SOUVENIRS LOST • Spomenik von Jan Kempenaers : forlorn monuments of forgotten meaning, decay in aesthetic melancholia
The stranger-than-strange monuments captured in this book from the former Republic of Yugoslavia remind us just how quickly our habits of perception and habits in general can be subject to change.
The so-called Spomeniks were tracked down by Belgian photographer Jan Kempenaers in a labour of love. For three years, he has been travelling all over the Balkan countries for his project to capture these treasures of the 60s and 70s on camera.
In its day, the government commissioned hundreds of these monuments, which became the centre of attraction for tourists and were served as monuments, marking the sites of concentration camps, historic sites, battlefields and mass graves.
These hallmarks stand testament to the tumultuous dissolving of the union, full of atrocities that had been deemed lost and forgotten for ages, and in defiance of a shocking lack of interest as far as the European public was concerned.
Stripped of every notion of context, left to decay and rot as mere objects of touch and immediate perception, the monuments appear to be oddly vulnerable and forlorn:
Willem Jan Neutelings writes in the book : "The Antwerp-based photographer Jan Kempenaers undertook a laborious trek through the Balkans in order to photograph a series of these mysterious objects. He captures the Spomeniks in the misty mountain landscape at sundown.
Looking at the photographs one must admit to a certain embarrassment. We see the powerful beauty of the monumental sculptures and we catch ourselves forgetting the victims in whose name they were built.
This is in no way a reproach to the photographer, but rather attests to the strength of the images.
After all, Kempenaers did not set out as a documentary photographer, but first and foremost as an artist seeking to create a new image.
An image so powerful that it engulfs the viewer. He allows the viewer to enjoy the melancholy beauty of the Spomeniks, but in so doing, forces us to take a position on a social issue."
SPOMENIK by Jan Kempenaers
published by Roma Publications
64 pp, hardcover
33 x 24 cm
Design: Roger Willems
ISBN 978 90 77459 50 8