Dalibor Prančević Building as a Narrative "Screen"
An interest in archival material and its use has been in the focus of Viktor Popović’s artistic process for several years, not simply with the aim of transcribing and presenting historical content but as a way of reactivating timeworn documents and photo documentation for critical reflection and contemporary readings. Of course, re-elaborated by the artist! The older document is being repurposed in order to facilitate discussion of the current moment and its neuralgic points and to find a possible direction for future actions, some future course. The use, therefore, triggers the transformative potential of the stored and seemingly inert archival material. Indeed, to interpret such an act as a nostalgic escape or a mere contemplation of the past would be completely wrong. This is the case of an artist narrating the phenomena of urban space, its planning and scale. In the specific time frame of: yesterday, today, tomorrow! If we were to apply the idea of nostalgic refuge to such an artistic decision, then it would only be in the manner in which Svetlana Boym contemplates nostalgia in her book The Future of Nostalgia, suggesting a completely different and more dynamic conception of space and time that is found beyond the static anchoring in the present moment sweetened by recollections. A conception wherein personal experiences and collective memories intertwine in the permanent tension of their retrospective, but also prospective movements. It seems this is precisely the key needed to approach this restrained, but directly critical artistic speech of Viktor Popović.
The cornerstone of Viktor’s reflections and reaction is the urban and architectural planning of Split’s third city raion (district) from the late 1960s. By writing textual fragments on the façade of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences’ building in Split, which has been designed at the intersection of two epochs and different socio-political paradigms by architect Dražen Colnago, as the Brodomerkur business and commercial building, the artist actually problematises the urban and architectural heritage from the late 1960s and through the 1970s. Specifically, Popović selects a few sentences from the archival document for the Split 3 project – Basic urban design – Textual part: preliminary technical description and report from November 1969, and applies them to the recognisable façade, turning it into an active staff notation, thus questioning the appearance and nature of the present-day city.
The new scale that appears in the Split 3 complex is conditioned by the character of this complex as well as the organic continuation of the city centre to the east… The city is an act of will and must increasingly be the subject of a conscious design effort and a preoccupation of the most thoughtful and intelligent forces in society.
The remains of Roman centuriation could be used in planning transportation links and other structural elements in the new part of the city.
The street becomes a social centre again.
This archival document sets extremely high standards of urban planning and architecture which is evident primarily in the collaborative vein demonstrated by the creative and mindful individuals who view the city in its entirety, and respect the pre-existing situation worthy of special attention by establishing a dialogue with it, especially when it comes to the natural configuration of the terrain or preservation of the existing green oases, but also significant archaeological layers. Particularly noteworthy in this regard is the Roman centuriation from the pre-Diocletian period, which this urban design respects as the first spatial conceptualisation of the terrain and its planning. Of course, this new urban planning scale adopted in the late 1960s does not only engage in dialogue with the original spatial concept of this urban territory, but also with the Diocletian’s Palace and its axis, which deviates significantly from the existing centuriation. The reflex of this is manifested in the somewhat curved route of the Ruđer Bošković Street. Urban design on such a scale is actually a novel phenomenon in this region and it demonstrates the concept of urbanism as an openly collaborative process between experts and the wider community. Furthermore, urbanism as a palimpsest of different temporalities, in conceptual and material terms, actually becomes a test of our present time that either respects or completely ignores the experiences of past spatial conceptualisations. It is not about a priori denying the introduction of any change, but about questioning the way in which that change is considered and how it relates to the original urban concept and other subsequent layers. Simply put, it raises awareness of the importance of valuing the continuity of spatial concept and its alterations. It should be noted that history shows that sudden discontinuities are often resolved in the process of creating a bypass and in an effort to reconstruct uninterrupted speech. This seems to be the fundamental premise of harmonious urban space.
Viktor’s artistic act transforms the static aesthetics of the architectural exterior, primarily into a platform of very dynamic public discourse. It is a creative process that has never before been recorded in the artistic historiography of the city of Split on this scale and in this form, and its location encourages the potential for critical consideration of public space management today, that is, its planning, design and use. The choice of location, as well as the artist’s interest in this urban zone are not random and stem from, among other things, recognising and recording his personal psychogeography because this is the space the artist grew up in, and is also where he currently resides. To some extent, Viktor’s artistic research and direct reaction – which could conversely be viewed from the perspective of an anthropological need to connect the inner and the outer – opens the rigid boundary between his life and artistic experience and presents an active narrative on urbanism and architecture today, with all its problems and possible solutions.