In may 2008 we (isme) leave for the former Yugoslavia for three months to do our project 'tourisme'.
Inspired by the project Burenwinkel -a project where we participated during our internship at Dutch artist Martijn Engelbregt- we leave for the Balkan to look for interesting neighbourhoods. The idea is to focus on a small part of a city or village as a miniature version of a society, and make a reaction, which we call a 'neighbourhood product'.
Basically we react to everything we hear and see. As graphic designers we eventually make a product with and for the people of that neighbourhood. This product is the summary of our experiences.
The products we have made in these three months have varied from a wall painting, to a perpetual slide-show on a television, to the placement of one hundred disposable garbage bins in the city centre.
Below you can see, and read the results.
Our personal experiences during the trip you can find here.
One thing that immediately caught our attention in Sarajevo were the immense adverts placed throughout the city centre. The most interesting form was where the advertising was painted onto the buildings directly. So instead of an image on a poster, that changed from week to week, this was a permanent metamorphose. This meant that people were living inside a Coca-Cola, Jupol or DHL flat. But to us, it also meant that spaces like this could be used in a different way.
That's why we searched for our own wall and, some weeks later, actually found an apartment complex at Olovska, Sarajevo. With a lot of help from students from the Art Academy in Sarajevo we got into contact with the owner of the building and were able to buy one of the walls for an amount of 2500 marks (about 1250 euros). Once we were the proud new owners of this wall we wanted to know more about the people living inside the building that we had just partially bought. So in the coming days we went over for coffee to talk about 'where they were born, if they feel at home in Sarajevo, how they experienced the war', i.e. 'what was the identity of the building as a whole'?
We summarized all the interviews and used them as a starting-point for a design contest that we then organized; make a design for the wall that would be a reflection of the identity of the building. Together with the students of the Art Academy we made several propositions and handed them over to the final jury, the people of the complex.
The design they chose was a quote taken directly out of one of the interviews. We asked one of the girls what her opinion was about the large amount of commercial messages in her city. Her reply, 'Whatever you will write on a wall, people won't care', was a perfect summary of all our previous conclusions. It shows the indifference of both parties. On one hand, the companies that don't care about the way they permanently change the appearance of a neighbourhood, and on the other hand, most citizens who are numb to the endless amount of commercial messages surrounding them.
When the wall was finished we asked people in the streets what they thought of our intervention. Most people said 'it looked fresh', or they 'liked the colours'. Only one girl in the street noticed the underlying message.
Putinci is a small village of 4000 people located in Vojvodina, an autonomous province in the north of Serbia. In front of almost all the houses in Putinci you will find beautiful little benches where people come together every day to talk about pretty much everything that goes on in the village. While nowadays you will find mainly older women during the day time, and young kids at night, the benches used to be visited by people of all ages. There are a total of 197 benches in the village, and not two are the same. From the start of our stay in Putinci we thought these benches to be a beautiful symbol of neighbourship while at the same time they remind people of a time when life was slower, and everybody had the time to sit down and have a chat.
That's why we made a social map of the village with the exact locations of all the 197 benches. This sign, that reads 'Neighbour benches', '197 possibilities to meet each other', now has a permanent spot in the main street of the village.
As we started our project about the benches we soon noticed that this wasn't just our project. Our new friends from Putinci helped us out with finding the right materials, getting a good and updated map of the village as well as finding a good spot to put up our work. It even got to the point where they started to negotiate with a store owner who we approached to put up our work on the outside of his store. While we agreed on a fair price, Sofia (the woman at whom we stayed) and others insisted that we got the wall for free. We ended up getting another (and better) wall for no money thanks to the efforts of our Putinci crew.
A little further down the street we also placed a small television set -behind the window of a café- that has a continuous slide show of all the 197 benches in the village. The television will travel to different places in the street from time to time.
During our time in Serbia we heard quite some bad stories about the safety in Kosovo. A lot of people strongly advised us not to go. Kosovo was like a barrel of gunpowder, and one spark would be enough to set the whole place on fire. The first thing we noticed coming to Prishtina was how extremely relaxed the atmosphere was. On of the reasons for this relaxed atmosphere, we soon found out, was an almost complete absence of Serbs in Prishtina. Milot, our contact in Prishtina, told us that at that moment there were about six to ten families living in Kosovo's capital. Another reason for the stability, in almost all of the country, is the constant presence of international stabilization forces, driving around in their SUV's 24 hours a day.
So our first ideas for a project in Prishtina all evolved around these political issues. Only we didn't feel very comfortable with these subjects because for the first time during our trip we felt as if we weren't the right persons to address certain issues. As we talked with Milot about our struggle to do a project about these subjects he told us that things like 'the constant presence of international troops' or 'the ethnic tension between Serbs and Albanian people' were more issues, that were dealt with by the media, than real every day problems that citizens of Prishtina dealt with.
He told us that now that Kosovo is independent, most people are done talking about politics. Besides, now that most Serbs have left (or are living in isolated enclaves) people in Kosovo are mainly occupied with trying to make a living in their brand new country. People are focused on their jobs, or on finally being able to send their kids to a proper school.
Another every day problem that Prishtina dealt with, and that we had also noticed, was an almost complete absence of garbage bins throughout all of the city. Everybody was forced to throw away their garbage into flower pots or bushes, or they had to keep their garbage in their pockets until they reached their homes. So, we decided to address the issue by placing exactly one hundred garbage bins in the city centre of Prishtina. Not regular bins, but disposable bins (cardboard bins, with the the Albanian text: for one use). Once the bins are filled they become garbage themselves. A solution for a day, so to say.