A Family Tree or the Absent Houses / 2020

A participatory action and ephemeral collective installation based on a subtle and direct relationship of visitors to the place of suffering of the victims of fascism

Dotrščina Memorial Park, Zagreb, Virtualni muzej Dotrščina

“During the Second World War, the Nazi-supported government in Croatia waged a savage war against its enemies, real and perceived. Hundreds of thousands died at the hands of the Ustaše militia and security forces. At the time Dotrščina park lay on the edge of Zagreb and it proved a convenient killing ground. Between 1941 and 1945 some 7,000 people were brought here for execution; the unclaimed dead were subsequently buried under the trees. Beneath its green tranquillity, Dotrščina is a vast crime scene, a history marked by its designation in the 1960s as a Memorial park and the installation of several sculptures by major Croatian artists. Since the brutal disintegration of Yugoslavia in the 1990s, the park has been neglected and it is little used today. Its story does not suit contemporary narratives, and it is frequently defaced by neo-Nazi and nationalist graffiti.” (more)

Dotrščina Virtual Museum has been established with an aim to draw attention to this important site and to help protect its memory. Since 2012 one artistic proposal annualy is being chosen via public call to be realised on the spot.

In the work “A Family Tree or the Absent Houses” I wanted to connect the current pandemic situation with traumata from the past and to use the phenomenon of a crisis as a kind of empathic channel, as a means of connecting with earlier traumata.

Throughout the period of two months during the COVID-19 pandemic and the lockdown in spring 2020, I observed activities in the city forest of Cologne. Since playgrounds across the city were closed, suddenly parks were full of activities. All over the forest children with their parents built archaic tipi-like forms which I documented using a mobile GPS application, discovering a hidden “urbanistic” pattern in the ground plan of the park. I was fascinated by this “invisible” new pattern which appeared as a consequence of the specific circumstances. Moreover, I was struck by the notion how people, in spite of their fear of the unknown situation, enjoyed their newly gained time, which they spent in the parks with their beloved ones.

For the action in Zagreb, I tried to set up a similar framework filled with awareness and positive energy, where the described activities would serve to commemorate the victims.

Forming my concept around this idea of a crisis as a kind of empathic channel, and two aspects of absence (absence of the family histories that, following the crime, were never given the opportunity to exist, and the absence of the Museum which was planned, but never built), I invited the citizens to spend time in the forest building ephemeral “architectural compositions” from materials found on the site – fallen branches, twigs and leaves, and carve one name chosen from the list of the victims  onto their creation.

Photo Album (copyright Katarina Zlatec)


In the media:

Kunstmentorat NRW (German)

WDR / COSMO, Radio Forum (In conversation / Croatian)

H-Alter (Interview / Croatian)

Vizkultura (A review by Suzana Marjanić / Croatian)

Novosti (Interview / Croatian)