NEW CRAFT ARTISTS in ACTION & QUEER SPORT SPLIT COLLABORATION

Split, Croatia
August 2017
A public intervention organized by Tonci Kranjcevic Batalic
Artists Maria Molteni (NCAA founder) and Melanie Bernier in collaboration with the QSS collective
Photos by Melanie Bernier and Tonci Kranjcevic Batalic

11.08.2017. Trstenik NCAA Mreže 2017 (16).JPG

ABOUT THE PROJECT

In August 2017, Maria Molteni and I were invited to Split, Croatia to craft sports nets for a neglected playground in the Trstenik neighborhood. Working out of a local bar in the evenings and a studio/gallery/nightclub during the days, we knit, crocheted, and macraméd nets for two weeks in collaboration with local activist group Queer Sport Split. Net designs draw upon elements of Split culture, which we observed while exploring this incredible city and spending time with members of the QSS community.

Abandoned construction in the Split 3 development of Trstenik.

Abandoned construction in the Split 3 development of Trstenik.

Split is an ancient city whose distinct culture draws from a beautiful coastal landscape and turbulent political history. Today, local life rapidly changes as Croatia manages the transition from socialism into a market-based economy, and an explosion of tourism redirects resources into private development. Meanwhile, the international refugee crises continues to produce Syrian transplants for relocation in the city. As new ideas and cultures populate the area, the politically marginalized LGBTQ community has begun to assert their place as equals in Croatian society.

QSS draws attention to issues of LGBTQ rights. They also advocate for community access to, and care of, public commons, which are being increasingly privatized for tourism development. Their tactic is dubbed "soft activism": activism that intervenes in the public space of the city through crocheting and knitting. QSS and NCAA are natural collaborators, as they both craft public work with intersectional implications for community, recreation, reclamation, and inclusion. 

Calling upon contemporary issues, local traditions and imagery to shape the project, we decided to create three NCAA "Net Works" - two knit/crochet basketball hoops and one macramé soccer net. We then considered the following elements: 

Location. The cascading cubist buildings of Split 3 were built in the late 1960's as part of a planned city extension to house 50,000 additional residents. This modernist development was to provide an attractive communal living space rooted in the basic elements of urban planning: the street and the square. Split 3's blueprint was partially finished when construction halted in the 1980s. Today, half-finished concrete buildings crowned with rotting metal support beams litter the bluffs of Trstenik. 

A playground overgrown with fennel, mint, and grass squats in the middle of Split 3. No longer a space for recreation, residents go there  intermittently to relieve their dogs. We sought to draw attention to this neglected area and reassert its potential as a public common through creative intervention.

Materials. We crafted the nets using fishing rope. Durable and colorful, the material calls to mind Croatia's seafaring history and draws attention from a distance on the large court.

Design. Graffitied emblems of the local soccer club decorate the walls of Split. Founded in 1911, the team was dubbed "Hadjuk" after the romanticized bandits who fought the rule of Ottoman Turks. The name was chosen to symbolize the best qualities of the region's people: bravery, humanity, friendship, love of freedom, defiance to powers, and protection of the weak. Despite these honorable ideals, members of Croatian soccer fan gangs - known as hooligans - have been known to espouse nationalist politics, engage in racially motivated violence, and make nazi salutes at rallies.

 We created a Hadjuk emblem for the macramé soccer net using 'granny squares' and fishing rope, at once queering the design while engaging fans of Hadjuk. We hope the down-home emblem will send a message of inclusivity and welcome to all residents of Split 3.

Medium. During our knitting workshops, many QSS members reminisced about the accomplished needlework of a grandmother or aunt. Through their memories we learned about the culture of crochet, knitting, and lacemaking in Dalmatian life and heard the pride Croatians take these traditions.

 

Neighborhood kids enjoy a macramé soccer net adorned with the emblem of local soccer club Hadjuk.

Neighborhood kids enjoy a macramé soccer net adorned with the emblem of local soccer club Hadjuk.

OUTCOMES 

At the time of install, the collaboration had granted us a glimpse into the lives of queer and artistic Croatians. We learned how sports, activism, and craft empower QSS members to take an active role fighting for public space and LGBTQ rights in Split. We knew the nets would draw attention to the abandoned lot in the heart of Trstenik. Still, we didn't know if they would activate the court for residents of Split 3. Our observations and conversations in the neighborhood taught us that the only people using the park were dog owners. To many, the idea of reactivating the space for recreation was a lost cause.

While Tonci, Maria and I macraméd the soccer net onto its frame, several dog walkers came by to encourage the project and discuss the court's need for care - we thought this was a good sign. The biggest payoff came five minutes after the soccer net was completed, when three boys appeared with a ball and began practicing on the net. They kept remarking on the Hadjuk symbol - "cool!" - and continued playing as we left. 

The trip concluded with a QSS-sponsored "Right to the Beach" party, where I led a seaside Punk Rock Aerobics workout. A dance party followed. 

Since the install, the project has received positive press from local media outlets.

 

PRESS

8.16.17 The Lost Playground in Trstenik Got New Networks (translated)

8.12.17 Trstenik Got a Different Basketball Net (translated)

8.12.17 Trstenik Got Different Networks (translated)

8.13.17 Young People Hit the Beach on Duil's Beach (translated)

 

THANK YOU

The program was realized with the financial support of the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Croatia and the City of Split. Special thanks to Tonci Kranjcevic Batalic for his work funding and organizing the project.


ABOUT NEW CRAFT ARTISTS IN ACTION (NCAA)

From the NCAA website: 

The New Craft Artists in Action are an international artist collective with open membership and home-court representation in Boston, MA. Through exhibitions, workshops, community projects, and publication they work to integrate the skills, materials, and histories of many intersecting disciplines: athletics, craft, public space, aesthetics, labor, recreation, and feminism. NCAA projects combine the discipline, sportsmanship and physicality of athletics with the focus, dexterity and creativity of craft. This unlikely marriage is meant to encourage participation over spectatorship, and to reassess the traditional cultural and socio-economic contexts in which these activities evolved. Building upon DIY skill-sharing models, the collective creates dynamic learning environments and bodies of work that may call upon knitting, crochet, bookbinding, screen printing, building, action photography, ball handling, etc. The NCAA believes these programs should be both critical and fun, inciting the tactile and tactical liberation of recreation. 

Their most notable project Net Works - by which vibrant hand-made basketball nets are crafted for empty basketball hoops - employs creative problem solving to call attention to neglected public spaces. It also encourage positive relationships between athletes, artists and neighbors.

 

ABOUT QUEER SPORT SPLIT (QSS)

Since 2011, Queer Sport Split has organized gatherings and interventions with "soft activism":  activism that intervenes in the public space of the city through crocheting and knitting . The first such intervention was during the planning of Split Pride in 2012, where knit flags pointed to the right of all citizens to public space, rights which the LGBTIQ population was denied by the local government. In 2014, Queer Sport Split held the Marathon On Needles, a public knit-in, to promote access to public space, guerrilla activism, and social participation.