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Day tripping through Sarajevo.
May 2012 Tuzla: A crash course in building large-scale outdoor public sculpture.
I did Occupy AIR during a hot month of May in Tuzla 2012, Bosnia and Herzegovina where I was invited as an Artist In Residence. After 3 weeks, 5
lectures, 15 kilos of meat and 1 liter of Slivovitz, Occupy AIR was presented to the citizens of Tuzla at the Mercator Shopping Center May 12th, 14:00.
And after seeing thousands of names etched in stone of those who died during the Bosnian-Serbian war, we ended up building a living monument to life.
March 2013 Vienna:
The documentation of Occupy AIR 2012 was presented at the Michaela Stock Galerie in Vienna and I was then commissioned by the Federal
Chancellery of Austria to represent Österreich at the 2014 Centennial in Sarajevo. I now had 15 months (instead of 3 weeks), a budget and the same
Sarajevan architect I had in Tuzla, Emir Salkic.
April 2013 Vienna: Here’s your small satchel of gold coins and don’t come back until the job is done.
“Outsourcing to Sarajevo 2014” or O2S14
An even larger outdoor public inter active sculpture and exhibition platform (with 182 m2) in the shape of the word Outsourcing with images of 7
Austrian and BiH artists wallpapered onto the entire interior was proposed.
When asked by the curator at the Chancellery, “What are you Outsourcing?” I replied, “I’m not, you’re Outsourcing me an American artist from NYC
to represent Austria at the 2014 Centennial in Sarajevo” Here my unbridled confidence met with apprehension.
In all fairness how could they reflect back the same buoyancy? But this glass half empty spirit would not sway me even if it came by way of the hand
that was feeding the drive.
A timeline for the next 15 months illustrating all stages of development(s) was distributed to everyone tied to the commission. I was either producing a
prelude to a requiem or a coronation. But this isn’t done with reservation and without belief in one’s Architect as the commission came without any PR
or diplomatic support. I think they thought I would fail.
September 2013 Sarajevo: Hitting the ground running; Hello Despite House.
The meet and greet phase of the project.
Make a list, target and cross off small accomplishments along the way.
-Knock on doors.
-Pick a site for the sculpture.
-Pay artists their fee.
-Meet the printer for the PVC wallpaper and negotiate.
-Get the word out in Sarajevo starting in January with Bill Boards, “O2S14”
-Establish your neighborhood, IE, the nearest bar, the closest Falafel joint and kiosk for loading your BiH phone card, all no more than 100 meters from
-Find the nearest public indoor swimming pool. Try not to bump into children, one of them may be the daughter of a person of public office you’ll be
meeting later in the day.
-Get permit by the Municipality to build on Sarajevan land.
-Get official approval in writing to use a drone in the air space just across from the US Embassy.
A representative of the US Embassy suggested the “Meeting Point” to initiate the process. Perfect, 71 meters from the hotel. They were also kind enough
to let me know that I arrived without the contacts needed to make happen what I came there to do. In my hotel room and on the Internet I was looking for a
contact at the Austrian Embassy in Sarajevo to let them know who I was and why I was there.
Emir and I took the 2 meter model (1/10 scale) everywhere we had a meeting. We ambushed our appointments like AD MEN off Madison Avenue making
a hard pitch to a client, a trick of the trade to give them something to look at. We met with everyone needed (or so I thought) if we were going to succeed
to make this at the very least, plausible.
Ground Zero: We found our site for O2S14 between the National Museum and the Museum of History
off of the Zmaja od Bosne. A small boy of 2 or 3 sprung from his Mom’s hand and headed for the model for inspection.
After grilled meats and a few Sarajevskos at the restaurant of one stubborn man who forced the government to pay him his sack of gold and rebuild his
restaurant brick by brick across the river directly in front of City Hall there by named Despite House, I left Sarajevo looking forward to my review at the
Chancellery in January.
January 2014 Vienna: Scratch marks on a dream.
