Nikola Kusovac,
Art historian
IN THE SPIRIT OF TRADITION

Biljana Djordjević-Bogdanović, archaeologist
ON ZLAKUSA POTTERY AND ITS SIGNIFIANCE
FOR ETHNOLOGICAL AND ARCHEOLOGICAL RESEARCH

 

Ljiljana Nikolic
Art Historian/Fine Art Critic
Belgrade

THE FIRST INTERNATIONAL COLONY OF CERAMICS

From August, 8th to 18th, this year (1996), the first International colony of ceramics was organized in the village of Zlakusa. The reason for organizing it was to get to know, first of all for ourselves, hidden beauties and unusualities of our own country and through exceptionality of the tradition of the pottery's craft, as preserved here, to reveal them to the world as well.

Living and working in Uzice for a long time, Sofija Bunardzic (also a ceramist by education) has understood the priceless value of the tradition of this known-to-nobody Serbian village, lasting for three centuries at least, and with support of the villagers and many sponsors from Uzice, organized a colony wich at the very beginning denoted a happening invaluablly important and significant for a higher degree of understanding cultural and creative conscience of a contemporary man.

Half way between Uzice and Pozega, on the slopes of foresty mountainous scenery, a village of Zlakusa is situated with somewhat more than three hundred households. Passangers of the railroad Belgrade - Bar watch it as one, in the row of idyllic pictures, which can be seen during voyage. Nature, except for beauty, gifted this area with conditions for the beginning of pottery handicraft which less than ten households in Zlakusa practice traditionally, transferring the skill from generation to generation, for centuries back. However, this is not enough to explain why the people from Zlakusa are unique much wider off the borders of their place, region and country. Ther are so unique thanks to the way of manufacture (on a hand-turned, wooden wheel) and baking of clay disches in open fire made of hightly caloric wood, as a form of authentic experience, preserved from prehistory times.

The pottery from Zlakusa is also special for its completely specific kind of clay (overripen) which can be found only at two sights in this area. Then, for stone (vrsta), which ground into powder is added to earth to neutralize intensive smell and gives to disches fireproof strenght. Finally, the very method of manufacture, building of a form from the sequence of ,,sausages" (sudzuk) is quite the opposite to the usual work from a piece of clay mass. The colony itself, and there are countless similar ones in our country, only in that region tens of them - is absolutely unique and exceptional. The reasons are multiple. Picturesque ambience of the village where the colony is located, is at the same time a living centre of tradition of priceless significance for interpretation of ethnological and archaeological inheritance of this region. However, the aim of the colony has been to include academicaly educated ceramists of top professionalism from the country and abroad (Greece, Bulgaria, Austria) into a process of continuation, renovation and further revival of here preserved tradition.

It has been imagined that based on immediate experience in authentic encirclement, knowledge and experience acquired in academic circles, are moved to a new, creative level of understanding contemporary ceramics. By that it would be mutually united, in reciprocal energetic pervasion, prehistoric inspiration of Zlakusa's pottery as current tradition and creative energy of pictorial sensibility of modern, educated professionals. Thus, at the same time, the chance has been given to tradition exceptional for itself, not to disappear with the generation of the old, skillfull craftsmen - potters, however, with this gathering, also to make a feedback in the sence of stimulating and deeper animating younger villagers - to keep the skill and experience of their ancestors and hand it over to heritage of future generations.

Zlakusa is a miracle for itself. Every event, so primor-dially pure, essential, primary - seems like the PRIMAL EXPERIENCE. For the first time, you feel and understand mythical traces of origin of all the meanings of pre-elements: Air, Water, Earth and Fire. This mythical pre-elementarity is also a part of luxurious nature of the people themselves, always in touching gentleness, with ,,archaic" smile lit up faces. For the first time, the meanings of the said words do not lose sense in ambiguity of interchangable messages. Essential and ethical meaning is clear and direct, however laconic pic-turesqueness of the language is strongly expressive.

The people of wise composure and enormous widhth live here. Of sharp cleverness and sparkling wit.

