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What has remained here after Stoka, Propeller or Cvernovka?

The book BA!! Places of Living Culture 1989-2016 brings authentic accounts about 38 independent cultural spots in Bratislava.

Blaho Uhlár, founder of the Stoka theatre, in front of the theatre in 2006. (Source: Sme)

“It was a dilapidated house and in the end it was pulled down. But we managed to rent another place from the city council – the one where we have been until today, 20 Kozia Street,” said Vladimír Michal, a co-founder of the iconic bookshop Artforum when reflecting on memories of the first Artforum which used to be located on the then-Ulica Červenej Armády Street, now Grösslingova Street.

Artforum is one of 38 independent cultural spots that emerged – and vanished or moved – in Bratislava after the fall of the communist regime in 1989. Art historian and curator Zuzana Duchová and musicologist, musician and curator Slávo Krekovič map them out in a less traditional way in the book BA!! Places of Living Culture 1989-2016. The book comprises interviews, accounts and recollections of founders and owners, but also visitors of theatres GUnaGu and Stoka; film clubs FK 901 and FK Nostagia; music clubs U.Club, Fuga and Propeller; or galleries Bastart and Photoport.

All these places emerged spontaneously and only thanks to the strong determination of people to bring some creative energy, a human as well as a poetic dimension or a generational spirit into their local environs. The book is thus actually a map of non-existing places. None of these 38 cultural places operates today at their original address or by their original founders – in the better cases they moved to a new place, in the worse ones, they disappeared.

BA! and BA!!

The book BA!! is a continuation of the Slovak-English book BA! From UFO to UFO.

“The impulse for writing the first book was that we were a group of like-minded people around art and the association Atrakt Art publishing Trištvrte magazine,” Duchová recalled for The Slovak Spectator.

Their ambition, however, was to make something more permanent than a magazine and thus they published the book BA! From UFO to UFO in 2007.

“We call it the U-fu-touristic guide to contemporary Bratislava,” said Duchová. “Instead of the well-known past or classic historical monuments it offers a subjective collage of interesting spots, stories, facts and pictures.”

Though the printed version is sold out for quite a long time, it is available for free on the website of the association Atrakt Art.

“Now it seemed to us that the time was ripe for re-opening this topic,” said Duchová. “We agreed with Slávo Krekovič upon the concept of this book, which is neither fiction nor non-fiction. It is a collection of interviews or recollections of founders, owners or visitors of these places.”

Spots of independent culture

The basic reason why places of independent culture, i.e. beyond the state-managed structures, started to emerge in Bratislava was the zest of people to create something and bring into their environs something that, until then, had been missing. For this purpose they used also places that became vacant after the fall of the communist regime and filled them with their concept of culture.

For example, film fans launched the film club FK 901 in the building of the former district committee of the communist party at Račianska street where there was a preserved congress hall with projectors. Or the music club which placed Bratislava on the world map of electronic music, U.Club, was launched in a former nuclear bunker and tunnels under the Bratislava castle.

The alternative theatre Stoka found its permanent scene in the former industrial zone near the Danube River. In fact, the place on which the building once stood and Stoka performed, now serves as a parking place next to Eurovea. So, its demolition about 10 years ago was not at all necessary.

One chapter is also dedicated to Cvernovka. Last year, the community of the so-called creatives had to move out as these premises of the former thread factory will be rebuilt into a new residential area. Now the community is building new ateliers in a former secondary school on Račianska Street.

Enthusiasts usually started without any experience and with little money. Despite this, they created unique places of culture, drawing people of the same blood group. They closed when the originally low rent at such places increased to unacceptable levels, when racketeers were too greedy, or simply when they got married, had children and no longer had the time for such activities.

“For the book we chose places with artistic production, not focusing only on fun,” said Duchová, adding that it was sometimes difficult to differentiate between a pure pub and a pub into which people went also to hold philosophical debates.

Thus, the book maps out the history of a certain segment of culture, which is, in the view of the authors of the book, a bit underrated.

“I would call many of the places we map out in the book ‘punk’ as they originated from ‘below’ and now exist only in the memories of people,” said Duchová. “It seemed important to us to also preserve this layer of our culture and past in such a rigid medium as a book is.”

This also led to some problems when preparing the book as several of these places, contrary to ‘official’ ones, do not have a properly preserved archive.

“Someone had only photos freely deposited on a disc and we had to laboriously go through them and somebody else had precise archives with all the documentation properly sorted out,” said Duchová. “Nevertheless, it was a very interesting and fascinating historiographical work.”

She does not see the theme of independent culture to be too young for examination.

“It is already possible to have a hindsight view,” said Duchová. “Our form is something between expert and journalist-popularisation style. But we also wanted to show the diversity of these places. Because we believe that they deserve to be remembered.”

Nevertheless, such places continue to emerge – and vanish – also today.

“Conditions for their launch are in something similar and in something different,” said Duchová, who sees as important that young people get a chance to create something and stand behind it.

Topic: Bratislava


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