FOUNDATION SHTATËMBËDHJETË (17) is a nonprofit organization established in Prishtina, Kosovo in 2018. Building on the experience and the need to re-functionalize alternative public spaces, SHTATËMBËDHJETË has been registered as a foundation that aims to foster positive change in society through enabling cultural vitality and creativity.
The mission of SHTATËMBËDHJETË is to foster cultural activism for social development. SHTATËMBËDHJETË has three programs: Art & Culture, Civic Activism and Project Space. SHTATËMBËDHJETË is based in Prishtina, but covers all Kosovo regions with its activities.
SHTATËMBËDHJETË is dedicated to providing a nurturing environment for citizens of all genders and ages at all levels of their journey, encouraging participation in public life through arts, culture, education and outreach, and serving as a vital creative resource for the community.
Metamorphosis, a project implemented by Foundation Shtatëmbëdhjetë, aims to promote positive change in society through enabling cultural vitality and creativity. This is supposed to be achieved by bringing life to abandoned objects, revitalizing them even for a day. In this form, collective memory for a past that is little tackled is brought back, and public spaces are used for the benefit of the community. Metamorphosis uses art and culture as the main tool to raise the voice for the importance of using public space. Metamorphosis is especially focused on buildings/monuments/public spaces which are products of various social processes. It is for this reason that it does not suffice to merely investigate and document their materiality, but their function as well, which changes depending on the society itself.
Furthermore, the way the corpus of public knowledge is being formed is changing, just like the public space wherein these buildings and cultural monuments exist. Henceforth, through Metamorphosis the analysis of the relation between objects/monuments and public knowledge is aimed, so that on the one hand the logic of the forming and organizing the corpus of public knowledge in public spaces is better understood, and on the other, the active social role of objects/monuments is clearly explained. In this way, Metamorphosis- through operationalizing the history and spatial symbols of collective memory as a way to emphasize the right of the people to the city- highlights the strength and capability of collective memory for creating urban spaces.
KOJA: FLIRTING WITH LEFTOVERS
Site – specific Intervention in the restaurant “Marsi” building (built during 1975 – 1976).
Kiosk “Këpucëtari” (container – in use since 2010), spotlight, text installation, plywood, transparent plast, printed texts, printed interviews, video installation, photography, drawing, uniform mantle, copied documents, catalogues.
Place: ex-restaurant “Marsi”, Kodra e Trimave (Vranjevc), Prishtinë
Timespan: 18:30 – 22:00
From material evidence in Kosovo, there is a considerable number of abandoned modern-architecture buildings which are unstudied (unspecified) and uncategorized in regards to their architectural, historical, cultural, and social values.
Post World War II modern architecture in Kosovo, socio-realism/modernism has produced a significant number of landmark buildings (some of which are functional and under protection). A very important historical, socio-cultural and economic period in Kosovo is noted with the identification of some other buildings of modern architecture whose status is abandoned or without destination. Restaurant “Marsi” refers to precisely this period.
The arbitrary choice as a solution for the unfolding of collective memory
The site-specific intervention opens new paths for investigation – beyond the artistic intervention, while tracing the pieces of collective memory as testimony of the cohabitation with the specified buildings – which are re-interpreted through conversations conducted with citizens and professionals of relevant fields.
The abandoned and non-functional buildings which face continuous destruction, assimilation and oblivion are not rare in Kosovo. Restaurant “Marsi” is such a case. Therefore, of great importance are the different viewpoints of the interlocutors which shed a little light on the condition wherein the objects have been plunged.
The prolonged process of transition, with its historical sediments and all its individual and collective experiences, renders the situation even more specific in our days. This increases the responsibility weighing on the decisions that have been taken in this context – whether it is their devastation, modification (arbitrary intrusion and legalization), revitalization, conservation or re-functionalization. As such, any intervention in these buildings must be re-considered in terms of its effect in further worsening their current status.
The “Kodra e Trimave” neighborhood has its own story, especially in the years of the resistance (the 90s of the past century). During this period, the whole area played a key role whereas today it unfortunately remains an unintegrated part of the capital. Therefore, the relationship with this building and this neighborhood, the more I got to know it, the more it raised sensitivity and responsibility.
