The theme of the prefab tower block was already present in the work of the strong 1960s and 70s generation of Slovak conceptual artists. Unlike them, however, Tomáš Džadoň refers to it by means of complicated, three-dimensional installations that physically test the spatial experience of the observer. Simultaneously, they activate shared memories of the environment of the tower block housing estates, which Džadoň does not view as a chapter in the history of modern architecture or a Socialist experiment, but rather as a paradox of the present day. Although they tend to be perceived as a relic of the former regime, in reality they are fatefully present, even for those who do not live in them. In order to express this ambiguity, Džadoň places the tower block in extreme situations in his installations. They submerge, lean, fall apart or confront folk architecture. This strategy culminated in a pair of projects from 2009. In the installation I have lost the instructions, accurate models of individual prefabricated panels are spread out randomly in the gallery. The result is reminiscent of children’s building blocks, which, however, are distinguished by their frighteningly real dimensions and lack a key to their assembly. Under the title Is it an attraction or it is tumbling down?, the artist inclines a monumental model of a tower block placed claustrophobically in the gallery space. While the consistently industrialized building sector produced programmatically standard, uniform buildings, Džadoň ‘estranges’ one of them by deviation from the vertical axis and, by means of the respective title, asks the spectator whether the result is an attraction or merely a fall. It would be difficult either to answert his question or generally come to terms with the tower block heritage, however, “twenty years after the Velvet Revolution did not happen”, to borrow the title of the initiative that Džadoň is engaging in. It is not by chance that the two above-mentioned projects were created in 2009, when events were going on in many places to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of the revolution, to which Džadoň’s installations reacted ironically. In contrast, a very traditional folk celebration is under preparation for the unveiling of Monument to Folk Architecture, which Džadoň is currently working on. The origins of the project reach back to 2006, when he created visualizations of traditional timber cabins incongruously sited on the roof of a tower block. Realization of the Monument is being prepared in Košice. Real cottages are to transposed in the manner of readymades to one of the local tower block housing estates. In the administratively and technically demanding preparations, the artist assumes the role of manager, abandoning his own work and, instead, dealing in parallel with a number of collective engagement projects, in which he comments on issues of public space, monuments and the situation of post-communist society. These activities are closely related the matically with his earlier installations.
TOMÁŠ DŽADOŇ, Monument to Folk Architecture, 2006–2013, visualization for my home town Poprad, Slovakia, photo: author’s archive.