Once seen, a spomenik is unlikely to be forgotten. These eerily beautiful monuments are dotted across the former Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, squatting like spaceships in remote rural corners of Croatia, Bosnia, Serbia and Kosovo.
Hundreds dot the landscapes, the majority built in the 1960s and 70s as memorials for people killed in fascist atrocities committed in the region during the Second World War.
Artist Marco Walker discovered spomeniks while on holiday. ‘Being a fan of brutalist architecture, I was drawn towards their extraordinary shapes, their simplicity and above all their sheer size,’ he says. ‘The extraordinary contrast of the statues with the natural environments they are set against interested me.’
For his show Utopia/Dystopia, currently showing at London’s 82 Mount Street (until 20 December), Walker returned to the area with his camera, taking a series of images that he then manipulated using alternative print-pressing methods. The Spomeniks, a word meaning ‘monument’ in Slovenian, maintain their grandeur and otherworldly energy, but the tension is altered with bright colour and sepia tones, infrared film and bleached out chrome effects.
‘I wanted to soften these generally quite harsh and overpowering sculptures by giving them a more painterly, ethereal quality,’ he explains. ‘The print processes give the statues a dated feel which is important – Yesterday’s Future!’
The history of the spomeniks is cloudy, obfuscated over the years by the splintering of the region and shifts of power between left and right. ‘There was an overwhelming feeling that the local people were trying to forget their past,’ says Walker of his time exploring, ‘and consequently many spomeniks have been disregarded and some destroyed.’
The artist’s works look to strike a balance between memorialisation and wonder – demonstrating the awe that these structures inspire, as well as being true to the reasons for their existence. ‘It took utter destruction to create such beauty,’ Walker says. ‘During this journey, that’s what struck me the most.’