In my lenses restaurant “Marsi” could not be experienced alone. There was a physical intervention, henceforth an involvement, which prevented it. One could not ignore it.
An arbitrary intervention of citizens in an urban plan, however atypical it may be, should be considered precisely because it is a citizen intervention, and consequently leads to community involvement. In this concrete case, one could not abstract. An arbitrary intervention through a container (“Këpucëtari” kiosk – in English: shoemaker kiosk) – a private (individual) business – covers a part of the building which was of interest to me. This led me to begin to treat it as an integral part of the object, consequently as an “architectonic annex”. In the current context this annex speaks the standard idiom of the behavior and action of the community in Kodra e Trimave. Anyhow, the inclusion in this atypical process of urbanization marks its time, while ascribing to the Kosovar architecture another tactile interpretation/nuance of the time.
Since I already perceived the annex as an integral part of Restaurant Marsi, in this new reality the building couldn’t enjoy all the attention and preserve its stand-alone integrity. Therefore, the annex-kiosk took central stage in my work. All the collective memory was displaced precisely in this annex, making the arbitrary choice of citizens turn into a solution for the unfolding of collective memory (1977-2019).
The annex-kiosk was transformed into a mini-museum with documents, recalled artefacts, photographs and videos, all of which unfolding five time periods lived in this building.
1. The building of STE (Social Trade Enterprise) “Voçari” in Kodra e Trimave neighborhood was built during 1975-1976, joining the dominant trend of modern brutalist buildings in Kosovo. It was built by enterprise KIN “Dukagjini” based in Gjakova. It served as a big supermarket for the neighborhood and beyond. It carried out this function until the beginning of 1992 (until the launch of repressive measures by the Belgrade regime).
2. In 1995 the building is transformed into restaurant “Marsi”, which hosted various cultural and entertainment events. Despite the struggles, the building was important in the cultural map of the capital as part of the mosaic of parallel activities undertaken in the ‘90s of the past century. It was active until February 1998, when the massacres in Likoshan and Qirez occurred.
3. After the last war in Kosovo, it became a nightclub, which was rapidly closed down, acquiring a very complicated status and with an open court litigation.
4. Since 2003 the building has been abandoned, although privatized since 2007 in the very first call for liquidation by the Board of the Kosovo Trust Agency.
5. The building, like many others, has remained unstudied with regards to its architectural, historical, cultural and social values, a crossroads for the owner as well, the determinant of its fate. Thenceforth, the architecture students as part of the working team of this project were invited to present their vision on this building, offering solutions through various alternatives for its re-functionalization.
The building, to which I was summoned for an artistic intervention, remained abandoned, for another approach to intervention.
Reconstruction of the presence
When the building was freed from the narrative, it naturally revealed its lighting, construction and structure, the use of space, the shadows, the smells (odors), and inevitably provoked intuitive experience in relation to the object. The presence of the experienced building could be shared with others only on the condition of thinking of the re-construction of the spotlights, which the afternoon sun had created in its play with the cracks of the building, through artificial lighting so as to keep it intact for a few hours of experience, reflection and meditation.
Therefore, since we are living in an epoch wherein the enforcement of representation enjoys more attention than existence/presence as an entity itself, experiencing buildings, ironically, comes from their mere representation, presentation.
It is precisely for this reason that stopping at the station of the reconstructed presence had its importance in the hours of the intervention.
Regarding this, the following questions were raised:
Can an artistic intervention provoke the feeling of experiencing the building itself, by avoiding and shifting the narrative that the particular building represents? Can the perception of the building in question be provoked as an experience? Can presence be re-established, and can it be reconstructed? Can the arbitrary choice of citizens, who determine and decide what their needs are, be legitimized?
Is there a way to make the owner reflect on the building, before depriving it from being re-functionalized?
These were the issues which provoked my reaction, namely my intervention.
