Socio-artistic project / three-sequel temporary social monument in memory of urban gardens, New Zagreb
Within the project „Essbare Stadt“, Goethe-Institute Kroatien, 2013
In the 1960s and 1970s of the 20th century, a big urbanisation process took place in Zagreb. According to urbanistic plans, new neighbourhoods were built in an area called “New Zagreb”. Facing their new way of life in concrete blocks, newcomers from mostly rural parts of Yugoslavia started developing new habits and practices. Some of the inhabitants of the biggest building in the area, the “Mammoth building” (with 5.000 to 9.000 inhabitants in total) appropriated parts of the green space at the foot of the building, starting for the first time the practice of urban gardening as we know it today, though in an “illegal” manner.
In spring 2012, on the authority of the city, those nearly 40-year-old urban gardens were abruptly removed, creating a void and a kind of “traumatised” empty space at the foot of the “Mammoth building”. The public park, which served as a justification for the removal, was not realized up until today. In the socio-artistic project “Garden Circles”, through a three-sequel temporary social monument, I tried to memorialize the first urban gardens of Zagreb, but also to strengthen self-organised practices in the city.
In the first circle “Conversation”, citizens were invited to sit in a circle and to share memories of the gardens, but also to tell other stories and experiences of different self-initiated practices which came to existence as an attempt to improve the quality of life in urban areas. The second circle, “Rooting” was, in contrast, a nonverbal performance and workshop, which served to increase the sensitivity and consciousness of relational bonds between individual and their environment, as well as the relation between individual and community. The third circle was an invitation to rethink possible future usage-scenarios for the green spaces where the gardens were removed. It took place in the form of a picnic and a participative photo-safari.
The socio-performative 3-sequel monument accompanied 2 series of photographs; “Archaeology of a Garden – Rurban Installations”, showing the previous state of the area with its creative appearances and “Archaeology of a Garden – Flora”, which showed the results of the photo-safari of the third circle. Those were photos of different objects left after the demolition of the gardens and of new plants sprouting out of seeds left over in the destructed garden area.
ARCHEOLOGY OF A GARDEN rurban installations
FIRST CIRCLE conversation
SECOND CIRCLE rooting
ARCHEOLOGY OF A GARDEN flora
Valentina Gulin Zrnić,
Mise-en-scène of the garden project
Alluding to the “crop circles”, Tonka Maleković invokes wondrousness into her socio-artistic project, naming it “Garden Circles”. Similarly to the crops, a garden is a place where the imprint is to be found, and a circle is the form of communication. The most diverse patterns of circles woven into crops and their aesthetics and energy serve as the warp and woof for reflecting upon the circles and social patterns interwoven into life of an urban neighbourhood, for contemplating the creation of energy or “sense of the place” as well as perceiving the wondrous aesthetics of the space. The project focuses on “wild gardens”, the term applied to vegetable and flower gardens that sprang up in public, yet undeveloped and otherwise unused stretches of City land, situated in Travno, a neighbourhood in Novi Zagreb city district.
Paradoxically, all these stretches of land should have constituted the most prestigious features of the neighbourhoods and Novi Zagreb as a whole – public parks, sports and recreational facilities – but, the lack of funds resulted in the fact that these areas were not developed and urbanised simultaneously with the construction of residential sections of the neighbourhood, being relinquished by the city government to wait for some better times in their derelict state. As opposed to the intended prestigiousness of the tame park greenery, this residual space shall become representative to “wild gardens” – they are wild because they are not legal and because they are created through “usurpation” of the land in public property. A cultural-anthropological association (of Claude Lévi-Strauss’ work) reminded me that instead of “wild”, we should more readily use the notion of “untamed” – because by their rural nature, the gardens resisted the strict notion of urbanity, especially in socialist times; because the neighbourliness the gardens generated was not tamed by the various forms of organised sociability offered by socialist and post-socialist times; because the impression of gardens could not be tamed by mere descriptive verbal assertion. That exact social potential of the gardens (as described by the authoress in the project concept – “self-organisation, self-initiative, social contacts, recreation”), together with their aesthetic potential (“it was a special experience, to enter the green oases of garden heterotopias from the street”) constitute one of the foundations of the authoress’ interest in this rurban phenomenon.
