“The whole of Martićeva, from its very beginning all the way to Kvatrić and Šime’s restaurant, has become a key space where people like walking and staying. People have created the space and formed a bond with it.”
At the very first glance, the office of the Shadow Casters association in a lively apartment at 44 Martićeva Street is an embodiment of a “creative mess”. Numerous shelves and closets are filled from top to bottom with piles of paper, files, registries, electronic equipment and various other objects — heaps of unusual memorabilia that the Casters have saved from various projects they have initiated and worked on, as well as endless pillars of books and publications, all of which gives the space a peculiar charm and warmth. The most important room in the apartment — the kitchen — completely reveals the intensity of life there, and the small balcony with a view to the inner backyard of the block is ideal for a quick smoke break and sunbathing between daily obligations. Most initiatives and actions that the Casters have undertaken in the past fifteen years since they have existed and during which time they have represented a relevant force at the local, regional and international art scene, were conceived in this space.
Since the Shadow Casters were founded in 2002, Boris Bakal, Katarina Pejović, Željko Serdarević and Stanko Juzbašić have worked in the association, while over the years many others have worked there or cooperated with the Casters (some of them still do), such as Leo Vukelić, Sandra Uskoković, Mare Šuljak, Anja Pletikosa, Srećko Horvat, Barbara Blasin, Vanja Žanko, Bojan Navojec, Vedran Senjanović, Marko Tadić, Iva Kovač and many others. Most Shadow Casters’ projects can be described as “sculptures in time” that explore the relationship between people and space in various ways, getting involved with experimental theatre, performances, fine arts, film and other media.
We talked to Boris Bakal (Zagreb, 1959), film and stage director, author, actor, multimedia artist and Shadow Casters manager, about the very beginnings of their joined effort and about the projects related to the neighbourhood we work and/or live in. We learned a lot of things we couldn’t have learned anywhere else!
Boris Bakal: The Shadow Casters have worked in the neighbourhood since 2002, when we got an opportunity to rent an office in the Vitić skyscraper. Later, in 2007, we moved to our current location at 44 Martićeva Street. We wanted to stay in the neighbourhood because Vitić Dances was and remains one of our most comprehensive and most important projects, and we really wanted to show that its methodology worked. It is important to say that in the beginning, the project didn’t have the current dimensions and goals that have now been achieved; it was rather focused on questioning the classic model of artistic work with the local community and the integration of its elements in the project.
However, as soon as we moved into the skyscraper, we realized the project could not be realized in that form. Due to the political changes in the nineties and the war itself, the idea of togetherness was completely corrupted. The residents of the Vitić skyscraper clashed on all levels: ideological, class, national… Of course, the clash never really escalated, but it was evident from the state of the common rooms… Everything contrary to the original idea of modern, common living happened. In that situation, a project where we would bring foreign artists to cooperate with the local population made no sense.
So we went the other way round and started creating and encouraging the community from scratch. We organized the so-called Extended Tenants’ Council Meetings in the Vitić skyscraper, to which we invited artists and cultural workers who played co-owners/tenants and talked about what they would change in the community and how, and we reported our conclusions to the actual co-owners. And something fantastic happened — while we were having meetings, the tenants gradually started doing the same and we eventually joined forces. That is how the whole thing started.
Now, after twelve years of work, the reconstruction of the Vitić skyscraper is going to be the largest project of that kind in Croatia since the last war. I think it is a great success for the tenants as well as for us and the wider urban community, because we have enjoyed continuous help from the Zagreb Society of Architects members — architects and thinkers such as Bogdan Budimirov, Niko Gamulin, Vladimir Mattioni, the late Boris Magaš (author of Poljud Stadium) and Fedor Kritovac… Kritovac used to live in Vojnovićeva Street and he designed the first park in front of the Vitić skyscraper, as a young architect with a knowledge of horticulture.
— Since they have been here since the early 00s, we were interested in how Boris and the Shadow Casters interpreted the changes which have affected the neighbourhood since then. Do they go hand in hand with the life rhythm of the residents and how are they manifested?
BB: While we worked on the Vitić Dances project, we explored the whole neighbourhood to collect family photographs of living people because we believed they would help us illuminate the time of its construction. For example, the brother of the People’s Hero Janko Gredelj, an old partisan himself, who lived across the Vitić skyscraper, told us about how they built the neighbourhood on their own. During socialism, people started work very early in the morning, they would work from 6 am to 2 pm, go home for lunch and then afterwards they would do construction work in the neighbourhood. The neighbourhood was built by the people who lived here, such work actions were organized until the 50s or 60s. The entire part of the city east of the Vitić skyscraper was a factory, workers’ part of the city that accommodated abbatoirs and companies like Elka, Sila, Arko… The building we are in right now, as well as all of the surrounding buildings, were rental buildings for the workers and officials. When I was 15 or 16, I worked at the conveyor belt at Badel in order to make some money for summer holidays and trips… So I got to know the whole factory from the inside.
If there is anything that has definitely changed the identity of the neighbourhood, it is Booksa. We held the Extended Tenants’ Council Meetings in Booksa, outside of their working hours. Maybe two out of five meetings were organized in the space of the local district office, because the districts had started working entirely under the party system imposed by HDZ, SDP or HNS, depending on who was in charge in a particular neighbourhood… The local districts used to be the central points of local cultural life. When Haustor, Film or Prljavo Kazalište started playing, they held shows in local district offices and cultural centres, in Barutanski Jarak, Utrina, everywhere…
Following the fall of Yugoslavia and consequentially the disintegration of the network of local districts, the districts lost a very important role in the cohesion of local residents. Booksa has changed the vista of the neighbourhood, it has positioned it in a certain place in the consciousness of young people and culture workers. The cafes has always been dynamic places of social gathering and creative exchange. Eventually, the whole of Martićeva, from its very beginning all the way to Kvatrić and Šime’s restaurant, which we all know (as “Šime’s”, although it is actually Duje’s), has a key space where people like walking and staying. People create the space, make a bond with it — if you are not emotionally connected to a space, it is empty for you.
There is one other important thing we have forgotten to mention — Operation: City in 2005. Almost 60 cultural, art and humanitarian associations joined forces, led by 5-6 organizations who initiated the Zagreb, Cultural Capital of Europe 3000 platform and Clubture civil associations network. They included Platform 9.81, BLOK’s UrbanFestival, WHW, Mama, and us… We invested all our resources, collected about a million kuna and during the ten-day manifestation in the Badel-Gorica factory block we presented an enormous quantity of unconventional, exciting cultural content. The Badel building was in a solid state, but Gorica was cleaned from top to bottom by the UrbanFestival and Shadow Casters themselves. Our show Ex-position, that has been running for a decade, premiered there. It was one of the first attempts at a real revival of the neighbourhood and the whole city. We really tried to attract the locals and we communicated with them in various ways, but at the time the area was still mostly occupied by pensioners. To them, it was all entirely new, but today maybe it is not so new any more. Today everybody comes to Booksa and other similar places, but then it was a completely new, pioneering phenomenon.