R-Lab in Sarajevo: Notes

Agonistic Body Workshop  and “Exercise” SARAJEVO


the Agonistic Body Workshop and Exercise took place in Sarajevo from October 29 to November 2, 2017.

Project leaders:

Peter Lang, Royal Institute of Art, Stockholm/ Nicholas Boyarsky, Oxford Brookes.

As we have come to understand when trying to decipher the origins of the mysterious  “stećak, the tombstone slabs that dot the countryside around Bosnia, there are no reliable attributions identifying these relics with their makers. Yet, as Vladimir Mihajlovic pointed out during his lecture in our workshop, there are as many interpretations as there were occupying powers that administered Bosnia at one time or another. The stećak is the Bosnian icon by default, the symbol of a people– the Bogomiles,  who by their abject absence take on heroic dimensions. One of the myths associated with the Bogomiles is their human prowess, their strength and their height, and these characteristics remain oddly present among the current population in this region, where athletic talent remains one of the area’s most exportable resources.

On my first night before the workshop started, accompanied by a handful of students and guided by Haris Piplas, we attended a Sunday night football matchup at the historic 1984 Olympic Stadium. Haris Piplas with Alfredo Brillembourg are running   Reactivating Sarajevo– an Urban Think Tank project and the ETH Zurich Department of Architecture and Urban Design, and was in Sarajevo wrapping up their work. The match, a disproportionate confrontation with the home team Sarajevo far in the lead, under the cold and pouring rain, was propelled by a strong fanbase in the Curve,  who chanted and deployed rhythmic body language to urge on their team.  What could be observed during this late Sunday night match were the byproducts of an agonistic body — precisely how the body animates space, and architecture, ways of putting one’s body on the line. These tactics could be significant precisely because the city is once again under threat, through unchecked commercial and speculative developments, that are undermining the modern city of Sarajevo and its modern architecture.

IMG_8753Olympic Stadium, photo PTL.

But as we got to know Sarajevo better, we were constantly drawn back to one of the most peculiar if not unique urban centers dating from the mid sixties,  that was and to an extent still remains the heart of Sarajevo: The Skenderija complex, a brutalist raised plaza framed by a series of muscular exposed concrete buildings featuring youth and community centers, the famed Hockey Arena, shopping and leisure areas, underground mall, and vast areas for services and more mysterious functions. As Haris Piplas pointed out, here is where Tito premiered his great film on the Yugoslav revolution, with Yul Brynner and Sophie Lauren as invited guests, and here the greatest hockey match of the Cold War played out between the Soviet Union and the USA for the Olympic Games of 1984. And here — open daily to the public–is the incredible Ars Aevi Museum, referred to as the Depot, mainly because the collection of postwar artworks are propped up around the interiors on top of the shipping crates they came in. Ready it seems to be transferred to the unrealised Renzo Piano museum, a fully conceived and completely detailed building that lacks only a construction budget. Not that Piano’s gift to Sarajevo now seems more of a burden then a gift, but as we learned, unoccupied spaces around the city represent ideal grounds for speculation and private profit. Joseph Beuys, Pistoletto, Sophie Calle, Anish Kapoor, Marina Abramovic and plenty of others sit idly in this dusty space, as if waiting for Godot. This might be the other notorious feature of life in Sarajevo that reflects the sentiments of one of the city’s most famous wartime residents,  Susan Sontag. The city lays waiting for something to happen, to fulfil its destiny as a world player, while history plows on… PTL.

