a r (T) c h i p e l g u l a g
Lost in the northern Kvarner, between the shore and the islands Rab, Prvica and St. Grgur, with surface of just a little bit more than 4km2, culminated on some 230m over the blue Adriatic, Goli otok - disreputable penitentiary for political opponents from 50-ties, and later (until its closing in 1989), prison complex - that most people compared with Alcatraz or Devil’s Island of French south-American province Cayenne from film classic “Papillon”, nowadays on some “unusual” way is again becoming live. Multimedia Centre “Palach” from Rijeka, for fifth year now, is organizing artistic action “Goli otok - New Croatian tourism”, with aim to transform this old communist prison in some kind of center of “Art Tourism”.
Bare rocks, sea and rare trees are in contrast with deserted, sacked and devastated prison complex, inhabited, while about the past can witnessed only still ghastly stone facades of prison buildings and hotel complex - in that time, vacation place for political elite. That is definitely exact ambient for artistic expression on - especially in this region - always-actual theme of human freedom and personal destiny.
“Concept of New Croatian tourism is implying creation of the conditions for quality cultural, artistic expression in the areas and places who with their historical, natural and urban signification are in a merit of the same, and it was unjustly less-favored. This conditions should be used as the base of the development of the tourism (New Croatian tourism) as market service and initiator of the changes in named areas, and they are there to make an obstacle to the actual touristic concept based on the populist or elitist culture with questioned values and aims” are the words and truly light-motive of Damir Čargonja - Charlie, director of MMC Rijeka and initiator of this project, who on 2000, with small group of ambition and willful like-minded, started - now already traditional - summer art-expedition on Goli otok. From then, Goli otok was visited by more than hundred Croatian and foreign artists, and the highest visit was in 2002, when action was supported in financial and logistic way by City of Rijeka and Primorsko-goranska županija.
Then in the campaign participated around fifty artist, art critics and friends of the project from Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Austria, Italia, as well as from Latvia, South Korea and Japan. Being there three days (July, 19-21 2002), they did more than twenty installations and the same number of performances, from which the most significant were installation “Shadows” of Rijeka’s sculptor Zvonimir Kamenjar, art action by inevitable performance-artist Zlatko Kutnjak, as well as whole series of installations made by several young Bosnian artists (Danijel Premec, Emir Kapetanović and Edo Vejselović), supervised by sarajevan artist Jusuf Hadžifejzović, who’s been temporally in art exile in Belgium. Their own works and marks on Goli otok did also numerous artist lead by Branko Cerovac, Sven Stilinović, Tina Radetić, Nemanja Cvijanović, Vlatko Vincek, Deni Sesnić, Vladi Bralić and others, and especially those who came from abroad (Maks Sajbald, Marija Kristina Zanon, Juki Konsio, Kristina Alksna and others) who were impressed by Goli otok. All that, as well as this year, was watched “with curiosity” by big number of the tourists who visit the island, coming with small touristic boats from near-by islands Rab and Krk.
Beside that, along the expedition was made also video documentation, as well as the documentary film in which the most significant mark were testimonies of authentic “habitants of Goli otok”.
Nowadays, in 2004, almost two years after the significant positive echo of the project “New Croatian tourism”, situation was dramatically changed - the area of Goli otok was given as concession in use to the hunting society “Kuna” from Lopare (Rab island), with what was seriously putted in danger the perspective of the future development of the initial idea of MMC as well as all of those who help and support this idea.
Aside of the leading people of MMC, other groups and individuals, in defense of the project, in the first line we can find theatre group Ulysses by internationally recognized Croatian actor Rade Šerbedžija, along with Croatian director Lenka Udovicki and actress Vanessa Redgrave and others - that were welcomed concerning this issue by the Croatian President Stjepan Mesić.
They show their support by putting the show “Play Beckett” on Brijuni islands and putting the work of the Beckett’s pearl of the theatre’s absurd “Waiting for Godot” into the context of Goli otok between 1949 and 1956, as kind of “absurd dialog” between two totally opposite poles of ancient Yugoslav regime - Brioni islands and Goli otok.
This whole formally-legal play about future destiny of Goli otok still didn’t stopped group of artists gathered around Čargonja, Stilinović and Cerovac (Igor Večerina, Krešo Kovačićek, Istria’s performers duo Andrej Zbašnik and David Belas…) to go on Goli otok again this year, to install on the place exhibition “Missing” of well-known Bosnian artist Andrej Đerković, dedicated to the Srebrenica’s victims and to do the action-performance “Wake”.
Đerković’s work (actually exhibited in Galerija Kortil as the part of the official program of Festival of New arts FONA - Rijeka 2004 and after will be shown in Toulouse, Geneva, after what will be given back definitely to the Memorial Center in Srebrenica in which collection is part of) is consist from 69 achromatic white boards on which with Braille are written the names of missing victims of Srebrenica’s massacre. The work, that with its visual and symbolic power compacting and expressing all social, ethical and political contradictions and catastrophes of this region, and warning us from the perspective of Goli otok, that “Normal blinds SEE what is written with Braille, because that is the significant difference between normal and ethical BLINDNESS.” Motive of action “Wake” is sad, knowingly that is dedicated to all those that their death stopped them to come again on Goli otok, and who were in a special emotional-symbolical way connected to the project.
Goli otok is letting a deep impression on everyone, what is still warming the enthusiasm and hope of the organization committee in the “better and lighter future”, as well as the significant internationalization of the project - the idea of revitalization of the existing infrastructure and enabling for continuously work with keeping the authenticity of the whole place. “This could be Balkan’s Museum of Contemporary arts in which each pavilion could be given to the state that had prisoners on this island”, are the words of Jusuf Hadžifejzović. Will it be like that, or it will all stay like party of dominos on which are only “double naked” fields, is not depending only from artistic freedom and defiance of the participants, but before everything, it will depend from the freedom of mind and good will of those who have concrete power of acting and making decision about it.
Ivan Šepić (Status, Belgrade, September 2004)