The temporary sculpture by Ivan Kožarić, “The Haystack”, installed on Thursday, 9 January in Rijeka city centre, was set on fire on Saturday, 11 January at 10 pm, but the fire was quenched an hour later thanks to the quick reaction of the firefighters. No one was hurt in the fire, no surrounding buildings were damaged, and a criminal investigation is underway.
On Sunday, the Director of the Rijeka Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art and Artistic Director of Rijeka 2020 ECoC, Slaven Tolj, condemned the destruction of “The Haystack” by Ivan Kožarić, installed in the Square of the 128th Brigade of the Croatian Army in Rijeka, when he announced that efforts would be made to reinstall the installation.
“I am sorry that Kožarić’s work has been destroyed. It has sparked controversy and debate since it was set up, and it is good that art is attention-grabbing and open to discussion. But it is not good when art installations are destroyed,” said Tolj in a written press statement.
Noting that Kožarić’s work was part of the Times of Power flagship and that its purpose was to arouse attention, symbolize the rural-urban relationship, and test the readiness of urban Rijeka to tolerate an unexpected rural phenomenon set up right in the midst of the city. He added that the discussion triggered by this installation was good, critical, interesting, serious and at times even witty.
“But it was short-lived, because apparently someone’s intentions were completely destructive and they felt utter intolerance for the haystack in the midst of the city. It is at the very least strange, if not frightening, to witness the extent of power that destructive energy can have over people.”
Tolj said that the topics covered by the European Capital of Culture project within its “Times of Power” flagship will be a mirror for dealing not only with the past but also with the modernity we live in. Unfortunately, he said, this is one such moment of facing the mirror.
“I am convinced that anyone who spoke about Kožarić’s work from any perspective in the past few days has felt a sense of bitterness towards this act of destruction of the sculpture. So, I condemn this utter and senseless destruction,” Tolj pointed out.
Slaven Tolj also stated that the museum contacted the family of Ivan Kožarić about the incident, who were also appalled by the destruction of the installation.
“Ivan Kožarić is an artist who is 98 years old, and out of respect for his artistic greatness, we will do our best to reinstall the installation,” Slaven Tolj said.
The “Haystack” was set up as part of the “Times of Power” flagship of the European Capital of Culture project and it was supposed to symbolically mark “the beginning of the harvest” of cultural events in the year of the ECoC.
Croatian Minister of Culture Mrs. Nina Obuljen Koržinek said on Sunday that she was saddened by the vandal act of burning Kožarić’s “Haystack” art installation at Rijeka’s Korzo and went on to remind everyone of the importance of respecting the work of others, even when we don’t understand it properly.
“I was saddened by the act of vandalism in which an art installation, the work of one of Croatia’s greatest contemporary artists, academician Ivan Kožarić, was set on fire at Rijeka’s Korzo. It is important to respect the original work of others and diverse creative expressions, even if we sometimes do not understand them,” the Minister of Culture posted on her Twitter profile.
Rijeka’s Mayor, Vojko Obersnel joined her in the condemnation of this act.
“I condemn the destruction of Kožarić’s art installation, which also put the safety of nearby property in jeopardy,” Mayor Obersnel posted on his Facebook profile.
“Despite the fact that audience reactions form an integral part of Kožarić’s work, this is an extremely destructive event. Let us all ask ourselves, what such an incident does to Rijeka, our city, which has always been open to, and ready to engage in constructive dialogue, as opposed to trampling on and burning something that is not liked or understood by some. I appeal to that silent majority of the citizens of Rijeka not to keep their silence, but to openly and verbally oppose destruction and vandal behaviour. I hope and believe that the police will track down and punish the offender. I furthermore hope and believe that a river of common sense will defeat the incoherent, destructive savages,” Obersnel concluded.
Emina Višnić, CEO of RIJEKA 2020 also shared her views on the burning of Kožarić’s installation in a statement to the local daily newspaper Novi list.
“It is sad how the power of destruction and misunderstanding ruined this art installation. The key question we need to ask ourselves is, to what extent is our society as a whole ready to tolerate such utterly aggressive behaviour towards any single thing. This act of burning Kožarić’s work of art could have potentially caused harm to people and damaged buildings in the vicinity of the installation in the immediate centre of the city. I therefore believe the police will take strong action. Debating and discussing an art installation is one thing, its utter destruction is quite another. The misunderstanding or lack of familiarity with artistic language can hardly be an excuse for the utter destruction of an art installation. This is why I condemn this act and I believe that it is also condemned by anyone who, in a variety of ways, took part in discussions on this temporary sculpture, regardless of their stance on its installation. The discussions triggered by this installation were interesting and witty, even critical, but now the object of the discussions is utterly destroyed,” Višnić concluded.
Kožarić’s “temporary sculpture” was made out of hay bales and it was installed in the Square of the 128th Brigade of the Croatian Army by the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art with the support of the Kožarić family and the city’s utility company, whose employees built the stack.
It is a rehash of Kožarić’s installation, first installed in Dubrovnik in front of the Rector’s Palace, as part of the “Island” (Otok) exhibition in 1996.
The work of art was announced in Rijeka as the first in a series of art installations in the public space under the “Pocket Turned Out” (Izvrnuti džep) project, implemented by artists and curators who aim to transform and personalize urban areas by integrating art into the everyday routine, with an added emphasis on the issues of hospitality and tolerance.