Shining a light on Slovakian Architectural heritage, Čierne diery
Nasa describes a black hole as a place in space where gravity pulls so much that not even light can escape. This makes it all the more ironic that a series of beautiful and imaginative graphics illuminating Slovakian culture take the same name, Čierne diery
What started as a creative low-cost publishing experiment by five friends in Bratislava in 2014 has become a national institution with tens of thousands of readers. Čierne diery graphics are now collector’s items, snapped up as soon as they go on sale.
The evolution of the graphics, Martin Lipták project coordinator explains began ‘when the team decided to explore industrial architecture, century-old factories, worker’s colonies, … modernist architecture and socialist modernism. Architectural landmarks often unknown to the public, overlooked and underappreciated in Slovakia. Many of them are derelict, we thought we should do the job of celebrating them if almost nobody else is going to.
‘Our name is sort of ironic. It’s like these buildings were black holes right in front of you, but you couldn’t see them, nor did you know anything about them’.
What the team saw and photographed then was the embryo of today’s ‘Black Hole’ series with architecture always the primary focus. In tandem, and ahead of the rise of the risograph, the KAT graphic design studio bought a second-hand riso-printer. The thought behind it was the opportunity to merge ‘an outdated printing technique’ with a desire to bring to public attention an example of ‘derelict architecture.’ Early graphics focused on industrial buildings but ‘later modernist influences crept in’. At the root of the project was a determination to make the product accessible to all and that the graphics would be a gateway to appreciating the architectural heritage of Slovakia.
The recipe works perfectly. Each edition is limited to 200 copies that sell out in minutes of going on sale, so the accessibility ambition is only partially realised. Capping the price at €25 was as Martin puts it, ‘a deliberate decision’. In the secondary market, the prices skyrocket, one graphic sold at a charity auction for €5000. Of course, this is helped by the fact that the graphics are now held in the permanent collection of the Slovak National Gallery.
The economics have to work otherwise this publishing project goes the way of so many artistic plans. The project washes its face financially and creates a surplus distributed to good causes. Some fans voluntarily pay more than the asking price or take part in auctions to get a copy. Martin’s background is in PR and marketing (for several years he worked for the former President of Slovakia) and it’s clear that a lot of goodwill and trust has been built up around the Čierne diery project. In 2020, the year of Covid, the sale of books and graphics and auctions raised €200,000.
A recent project found the team renovating a ‘decaying’ manor house in eastern Slovakia. Michael explains, ‘Jelšava is a city with a rich history in an under-developed region. Many of the Roma community live in poor conditions in Slovakia and are systematically discriminated against. Our creative team is bringing the manor house back to life. Even though it remains a ruin, tourists will be able to spend the night and experience the architecture first hand. What we want is for visitors to get involved in the renovation, see it with their own eyes. Our intention is that something positive will come out of this for the local community. The Čierne diery team use the village of Spišský Hrhov as a model.
The group’s involvement in the renovation of the ‘House of Arts’ monument in Piešťany excites lovers of brutalism, they’re supporting the repair of Ferdinand Milučký public sculpture.
The success of the graphic project has not come without complications – the public, the fan base and the contributors expect to see more and more stimulating celebration and art. The group has now published more than 220 graphics which they print themselves and today 6o authors are involved. Martin shares, ‘Some of them are established artists, some are skilled graphic and type designers, many of them are well-known illustrators, and others are just emerging students’.
And if that were not more than enough the team is also creating a series of strikingly unusual books and maps about architecture, so far winning three Slovak design awards.
It may be that Martin and the team will need to make some big decisions soon; what to prioritise, is it the feeding of the public’s voracious appetite for graphics, the nurturing of new talent, the developing of as many as a dozen books at any one time or the overseeing of genuinely worthwhile community projects? We’ll wait and see in the meantime enjoying the burst of creativity one graphic at a time.
All images are the Copyright of Čierne diery and the individual artists ©
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