Found objects and text. Metal, glass, wood, 35mm slides and dia projector. Dimensions variable. Forthcoming publication on Christoph Keller Editions, JRP Ringier. Parts from the modular display system Abstracta, found and collected during several journeys throughout the new states of the former Yugoslavia; from Macedonia and Montenegro in the south, through Kosovo, Serbia, Bosnia, Croatia, and Slovenia in the north.
Abstracta is a modular exhibition-display system I encountered while traveling along Tito’s Highway of Brotherhood and Unity, a major infrastructural undertaking, built to unite the capitals of the different states of Yugoslavia. On the road, from one new capital to the next, the same system can be found used in a variety of contexts, from the government owned ex-socialist department stores in Belgrade to shoe shops in Skopje and museums in Ljubljana. The modular display system has many names, sometimes none, the most recurrent being Salamander or Abstracta. It was made in Yugoslavia at various regional production facilities in the late 1970s and again in the 1980s. All of these factories are now defunct but remains of the modular display system are widely spread and still in use throughout the former socialist states.
I was told that it had come to Yugoslavia from China where the system was massproduced and exported in the 1970s, but towards the end of my journey I found that initially it had been designed in the 1960s by the Danish architect Poul Cadovius. Cadovius had originally intended Abstracta as an exhibition-display system for a world fair, made to be easily distributed and circulated, allowing for quick unskilled assembly and endless rectangular expansion. Perhaps the idea of modularity and reproducibility appealed to the socialist economy and political imaginary of the communist countries.
Cadovius’ system never really caught on in Denmark the same way its replica had done in China and Yugoslavia, barely bordering obscurity in the history of design, but recently a large American display corporation bought the patent for Abstracta, and concurrently an example of the system was incorporated in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York. The only difference between Cadovius’ Abstracta and the one reproduced in China fifteen years later (and later again in Yugoslavia) is that the latter is a mere millimeter thicker in diameter – twenty instead of nineteen. As a kind of palimpsest object it has traveled through time and through different economical and political landscapes.
Post Script Poul Cadovius who originally designed Abstracta recently passed away at the age of 99 (in March 2011). He was never aware of the double life his system led on the other side of the wall, and which it continues to live in parts of Eastern Europe. Following is a selection of installation views, images from the research as well as found materials.