Yane Calovski at the Deutsche Bank Collection
The failed utopias of the modern age are among Yane Calovski's central themes. The Macedonian artist is represented in the Deutsche Bank Towers with two significant series: "Master Plan" deals with the Japanese architect Kenzo Tange's plans for the reconstruction of the Macedonian city of Skopje following a devastating earthquake in 1963; and "Oskar Hansen's Museum of Modern Art" envisions posters for the exhibition program of a never-built museum. Christiane Meixner presents Calovski's works from the Deutsche Bank Collection.
||History has not been kind to Skopje. The Macedonian metropolis has been repeatedly destroyed by war, and in 1963 an earthquake nearly wiped it off the map. The damage was so extensive that President Tito ordered an international competition for the reconstruction - right in the middle of the Cold War - thus putting Skopje at the focus of urbanistic debate. Yane Calovski did not experience these beginnings of the new Skopje. But the artist, who was born in 1973, grew up on the outskirts of the "big city," with a view of its futuristic design: "I always had this feeling that I lived in our version of the future. As a kid, I always drew and made collages with almost always the image of a city as a subject, houses, machinery, and figures resembling people." Upon starting university, Calovski moved to the city center, where the art academy is located. Eventually, the experiment of a socialist planned city became the theme of his conceptual work. Tito, as the leader of a non-aligned Yugoslavia, did not simply decree how the new Skopje should look; instead, he asked the United Nations to call for bids on the competition he initiated, in order to attract interest in the project from the international architecture avant-garde.
The winner was Kenzo Tange, a popular representative of the International Style, whose buildings of glass, steel and concrete adhered to a universal aesthetic. But the jury especially liked that the Japanese architect thought ahead to the future needs of a growing city that would one day accommodate four million people. Tange decreed structural clarity and a modular system that responded to, among other things, Skopje's ethnic diversity. He created public areas without oversized squares for mass rallies and combined traditional architectural elements of far eastern culture with the vision of an urban organism meant to function like a machine. This master plan was meant to be anything but sentimental: Tange ruled out reconstructing the detailed historic old city; that would have contradicted his thoroughly modern vision.
That's why Yane Calovski calls Skopje a place without a past. At the same time, it represents the now obsolete urban utopias of the 1950s and '60s. Skopje has itself become an open-air museum of urban planning that fascinates not just Calovski, but the group Works in Progress, as well as numerous architects. What's interesting for all concerned here is the ambitious master plan for the model city and its execution, which proved to be impossible during the first phase. Tange wanted slow growth, while reconstruction could not go quickly enough for the socialist state. After a short time, there were Macedonian, Greek and Polish architects working on the details. Tange lost control of the project - his plans were watered down, and what urban planner Maren Harnack calls a sort of "Baroque Brutalism" replaced the progressive design ideas. In the end stood paralyzing compromises: the reconstruction ceased completely in the 1980s, as if all the air had gone out of the utopia. It's precisely this state that makes this place so interesting to Calovski.
The results of his artistic research flowed into the series Master Plan (2008), which can be seen in the Deutsche Bank Towers. "I started to develop the research work Master Plan in 2006 that was focused on the missing narrative and visualization of the process of rebuilding Skopje," says Calovski. The sixty-six drawings reflect the phase in which Skopje was promised an architectural revolution. Master Plan once again traces Tange's original intent. Skopje is present as an outline on numerous pages on which the artist has marked in color areas for living, production and collective relaxation - as well as the giant highway on which the city's entire traffic was to be concentrated. In addition, there are drawings that quote the original photos from Tange's studio, which are stored in Skopje's city archives. The architect and his employees bending over blueprints, carrying out discussions or being off on their own for a moment - Calovski captures authentic moments like these in sketched impressions. The figures are contoured and individual planes filled with color: a shirt blazes red; black trousers devour the light. The rest remains sketchy and avoids any precise depiction, because that would cement the circulating ideas in Tange's office in a similar way to what happened to his designs during the building phase in Skopje. Thus, the drawings depict the ephemeral, which in reality was lost. "I wanted to return the viewer to that moment of production. Reimagining the atmosphere of Tange's studio is something of value to the narrative," says Calovski. With his drawings, which reconstruct the past while at the same time carrying out an artistic interpretation, additional documents emerge that are not (yet) anchored in the collective memory. Master Plan mixes the "rational space of diagrams and graphics with the mystical space of illusions" and provides additional images, which from now on complete the official version.
