CONCENTRATION CAMPING IN CROATIA
The artist duo Sadofsky & Trantina rattle a closet full of skeletons at the Croatian Biennial of painting 2017.
It is not often that painters dig up memories of mass graves. Sadofsky & Trantina’s project “Camping in Slana”, exhibited in the Meštrovič Pavilion, is comprised of two radically executed large paintings and a pile of stones, all tied through with a rectangle of red tape on the ground. The red tape floor plan is the imagined recreation of a space from the ghost-site of the concentration camp that many Croatians still pretend never existed. The installation bears the title “Reconcentration” and is created with stones, taken directly from the ruins of the concentration camp in Uvala Slana.
“The piece is called Reconcentration because what we have essentially done is bring the memory of events from the periphery to the centre. Through this installation, created with the actual stones of the former death camp, we are reconcentrating the fragmented memory of these events back in the centre – the circular central structure of the Meštrovič Pavilion in the capital city,” explains Sadofsky.
The central piece of “Camping in Slana” is a wild painting sized 2 x 3,6 meters, bearing the tell-tale title “Mussolini in His Batman Costume Shutting Down the Concentration Camp in Metajna - Slana”. Another canvas installed on the floor across the red tape is called “Czech Adriatic”. It is a bizarre depiction of a stupid-looking woman relaxing on a beach, cigarette in hand and a plastic bottle of beer within grasp.
“When we went to the site of the Slana concentration camp, we actually came upon a group of Czech tourists swimming and sunbathing, just like on our painting. The beach is very nice there,“ says Sadofsky.
Dan Trantina adds: “Most countries in Europe have some dirty secrets in their past. There is very little dialog in Croatia about their Ustashist atrocities and the existence the Metajna-Slana concentration camp is even denied by some locals. The plaque on the site reminding of the historical events is regularly destroyed and currently is nowhere to be found. The former head of the largest concentration camp Jasenovac, Dinko Šakić, was buried with officialities after his death in 2008, dressed in the Ustashe uniform and was proclaimed during the ceremonial ‘the model citizen for all Croats’. Camping in Slana is an experimental look at the Croatian present through reinterpretation of past events. We are painting the ghosts of today.”
“Many nations have trouble admitting the crimes of their past, like the Croats. The Austrians, for example, advertise themselves as the “first victim” of Nazi Germany, yet they do not mention often, that they had more concentration camp commanders per capita than Germans themselves. The Czechs don’t like to admit to the mass killings of Sudetten Germans during their expulsion from the country after the war. But the fascinating aspect of the Metajna-Slana history is that it was the Italian Fascists who had to close these death camps, because it was too much even for them,” says Sadofsky.
Sadofsky & Trantina’s work often revolves around social and political themes. In 2015 they exhibited a monumental statue “Reconstruction as Tragedy and Farce” in front of the European Parliament in Brussels showing an East-German migrant brutally killed in the attempt of crossing the iron curtain from Czechoslovakia to Austria. The Sculpture caused a great controversy leading to attempts of immediate removal by some of the MPs. In the past decades Sadofsky’s former project, the Pode Bal collective, had been significantly engaged in discussion around social and political themes and is credited to having repoliticised the art scene in the Czech Republic since the late 1990s.