2022 // Workbook: Pustijerna

photo series, text, book
In collaboration with: Ivana Meštrov, Ana Labudović

The project Workbook: Pustijerna began with a research trip to Dubrovnik in 2019 at the invitation of ARL Dubrovnik. Being in a city that has turned into its own polished film set, made us wonder if we could use tools from the past to plan for a more inclusive future. How could we actually read, and render meaningful the 1272 Statute of the City of Dubrovnik for future generations? The Statute was a symbol of Dubrovnik’s collective identity – it regulated the City’s relations, its living conditions, and in particular its building regulations, in contrast to the blatant examples of the city’s present day devastation and its excessive tourist industry. Now it features as a trivial historical fact presented to groups of semi-interested tourists.
Our starting point is Pustijerna, an area located within the city walls, in the southeastern part of the city. Once a representative residential area boasting Gothic and Baroque palaces, it was repurposed as a Baroque garden after the earthquake of 1667 and, in more recent history, a basketball court. Driven by the historical record, an archaeological survey of the site (1984–87) confirmed the existence of the Benedictine monastery of St. Thomas from 1234, as well as the remains of Renaissance and mediaeval architecture. After completion of the survey, Pustijerna was designated a conservation area, the Ispod Mira road was built, and part of the buildings bordering the area were renovated. Conservation, consolidation, and protection work was carried out from 2009 to 2010.

Today, Pustijerna is run down, the infrastructure is poor and fragile, there is insufficient investment in the renovation and maintenance of electricity, water, sewage, and street lighting, as well as pedestrian pathways. It has become an illegal dumping site. Many of the residents have moved out, and the apartments and palaces are more often than not converted into small self-contained units with kitchens and bathrooms for holiday rentals. Pustijerna is also home to many cats, for whom someone has built a shelter in the form of a series of small terraced houses.
In some ways, Pustijerna is a site that resists generic classifications and gentrification. It is through this site that we observed and recorded the processes that lead to, or resulted from, the transformations and governance of space. Its entropy, urban clutter, and deviation from norms have led us to think about the old city of Dubrovnik, specifically the transformation of its residential and public spaces into the mega-popular tourist destination it is today – a space that is inhabited temporarily, rented out, and not dwelled in. Trying to detect the neuralgic points of the tourist industry today, our research focuses primarily on the so-called new materials that have been used in architecture, interior design, antique restoration and renovations since the 1990s. These new materials, such as PVC, plaster boards and laminate, have become the agents of prevailing consumer preferences and building standards. They are toxic pollutants, reflecting new social substances, phenomena, and connections. They also point to the ecological problems of production, use, and durability.
Cvijeta Zuzorić , a poet without a single preserved verse and having only several portraits hypothetically attributed to her, along with her friend Marija Maruša Gučetić Gundulić are the main narrators and leitmotifs of Pustijerna. It is through this lens that we steer our view of Dubrovnik towards the history of women and gender. In Workbook: Pustijerna, they become active participants in their own invisible histories within the framework of official History, speculatively infiltrating their possible everyday lives beyond the restrictive gender conditioned roles imposed on them by the period.