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Article published in Glas Istre on 21 June 2017





I portray architecture looking for its emotion


At the promotion of the valuable monograph “Pula – Interval City” at the Book Fair in Pula in December 2014, its co-author, the Pula-born photographer and architect Igor Zirojević (the other two authors are writer Dragan Velikić and art historian and curator Paola Orlić) claimed to have discovered the architecture of Pula as a kid; hence his decision to study architecture. “Both the architecture and the patina, as well as all these layers of history, illustrate the history of the city,” he added on the occasion. The promotion of the monograph was accompanied by Zirojević’s exhibition of photographs of Austro-Hungarian villas in Pula entitled “Residents.”


At the recent exhibition marking his 50th birthday, Zirojević presented 21 photographs of the second part of the “Pula – Interval City” oeuvre at Pula’s Makina Gallery. The exhibition entitled “Custodians” presents a distinctive auctorial interpretation of some of the most important architectural achievements in the city of Pula from the Italian period. Bearing the stigmatized label “Fascist architecture,” these accomplishments belong among the best projects of the inspired generation of architects active in Pula in the 1920s and the 1930s, namely Pula’s post office building designed by Angiolo Mazzoni, Lino Moscheni’s Sanitation Institute building, Enrico Trolis’s bathing area at Stoja, Guido Brasso’s Casa Balilla (renamed the Home of the Ribar Brothers), Alberto Turina’s electric mill, Bernardino Fabro’s bus station, Vicenzo Munari’s Banco D’Italia (popularly called the SDK building), etc. The exhibition “Custodians” precedes the forthcoming second part of the monograph dedicated to Italian architecture, whereupon the author will complete the cycle with socialist-era architecture. 


Why the title “Custodians”? 


The exhibition and the book explore the city and its architecture in the interwar period during the rule of Mussolini’s Fascist Italy; hence the title. It took me a long time to find the right title for the exhibition. “Custodians” suggests that the Italian Rationalist (Fascist) architecture is not only modern – it custodies elements of a long-standing building tradition evocative of ancient Rome. Charles Jencks described it as “stripped Classicism.” Architects active in the Fascist era attempted to equalize old and new architecture. The pompous construction of public institutions was aimed at celebrating the new regime, a practice championed by Caesars, though they eliminated any façade decoration. 


To what extent do you photograph buildings as an architect as opposed to an art photographer? 


I portray architecture looking for its emotion, I do not document. I am looking for traces of the past which I put in today’s context and insert myself into it. I am looking for its reflexion in me and the way it defines me. Yes, I did say I had decided to study architecture because I was seduced by the city and its architecture. I never became a creator as an architect. I remained an observer. My creation began the moment my lens started uncovering “the hidden,” the little destinies whose meaning gradually outgrew the backdrop itself, its untold stories.


Why twilight?


Twilight balances interior and exterior light. As daylight fades, lights are turned on inside the buildings, which is when they have the same intensity and are able to build a parallel atmosphere of the street and the interior – the lights trickle through the windows and hint at some hidden stories. Quite voyeuristic. On the other hand, as parts of the streets are shaded, a good control of the exposition helps me hide some things and bring others to the fore.  

Compared to the “Residents” cycle when you photographed the exterior of Pula’s Austro-Hungarian villas, with the occasional passer-by or resident in front of them, this cycle includes interiors. Its novelty are staged scenes capturing your family members, your mother, your sisters, your cousin...