The site-specific intervention in a forgotten quarter like Kodra e Trimave was experienced as yet another spotlight on this abandoned neighborhood which presents access to the problem as a starting-point. This starting-point does not aim to offer a solution, but rather to highlight it in order to generate a discourse in several different professional levels, as well as to address it to decision-makers, who are consequently the ones to determine the fate of these buildings.
During my research, in conversations with representatives of institutions, competent associations, NGOs, I realized that very little has been done about abandoned buildings. Furthermore, even their identification has remained at the level of general descriptions, while they are not studied, categorized and valorized, which makes it much easier to abandon, destroy and erase them from our history.
Perspective- Foundation Shtatëmbëdhjetë
Author: Sihana Klisurica
FLIRTING WITH THE PAST AND THE PRESENT
A long waiting line of people would form to buy the “Faks” detergent. It was kept on the ground floor, or the basement of the market “Voçari” located in “Kodra e Trimave” neighborhood. The cloth with the logo of this detergent served as a bag to carry it, and then turned it into material for cleaning purposes. Mejreme Visoka, who is the wife of the first manager of this market, describes it beautifully. She even tells how with her scissors, her husband Shefqet Visoka, in 1976 would cut the red ribbon in the opening ceremony of “Voçari” market. She would then be employed there after her husband passed away, and stayed until the day the market was closed in the early 1990s.
Her storytelling, charisma, humor, and the pain she displays at the same time somehow give life to the whole story. Especially when it comes to the line of people gathered to buy the “Faks” detergent.
Such was probably the case on October 15, 2019 in front of the kiosk where the story of the 45-year-old building was unveiled at the artistic intervention, “Flirting With Leftovers,” by artist Koja, as part of the second edition of “Metamorphosis”. However this time not on the octagonal building whose vertex rests on a single column in the middle. Outside the grandeur of this building, which somewhat resembles a flying saucer dropped into a space that does not coincide with the surrounding architecture, a piece of history unfolds. And that wasn’t accidental…
The abandoned building and correlation with neighborhood
“Kodra e Trimave” or as it is known also “Vranjevc” is one of the biggest neighborhoods in Pristina. Only 1.5 kilometers from Mother Teresa Boulevard, which is about 20 minutes’ walk, or 7 minutes by car. But it is enough to experience two different realities within a very short distance. Socially but also culturally, this neighborhood has always been neglected, as a separate part of the capital. It has also taken on the connotation of a ghetto, always taking into account the sociological aspect and how this part of society lives in this area. During the field research, conversations with residents – class, societal and gender-based oppressions are observed. But on the other hand you also encounter the human, and the beautiful. On one side of the street you see a woman who cannot go outside more than her yard, and just in front of her another woman drinking coffee alone in the neighborhood café shop. One meets young people with great enthusiasm, full of ideas and will, but also those for whom the hassle is a lifestyle. The paradoxes are there; they appear in front of you. But in the end isn’t every neighborhood like that?
Somehow such is the futuristic building at the top of the road. Just like the neighborhood with its residents, which have two types of appearance, is the history of the building. When you pass by, there is no chance of missing it. It was built in the late 1970s as a market of the STE “Vocari”, a powerful enterprise in the former Yugoslavia which after “Germia” had its largest markets in the capital, and not only. “Voçari” could be found in other cities of Kosovo as well. Neighbors had an emotional connection with the building, but also with what it offered. The workers all wore white robes, white slippers on their feet. Everything functioned in order. You could find everything from basic food items to sweets and different types of alcoholic beverages.
People that worked there or the ones that went to buy food there speak proudly for that period of time. It is clear that the residents of the neighborhood have an emotional connection to the building, but only for the period it served as a market. Everything started to change when in 1995 it became a restaurant. It was named “Marsi”. As such it is still known today. As its role and function changed, so did the attendance of people. It now became an important point not only for the neighborhood, but for the whole city. As a restaurant, it became part of the usual visits by an elite community, excluding residents. To be clear, residents were not banned from entering, but “Vranjevci” at that time was a poor neighborhood and in this form transcended the interests and perhaps opportunities for most to become part of the activities there. However, “Marsi” played a major role in keeping the cultural life alive in the capital, in one of the most difficult periods of pre-war Kosovo history. By the time the parallel system came into force, Albanians were out of work and schools were closed, free movement was restricted, “Mars” was functioning. More than just a restaurant. Various music and entertainment evenings with musicians from Kosovo and Albania took place there. Graduations, New Year’s Eves, weddings, and many more were festivities. This “flying saucer” became an escape point from everyday reality into a “hidden” neighborhood from the center. The restaurant closed in early 1998 when the massacres in Likoshan and Qirez took place on February 28 of that year. During the last war in Kosovo (1998-1999) the building became a checkpoint of the police Serb forces who used it as a place to take control of the neighborhood, the entrances and exits.
