Saving the Sculpture Park in Sisak, Croatia. By Sagita Sunara

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©Sagita Sunara

The city of Sisak, located southeast of Croatia’s capital Zagreb, boasts a unique sculpture park, comprising thirty-eight outdoor sculptures created between 1971 and 1990. The park was created by the prominent sculptors of what was then Yugoslavia who participated in the Sisak Ironworks Colony of Fine Artists [Kolonija likovnih umjetnika “Željezara Sisak”]. The artists’ colony was open to sculptors, painters, graphic artists and photographers. During its twenty-year period more than 700 artworks were created.
The idea behind the Sisak Ironworks Colony of Fine Artists was to bring culture closer to industrial workers. The artists were working inside the industrial complex. The sculptures were made of the materials that the Ironworks produced and executed in collaboration with Ironworks’ technicians, machinists, and welders. Larger sculptures were later installed in parks, squares and between residential buildings in Caprag, the residential estate that Sisak built for its workers and their families. Caprag is located next to the industrial complex, and is itself very interesting. The Ironworks company constructed not only housing, but other facilities necessary for securing a normal everyday life, too, such as a post office, a bank, a kindergarten, a medical facility, a supermarket, tennis courts, bowling alleys, even an Olympic-sized open-air public pool!
From the end of WW2 to the early nineties, Sisak Ironworks was the biggest industrial employer in Sisak. At the peak of its power, the cpmpany employed over thirteen thousand people.
The Croatian War of Independence (1991-1995) and the political and economic reforms that followed brought many changes and eventually led to the collapse of the Sisak Ironworks.
Only small sections of the plant are operating today, and the labour force has dropped to one hundred. The Sisak Ironworks’ vast collection of artworks has been dispersed. A number of all the sculptures that once adorned public spaces in Caprag have vanished. Only thirty-eight of these have been preserved, all in desperate need of conservation due to years of neglect.
In 2012, three institutions from Sisak – the Conservation Department of the Ministry of Culture in Sisak, the City Museum Sisak and the City Gallery in Striegl – initiated a project that aims at affirming social, cultural and artistic values tied to the heritage of the Sisak Ironworks, “Sisak Ironworks – Heritage Factory” [“Tvornica baštine – Željezara Sisak”]. The project recognises industrial patrimony as a driver of the development of Sisak, a city that has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country due to the collapse of manufacturing.
Within the framework of the aforementioned project, legal protection of the thirty-eight outdoor sculptures in Caprag was ensured. In 2012 the collection as a whole was listed on the Croatia State Register of Cultural Properties as a “Sculpture Park created in the context of the Sisak Ironworks Colony of Fine Artists”.
Soon afterward collaboration was established with the Conservation-Restoration Department of the Arts Academy in Split, which proposed a four-year project, comprising a two-year documentation and research phase and a two-year period of conservation-restoration phase. The plan was to treat three sculptures, each representing a different set of problems (for example: unpainted steel sculpture, painted steel sculpture, galvanized steel sculpture). More importantly, the project was aimed at developing a methodology for conservation that can be used on other sculpture parks in Croatia. The project was to be realised through a series of workshops, each lasting one or two weeks, in which conservation-restoration students would participate.
The first Sisak Sculpture Park Conservation-Restoration Workshop was organised in September 2012. The second workshop took place in autumn 2013. Workshop participants reported on various project activities (documentation, maintenance, interviews with artists and their assistants – former workers of the Sisak Ironworks) on the conservation-restoration blog Stažiranje među umjetninama - Internship among Artwoks
The online workshop diary boosted project visibility, and helped raise awareness and appreciation for Sisak’s rich industrial heritage.
The first sculpture to receive professional conservation-restoration treatment was Josip Diminić’s Object II (1979, painted steel). Treatment was completed last September during a ten-day workshop.
Due to the sculpture’s poor condition, the treatment included stripping and repainting. The project was headed by the author of this article, with two senior conservators-restorers acting as advisors (a metal conservator and a contemporary art conservator). Four conservation-restoration students volunteered to participate in the workshop.
Participation in the field project was not a part of their university courses, and students were not rewarded with a grade or a fee. However, the workshop gave them something much more important: valuable hands-on experience and exposure to all sorts of problems related to fieldwork, from setting up a workspace to supervising the work that the subcontractors perform. One recent conservation-restoration graduate also participated in the workshop. He was later offered a paid internship at the City Museum Sisak. Thanks to the Sisak Sculpture Park project, the City Museum Sisak now has a professional conservator-restorer among its staff.
It is interesting to note that the works on Diminić’s sculpture were executed on the premises of Metaling Ltd., a company that once belonged to Sisak Ironworks industrial complex. It was precisely in that part of the Sisak steel plant that Diminić created his sculpture 36 year ago!
Thanks to the generosity of Metaling’s CEO, the conservation-restoration team was provided with a working space free of charge. The works on the sculpture attracted lots of attention from Metaling’s workers, who gained understanding of the Sisak Ironworks Colony of Fine Artists and started to develop an appreciation for other public sculptures in Caprag, which is where most of them live.
All the sculptures from the Sisak Sculpture Park will eventually receive conservation-restoration treatment. In order to provide an opportunity to discuss treatment options for specific objects, as well as to share ideas on the presentation and maintenance of the Park as a whole, an international conference on conservation of sculpture parks will be held in Sisak from September 14th to September 16th 2015.
“SPark: Conservation of Sculpture Parks” will address all aspects connected to conservation of outdoor sculpture collections, from technical questions on how to carry out the treatments to collection management.
The conference will also mark the 2015 European Industrial and Technical Heritage Year.
The conference is jointly organized by the Arts Academy of the University of Split (Croatia), the Museum of Contemporary Art in Zagreb (Croatia) and the Cologne Institute of Conservation Sciences (Germany). The programme includes 15 oral presentations, a poster session, roundtable discussions, and a workshop on synthetic materials outdoors.
The conference tour includes a visit to the former Institute of Metallurgy of the Sisak Ironworks, a walking tour of the Sisak Sculpture Park, a visit to the Museum of Contemporary Art in Zagreb, and a tour of the Vjenceslav Richter and Nada Kareš-Richter Collection, also in Zagreb.
All details are available on the Conference website: https://spark2015sisak.wordpress.com/