For over a decade, the London-based photographer Andy Day has been interested in capturing images of bodies in unlikely contexts. His latest series is the creative output of three recent trips to Serbia, Croatia, and Bosnia, in which he photographed local parkour athletes climbing spomenik—gigantic World War II monuments commissioned by former Yugoslavian president Josip Broz Tito in the 60s and 70s, erected across the Balkan countryside.
Today the spomenik stand lonely in desolate landscapes, “the fossils of an unrealized utopian vision of unity and communality,” Day writes in an essay accompanying the series. “They are monuments to an imaginary future that never manifested and memorials to a cause that either no longer exists or sits uneasily within the minds of a population still subject to the infinite complexities of competing nationalities, ethnicities, religions, and political affiliations. [...] If they seem otherworldly, it is because that world no longer exists, or perhaps, never came into existence.”
Day cites Jan Kempenaers’ Spomenik project and photography book, published in 2010, as a direct inspiration. With Kempenaers, the subjects were the monuments themselves, in all of their contradictions as forgotten symbols of collective memory. With Day, however, there are new, human protagonists. The photographs are bizarre not just because of the mysterious concrete structures seated in the grass, but because there are suddenly bodies atop those structures. Why is that there, and moreover, why are they there?
The title of the project, FORMER, is a double entendre, referencing the expression “former Yugoslavia” while also defining the parkour athlete as one who molds the environment at will, bending the rules of what constitutes appropriate physical interaction with a given space. Day, who has been photographing and practicing parkour since its emergence in the UK in 2003, sees the sport as a partnership between body and environment. Through the encounter, new identities are forged. The athlete acquires self-knowledge. The spomenik, in ruins and abandoned to the elements, become places again.
Day has exercised caution throughout the project, discussing his ideas with the local athletes at length before going out on the climbing expeditions, and reading up on Yugoslav history before his trips to the region. “Trying to understand how the spomenik are perceived is incredibly difficult, especially if you don't have an understanding of the circumstances that led to their creation and everything that has happened since. I've learned a lot, but I still have a lot more to discover. The complications and internal contradictions are endless,” he writes in an email to The Creators Project.
The project was completed as part of Day master’s degree thesis, and from his standpoint, the project touches on notions of “embodied engagement with historicity, subversive practices and apolitical irreverence for sacrosanct space.” That may or may not be how local audiences, or the athletes themselves, see the project. Day is eager to compare notes: “I have plans to interview the various athletes involved to start trying to understand how the project can be received by Croatian, Serbian, and Bosnian audiences. I'm keen to establish a dialogue with academics from the region to ensure that how I'm presenting the project is respectful and appropriate, and hopefully gain further insights.
To see more of Andy Day’s parkour photography, go here.