Today we had the chance to see the diversity of experiences the city of Ljubljana offers first the beauty of the city and it’s river has to offer. From there we took a Graffiti Tour to learn about how this counter-culture intermingles with everyday life and finally a tour of the local squat/community centre.
Ljubljana Graffiti Tour
After enjoying a morning of wandering around Ljubljana, we took a walk with a guide from Ljubljana Graffiti Tour. The guide had an amazing knowledge of the culture and history of graffiti which gave the tour a different depth to many we have taken before.
Bombas, bombs, throw ups, tags, writers, graffiti, street art were all terms we got to learn about and recognise as we walked the streets of Ljubljana.
The tour was quite varied, covering some of the history of graffiti, a little bit of Ljubljana and Slovenian history as we came to recognise the reasoning behind what for many of us is just scribble on a wall. As we wandered through the streets we were fascinated at the stories of the clandestine-like activities of the different crews.
We learnt how unlike graffiti, street art is usually prebuilt and then added on site. One graffiti artist is famous for yellow dots. It sounds a bit weird but perfectly round yellow dots have appeared throughout the city in some of the strangest places. What it means is anybody’s guess but maybe just the proof of existence may be a good enough reason. We know back in the early days of graffiti, artists would be so poor they couldn’t go anywhere. They started to graffiti trains so their art could go out in the work. A proof of life.
It was interesting hearing the politics behind graffiti and how artists are regarded as a ‘sell out’ when they tale commercial work. Also who even this art form against authority has its own rules. Crossing someones art or tagging it is a big no no unless you create something better. I can’t understand how people who break the rules by tagging or graffiti have their own rules which people aren’t allowed to break.
Hearing graffiti artists described a writers was a bit strange and for some reason hard to get our heads around. The whole terminology of these “writers” graffiti tags and art being described as writing was a bit of a stretch. When we think of writers we normally think of someone behind a pen, typewriter or more recently computer. Thinking of a person tagging a wall with a spray-can or marking pen as a writer just doesn’t compute. Some parts of the city are just covered in graffiti and to call it art or any other poetic term is a nonsense. However, it’s said that art is objective, so that could be the reason I don’t get it.
Near the former Rog Bicycle Factory the panels of the concrete walls have become canvasses for different writers and crews. Many of the pieces are by quite famous local writers. Some of the artwork is just amazing.
The former Rog bicycle factory has been the centre of protests recently as the city mayor ordered it’s demolition. The Rog bicycle factory closed in the early 1990’s and since 2006 has been transformed into a squat.
The tour ends at Metelkova City Autonomous Cultural Center, this started as a squat but has been transformed into an art collective. The former Yugoslav Army Base was the scene of protest between squatters and government. The building still bears the scars of the wrecking ball. These days it could be considered an art installation with a mixture of street art and graffiti decorating the walls. It’s now home to a bar, nightclub and art gallery.
It was here that we finished our tour. There was so much we learnt and it was so fascinating.
How to take a Ljubljana Graffiti Tour
Tours are held daily at 2pm. They leave from the fountain in from of the Academy of Music at Stari Trg 34, 1000 Ljubljana.
Thank you to Ljubljana Graffiti Tour for allowing us to use their photos after ours were destroyed.
After the tour we returned to Tovarna Rog for a tour. It gave us chance to took a look inside to see what all the fuss was about. It seems quite amazing that so close to the main tourist area that a squat of this size is operating. We tried to determine whether the demolition of the buildings and subsequent redevelopment was warranted. The local governments plan is to redevelop the site as an artists centre.
Currently two of the buildings have been condemned but the larger factory building and two others are still occupied by squatters. The buildings serve as art studios, an indoor skatepark, training and media centres. Currently they conduct self defence, circus skills, yoga, language classes for refugees and operate a drop in centre.
There’s quite a large community connected with the squat with many people holding down regular jobs and living elsewhere. Whilst we were there squatters were busy erecting barricades of concrete and scrap metal to protect the site.
Earlier in the week a demolition company arrived on site to start demolition of the buildings. Reaction by the squatters included laying in front of the machines and barricading themselves inside the factory. Since then it seems that there’s been a stand off between the squatters and the city mayor. The excavator was left onsite and has since been been covered in pink paint transforming it into a big pink dinosaur.
Visiting the ROG squat was a really interesting end to the day. The Ljubljana Graffiti Tour combined with the Tour of ROG gave us a really good insight into the counterculture of Ljubljana.