SPOMENIK-1: Artist’s Statement


I just published my first game on itch.io, Spomenik-1, and this post serves as an artist’s statement to accompany the game. I think the game needs the statement below for context, and the statement doesn’t stand alone, separate from the game. So if you’re reading this without having played the game first, I strongly encourage you to do so.

Monument to the Revolution of the people of Moslavina

Monument to the Revolution of the people of Moslavina

Spomenik, 2006 – 2009‘ is a series of photos by Jan Kempenaers, of monuments found in the region of the former Yugoslavia. Kempenaers’ photography emphasises the exotic geometry of these structures, and exaggerates the starkness of the landscapes in which these monuments sit. The photos also remove the monuments from any social or historical context, and most Western viewers can only interpret them in relation to exoticised ideas of post-Communist Eastern Europe as a landscape of crumbling, abandoned concrete structures.

Tjentiste War Memorial

Tjentiste War Memorial

When I first saw Kempenaers’ photographs, I was enthralled by the images, and the powerful connection to the ideas of decaying post-Communist modernism that were already well-established in my mind. There’s a sense in which relics of post-Communist industrial societies present a kind of alternate universe modernism, one with similar technology but a design aesthetic that is appealingly alien and exotic, but just familiar enough, to the Western viewer. This comes through in a lot of the way Kempenaers’ ‘Spomenik’ series has been discussed when featured on a variety of articles, listicles, etc. including those on The Guardian, Wired and Dezeen. It’s a popular way of thinking about post-Communist Eastern Europe as a fallen empire, and lets the Western viewer marvel at the achievements involved while also feeling a little superior. It also perpetuates an exoticisation of contemporary Eastern Europe as a weird and unknowable place where strange, crazy things happen.

Workers Battalion Memorial, Kadinjača

Workers Battalion Memorial, Kadinjača

More recently I’ve re-evaluated my ideas about Kempenaers’ photographs, and the way I think about the body of representations of contemporary Eastern Europe they’re a part of. ‘Spomenik-1’ comes out of that re-evaluation.

The game, ‘Spomenik-1‘ places a very familiar monument, part of the mundane urban landscape of my hometown of Brisbane, into the same de-contextualised and mythologised situation as the monuments of Kempenaers’ ‘Spomenik’ series. The central structure of ‘Spomenik-1’ is a crude replica of the Shrine of Remembrance, a monument in Brisbane, Australia, a war memorial dedicated to ANZAC soldiers of WWI. Removed from its socio-cultural context, its purely geometric elements emphasised, and positioned in a stark, harshly-lit landscape, it becomes alien and unfamiliar. The only context is the title and the UI aesthetics, which deliberately evoke that same mythological idea of post-Communist Eastern Europe.

Shrine of Remembrance, Brisbane

Shrine of Remembrance, Brisbane

When we in the West look at the ‘Spomenik’ photos, and other representations of post-Communist Eastern Europe, we see them as isolated relics of a distant past, rather than as creative products of a society that continues to exist. We project our own lack of familiarity with the culture and art of places like the former Yugoslavian states onto these representations,  and I’d argue that what makes them seem alien to us is our own gaze itself.




2 thoughts on “SPOMENIK-1: Artist’s Statement

  1. I just played your game and found it quite interesting.
    I wondered around for awhile trying to find something or, do something like traditional open world games. After realizing that this was futile, I followed the path and must admit when I reached the third little wall, I was asking myself, what, and why they were built. As I asked myself that question I turned around and I saw the top of the structure which I was like ‘Wow! What the?” Then as you progressed up the path the size of the structure was revealed.
    My first thought was it was some sort of postmodern Stonehenge until deciding it looked like some sort of post modern Roman building. I was left with more questions than answers. I was also leaning to some sort of communist era monument due to the title but the lighting, terrain, scenery and also as the monument was clean and crisp (ie didn’t look weathered, worn or decayed a little) I tended to think it was somewhere in the UK. I only thought this cos with most post Soviet era monuments I have seen, there has always been an element of decay.
    Upon reading your artists statement, I would have to say that you definitely achieved your goals with myself. As soon as I saw the photo of ANZAC square, the realization was almost instantaneous and my assumptions were pretty much in line with what you wanted.
    I have a few questions, if I may?
    1. How long did you take to create the game?
    2. Did you create all the assets yourself?
    3. Why didn’t you create some sort of light source? The lighting and color gave the impression of a cold and bleak environment, but the lack of sky took away a lot of the reality look. Was this a time factor decision or?

    Overall it was a great little exercise in making one think and question and a hauntingly beautiful looking environment so congratulations.

    • Thanks for the comments! In response to your questions:
      1. Probably 30-40 hours over a period of 2-3 weeks, in evenings and on weekends.
      2. Not at all. The terrain is all just Unity terrain, with trees and grass and other textures from the asset store. The boat and ruined walls are from the asset store too. The monument itself is built out of Unity primitives (18 cylinders and a plane for the floor) and a single “pipe” shape made in ProBuilder. The monument is the only thing that’s even close to being my own asset.
      3. The scene does have a directional light for stark shadows, but I didn’t want a bright sun. If you look at the original Spomenik photos, they’re generally under a grey sky with no clear directional light. Perhaps, instead, I should have removed the directional light and just gone with ambient light, or a bunch of really faint point lights…

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