Working on my first book, I thought of the city as a backdrop reminiscent of the olden days and the rise and fall of the city. However, as I portrayed the residents and the passers-by, I realized they all had their own interior monologue within the space and the buildings they lived in. I figured out that the monologue was mine as well. There were protagonists inside the backdrop and I was one of them. We have inherited the city and though it sometimes seems that it is a mere reflection, it isn’t – there are destinies and bonds that define us profoundly within the space we live in. Architecture tells a story of the man and his desire to last and survive…spaces that someone created and constructed have mapped the destiny of those who came later. The city is a constant, it has its ups and downs, but it is built of materials more durable than human tissue, it remembers but it surrenders itself, just to keep on living… 


The viewer would not be able to grasp the intimate family stories in the photographs without the accompanying text. For instance, it would be impossible to know that the pregnant woman on the spiral staircase of the post office building is your cousin, the Pula-born architect Tanja Kirac, which evokes the image of your pregnant great grandmother and the moment she receives the last postcard from her then 18-year-old husband, one of hundreds of thousands of fallen husbands forever lost on the battlefields of Europe. In the photograph of the interior of Munari’s building (today’s Financial Agency), you photographed your mother. There is also the impressive photograph of your sister with suitcases standing in front of the old and abandoned bus station.


Yes, some of the protagonists are my family members. They are here because it is the most direct way of bringing the portrayals of architecture alive, it is a twofold portrayal of the protagonists and the medium. I could say that architecture serves as a medium of transmission of information about the time of its creation. I am trying to decode its messages and the way they affect me today. The characters I portray have their personal drama, they are part of my habitat and I therefore know them better; it might seem too easy, but it is how I expose something that perhaps should be kept private. 



This exhibition will soon be accompanied by the second monograph “Pula – Interval City 2," authored, beside Zirojević, by writer Milan Rakovac and art historian Paola Orlić. The cycle will be completed with “Pula – Interval 3” dedicated to socialist architecture in Pula.


How do you see it compared to the modern and the Austro-Hungarian era seeing that part of it was created during our childhood? 


Building a military port, Austria rose the city from the ashes. In fact, the basic guidelines for modern Pula were elements of military architecture, fortifications and villas built for the military caste. Everything in between is a grey zone, a filling indispensable for life. Italy built symbols of power, public institutions whose purpose mainly survives to this day. Yugoslavia and socialism built apartment buildings. Le Courbusier idealistically proclaimed “Architecture or Revolution.” He believed that social problems would be resolved by urban planning. It was the guiding principle of socialist architecture – it tried to evenly divide the residential space among the entire population. Well-lit and modern functional apartment buildings were built. This was my childhood. In the building at the former 7 JNA Street, today’s Istarska Street, I grew up in a small Unité d’Habitation—a housing unit with elevators, a waste incinerator, a common area and a small rooftop terrace swimming pool. Our apartment was furnished with modern minimalist furniture. I have fond memories of my time spent there, full of light. Spending time with my peers on the shared terrace… After-war architecture is the topic of my next book. Right now, I don’t know…Only when I enter a space does it start telling stories; let’s see where it takes me. 

Article published in Jutarnji List on 16 December 2014


Exhibition and Book of Igor Zirojević’s Crepuscular Photographs in Pula

Miljenko Jergović

Architecture of Memory

Villas That Were Home to Admiral Horthy and the Von Trapp Family


The book authored by three hands - by writer Dragan Velikić, curator Paola Orlić and photographer Igor Zirojević- and titled "Pula-Interval City" might well be talked about if some fortuitous circumstances align. Self-published by Zirojević in three hundred copies and promoted at the Book Fair(y) in Pula, this book is both a sort of fictional-art history and a figurative jam session featuring three natives of Pula belonging to different generations, with different professional biographies and artistic sensitivity as well as a remarkable photographer monograph of the city whose destiny is inscribed with the downfall of diverse large and small empires of the twentieth century and the related disappearance of at least as many peoples and their languages. Nowhere has architecture witnessed someone's absence like in Pula. Ashes of someone's memories - practically everywhere.


Naval Port


Igor Zirojević staged the eponymous exhibition at Gallery Makina managed by photographer Hassan Abdelghani at the same time the book saw the light of the day. The same crepuscular and nocturnal tone reigns in large-format photographs of Pula's villas and houses, terrace houses and the railway station where tourist trains used to enter port, coming to a halt at the exact moment when the hearts of travelers arriving from afar would shudder with fear of their train taking the plunge into the sea, predominantly erected during the Habsburg era when Pula was the main naval port of the Austro-Hungarian empire, which, above and beyond anything else, made it into a prosperous and augmenting city.

