Spomenik: Eerie Retrofuturistic Monuments of the Eastern Bloc
The ghosts of communism, or what alien architecture has to do with societal memory and Serbia’s mountains.
By Maria Popova
Having grown up in the former Eastern Bloc, I vividly remember the bizarre and beautiful monuments commissioned by the communist leaders of the 1960s and 70s, which remained as retrofuturistic remnants after the fall of communism, like the undying ghosts of an era most sought to forget but would always remember. These are the subject of Spomenik — a peculiar book by contemporary Belgian photographer Jan Kempenaers, who took a laborious trek across former Yugoslavia and The Balkans to photograph the strikingly beautiful yet odd structures tucked away in the region’s mountains. The results are haunting and eerily powerful, evoking a felt sense of a fold in the space-time fabric of sociopolitical reality.
Kempenaers did not set out as a documentary photographer, but first and foremost as an artist seeking to create a new image. An image so powerful that it engulfs the viewer. He allows the viewer to enjoy the melancholy beauty of the Spomeniks, but in so doing, forces us to take a position on a social issue.” ~ Willem Jan Neutelings
What’s most fascinating about the structures in Spomenik is that, up until the 1980s, they attracted millions of visitors, yet today they stand unknown by the younger generations and neglected by the older, their symbolism a fading flashbulb memory in the collective mind of their host cultures.
Published July 5, 2011