A second model (NY, Vienna and Sarajevo) accompanied me to the office of the Chancellery to show how the money was being spent. Photos of the 3 Bill
Boards already up in Sarajevo (launching the O2S14 campaign) were presented and met with the assumption that they were photo-shopped into the
landscape. It takes scratch marks to shine an apple. Unfortunately this one seemed to be atop my head.
March 2014, Sarajevo: Would you like a reality check with your coffee?
The Heart of Sarajevo had a web site listing all the top events for the week of June 21st thru the 28th . All the media would use this site to prioritize what
they will cover. I wanted O2S14 on this site. A representative from the European Coalition with very cool tattoos on her fingers served me a cup of coffee
and a wake up call; I had no reason being listed on the Heart of Sarajevo web page as my project was an independent venture and no one had heard of
this project or initiative. But there was a City listing.
Six months after my first stay in Sarajevo I realized I was simply establishing who is who, who is not and what they can and can’t or won’t do.
Sleeping with Models.
Then lights went out. It started to rain and Sarajevo had a blackout 14:00 in the afternoon. I didn’t realize this until I got back to my hotel. And after
proofing the printer's work, meeting with the Deputy Interior Minister, Radio Sarajevo, BHTV, Skype Conferencing with multiple cities near and far at the
Andre Malraux Center and meeting with my drone team, I took a nap.
At times its not who you sleep with but what that can put things in perspective and get you ready for the next day's agenda.
The following morning Emir handed me our permit from the Mayor’s office to build O2S14 in Sarajevo, It was on!
At the Academy I was asked, “Was it today?” and then it was suggested my Architect and I do our presentation at the University because…“the work is
more referencing Architecture than it does Art”.
And at the University two of Emir’s colleagues (faculty members) showed up. It was a sunny day for the students and
attendance was not required.
I didn’t mind, I was still gaining access to people and places and checking off items on my to do list. Besides it was a privilege to work in this city on this
project and to feel entitled to anything would have taken me out of the game.
Ludwig that American is banging on your drums.
That night before heading back to Vienna I got to play the drums left on the set by a Bavarian Band (sorry), before going on air live on the BHTV’s
program “This Friday”. I presented the model to the television audience and explained to them what my intensions were regarding O2S14. And on the way
back to the hotel I felt nirvana.
Friday Night, March 21st. and I air-drummed back to my hotel with “Walk this way” blaring in my head. Sarajevo, you’re making this fun!
April 2014, Vienna: Coffee with the Chancellery with images in the milk foam.
An attempt to shake the numbers down was brought to the table along with coffee with images in the milk foam. I was already short with the budget from
what we shook hands on back in the summer and left hearing, I didn’t need to be on the Heart of Sarajevo website. By then O2S14 had been on the web
site for almost a month.
June 22nd 2014 Sunday Sarajevo:
The vibe was good this day I arrived. The Grand Prix was in town and the international cycling race sponsored by the Tour De France was cruising
through the city and O2S14 would be presented six days later on the 28th.
With this first of 5 days to install we were to lay down the floor. But it was delayed to the next day in order to apply another coat of primer to the walls. We
would plane the field with a laser that evening. “Never allow the first day go without any physical evidence of production”. The loss of this day would
multiply throughout the rest of the week.
Tuesday 24th: OK who ordered a sculpture?
I received official clearance from the US Embassy in writing, to use a drone in the air space needed in order to document O2S14. This was pivotal in the
realization and the extravaganza of the event. Another email from them kindly let me know that they “noticed” no activity on Monday.
I was pensive, Emir had another word for it later in the week. The floor arrived in sections every 2 or 3 hours and I spent what seemed the entire day
watching a carpenter meticulously wedge up each of the 34 sections of the floor at ascending degrees to make it all level with what seemed like pieces of
scrap wood. The walls arrived 8 hours later with this great white vessel of hope and things began to take shape.
Painting Red the Trojan horse.
