Built to mark the doomed and outnumbered stand by partisans resisting an Axis assault of 1943, the monuments used to attract up to half a million visitors per year.
The spomeniks, then, owed their recognisable function and secure meanings to the framework established by the Communist Party which had commissioned them. But with the development of democracy through the 1990's, and that decade's wars and uprisings, the possibility that the monuments might celebrate a coherent, uncontested view of the past proved fainter than ever. That said, at a formal and symbolic level the structures had always (unwittingly) acknowledged the fragility of their own enterprise: they were all, of necessity, stridently and startlingly abstract. How else might the Party commemorate a war of liberation that spilled into a civil conflict fought on tangled political and ethinc lines of allegiance?
In Kempenaers' photographs they stand deserted, their concrete pitted, stained and streaked, and their concourse looks to be returning to meadow. But his work is of more than merely local and particular interest; for the physical decay and institutional neglect are in themselves symptomatic of a wider social fracturing. In other words, their obsolescence is at once communal, social, national and historical.
An earlier selection of Kempenaers' spomenik pictures was subtitled 'The End of History'; and perhaps that, ultimately, is his subject here. Not – heaven forbid – the triumphalist 'end of history' once announced by Fukuyama and the like. But the end of those certainties and histories which were momentarily so assuredly promoted by Eastern Europe's single party states. An end which – Kempenaer's minimally-captioned photographs powerfully attest – has resulted in incoherence, amnesia and the loss of meaning.