Concrete Mushrooms, Albania, 2011
Dr. Thomas Frangenberg
To an extent not easily imagined Albania, the countryside and beaches no less than cities, is littered with mushroom-shaped bunkers of which in excess of 750.000 were built between 1967 and 1986. During the dictatorship of Enver Hoxha a paranoid fear prevailed that saw attacks from all sides, from Yugoslavia, Nato and the Warsaw Pact countries as likely. Not having served their intended function during Hoxha’s lifetime, the bunkers’ destruction is now actively encouraged.
In her project ‘Concrete Mushrooms’ Alicja Dobrucka attempts to trace, and to document, many of these structures. All obsolete in terms of their original purpose, some have been given new functions. Others have been polychromed, some in a uniform colour such as blue, others in more inventive designs; one was given something like a Santa’s hat by read and white paint. Many have enirely gone, but some survive in the form of mounds of rubble or of larger fragments, the playthings of wind or water. Nature has usurped large numbers of them. Some sink into the water, trees may grow out of them, others appear in the midst of young forests.
Dobrucka is particularly interested in human interaction with these structures that does not involve their destruction. Walls are built over them, lovers flirt on them and meet within, families assemble around them on the beach, boys use them as lookout points and elevated places to dive from.
Dobrucka’s photographs also dwell on the bunkers’ purely visual interest. Their rounded tops contrast with the angularity of adjacent structures built later, particularly pointedly in an image showing rectilinear concrete and metal structures, forming grids and casting a grid of shadows, beyond which one of the bunkers appears strikingly alien. Dobjucka’ series of photographs document a richly diverse palette of ways of dealing with this problematic historical inheritance, ranging from denial, forgetting or demolition to engaging attempts to take them as given, but to humanize them as locations of human interaction or as visual spectacle.