Interior of the “white house”, Omarska camp – 3D scan initial visualisation by ScanLab Projects
Living Death Camps is a project that explores the multiple relations between two concentration camps located in the former Yugoslavia and the problems associated with commemorating their histories.
Neither the Staro Sajmište Nazi camp from WWII built on the site of a former fairground at the edge of the city and now located in the centre of Belgrade, nor the Omarska/Prijedor camp used to incarcerate and execute Muslim men in the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s can simply be consigned to history because they are spatial relics from the past. On the contrary, both are still inhabited, one having become a site of artists’ studios, Roma residents, workshops and small industries and the other an iron-ore mine operated since 2004 by ArcelorMittal, the world’s largest steel producer. Although the functional status of the two sites may have changed over time the death camp “lives” its violent histories by other means.
The current project, spearheaded by a collaboration with Grupa Spomenik and the Four Faces of Omaska, contends that the only political intervention into the logic of the death camp is to reconceptualise it as a “plenum”; a space in which all of the saturated histories of the site continue to co-exist in tension with one another, including their histories as extermination camps. The first of these camps – Staro Sajmište – stands at the centre of a complex vortex of forces that are about the political, economical and geo-political implications of the culture of commemoration, the liberal norms of the European Union, the financial interests of international trade, and the local politics of Serbia. In these discussions WWII era sites of violation, and the ways in which former communist states confront them, become test cases for the acceptability and civility of states seeking EU status. The second camp in Bosnia, which remains off-limits to survivors and the public, has re-entered the juridical proceedings of the ICTY with the current indicted for genocide against Karadzić and Maldić, and consequently may result in arresting the history of the site within the legally specific context of the massacres which took place there in the 1990s.
Model of the Omarska camp in the ICTY
Strategies of memorialization, even when utterly sincere, tend to fix violent events within historical time in order to bring about closure. This project argues for the necessity of keeping this space open to all competing versions of history, for it is only the persistence of the past within the present that creates the space of the political. In physics the plenum is a space that is entirely filled with matter, conceiving the camp as a material space forces a rethinking that extends the plenum beyond that of an assembly in which all may gather, which largely presupposes a prior state of emptiness that can now be occupied through speech. Instead the plenum as a material space acknowledges that every event that took place within these contested sites registered itself in ways that we aim to discern and articulate through our investigations. The plenum is not created in the act of gathering and discoursing, but is a space in which the speech acts of people and things (geographic features, fabricated structures, forms of inhabitation, incarceration, and labour) come together and co-articulate their having always already been. In order to understand the silencing of the one or more versions of history, we need to examine the clamour created around all others, thus establishing the covert and at times invisible continuities between them.
However it is not sufficient to work out these continuities only on the level of the local and to think of places exclusively in relation to their locality. Today we must think the death camp in relation to multiple places, forms of discourse, legal and juridical frames, sets of institutions, cultural habits and practices, influential individuals and foreign governments. In effect, along the lines of what Michel Foucault called an apparatus; a methodological form that extends the network of this research and asserts that in order to understand these or any sites, and the relations between them we must understand a relation between a shifting network of global institutions and places that have stakes in the questions and historical narratives activated by Staro Sajmište and Omarska.
Omarska – 3D scan initial visualisations
Staro Sajmište – 3D scan visualisations
Staro Sajmište Preliminary GPR/GIS Survey (April 2012)
“Underground objects are different than the objects in the surface of the earth. Above they are fetishised forms, with clear edges and conceptual unity. Below they are mere material densities, unities dissipating and flowing into common ground according to the second law of thermodynamics. It is a boundless, borderless matter in which processes are slowing into momentary forms.” — Eyal Weizman
In April 2012 Forensic Architecture undertook a preliminary survey of selected areas of Staro Sajmište, specifically the sites of the original Yugoslav and German pavilions as well as the grassy embankment near the river (see feature image), using Ground Penetrating Radar and the GPS Total Station. These tests were conducted in order to develop a series of non-invasive protocols for undertaking a complete geophysical survey of the site in the Fall of 2012, a project that involves consultation with local stakeholders as well as the full participation of currents residents. This work was and will continue to be carried out under the direct supervision of forensic archeologist Dr. Caroline Sturdy Colls and her graduate student Jack Hanson. We will also compliment the subterranean survey of Staro Sajmište with matching 3D scans of the same area taken above-ground by ScanLAB Projects based in the UK. These above-ground scans will be locked onto the GPS coordinates of the below-ground survey producing an extremely detailed and comprehensive map of both the topographic and geophysical features of the site.
“The purpose of a non-intrusive survey at Staro Sajmište is to identify the archaeological remains of the former camp, in order to complement the known history of the site with physical evidence. It is important to stress that no excavation or disturbance to the remains is proposed. The innovative combination of methods used offers an opportunity to gain substantial information (provided in the form of digital terrain and three dimensional models) about buried features in a way that prevents disturbance to any remains present and limits disruption for current occupants of the site.” — Caroline Sturdy Colls
Forensic Archeology Objectives:
• To collect documentary, cartographic and photographic resources relating to Staro Sajmište to better define the extent and nature of aspects of the landscape;
• To use topographical, geophysical and airborne imagery to generate spatial analysis (GIS) of Staro Sajmište and to characterise surface and buried remains;
• To synthesise the gathered data and present it in a manner appropriate for landscape analysis and 3D visualisation. This will allow the site examined to be redefined and interpreted, and suitable maps and digital terrain models to be produced.
Methods employed during testing phase and proposed for follow-up survey will include Electronic Distance Measurement systems (EDMs) and Kinematic Digital GPS, to map and plan the layout of the sites, record surface features and log microtopographic changes (down to sub-centimetre level) that may indicate the presence of buried remains. A variety of geophysical survey techniques will also be used, from which it will be possible to produce plots of buried remains without any ground disturbance. These include:
• Ground Penetrating Radar – This is a non-destructive method that uses radar pulses to detect the reflected signals from subsurface structures such as walls, pits or graves;
• Resistance survey – the electrical resistance of the subsurface is measured, and two and three dimensional plots of the buried remains can be produced;
• Magnetometry – This method measures any disturbance that has taken place in the soil, which may be caused by archaeological remains, and can detect the presence of metallic objects.
Initial results and examples of our working method are detailed in the following images.