The Monuments of Skopje 2014: Constructing Macedonian National Identity

main square from the Stone Bridge

It’s been a busy time lately as I’ve been preparing to give a talk at a conference, “The Rhetoric and Aesthetics of Memory,” at the Meadows Museum in Dallas this weekend. I’ll be presenting a portion of my thesis research on Skopje 2014, a building project in Skopje, Macedonia.

Cultural memory and memorialization is often a contested issue in the post-socialist countries of Central and Eastern Europe, despite (and because of) the fact that government-mandated art policies designed to support a regime’s power have disappeared from the region with the fall of Socialism. However, this current building project recalls the authoritarian monuments of those ideologically controlled policies. “Skopje 2014” is a current urban renovation project in Macedonia’s capital designed to emphasize a strained connection to a classical past through extensive new building and over forty new monuments in the city center.


A striking example is Warrior on a Horse, a sculpture of Alexander the Great on a rearing house atop a triumphal column that towers over Macedonia Square. ‘Alexander,’ as it is generally called, is 48 feet tall on its own, and it sits on top of a cylindrical column that is 33 feet tall. Three large ivory battle friezes wrap up the column. At the base of the column are eight bronze soldiers, each ten feet tall. The enormous structure is underscored by the fountain it stands in. Eight bronze lions surround the pool of the fountain and four of the lions spray water from their mouths. The fountain periodically shoots water in choreographed streams, tinged by multi-colored lights, in time with classical music blasting from enormous megaphones raised on poles around the square, channeling ancient Rome via Las Vegas.

The Quirky Uncanny: Ceramic Sculpture by Klara Kristalova

Klara Kristalova, The Sleepless (2011), glazed stoneware and porcelain

Klara Kristalova, The Sleepless (2011), glazed stoneware and porcelain

Between my new enthusiasm for Robert Gober and recent introduction to Gregor Schnieder’s Dead House u r, I am full up on the uncanny, whether you consider it “the name for everything that ought to have remained hidden and secret and has become visible” or the familiar made strange through repression (for both ideas, see Freud’s The Uncanny). Sweden-based artist Klara Kristalova creates ceramic figurines of people, animals, and the hybrids in-between that call on the lighter, quirkier side of the uncanny, where the strange and secret might yet be a friendly force.


Birdwoman, 2013, glazed stoneware

Kristalova’s  playful work suggests childhood fairytales and fantasies come true, but with a disturbing erosion of natural boundaries and identities. I saw work by the artist recently at the Norton Museum, where the images below were taken, but the artist is represented stateside by Lehmann Maupin gallery. These works recall, in form but also in whimsy, Meissen porcelain figures writ large. I really enjoy the tactile quality of the material itself, and how the handmade aesthetic suggests these subjects are somehow personal to the artist. At the same time, each figure seems to contain its own animus, so that I empathize all the more with its uneasy relationship to this world.





The Black Unconscious: Odilon Redon’s Lithographs of St. Anthony

Redon_Plate 13_...And eyes that without heads were floating like mollusks

Plate 13 “…And eyes that without heads were floating like mollusks”

I think of dreamy, smudged pinks and blues when I think of the work of Odilon Redon, the 19th century French Symbolist artist. However, a recurring concern of the artist was the temptation of St. Anthony by the devil, as told in a popular contemporary book by Gustave Flaubert, which Redon rendered in lithograph three times over the course of his life. Flaubert wrote an imaginative version of the saint’s story featuring mythical beasts, different religious traditions, and a mystical journey. “The Nightmare Transported into Art: Odilon Redon’s St. Anthony,” a recently closed exhibition at the Georgia Museum of Art, displayed a complete set of Redon’s 1896 series of prints. Redon’s imaginative lithographs often imaged unusual or unimportant narrative moments. For example, although impossible sea creatures are not prominent in the tale, the artist enjoyed the opportunity to give them form, as in Plate 13 (above).

OdilonRedon_Plate 18_AnthonyWhat is the point of all of this

Plate 18 “Anthony: What is the point of all of this? The Devil: There is no point.”

These lithographs embrace their black and white nature to great but mysterious effect, so that, even with captions taken from Flaubert’s book, they require interpretation from the viewer. Despite my initial idea of the artist, Redon had a strong preference for black. The artist wrote that:

Black is the most essential color. …Black should be respected. Nothing prostitutes it. It does not please the eye and does not awaken sensuality. It is the agent of the spirit much more than the splendid color of the palette or of the prism.

In fact, in lithographs, etchings, and charcoal drawings, Redon used only black in his work from 1870 until 1895. This obvious contrast to the concurrent work of the Impressionists, with their preference for sparkling color and rejection of black even in shadows, suggests the commitment of Redon to a hidden, interior world rather than the material one that the Impressionists strove to document.