Screen Shot 2017-11-03 at 18.19.17Skenderija Center, photo PTL

Zetra Arena, after-walk floor exercise. 30/10/17
Skendaria Center, 30/10/17
From the Greek αγωνιστής (agōnistēs), contestant; champion; rival < αγων (agōn), contest, combat; exertion, struggle < αγω (agō), I lead, lead towards, conduct; drive
Agonism (from Greek ἀγών agon, “struggle”) is a political theory that emphasizes the possibly positive aspects of certain (but not all) forms of political conflict. It accepts a permanent place for such conflict, but seeks to show how people might accept and channel this positively. For this reason, agonists are especially concerned with debates about democracy. The tradition is also referred to as agonistic pluralism.
noun (plural bodies) 1 the physical structure, including the bones, flesh, and organs, of a person or an animal: it’s important to keep your body in good condition.
DAY 1. Every once and a while the workshop participants will stop and warm up. these warm-ups can be done in synchrony or in asynchrony.
Are different sites in Sarajevo experienced as spaces of encounter, to play, to activate, or are they inactive, are they spaces of individuals, of masses, of counter masses. are they spaces of spectacle, of public discourse? How do we produce and shape space by our own presence?
At the end of the walk the individuals from the 3 programs participating (RIA Stockholm, Oxford Brookes, Sarajevo Univ), will form teams composed of roughly  10 individuals each. Each team can set a meeting point for the following day, (Day 2) to begin and complete the workshop exercise.
DAY 2. Each team should consider themes on agonism, antagonism, protagonism, sport and spectacle. The teams should develop a communal collective project  during this one day, based on field work, sites, and including mapping, documenting, etc.
DAY 3. Teams present their findings.
Very short reference list:
Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle.:
Chantal Mouffe
The Democratic Paradox
Verso; 59167th edition (June 9, 2009)
Georges Perec
W, or the Memory of Childhood (French: W ou le souvenir d’enfance),
1975 Denöel (Original French)
1988 The Harvill Press (English Translation)

Screen Shot 2017-09-23 at 08.21.30Screen Shot 2017-09-23 at 08.21.53

bosnia hercegovina stamp

Sarajevo Workshop
  urban memory and imagination in the age of market speculation
  October 30- November 1st
  The workshop will take on several challenges present in the City of Sarajevo, beginning with the further erosion of the city’s historic past, as increasing foreign investments are introducing speculative housing and commercial developments that are transforming the character and nature of the city.
  The violent civil conflicts over Sarajevo’s heritage landmarks and symbolic sites have revealed deep social divisions with tragic consequences, but was there sufficient time to properly document, categorise and critically understand this important historic city. Can there exist alternative practices that might undo the whitewashing of the city’s past and that optimizes it for unregulated foreign investment?
  As in earlier workshops organised with r-lab KKH, and DS-4 Oxford Brookes, this upcoming program will also investigate the work of a singular architect, Juraj Neidhardt, the international architect and theorist whose practice was largely focused on his home city of Sarajevo. Neidhardt’s international network and his unique vision for Sarajevo, provides an excellent example of a transcendent approach to understanding the local that is Sarajevo.
  A three-day workshop that will explore identities, monuments and myths in Sarajevo. Working in small groups students from these 3 schools will be asked to go out into the city and identify, uncover or reveal a ‘monument’. The ‘monument’ might be from the everyday life of the city, it might be invented, it might be appropriated from existing architectures, or it might be based on an existing monument. It is to be recorded, mapped and documented, and then transformed as new narratives, scales, and fictions are created around it. Each group will then make and perform their fictional monument in the city recording this on film for the final presentation.
  30th Monday October
a.m. Introduction and walk through Sarajevo
p.m. Groups are formed, brief given, and monuments discovered
  31st Tuesday October
All day - site work/myth making p.m. Workshop/Conference
  1st Wednesday November p.m. Presentations
Royal Institute of Art, Stockholm, Oxford Brookes University, Oxford, Faculty of Architecture, University of Sarajevo
  Lorenzo Romito, Stalker group Rome. http://www.stalkerlab.org/ Senada Demirovic ADA Mostar


Screen Shot 2017-07-27 at 12.13.33


Screen Shot 2017-07-27 at 12.24.26


“The post-socialist governments of former in former Yugoslavia re-programmed a few selected memorials, or re–idealized their prescribed content of commemorating the fallen partisan fighters of World War II. These efforts originate from state forces who suddenly found themselves in the position to answer to ethnic, if not nationalist tendencies of each new post-Yugoslavian state. Through these national governments,  the centrifugal forces of the architecture Balkanisation have found a balance of interpretation of memory from socialist resistance to the Nazi occupation in World War II. By infusing nationalist narratives into socialist memorials, a select number of them are kept in the  lingering state between life and death.”  Srdjan Jovanovic Weiss (with photographs by Armin Linke) Socialist Architecture- The Reappearing Act, Berlin, Greenbox, 2017. page 31.

