In spring 2017, a new space for the exhibition of contemporary art and the support of local art production in the Balkans was created in Belgrade, Serbia. This space is the material manifestation of an ongoing conversation between the directors of EUGSTER || BELGRADE, a cultural platform newly founded in the form of an art gallery, and the Zürich-based research and creative association, TEN.
‘My definition of magic in the human personality is the ultimate level of attentiveness.’
Jim Harrison, writer and poet, 1937-2016
Principle questions concerned the development of the new spatial project in an old industrial shed, how suitable and appropriate means of construction might be defined whilst still being attentive to finding industrial conditions, and the possibilities an architectural response may offer toward the understanding of contemporary exhibition space today.
The values guiding the new design were formed mostly around a sense of place and a sense of the appropriate. TEN was interested in the shed’s harbor surroundings, whose ordinary condition—a tremendous frequency of workers shuttling between innumerable storage spaces and warehouses—reveals the anonymous yet rich thread of production to be found behind our daily life and culture. Little do we know of the objects and products of our daily need that are made here; and such should apply also to the case of the manufactories’ new neighbor. Therefore the new gallery’s lack of facade, and therefore its utter respect for the anonymity of its immediate surrounding. To find it, you must ask a local for directions.
Though applied with finer and more gracious measures, we believe these conditions equally appropriate to the observation of art production; it is from this that stems the industrial spirit of the new contemporary gallery alongside its working title, Lager. The building both stores and displays artworks, having already a long memory of deposition borne in scars and traces of its past use. A practical array of maker ’s fingers remains a key to developing new capacities for art and construction. Works of art are only placed in storage according to the artists’ and curators’ intentions, so that the activity of the space resists static definition and lies, decisive in its irresolution, somewhere between storage, exhibition and a celebration of the atmosphere of working buildings—celebration of the acts of creation.
The spatial capabilities of the gallery are numerous, yet orientation within it is always related precisely to an implied, axial origin point given by the void at which its rooms and walls meet; the imaginary yet rigorous coordinating grids that may be extrapolated from this point offer specific possibilities for movement and display whilst catering to the practical solutions required of an art gallery. The visitor encounters rooms of the same spatial structure and proportion, but each derives a charged specificity from its altered position within the frame of the overall space; each is entered on a different orientation and under a different internal sky. Their structure offers a series of scales and sequences that a visitor is invited to steadily discover in turns.
The language of the architecture resonates with lightness and heaviness through acts of making the new and excavating the old. We have made repairs and expressed building loads and supports, vividly exposing the borders of the newly imagined and found. The attitude of the inserted architectural elements towards the found remains simple and silent.
We believe traces should not be removed, but rather reimagined in a precise and careful conversation through which a sense of culture is constructed. Any challenges encountered during construction found their structural resolution in a gentle encounter of the new and the old. Observation and construction of the most modest items lies at the center of this new spatial project.
A continuing engagement between the architects and the gallery’s directors meant that the desired space could be located conceptually and concretely from the outset in old Belgrade harbor; this brought its own special architectural possibilities. The harbor spans several acres of land both occupied and brownfield on the northern side of Belgrade, has direct access to the Danube to the one side and is bordered to the other by train tracks leading out from the city.
The larger site resembles an island.
In the country and in its capital in particular, where a lack of political will has seen both the Museum of Contemporary Art and National Museum closed for renovation for over 12 years, there are only a handful of resistant entities seeking forms for the production and display of contemporary art. EUGSTER || BELGRADE has vowed to initiate this new platform primarily to support young contemporary artists in the region of the Balkans, sparking greater visibility and international presence for local art tendencies and bringing them into closer conversation with a broader public.
This site is a place of creation and demolition, and much like the country’s broader socio-political context has undergone changes resulting from economic pressures, shifts in state ideology and attempts at visual makeover during the transition from a collective to a more individual, neo-liberal spirit of governance. The site inspires with its anonymity, acquired under such long besiegement. The former free port of Belgrade today is an ensemble of many buildings mostly held by an unknown private interest that determines the use and routes of the daily trading cycles. Moments discovered of intimacy and provisional making are matched equally by acts of public generosity and skillful engineering. We have encountered craft and necessitated invention every day on our walks to and from the gallery.
In less than 6 months since the gallery first opened, 5 shows have been presented to a broad audience, attracting
the attention of international and local institutions of cultural production, and awakening the pulse of the local scene. The response has continuously grown with support from public and private spheres and has helped to create a new address for public art display. Young artists have a new site and impetus for conversations.