Immediately after the war the building was leased. It became a nightclub. From that moment on, the residents’ contempt for the building began. Illegal activities took place there, giving bad reputation and erasing much of the neighborhood’s collective memory. Most residents don’t even remember “Marsi” as if it didn’t exist, let alone the “Miami Beach” nightclub. Almost every one of them refuses to talk about the dark postwar period, believing that they will be tainted even if they have information about that period. “Miami Beach” didn’t stay open for more than a year and a half, but it was enough to forget everything else that happened there, with or without intention.
By mid-2001 the facility was abandoned. The destruction began. Until October 2019 it still carried the bad reputation for the neighborhood. Most of them would rather prefer it to be wrecked than stay in such concrete pillars and filled with garbage. And others dare to imagine what it might look like if revitalized. For those who did not want to hear about the building anymore and those who had little hope, it was as if a spark of hope was lit when the reflectors were switched on during the artistic intervention. For some for the first time in their lives and others for the first time in nearly 20 years, the building took on a different meaning.
On October 15, “Kodra e Trimave” was packed with people who came from different parts of Prishtina and beyond, not to protest or something similar, but to celebrate. This time, along with residents, other people understood a piece of neighborhood history through the building. “Vranjevci” for the first time seemed to be stripped of its negative connotations that it had held for a long time. It opened the heart of hospitality and left the curiosity to triumph for good.
All this thanks to the wonderful work of artist Koja, the Foundation Shtatëmbëdhjetë team, and the young men and women who were part of the second edition of the “Metamorphosis” project called “Flirting With Leftovers”.
Implementation of the intervention and metamorphosis of the neighborhood
When it came to the second edition of “Metamorphosis”, the first thing was to find a building to intervene. The facility known as the former “Mars” restaurant had already been on our list, and the decision to work on that particular building was unanimous. Although little information was public about it, the mere presence of the building in the neighborhood, its stoic attitude sufficed to make the decision. With “Metamorphosis” the goal is to gather the collective memory and to bring attention to abandoned buildings. The renowned artist Koja was invited to realize the artistic intervention, and so “Metamorphosis II” began to take shape.
Young men and women who were selected to be part of the “Metamorphosis” workshop helped gather the collective memory by talking to neighborhood residents. Over the course of other research, the building’s story began to emerge. Searching through the archives – though unsuccessful as there were no documents of any kind for the facility – as well as the archives of newspapers, and numerous interviews shed light on the story.
Koja decided to put all the pieces together in one place. The story unfolded in the shoemaker’s kiosk in front of the building. In the eyes of the artist, this kiosk looked like something that had become an integral part of the building. The kiosk was cleaned and installed in the form of a white room which, though small, had much to show.
While the building itself remained untouched. In addition to reflectors meant to preserve the grandeur of the object, Koja’s goal was for the audience to experience the building as it is, untouched, and then enter the kiosk and read the story.
About 300 people were there from 6pm to 10pm. And the little kiosk didn’t occupy more than 5 people at the same time. The long line of neighborhood people but also those who had come to see the artistic intervention, which was ‘site specific’, coincided with the stories of the “Voçari”, “Mars” and others as they remembered wartime.
“Flirting With Leftovers” was also summed up in an art book, which goes beyond what was revealed during the artistic intervention. Now that book serves as a document not only for the building and neighborhood, but also as a historical and reference material for others.
In this form, “Metamorphosis” will continue to be one of the projects highlighting the role of architecture, collective memory and most importantly: bringing attention to abandoned buildings for the benefit of the community.