With the walls up and primed white I perched my self on the platform of the Museum of History some 60 meters away. It was a safe distance from the
painting stage. Everything seemed to be taking 3 times longer than needed, I was watching and waiting for the “pot to boil”. For 6 hours I studied the
pedestrian traffic to and from the Miljacka river and the Zmaja od Bosne. Emir would direct the journalists who came to interview me to where to find me.
By day’s end it was apparent we made the right decision to position the sculpture with its 2 entrances facing the Museum of History parallel with the dirt
path the pedestrians made on their daily commute.
Another 16hour day and the outside walls were Red. Plastic was fastened over the sculpture to protect the floor and the interior from possible night rain
and morning due.
The power of a 7 Iron.
Emir came by the Hotel at what we hoped was the end of another 12 hour day to report the accomplishments and set-backs with nothing but
determination on his face. He became a father for the first time the week before. We were sitting in the quaint lobby of the family owned and run Hotel
MOD when the sky unleashed a torrent of rain. With the mother of his new born son Noah waiting in the car, his phone rang. It was the security guard
saying that the wind lifted the plastic covering off the sculpture like a kite and a small lake had engulfed its floor.
I felt helpless, worthless really, seeing him leave at that moment with the world on his shoulders, not defeated but he knew what it meant and mercifully
kept it from me.
Because he always keeps his bag in the back of his car, he pulled out his 7 iron and smashed 1meter holes through the floor so that the water could
escape and installed a heavier industrial tarp (22 x 10 meters) over the sculpture buttressed with aluminum extension poles.
The floor was totaled but the Sculpture was still standing.
Thank god for Architects who play Golf.
Thursday 26th: No Glory without the Gory and “Don’t be so American”.
With the tarp up over the sculpture throughout the day, O2S14 was now looking like a mock triage center. 28 aluminum extension poles were braced
between the demolished floor and the tarp as were the Margo crew of 3 who somehow persevered and wall papered the interior walls with the artists’
images under this cloak of engulfing red light while navigating over and around 1meter wide and 35cm deep craters left from last night’s savage rescue. A
crew of 4 carpenters from Buljsac was also inside, sanding down each and every square centimeter that would otherwise protrude from underneath the
incoming PVC wallpaper following right behind them..
As I mentioned, we were short a day and back logged with our to do list and now we needed to replace the entire floor with the official opening
presentation just a mere 40 hours away. I of course took this moment to invite the curator from Federal Chancellery of Austria to come for a sneak peek
at the carnage if only to raise her skepticism and blood pressure.
Ship of Fools…
Emir was configuring files from an Italian program into Bosnian for the CNC that was needed to re cut the floor. All measurements had to be re configured
for all 34 sections of the floor. Perhaps fittingly, I was alone with the sculpture as night would descend over powering the 2 small flash lights I brought in
order to maneuver around the poles and keep the tarp from collapsing under the weight of the puddles of rain that eventually accumulated where ever
the tarp wasn’t pitched up by a pole. To avoid total collapse it was necessary to push and shift the accumulating water over to the outside edge of the
walls by re positioning the poles continuously. As one puddle was removed, two more would develop while the rain increased. The sound of aluminum
poles crashing to the floor every 2 minutes or so prompted the security guard to call out my name to make sure I was still conscious. The sculpture that
was to serve as an inverted 21C Trojan horse for people to enter and celebrate was now a ship with a fool inside trying desperately to hold up its sails.
This would continue for 4 more hours as I felt far from shore.
“And the darkest hour is just before dawn”
In my hotel, the now menacing gentle rain tried to lull me to sleep as I envisioned 16 months of work and Austrian taxpayers’ money succumb to pulp and
PVC on Sarajevan soil. I recalled instances during the last few months the feathers I may have ruffled of those I felt were disingenuous towards O2S14.
Cowering under the blankets the statement “Don’t be so American” made earlier in the evening made its last pass in my head like a gate-keeper coming
around one more time before handing over their keys to the next shift.
