EMONA- A Seismograph -
//site specific work at Skopje, MK, found objects, 2016//
Made during an excursion to Skopje, today North Macedonia, this sculpture was inspired by the that time current situation of pedestals in Skopje: there were lots of recently erected sculptures to be found in the city, the common characteristic of their pedestals was, that they appeared as if constructed from several different pedestals stacked on top of each other.
In 1962 a major earthquake practically destroyed the whole of Skopje. The city was later rebuilt within the framework of an international solidarity program following the masterplan of the tender winner Japanese architect: Kenzo Tange. Although this project was never fully finished according to the plans of Tange, the face of Skopje was shaped by brutalist, massive concrete buildings which back in the 60’s were seen as absolutely futuristic. Not only the style, also the sizes were referring to a future that eventually never arrived: the capacities of the new Skopje were planned for about 4 million people, in reality today the whole of North Macedonia’s population is around 2 million.
In the 2000’s a new giant governmental project, “Skopje 2014” was undertaken, aiming to transform virtually the whole inner city of Skopje: making the old brutalist buildings – part of which is considered as part of the city’s cultural heritage – completely disappear: covering them with styrofoam facades and marble, transforms them into a grotesque mixture of neo-baroque and neo-classicist styles, thereby creating monuments of a never existing past. Everything was sparkling, shiny, yet the bad quality styrofoam seams were omnipresent. The focus of the new city centre was formed by a gigantic equestrian statue: a warrior, considered as Alexander the Great, riding a prancing horse.
During the week spent at Skopje, the word „ground” was used remarkably often, in at least two ways: in a literally sense, as soil or earth, in reference to the earthquake, as well as to the constant threat of earthquakes. And in the sense of cultural background: apparently a permanent search for cultural identity constantly confronts locals with questions like: Is Macedonia „European”? Is Macedonia antique Macedonian? What can one do at all with the concept of cultural identity after five hundred years of Ottoman occupation? And / or after the breakup of both the Ottoman Empire and Yugoslavia?
A sentence, spoken during a talk in Skopje with the artists Hristina Ivanovska and Yane Calovski, appeared to me to be of great significance: „How can you anchor yourself if you have no solid ground?” It appears to me, that the “pedestal-situation” in today’s Skopje, as mentioned at the beginning of this text, might be one possible answer to this question. The more insecure the ground is the more massive, multi-layered pedestals are constructed, as if to create a new virtual ground.
An interesting detail is that the majority of the few buildings that survived the earthquake of 1962, were built in the Ottoman era. It seems that the Ottoman culture knew how to build effectively on areas with high risk of earthquakes. These buildings are different: they have very thick walls and no foundation beneath at all. This way, if an earthquake hits, they are moving not with the strata, but separately, on the top of the ground, through this avoiding collapse.
The sculpture is aimed to be both: sculpture and pedestal. It is built from things found on the streets of Skopje. The lower layers consist of all sorts of “unidentifiable” fragments, which are isolated by a layer of sponge. On the sponge there is a concrete block, which is followed by pieces of styrofoam and marble. The top element is a tea box, which can be regarded as a sculpture on the pedestal of the former layers below or as a new layer of this pedestal. The tea box was a completely unopened but empty package: it must have served as a shop-window decoration. There is a picture of a rather fancy horse on it along with an inscription that reads “Emona (the name of an ancient Roman and an ancient Greek city, both located in former Yugoslavia) Ceylon Tea”.
On the concrete layer there are kitschy blue stickers taped subsequently, so that it “fits better” to the motives of the tea box.
Being empty, light, and loosely attached, the tea box was constantly shaking in the wind on its pedestal.