14 - 14

Serbian Pavilion at 14th International Architecture Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia

14 - 14

'...Pavilion of Serbia in the Giardini della Biennale, where the show, in response to the theme ‘Absorbing Modernity, 1914- 2014’, asks: a century, how many architectures is that? For architecture in Serbia, the count is not a linear one, for its modernity unfolded beyond the ‘national identity’ taking place in the ‘universal’ of the Yugoslav century. (In analogy to Natacha Michel’s verdict that ‘the twentieth century has taken place’, and against the current of all anathemas launched against it, Yugoslavia has taken place).' 1

Notes on the 'Black Room'

The endeavor of the 14-14 is to outline the ‘range’ of what it means to record architectural output in a unit of time within a national domain. In order to achieve this it was essential to curate the exhibition in two sections so their respective fundamental natures would supply context to each other. The inner, day lit space of the Serbian pavilion is a vault of a hundred acclaimed architecture projects made between 1914 - 2014, while the perimeter is concerned with a particular project – Museum of the Revolution in Belgrade by Croatian architect Vjenceslav Richter.

The project was initiated in 1961 in New Belgrade through a national competition charged with the task of expressing the socialist ideal, one that constitutes the ‘revolution’ of the international workers movement. At the time, Museums of the Revolution were sprouting across Yugoslavia and this one was supposed to be the centerpiece, a monumental modernist structure with the location carefully chosen in keeping with the vision for the New Belgrade. After a decade and several attempts to better the scheme through engineering and planning concerns the construction started but was short-lived. // Only the underground level was cast and it is still there - a black box recording political vicissitudes, causes and effects distilled to this day. The fate of the Museum of the Revolution is symptomatic of the ‘when and where’, providing context to 1914 - 2014 project shortlist exhibited in the central room.

Using film as a medium director Srđan Keča traces the aftermath, leftover archeology of Richter’s museum through several narratives, which are displayed in the perimeter of the pavilion as three separate projections. The first two are set against each other better to convey the duality of the space. As living quarters for a gypsy community the Museum’s foundations are inhabited, while at the same time, the place is utterly invisible. This habitation, whether it is a cave, a ‘primitive hut’ or a memory of the museum, shown alongside the tranquility of the park, nearly became the site for one of the most significant institutions of Yugoslavia. The third projection, shown separately on the opposite end of the pavilion shows an installation constructed by 14 - 14 team to mark the site where the project was first intended to be built, some three hundred meters as the crow flies, from the definitive site where the construction began.

In his A Provisional Theory of Non-Sites, Robert Smithson asserts: ‘(…) to understand this language of sites is to appreciate the metaphor between the syntactical construct and the complexity of ideas, letting the former function as a three dimensional picture, which doesn’t look like a picture.’ 2 This ‘three dimensional picture’ of the Museum of the Revolution is made out of weaved cord. Helium is used to stress the strings until they become lines that flutter, bend, stress and tangle, but ultimately trace the volume evocative of the Richter’s iconographic design for the roof of the Museum. As the medium of construction shifted from the reinforced concrete to the strings and helium, the form changed as well, fitting with Smithson’s ideas of the abstract representation of the actual site, or as he puts it: ‘It is by this dimensional metaphor that one site can represent another site (…)’ 3 It can be said that the Museum of the Revolution adds to the genius loci of its intended location, even though there has been nine alternatives including the definitive one. The ephemeral nature of the // 14 -14 string structure makes its presence in the park known about as much as what is left of the Museum itself. completely agreeing with Jane Jacobs in saying: ‘You can neither lie to a neighborhood park, nor reason with it.’ 3 Ultimately, the bond between the notion of revolution and modernity is a strong one while considering the extent to which ‘national identity has seemingly been sacrificed to modernity’. 4

Directors Note on the 2 + 1 channel video installation

Srđan Keča

Vjenceslav Richter's 1961 project exposé for the building of the Museum of the Revolution starts thus:

'The purpose and idea of this museum is to safeguard the truth about us. From this follows its extraordinary importance, which has found its confirmation in the assigned location. Thus it is impossible to approach solving this problem with an arsenal of conventional notions about museums, no matter how valid the solutions that follow from them may be. The embodiment of the Museum of the Revolution has to express a pervasive and great idea. Our idea and the idea of us. It is as much ours, as it is new and authentic. New ideas arise from fundamental truths and build upon them.'

These six short paragraphs read like a poem, and immediately quicken the heart if one knows the fate of the Museum and its building. For someone born and raised in Yugoslavia it makes a bit too much sense that such a project never achieved anything near its full expression. Much like in Bruno Schulz's Street of Crocodiles, intensity dissipates, possibilities fade, ‘the crazy grey poppies of excitement scatter into ashes’. And yet a hidden life persists among these ashes. The remaining underground level of the Museum becomes a kind of camera obscura, in a perverse way fulfilling Richter's task of "safeguarding the truth about us". Echoes of the newly developing city reverberate through the vast dark corridors. Those who live inside eat, sleep, work, play, fight, and sometimes love. The sun fades just as it has appeared. Every evening an old lady lights a fire, as if she were its sole keeper. On the opposite end, on the third screen, a three-dimensional diagram of the Museum is built on its original location - a ghostlike translation of the 1961 project as fluid, mutable and impermanent as the time we live.

  1. from Liljana Blagojevic' Century vs. Histories, text written for the 14-14 Serbian pavilion publication, ISBN 978-86-7415-171-6 14

  2. Robert Smithson, The Collected Writings, edited by Jack Flam (University of California Press, Berkeley, California, 1966.)

  3. Robert Smithson, The Collected Writings, edited by Jack Flam (University of California Press, Berkeley, California, 1966.)

  4. from Rem Koolhaas' January 2015 theme announcement to the 2014 La Biennale di Venezia

Serbian pavilion, Giardini, 2014.

Serbian pavilion, Giardini, 2014.

Golden room, Serbian Pavillion, Giardini, 2014.

Golden room, Serbian Pavillion, Giardini, 2014.

Museum of the Revolution, 1961. winning proposal

Museum of the Revolution, 1961. winning proposal

Museum of the Revolution, 2014

Museum of the Revolution, 2014

Museum of the Revolution memorial, installation, 2014.

Museum of the Revolution memorial, installation, 2014.

Museum of the Revolution (3-channel video installation, 2014) | Trailer

// Authors: Aleksandar Hrib, Zlatko Nikolić, Jelena Radonjić, Marko Salapura & Igor Sladoljev // Collaborators: Srđan Keča & Andrea Palašti // Exhibition Commisioner: Ivan Rašković // Pavilion photography: © Relja Ivanić // 2014