Friday 27th. O2S14’s first public visitor.
First thing in the morning we removed the tarp. This was huge. We weathered the storm and turned a corner. The Sun was out as if with a vengeance
and the new floor would be laid down.
The Buljsac crew replaced re-fit and modified each of the 34 floor panels covering 122 m2. Margo’s crew followed almost literally on their heels laying
down the patterned PVC non-slip foil. We’d exorcize all the accumulated angst of the last 5 days and now we could decompress.
Twilight put a deep yellow glow atop the National Museum. And Emir and I were about to leave when we heard a yelp from a little girl who ran up the ramp
because she just had to step inside and stand on the colored circles.
Only the caps for the walls were to be fastened. That was tomorrow’s task before the opening and we were about to see what was accomplished in this
land where amongst strangers the only conduit was a drawing, a model and an architect.
Saturday, 28th 14:00: Outsourcing to Sarajevo on a Sunny Afternoon.
O2S14 was presented to the people of Sarajevo and the BiH region not as a political tool to commemorate the 100th year anniversary of the assassination
of a political figure igniting the flames of WWI, but instead as a birthday cake in celebration of the day itself, a sculpture one can interact with by entering it
to view an exhibition of work by contemporary artists from the BiH region and Austria. Having an active part in defining their own role in this historic day
they became enabled participants and not passive standbys. And from here O2S14 was entrenched with active inquisitors and playful guests.
Sunday 29th 09:30: “Nice to meet you Mr. President.”
President Heinz Fischer of Austria and his entourage with matrix looking security came the next day. The President was personable and eager to enter
O2S14 and made certain to survey all the artists’ images with genuine interest and appointment.
And while the FCA may be shy to recognize the accomplishment of the event, I am forever thankful yet humbled to have had the opportunity to represent
Austria and (with full cooperation of the people of Sarajevo and the BiH region) contribute to their initiative to establish a cultural exchange with the
Balkan region. And I’m relieved to exhibit a work that upheld the quality of the 14 artists’ who shared images of their work in O2S14, proving the Federal
Chancellery of Austria chose well in choosing me to represent their land of beauty and bounty.
Under the auspices of the 2014 Centennial the mission was to build a large-scale outdoor public sculpture in Sarajevo without compromise to form. One
that would serve also as an exhibition platform enabling the community it to occupy its space rather than it occupying theirs as a monolithic object
pretending to have omnipotent powers. And for it to have a transient existence yet sustaining effect with its community without over staying it’s welcome by
being built as sturdy as all other structures around it but removing it in 12 days, enticing memory to sustain it.
The Transient Monument.
One leaves a place better than the way in which they discovered it. But I leave Sarajevo better than I arrived. There I had the context and humanity that
enabled me to produce on a level I once could only aspire to. An American’s dream comes true day tripping through Sarajevo.
If one thing remains it would be the only logical next step; to extend this experience to the people of Austria/Vienna and by building this work there,
reciprocate the cultural exchange that was initiated by their office of Arts and Cultural Affairs, Federal Chancellery of Austria. By doing this we all will be
the heirs of the gift of exchange.
July 1st Epilogue.
If you're a swimmer and travel then you know this; going to the public swimming pool in the city you're in is one way to pick up the vibe of that city. Another
way is to go to the closest Emergency Room. And after my entire Viennese fan base of 3 left Sarajevo, (which btw has one of the world's largest athletic
pools I've ever swam in), I had to pay the ER of the local hospital a visit. I told them I was affiliated with the Austrian Embassy and was led straight to a
care station. I had a Doctor in 3 minutes with very good bedside manners, EKG, respiratory check with Xray, full blood work, a shot in the ass (quite long)
to calm me down, some pills and in 1hr, 20minutes I walked out with a hand on my shoulder and warm regards, a prescription and the Bill written on a
small piece of paper:
39BKM: €19/$24, and faith in the world.
Sarajevo I miss you already.