If countries could be theatrical genres, then today’s Republic of Macedonia should be pictured as an operetta with elements of a surrealist tragicomedy. For the purpose of its staging a proper setting already exists: the city of Skopje, which is, by coincidence, also the country’s capital.
Everything is illusive here: huge sailing ships remain attached to the bottom of the shallow river. They are not going anywhere as they are made of concrete. Monumental ancient buildings are nothing more than just plaster dummies covering grey facades of edifices that are 50 years old at most. Monuments spring up like mushrooms, but to commemorate whom – nobody knows. Officially, the 24-metre monument erected in Skopje’s main square in an anonymous ‘Warrior on a Horse.’ Who is he? Who did he fight with? What army did he lead? Nobody would say it loud, but everybody knows that it’s Alexander III of Macedon, the legendary ancient king, whose legacy is a key issue also for the Greeks; or maybe for the Greeks above all. They treat all Macedonia’s references to Philip and Alexander as blatant provocations and until today disagree for their north-eastern neighbour to use the name ‘Macedonia.’
Michał Siarek’s Alexander documents short-lived yet turbulent history of an attempt to coin a new national myth uniting this ever divided, ethnically and religion-wise, Balkan country. Trying to cover up its passivity regarding internal and external challenges and difficulties, the populist Macedonian government (2006–2016) decided to bid on a symbolic gesture: the politics of memory daringly combining today’s modern Macedonia with the ancient leader Alexander the Great. Their project turned out to be not only absurd but very dangerous: in response and protest against the politics of Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski, Greek nationalists (who claim exclusive rights to everything related to the name ‘Macedonia’) managed to gather crowds larger than those that took to the streets of Athens in 2011 to express anger following the country’s debt crisis.
In his project, Michał Siarek compiles two aspects of this myth-creating effort: first of them being an architectural transformation following the ‘antiquisation’ policy, which wants to cover modernist buildings with some ancient-like facades, with the second – transcription of the so-called ‘tapes,’ overheard conversations of the politicians from the ruling party (national populists). The whole thing looks like a pastiche of a mediocre operetta: on the one hand we have kitschy and sloppily assembled decorations, and on the other – real opinions of cynical creators of this play (politicians), who don’t even try to hide the fact that they don’t believe in even one act of their performance.
Tapes played a big role in the spectacular fall of the populists. The current government is slowly dismantling all theatre decorations erected by their predecessors. Pseudo-marble facades and monuments are disappearing, and above all – the Alexander is slowly gone. The motorway leading from Skopje to the border with Greece has already had its name changed from ‘Alexander the Great’ to ‘Friendship.’ Satirical photomontage on the Internet shows a damaged sign that says ‘Former Alexander the Great Motorway,’ which sounds just like ‘Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia’ as the country was called for some time. The country still remains without an official, universally accepted name of its own.
The exhibition is accompanied by the premiere of the Michał Siarek’s book Alexander: Forging Utopia, being a story based on the relationship between politics, history and culture, centred around the construction of a national myth in the (Former Yugoslav) Republic of Macedonia, a state with no name, fixated on the dispute about origins so distant that they may have never existed at all.
Michał Siarek (b. 1991) | based in Łódź (Poland) | documentary photographer and graduate of the Łódź Film School’s Faculty of Photography | laureate of many awards, including The New East Photo Prize (UK), BZ WBK Press Foto (Poland), and Fidal Youth Photography Award (France).
Michał Siarek – ALEXANDER
@ IFF Gallery (Fort Mokotow, 99 Racławicka St., Warsaw, Poland)
Opening reception: May 18 at 7.00 PM
The exhibition will be open to the public between May 19 and July 8, 2018
The Michał Siarek exhibition is a part of accompanying events of the 2018 Krakow Photomonth Festival.