Secrets make us believe that we belong to a small circle of the select few, that we are more important than ordinary people. Secrets serve to differentiate individuals or groups of people from their larger community. The greater the secret, the greater the distance from the rest of the society. Top secrets belong only to select few.
Six people knew about the secret called ARK (Atomic War Command): four generals, the Prime Minister, and Josip Broz Tito. This exclusive club represented a sort of a Praetorian guard charged with defense of our entire country – its achievements, its ideology and its values, our fates and our lives – from an impending catastrophe.
The facility was under construction for 26 years, from 1953 until 1979. The construction cost about 4.6 billion U.S. dollars. The facility spreads over 6,500 square feet. It consists of 12 inter-connected blocks.
Even top military and state secrets are eventually revealed. Thus, in the beginning of this century, ARK too opened its doors to the world. Ordinary people rushed inside to see this wonder hidden in the bowls of the Mountain Zlatar. And any visitor who had meandered through its labyrinth, made of cement and stone and built to withstand a 25 KT atomic bomb, had to wonder: how did the people who constructed this amazing structure envision the day after the cataclysm?
What would await them after they exit from ARK?
And yet, we should not judge them too harshly. Throughout history, rulers have built castles, towers, forts, and various other defense objects to protect themselves rather than anyone else.
Construction of defense facilities is not specific to particular geographic locations, time periods, economic powers or political regimes. Just as medieval architects built massive stone forts on hills, Cold War architects built nuclear shelters. The difference is only that the existence of forts was not a secret. Quite the contrary, the forts were visible from afar in order to alert enemies to their defensive capabilities.
In any case, our common civilizational heritage looks like a bequest from a gallery of characters who had once ruled over the world and who had never, once, thought that their castles and portraits, uniforms and service ware, would cease to be secrets, become public goods and end up on lists of historical and cultural heritage for some new civilizations.
Solitude is a part of every secret.
And that is what I felt when I fist walked into ARK. What makes its solitude so terrifying yet also, at the same time, monumental and grandiose, is the fact that this ghostly, lonely space exists amidst a noisy world full of life, new accomplishments and endless curiosity. The period in which this senseless facility was built was unprecedented in its civilizational leap towards a better and more comfortable life. Yet, within this space, one could never hear the chirping of birds, the murmur of oceans, or children’s laughter.
Nowadays, ARK wants sunshine instead of fluorescent lights, the sound of wind blowing through trees instead of the dull noise of its massive air-conditioning unit. It looks forward to the chatter of people and the sound of their footsteps instead of the noise produced by the closing of its steel anti-nuclear doors. It wants, for the first time, to let images and sounds of life into its dark chambers.
And in its solitude, which lasted half a century, it happily welcomes artists.
Artists bring stories from the real, outside world – sometimes lethargic and funny, sometimes prophetic and horrifying.
Today, watching and listening to artists’ messages, we are learning about our past and our present, and beginning to have a feel for what awaits us in the future.
The initial purpose of this atomic shelter as well as the space itself, a facility of great historical importance, add relevance to our artistic project. It creates possibilities for new, non-traditional approaches to contemporary art and cultural promotion.
This is, therefore, first and foremost an artistic project, which allows us to protect our cultural and historical heritage. At the same time, the Project bears signs of tolerance, peace, acceptance of diversity – all particularly important for those of us who live on the territories of the former Yugoslavia. This project allows us to rebuild broken bridges of humanity, morality and coexistence.
This bunker represents a toponym of particular importance for exploration of our common cultural and historical heritage.
The purpose of the Project D-0 ARK Underground is to protect this invaluable object from decay and, simultaneously, to lend a new life to the atomic shelter with energy that art brings along.
In the end, the facility should be transformed into a Museum of Contemporary Art D-0 ARK.
“Facility D-0, Tito’s atomic war command, was built to accept, accommodate and protect 350 people and enable successful management and command over the armed forces in case of nuclear warfare,” explained the Ministry of Defense of the former Yugoslavia.
Today, the definition would more likely read like this: “Facility D-0, Tito’s war command, will accept, accommodate and enable artists to protect the atomic shelter with their art works.”