, and Football Films (2014-ongoing)

07.05.2024. | 11:07

Centre for Cultural Decontamination, Belgrade (20-27.04, and 8-15.05.2024.)

For ten years, multimedia artist Bojan Fajfrić has photographed three locations in Belgrade: the highly problematic large-scale urban development project of Belgrade Waterfront, the General Staff buildings – a peak of Yugoslav socialist modernism, hit by NATO projectiles in 1999 bombardment, and the film set and replica of 1930s Belgrade, undergoing a thorough transformation and material degradation in the meantime.

All three locations indicate the impermanence of the collective self-image and the possibilities of its political manipulation. Such impression comes through whether we talk about the sentimentalisation of pre-WWII Belgrade, the erasure of the socialist modernist legacy by exploiting the ruins of the General Staff building via self-victimising and militarising narratives, or future faking by Belgrade Waterfront billboards and banners, instructing how the future citizens of this city should look and live like.

The installation Eagles, Army Headquarters, and Football Films (2014-ongoing) represents a selection from this vast artist’s archive. Set up at the exhibition space of the Center for Cultural Decontamination in Belgrade, it underlines a meaningful relation between the artwork and the place, which was founded as an Anti-war centre in the 1990s, located in a historic building from the 1930s – Pavilion Veljković, a modernist European building and the first private exhibition gallery in the Balkans – and located just a block away from the General Staff buildings.

Plunged into complete darkness, the three-channel installation is accompanied by a deep humming noise, ambiently enfolding the highly resonating space of the Pavilion. Three channels are dedicated to three locations, the central one being the General Staff. The General Staff and Belgrade Waterfront channels – the latter “entering” the Center’s auditorium to the left – are projected directly on the Pavilion walls. Such positioning inevitably starts a dialogue with the existing architecture, which cuts the main wall surface with two flat pillars – almost indistinguishable when observed from the front. The third channel, however, is projected on a floor-rested panel only slightly leaned against a simple white exhibition plinth. Conveying the instability and temporality of the re-created 1930s Belgrade set, and its thorough dissolution over less than a decade, this installation “object” also indicates the visual and semantic loss of boundaries between the built materials such as stone, concrete and metal on the one hand, and their temporary doubles printed on huge textiles on the other.

The artistic medium in Fajfrić’s work is a methodology of recurrent recording, privileging the artist’s role as a witness, over the one of a photographer. His persistence in recording over one decade is crucial in revealing the invisibility of certain processes. A particularly significant aspect of the Eagles, Army Headquarters and Football Films artwork, therefore, is the unravelling of both metaphorical and literal architecture of the slow violence (Nixon, 2011) – a term coined to reflect on the transformation of the environment, the structural violence of which we normalise due to the length of the process. Vladimir Kulić, during the public talk organised on this topic, within the programme The Architecture of Slow Violence: Im/material Evidence (25.04.), found it useful and instructive to connect such processes of city transformation with environmental concerns expressed in grassroots initiatives all over Serbia and the region, aimed at protecting different ecobiomes and affirming the right of people to decide about the exploitation of their environment.

Observing these photographs of the changing cityscape within a decade, we can detect different ways of stalling, neglecting, and partial demolition on the one hand and accelerated building on the other, as diverse models of the same strategies of extractivist capitalism. Branko Dimitrijević noticed that the architecture all over the city was already re-purposed into advertisement holders. Such commercialisation of architectural surfaces obscures, and even erases the perceptual difference of what is behind the banner: the buildings meant to be demolished or still under construction.

By connecting these processes through the selection of locations, the artwork detects and connects broader processes which have been ongoing in Serbia over the last several decades, related to corruption, revisionism, dismissal of war crimes, manipulation of public property, natural wealth, urban logic, heritage and identities. A relevant question to ask is who are the constituencies of everything that has so far been lost, demolished, effaced and hidden, and which is still in jeopardy of being either lost or banalised through repurposing (General Staff buildings, Belgrade Fair, Museum of Yugoslavia…).

Fajfrić’s photographs rarely show people. Olga Manojlović Pintar contrasted their conspicuous absence in the present, with the socialist tropes of post-WWII renewal and construction – the latest period of such vast urban re-definition – where the people and their labour were in focus. There is a double effacement of people in these photographs, diminished by the sheer scale of the development projects, and their erasure as constituencies. Therefore, another question looms over, as even more pertinent than the preservation of material evidence of built heritage: who are the subjects that the political processes of the new self-narrativisation create, on which values are they founded, and what long-term consequences for the society that brings?

Photo: Bojan Fajfrić

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