On a recent Norwegian flight i noticed an unusual article in their flight magazine about an architecture competition for the “Tunnel of Hope,” at the site of the Sarajevo airport. The write-up included a description of the winning entry and an interview with the architect, Sabina Tanovic who teaches at Delft. If there was a reason for Norwegian to show interest in this project, it was because Norwegian Airlines was about to inaugurate regular flights to Sarajevo from Scandinavia. If you google the tunnel, that served as a vital pipeline for supplies and safe passage, what comes up these days are invitations to “Dark” tourism, a reference to a growing market sector in unusual vacation destinations. Last year r-Lab went to Mostar, under the tutelage of Fargfabriken, the Stockholm Kunsthall that established a small cultural centre, ADA.  Run by the architect Senada Demirovic, ADA, Architecture Dialogues with Art, has placed itself at the forefront in its attempt to reconcile two tragically split communities. Our short workshop in Mostar produced some very moving observations, discussions, and even proposals among participants and locals. (Mostar Reports). When we concluded the Mostar Workshop, we decided to work the next year in Sarajevo, and to continue with our ties to Mostar in the process.

Sarajevo will present a different kind of heritage environment than what we found in Mostar. There is no question that  plenty of sites in the public domain remain highly contested in this city. I remember a conversation with the architect Lebbeus Woods, who visited Sarajevo several times during the Bosnian conflict in the early nineties, travelling under press credentials. Packing a helmet and flak jacket in his suitcase, he insisted he had to bear witness in person. Lebbeus wrote “War is architecture, Architecture is War,” a statement he defended by referring to Orwellian “doublethink.” He went on to comment: “During war, “good design” can only refer to lost innocence. In the aftermath of war, it can only be reinstituted with a substantial degree of disingenuousness. What is called for then is something neither “good” nor “true,” but rather something paradoxically human: an architecture of liberation and terror. (Lebbeus Woods, Everyday War, in Peter Lang ed., Mortal City, (New York, Storefront for Art and Architecture-Princeton Architectural Press, 1995) page 52.

The coming r-Lab workshop is not about “Dark Tourism,” but it should be about how to understand the troubled context that 20 years on and conceive of ways to transcend the past, through reconciliatory gestures, both human and physical. That is the principle question here, and more will be posted on the upcoming workshop shortly.  PTL.


Screen Shot 2017-07-27 at 12.36.39

About the competition

The competition invited proposals for two buildings: a memorial museum and a research center. The structures are planned to be built on two sides of the Sarajevo International Airport, where the tunnel’s exits used to be. The competition brief asked for a project that can facilitate the tunnel’s growing popularity, preserve the authenticity of the location, and bring additional symbolical value to the site. In a blind selection process the jury chose the proposal by Sabina Tanović as the best. It was awarded with the second prize, since the jury felt that none of the entries fulfilled all of the competition’s requirements. Hence, a first prize was not awarded. The implementation of Tanović’s concept design is planned for the coming year.

The chosen design

Tanović’s concept for the memorial museum for the ‘Tunnel Spasa’ and the accompanying research center is designed to preserve and commemorate a structure of profound significance, but also to create a space that can meet the complex demands of the existing memorial site. The two buildings, separated by the Sarajevo airport, communicate in both their materialization and symbolic meaning. To reflect the tunnel’s history, the outer walls of the new buildings are made of rammed earth, with green roofs. In this way, they appear as lifted layers of soil. This mirrors the fact that earth played an essential role in the process of making the original tunnel: enormous heaps of earth were taken out and deposited next to the exits and entrances, and trenches were made to ensure a safer passage. The authentic remains of the tunnel, still open to the public, can be reached via the exhibition spaces, which descend gradually into the earth.
With an argument that memorial architecture on authentic sites (with original structures) needs to be moderate and symbolically tailored for the specificities of a given topic, Tanović proposes buildings that enhance the sense of place and, at the same time, serve as transitional space towards the main subject.

About the author

Tanović is an architect, independent researcher and expert on commemorative architecture. Trained as an architect, she decided to further explore her passion for memorials by completing a research project on the topic. In 2015 she received a PhD from Delft University of Technology, the Netherlands, with a thesis entitled Memory in Architecture: Contemporary Memorial Projects and their Predecessors (2015). Her current research focuses on contemporary European memory and the construction of architectural commemorative projects. In an interdisciplinary approach, she investigates the relations between psychological aspects of bereavement and their integration into a memorial-making process. She is a project leader of ‘Designing Memory’ which deals with design, adaptation and remodeling of memorial sites.
Her participation in this competition is highly meaningful for Tanović. Having lived through the Siege of Sarajevo as a young girl, she chose the tunnel as her graduation project when she was an architecture student at the University of Sarajevo. This project went on to become the catalyst for her work as a scholar. To be able to use her extensive knowledge of commemorative architecture for a project that is so close to her heart is not only a serendipitous turn of events, but also an exceptional privilege.