Than, for the miracle, to be a complete one, all this mythical world is located in the middle of standard of living as per a model of some Swiss village, for example. With electric lamps over the whole village, spacious houses, clean and furnished with taste, it says absolutely the opposite to the assumption that such a method of ceramics processing is usually associated with rather backward, undeveloped regions. The yards and terraces of Zlakusa are lost in shades and colours of most diverse flowers. The system of urban elements is fitted into nature so non-intrusively and knowingly discrete, to leave nature untouched and luxuriously dominant, Hence, the union of these, conditionally said ,,opposites" - civilization and pre-civi-lization, at such a small space, united into harmony without ,,seams", is inspirative not only for ceramists. This ,,last oasis" is a valuable phenomenon for some future studyings as well: of eminent anthropologists, psychologists, philosphers and theoreticians of all kinds of socio- phenomena of the modern world, trying to find the line of empirical memory and a tie with tradition, which does not close the man into historic frames of his own consciousness about himself, however, it opens to him, founded on these very bases, perspectives and outcomes strengthened by primordial energetic roots.

The work with clay from Zlakusa was for the ceramists, the guests of the colony, a new experience. Researching in the material, which in pottery craft primarily obtains utilitarian purpose, by that also a form, the ceramists revealed gradually a possibility of shaping into purely decorative sense, as well, in plastic forms of small, bulky masses, respectively. However, in the greatest number of cases, those forms crystallized out, which, by the essence of their meanings touch autoch-thony of pre-forms and fuction induced from the core of ever-lasting sensibility of pre-historic craftsmen and their simultaneous feeling for utilitarian and ritual. After couple of days of ,,wandering", the most successful pieces of art began to appear. By the form, they originated from the obvious simplicity of the forms by which nature surrounds this area, and by the subtlety of shaping, they are established in the plane of archetypic experience of pre - craftsmen, revived as deeply individual essence of collectively unconscious being of every participant individually.

In that way the sculptures obtained the finely reckognizable thread of stylistic uniqueness, which is a first, genuine sign of creative, communicative vitality of contemporary, pictorial thinking, in general. The crisis of art nowadays, personified in repetative innovations of combi-natory system of emblematically understood stylistic meanings from the past like playing with empty forms without adequately dosed charge of personal, creative emanation, here, in Zlakusa, can be overcome and moved in the only possible way which is nowadays so attentively and uselessly searched for. The energies of primordial experiences, force and picture, are seized deeply inside and the potters from Zlakusa, have handed them over as long-time-kept, holy fire, to their contemporarily educated colleagues, ceramists. In that union: of archaic, energies and modern sensibility, a perfect conjuncture of endlessly distanced points of civilization occured.

A special experience is associated with the moment of baking the pieces made in the colony. A month later, on September, 22nd, the participants, helped by craftsman Milan Savic, baked their pieces of work. The fire, in a completely incredible way, through play of bright -dark parts, dependant on position and place of work during baking, added to expresiveness of ceramics that unpredictible dimension of creative accent which also strengthened some appearantly ,,pale" creations, to the top pictorial refinement and to each sculpture individually, gave an unmistaken rhythm of visual dynamics. As if, during baking, fire ,,was reading out" the energetic code of the author, in-woven into the sculpture, unconscious for the author himself, and in its own destruction" of creative completion, with perfect accuracy, the fire read out secrets of the sculptures and wove it in the finest tone nuances of bright - dark gradations. The sculptures began to glisten with an enormous power, dramatic suggestiveness of that miracle which was born in the clash of powerful, human energies with primordial power of flame.

Our ideas about new possibilities of ceramics and its contemporary achievements are moved on the level of a new starting point, i.e. from the level for global transpositioning of creative energies towards long-term renaissance and contemporary flows of fine art and art in general.

With great support of local craftsmen, their unselfish desire to uncover completely the secrets of their longstanding knowledge and skill, especially with our extraordinar host, craftsman MILAN SAVIC, as the main representative of Zlakusa's potters, in whose ,,workshop" the participants of the colony, nineteen of them, created their sculptures for more than ten days, let us also mention craftsman LUKA SUNJEVARIC and the whole village, as one, warm, hospitable household, attentive and helpful with care of sincere cordiality. What actually is the most wonderful event, which is the crown of endless row of everyday's petty details of the great miracle of this stay, is the feeling that we all were one harmonious, unanimous and serene family, united by the energy of great, deeply intertwining LOVE. Such primordial feeling, the meaning of which we almost do not know in the real way any more, as a flood of powerful, pure emotions of warmness, gentleness and tolerancy, I do not believe in the context of overall ,,working" impressions, it can, in such a profoundly sincere, strongly uniting way, emerge and be experienced at any other place, except for Zlakusa.

This is the colony that will last. For a long time and unforgettably. Since the reasons for organizing it are sincere and experiences with which you leave this place are incomparable to any other feel and impression about life and people of some other place and some other tradition. By that I equally think of all other colonies as well, organized with us, or abroad.