“There were no trees here, here and there, just a nice meadow, nobody mowed it, so we, the inhabitants, decided to make our own gardens, we cleared it, considering that nobody touched the land for five or six years since they made this building, the land was lying fallow, and it was not used for several years so we planted the vegetable gardens during the first year – potatoes, tomatoes and stuff” (Lucija; bolded by VGZ)
Mrs. Lucija’s narrative, pertaining to the mid-1970-ies, and recorded on an audio-tape by the authoress of the project during one of the planned circles/gatherings, connects the unconnectable: to contemplate the city through the dimension of “fallow land”, a category of agricultural land ready for planting. Indeed, that period of history is also inscribed within the Travno neighbourhood area, namely, the area of Novi Zagreb used to be an agricultural land prior to the development of urban city blocks, but there is no mention of it in the identity of this part of the city, since the urban, especially in the variety of urbanism of the second half of the 20th century (coloured by modernistic and socialistic ideas) completely cancelled out the rural layer. A completely new dimension of the agricultural and rural is created through the wild gardens: recreation, therapy, pleasure or all these together related to the production of food for one’s own needs, sometimes even accompanied by the rural origins of a person, entwined into a conglomeration of a new practice and completely different aesthetics. Gardens surrounded by bushes, barberry shrubs and hedgerows whose height and density testify to the permanence of the hedges, sporadically intertwined into an entrance pergola towering above the door with a padlock; improvised fences made of various objects – doors, drying racks, bed frames – objects evoking some of our usual visions of their functions and placement, through this disjunction, we experience the wondrousness. That bricolage of fences, these pragmatic solutions using whatever comes in handy, has captured the attention of Tonka Maleković: by offering us fragments of these landscapes, the recorded scenes, at this exhibition she will rouse the associations and imagination, maybe through imagining the biographies of the objects that can be found in unusual roles in the garden or through enticing some personal memories. Some of the inhabitants of the colloquially called Mamutica-building (the Mamooth building)[*] shall say that, seen from the above, in winter, that “waste aesthetics” looks very ugly – nevertheless, the seasonal winter view would soon become painted in the colours of greenery, flowers and seasonal vegetables and make the coexistence of the building and wild gardens more agreeable, milder, smoother.
In the early spring of 2012, the wild gardens were bulldozed: the city government had decided to tame the wilderness and arrange that specific public land into a public park in Novi Zagreb. As with any land, one cycle is finished and another shall begin, and in the meantime the soil is resting, because already for a year there are neither wild gardens nor the new park there.
Former views from above, from the top of the Mamutica, were playful and exhilarated by the landscape collage – small parcels, gardens, colours; today, as seen on the photographs of the project, the view encompasses a flat green surface, dotted by rare trees stuck as needles into the acupressure points of the space, momentarily and again uncared for, just as it was many decades ago. The surface. But, in the background of this hot spot, in the same photograph looking towards the west, another surface can be seen: ploughed, brown, expecting. It is a space which will host the realisation of a similar, yet different concept of gardens. Civil activism initiated the project of “social gardens”, because gardening today is not just a preoccupation of “rural people living in the city” but it is becoming the new, enlightened, ecological, urban, social trend. The current city government took over the idea from the activists so it is likely to be implemented, but resting on completely different foundations: after having peeled off all layers of sociability, which would, similarly to earlier wild gardens, be based on self-organisation, self-deciding as well as social and generational networking. All the civil and human potential is being squeezed into controlling and constraining governmental mechanisms.
The view from above, from the Mamutica, provides us with the wide shot, provides us with the foreground and the background too; so what does remain for the close-up? The answer revealed to us through the project turned out to be unusual and unexpected and wondrous at the same time. Lowering the camera towards the ground reveals something new – there is no dramatic tension here, as there is in blowups in Antonioni’s classic “Blow-up”, which are used to reveal a murder (or maybe there is, a murder of city’s practice, that of wild gardens?). Focus on the ground reveals persistence of the land and its soil: although the land lies fallow for a year already, lettuce is sprouting from the soil, sporadically growing stalks; chards are springing, garlic and roses turned wild, marigolds and other ornamental plants are entangled with grasses across the green surface intended to become a park. It is a site bound to vex some distant future researchers by sporting an unusual urban archaeology of edible plants growing in the middle of the city, during some imaginary project “what did the old folks eat” at the foot of the Mamutica, a home to 1363 households, claimed to be the biggest building in this part of Europe.
