Stare Sajmište

The urban periphery is a field of conquest and investment. It is the frontier of the advancing city, the front of the urban growth machine. Essential modern means  to foster  urban development are exhibitions, temporary events, the use of spectacular processes as ice-breaking operations towards new investment and settlement. The invention of modernism is indissolubly entwined with  the interlacing of spatial production with image production, which is the essence of the late capitalist mode of production. Exhibition sites are the places where the ideological aspects of spatial production emerge in all their evidence and violence. It is an aspect that we have not yet directly tackled in the R:CP exploration path, but that we are increasingly crossing in our spiraling around the topic. International exhibitions, expos, fairs, Bau Austellungen, constitute a definite praxis of “recentralising peripheries”, with all their collateral effects in terms of displacement, dispossession and gentrification.  This will be an  unavoidable topic of our incidental exploration of Milan next May, a city frenzied by the expo 2015 pre-orgasmic climax. But we had already found an early example in Belgrade’s Stare Sajmište, exemplar story of an expo field that became a concentration camp.

Stare Sajmište has been the first modern settlement operation in the site that today is Novi Beograd, anticipating the operation of expanding Belgrade across the Sava river. The plot was donated by the Municipality of Belgrade to a group of entrepreneurs which had created  already in the 1920′s the Association for Organising Trade Fairs and Exhibitions. The structure was built  in 1937 and the international exhibition opened in 1938 with a set of pavillions mostly displaying propaganda for the nazi fascist allied countries. Here Phillips staged first television broadcast  in the Balkans. When in 1941 a reluctant serbia was invaded by German troops, the fair ground was transformed in one of the first concentration camps. While the majority of male jews were exterminated with a mobile gas unit, in what is known as the Semlin Camp mostly women and children where brought, together with the Roma population of Belgrade. Later  Semlin was turned into an Anhaltelager, a temporary detention camp for political prisoners, captured Partisans and forced labourers, most of whom were subsequently transported to various labour camps in Germany. Between May 1942 and July 1944, 32,000 inmates passed through the camp, of which more than 10,000 were killed or died of starvation, exposure, or disease.

After the war,  the site was slowly colonised with multiple uses, including a group of artists settling their studios in the central Yugoslav pavillion. While all around New Belgrade was raising, the old fair ground slowly transformed in a quiet, green, neglected neighbourhood, almost unnoticed until recent times. Pushed also by the debate about the integration of Serbia in the EU, the issue of the historical memory recently emerged. As one of the principal nazi lagers and a major site of genocide, Stare Sajmište remained for a long time  non commemorated and the international pressure is growing for creating some memorial space. But as often in history injustice is washed with injustice, now the issue at stake  is that of people that has been living and working on the spot, that is threatened by projects of transforming the site in a museum or a memorial.  Stare Sajmište is one of the cases presented in the  Forensic exhibition recently inaugurated at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt,  in Berlin.

Modernism In-Between

Still from "Doći i ostati", 1965

(…) then, Yugoslav culture was not entirely open either functioning inside a systemic “membrane” that filtered the exchange with the outside world. Similarly, Yugoslavia’s position between the “three worlds” of the Cold War was not symmetric either. The chief reference points of exchange shifted at first from East to West and then only slightly back East, indicating that the Modernity was still flowing predominantly from the developed West. But thanks to its non-aligned connections. Yugoslavia also had a significant presence in the Third World through its architects, planners and construction companies, establishing itself as an alternative source that channeled modern culture and technology from the “core” to the “periphery”, at the same time increasingly transcending its own “semi-peripheral” position. Whether this amounted to an alternative model of globalization  and wether it allowed greater emancipation for all the involved parties deserves to be further explored and theorized.

Vladimir Kulic, Maroje Mrduljas, Wolfgang Thaler, Modernism In-Between, p.49

The in-betweenness is an unavoidable tract of the matter we are going to explore in Belgrade. The in-betweenness of a region, as the authors of the excellent volume this post takes the cue from point out, is also a cliché. Every location lies in between other territories, conditions, borders, and its specificity and identity derive from what surrounds it. Nevertheless, both former Yugoslavia and its supposed administrative capital Novi Beograd are particularly affected by some extraordinary in-betweennesses, either in geographical, temporal or historical perspective. New Belgrade exudes an exemplar, epitomized in-betweenness.  In between eastern and western perspectives, in between imperial forces, in between clashing ideologies, in between ethnic conflicts and spinning nationalisms…

From another point of view, if we look at in-betweenness as an implicit condition of centrality, the story of Novi Beograd is also that of a sudden peripheralisation, of a place born to be central and pushed at the margins by historical turnovers and political disruptions. And such a dynamic, such a displacement from centrality to periphery, back and forth, is the essential concept of our exploratory project.

How therefore not starting from here our wandering around Novi Beograd?

Suburban Constellations

One of the images of the cover of  the recently published book Suburban Constellations comes from our Dom Novogo Byta film. The book in fact contains a photographic essay by ogino:knauss about the Khodinskoe field in Moscow, where we shoot the final images of the Muscovite episode of R:CP.  Suburban Constellation is a book and a research project coordinated by Roger Keil at the York University – Toronto which shares many aspects with our re:centering periphery project: the attention at alternative spaces to the dense urban centers and flagship projcts often hegemonizing protagonists of urban studies, the transdisciplinar attitude and the attempt at an open and innovative way to propose academic research to a wider public.

Here a preview of the book

JEAN-LOUIS COHEN / MODERNISM AND PERIPHERY

JEAN-LOUIS COHEN / MODERNISM AND PERIPHERY from OGINO KNAUSS on Vimeo.

November 2010, working at a spot for Moskonstruct campaign we shortly  interview via Skype the architecture historian Jean Louis Cohen, one of the major experts of modernism and the curator of the recent exhibition of Le Corbusier at MOMA. Few questions about Narkomfin are published in the incoming Dom Novogo Byta DVD. We plan an extensive interview with professor Cohen about the topics of Re:centering Periphery in the next future. Here a short reflection about the disputable relation between modernist architecture and discredited urban peripheries.

Camera: Frederic Fasano

svijet oko nas/world around us

Children encyclopedia first published in Yugoslavia in 1960.