The factual and the latitude of fiction: numerous artists, especially of the younger generation, have addressed this topic. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the cities in Central and Eastern Europe have been continually remodeled. The transformations usually result in the disappearance of buildings with a socialist or post-socialist influence, with which the artists in Sofia, Riga, Vilnius or Dresden grew up. But the new urban planning according to western patterns doesn't just raise questions about their aesthetic legitimacy. Ultimately, they supplant any other view of the world. Thus, the building of cities becomes a question of power, and architecture becomes an instrument of ideology. Yane Calovski, who, with his recent project Ponder Pause Process at the Tate Britain dealt with that museum's warehouse in order to analyze structures of collecting and conservation, shares that view. The artist began his research in 2004, when the Macedonian government wanted to sell centrally-located plots of land in the city in order to create space for - among other things - a new United States embassy. Master Plan, a continuous conceptual work, was part of the exhibition The Rest of Now, at the 7th Manifesta in 2008 in South Tyrol. For that show, the artist borrowed Tange's large, historical architectural model from the Museum of the City of Skopje - as a visual complement to his drawings, and as a symbol of what was once seen as the future.
"Skopje's reconstruction was full of creative ambitions, but what we call utopian in the context of urban planning is also the expectation that certain social, political and economic projections become real," is how Calovski sums it up. But this expectation of modernity also remained unredeemed and ensured that faith in unimpeded progress gradually waned - because urbanistic concepts cannot be combined with the moral impetus to exert influence on society. Still, Calovski's works following Master Plan imagine the possibilities of such utopias. What if…? What if Tange's ideas had been realized in an exemplary way? Would there have been modular structures in his settlements, as the artist imagined in 2009 in the exhibition Obsessive Setting for the Zak/Branicka Gallery in Berlin? A place with various functions in a very small space, in which people can work, produce and rest?
Or what if the design by Polish architect and visionary Oskar Hansen - who greatly influenced the Warsaw art professor Grzegorz Kowalski as well as the latter's former students, such as Pawel Althamer, Anna Molska and Artur Zmijewski - had been built in Skopje? After the 1963 earthquake, so many artists submitted works in solidarity that a competition was also held for a modern museum. But Hansen's design had no chance. It was a temporary building on the basis of an "open form," meant to represent an alternative plan to the already ossified language of architectural modernity, with rooms of moveable modules meant to be made larger or smaller, or dropped down as needed. That was not an option for a city that had just become homeless and longed for permanence. In 2007, Calovski worked with artist Hristina Ivanoska to create a concrete project based on the illusory design and transferred Oskar Hansen's Museum of Modern Art as an address for the avant-garde into the Skopje on the 1960s. Artists such as Ana Mendieta, Paul Thek or Ad Reinhardt would have fit in there. The duo created a calendar for the period of 1966-2008, designed a catalogue and flanked the fictional exhibitions with posters that playfully took up Hansen's architectural honeycomb structure in their graphic design. They advertise projects that never existed, but which would have been possible, and would have had a lasting effect on the international perception of the Yugoslavian art scene.
Neither Oskar Hansen's Museum of Modern Art nor Master Plan express sadness at missed chances; rather they express the necessity of interpretation. Ultimately, even the subjunctive mood contains the creative potential with which the evidence of modernity, its visions and illusions, allows itself to be interpreted or instrumentalized. "Let's not forget, of all the arts, architecture is the most powerful political propaganda weapon, and sooner or later it will turn against its citizens. Today, not because of Tange's plan, but rather because of misguided local scale political games, the city is becoming a 'utopia' as devastating as an earthquake," explains Yane Calovski - inscribing his own version in Tange's legacy, before others do it.