In the city’s scenery, the Mamutica stands as a monument: modernist architecture antiquated housing blocks with buildings merging into each other and built detached, visually dominant objects in space, occupying spacious free surfaces. Even such a huge building shall become a part of shaping the “sense of the place”, a component of the overall “multisensoriality of the experience, perception, knowing and practice” (according to S. Pink), forming the essence of being in a specific location, in a particular neighbourhood, in Travno. The reflections on this being envelop the Tonka Maleković’ project – as a temporary monument, “through recording the memories of former gardens”, as well as an active monument, “striving to examine and gather stories and information that create the motivational field for an initiative and further conscious rethinking of the manner and structures, practices, forms of social organising we may employ to build our everyday life and our surroundings” (from the discussion with the authoress). The authoress’ first circle assembled people whose narratives testified about that inventiveness of everyday life and the sociability: tending the gardens, making arrangements about installing the water pumps, setting the bocce ground, organising the thirtieth anniversary of living in one of the building’s stairways, joint planting of the trees in the neighbourhood, planting the eco-garden and orchard near the school, waste sorting project, creating the “first neighbourhood bibliography” (ranging from crime fiction to scientific literature), whose authors live in Travno – just some of the examples of the strength lying in the wondrous inventiveness and enthusiasm that ultimately make the world go round. The second circle focuses on the body and the awakening of the embodied experience in the plurality of our perception, predominantly visual. But, listening to the city (rhythm of the traffic, birds chirping, being deafened by the sound of a helicopter, mother’s whisper to a child, a scream, distant voices, silence), smelling the city (grass, fuel fumes, a flower, smell of another man), touching the city (touch of people, breeze, grass) – all those experiences constitute being. The workshop of “immersing in, dancing and moving” held within the second circle had a powerful impact on consideration of the relationship between the individual (an individual in the city) and the community (city as a collective): individual movements (single dancing moves) in the moment of merging with the move of the next person become new movements, and joined by other individuals, a new rhythm, a movement of the whole, some new powerful energy are being choreographed from within. Exactly in this what is happening “within” lies the metaphor of the city and its strong pulse.
The circles are monuments, primarily made as such by something not expected at all (and hence more interesting, as being unforeseen), but completely logical: there is no monument if there are no spectators. The loggias of the Mamutica instantaneously turned into numerous theatre balconies, in the parterre – the street – numerous passers-by, bocce players, children – stopped to watch what was happening in the meadow temporarily turned into a stage. And each work of stage art, in this case even an art project, rests on the interrelationship of real and imaginary. The fluid line between the two, often expressed through the ambivalence of referring to the same space as “former gardens” and “future park” is the very point of imagination because it implies not only fantasizing about the future, but it “can also refer to imagining the past”, a past of a person, space or neighbourhood, or even imagining “the present merging with the immediate past” (according to S. Pink). These complex relations between the imagination and the reality of the city are the stage of our everyday life: in order for us to function, the everyday life must form certain compactness, as a lump of earth. Excursions from that everyday life, as such guided by the Tonka Maleković’ project, make us plough the everyday life, making it wondrous and thinking of it and understanding it in a new way.
One cultural-anthropological concept depicts culture using the metaphor of coral reef, in which each part (each respective coral) grows separately, and yet the whole (the coral reef) is not just a mere sum of its parts, but a new form. Similarly, the authoress’ vision of the city is more than just a sum of people, events, movements, narrations, it is an organism interacting in the conscious and unconscious level, a changing whole enthralling by the new aesthetics and the ethics of lived and human urban present. This enthrallment resounds through every personal meeting with the authoress.
[*] The biggest residential building in Zagreb, with some 4500 inhabitants.