For all their gloominess and darkness, there is nothing whatsoever creepy in Zirojević's images. For there is a light behind a window in each house, there are the residents' silhouettes, while in the street there are cars parked, an occasional night passer-by, a girl walking her dog exchanging words with a young man, and it is all, in fact, so human, but for this strange disagreement and discrepancy between the people living in the light of their variegated homes and their houses reduced to two-dimensional contours. As if the people and the houses existed and lasted in a parallel passage of time. Hence, there are two Pulas: one with a flow of quotidian reality of its present inhabitants not overly concerned about the historic contexts of their residence, and the other Pula whose time is measured out in dozens of years and centuries, the one visible on its facades, in the city archives and in literary remembrances. Igor Zirojević captured both of these cities in his images, something that usually seems impossible.


The Father of A Humiliated Nation


Villa Horthy is situated at 13 Pino Budicin Street. Paola Orlić writes one of her extraordinary micro essays about it, one of her hermetic reflections. Zirojević shot it against the backdrop of the nocturnal sky, inside the branches of the nearby trees, with what looks like a female silhouette standing and looking through the first floor window. This is a house well-known among all the inhabitants of Pula, at least by sight. Perhaps not everybody knows its name, for it ceased to matter long ago, it does not resound, at least not in this part of the world.

Miklós Horthy is the last commander-in-chief of the Austro-Hungarian Navy. A father of four, he builds the house in 1911, partly for your plain and common reasons and circumstances and partly to appease and straighten up his wife and children, intent as he was on staying in Pula, for where else could a Hungarian admiral be but Pula. What happened next belongs to elementary history textbooks. In Hungary, territorially and spiritually ravaged and ruined by the Treaty of Trianon, Horthy assumed regency over the empty royal throne, the father of a humiliated nation and a heartless autarch who sided with Hitler for strategic reasons, became a quisling and served the German masters by stringing them along and failing to unreservedly obey their will in the hope that the fortunes of war would somehow change and favour Hungary. It does not happen, Hitler removed him from power, which marked the the beginning of the most horrid period of time for all the Hungarians,  particularly Hungarian Jews. The admiral treated them as a typical Vienna anti-Semite, though unwilling to enforce racial laws. Yet, Horthy's rule showed its ruthlessness in Vojvodina and Novi Sad where terrible crimes were committed predominantly against Jews, with Serbs being the second most frequent target. He was nevertheless not tried as a war criminal. He was an American prisoner of war, a witness in the Nürnberg Trials, and eventually, a silent pensioner in Portugal where he died, in Estoril, in 1957, before turning ninety.


Mighty Fragments of the Century


The story of Horthy is a possible story of Pula's villas, houses, buildings, of shadows from Igor Zirojević's photographs.There is at least one big story behind each of them, the kind of story whose narration quite unexpectedly spreads throughout Europe and worldwide and encompasses mighty fragments of the twentieth century. In this regard, Pula is the most metropolitan, the most cosmopolitan of Croatian cities, a city where the World happened at least a couple of times in the second half of the nineteenth and the twentieth century.

By rule - as a cataclysm, a revolution, a counterrevolution, a downfall. Pula kept falling into decay all that time, though, unlike our other cities, it was never provincialised, nor was its downfall headed in that direction. Pula deteriorated in large and tragic private gestures, much like its inhabitants. One should visit the naval cemetery in Pula, see some of this.

Every now and then, they publish a book or stage an exhibition in this city dealing with  consequences of these large and tragic private gestures. Pula is full of curators of Pula's memories. Igor Zirojević is one of them. Born in 1967 in this city, obtained his architecture degree in Ljubljana, manages "Stožer" - studio of graphic design, photography and visual communications..

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