Everybody who fell in love with Rog have different stories about how it happened. This story starts with a girl, lost in a new city with no friends or acquaintances, who decided to stay anonymous because she believes her name is unimportant for the purpose of this article.
“It was one wintery night, very cold in Ljubljana and I was alone here because I didn’t know anybody. I followed one guy just for fun”, she describes. Without knowing, he guided her down the street, through a graffitied door to a place that will eventually become a very important part of her life. That place was Tovarna Rog.
Today, ten years later, that girl as well as her friends, are an active part of Rog community. Because of their deep love and passion they share for this old factory, they were more than willing to share their stories, interests and give an insider’s perspective of everything that is happening there today.
We are here and we are pretty much alive
Currently in Rog, there are a myriad of organizations, creative spaces, events, activities and most importantly people. People that despite the disapproval of the city and the bad conditions managed to make Tovarna Rog a very important center for culture and community, bursting with will and energy to thrive: “We are here and we are pretty much alive.”
Two members of Rog community talking about current activities in Tovarna Rog. They wished to stay anonymous.
The interviewees estimated that there are around 15 collectives and 15 ateliers currently functioning in which there’s approximately 250 active participants on a weekly basis and around a thousand visitors per week. We can’t cover them all but there are those that are definitely worth the mention.
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Modri Kot is one of the largest collectives in Tovarna Rog. It is concepted as an open space for people to organize their own events with an accent on reinvention. They are aspiring to take topics such as arts, politics, theoretical debates, transmedia, etc. and then present them in a new light.
The next, but definitely not less important is a social center which has been active for over 9 years and it is involved in social and political activity of Ljubljana by helping those in the community (mostly migrants and workers) with problems such as regaining their administration papers after they were affected by the administrative genocide during the breakdown of Yugoslavia.
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Another huge contribution of the Rog community to the broader community of Ljubljana is Ambasada Rog. Ambasada Rog or second home is a self organized migrant center. Volunteers work with people on individual cases and help them assimilate into their new location by preparing them for job interviews and helping them gain asylum. Closely related to the social center and Ambasada Rog is a clinic run by doctors that is intended for people who don’t have health insurance, like migrants and those without administration papers.
Živko Skvotec is another collective inside Tovarna Rog and it has been alive for 5 years. It’s founders are philosophy students, but now it is open to anyone for discussions, readings and lectures that are not possible to be held at faculties because of their strict curriculums. Another interesting place is Cirkusarna, the only circus school in Ljubljana. It’s collective holds workshops for children and they do theathre shows, cabarets, jazz shows etc. There is a big indoor skatepark as well, a second hand shop, few galleries, martial arts gym, breakdance studios, music producing studio and to top it all off, a big concert hall that fits around 500 people.
It is very relevant to know that everything works based on volunteering and contributions made by visitors or participants. Most of the acitivities in Rog are free or left to your own contribution, except larger scale concerts held in the big concert hall. The way the collectives stay organized amongst them is by having general assemblies usually held once a month where they discuss future projects, cooperations and resolve any possible conflicts.
Regarding the art scene and the ateliers, there are about 20 to 30 people using them regularly. Sculptors, graffiti artists, painters and other creative individuals played a big part in renovating and decorating the entire Rog space. “There’s this constant flow between functionality and art. He (one artist) once destroyed the toilet just so he could rebuild it. It’s really a nice toilet.”
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Reinvention of the space happens because there is a need for it. Just like people decorate their houses, people of Rog decorate their cracked walls, decaying door or even a plain old toilet. This creativity is visible from the very entrance to the backyard. This is a place where art happens. This is a place someone calls home. The city, on the other hand doesn’t see it that way. To them, a toilet is just a toilet. But it does have a story.
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Rog’s new attire
City wants a certain infrastructure that will be public, opposed to it’s present communal status. Not all parts will be commerical, the city is aiming to open around 20 spaces that the visitors could use for free alongside their content or activities. Why does the city want to transform it? It is a very big area, around 7,000 square metres and it is located in the city center, 5 minutes walking from the main Prešeren square. Those two factors combined make it a possible highly profitable area which the city wants to use in their advantage.
To find more concrete and accurate information about the city’s plan for the transformation of Tovarna Rog, we contacted the Municipality of Ljubljana. They sent us a link to the promotional video below and haven’t complied to provide any further useful information or answered any of the asked questions.
Tovarna Rog’s current community’s relevance is unquestionable. It joins people from different social classes and backgrounds to come together and create art and events that are mostly oriented at discussing problems in society which looking from a certain angle, benefits Ljubljana as a city. It’s value lies in trying out new things and experimenting with new ways of thinking, new perceptions. Municipality of Ljubljana is doing a good job at beautifying and aestheticizing city’s buildings and streets but fails at seeing the deeper content found inside the walls, as in the case of Tovarna Rog. Their idea is Center Rog: a new center of creative Ljubljana.
„Center Rog is an investment into a creative Ljubljana“, municipality says in their promotion video. The city wants to transform Rog into an open cultural center for designers and architects with a library, multiple caffes and galleries. It will be oriented towards industrial design contrary to its current organic energy. People of Rog are not welcoming these changes:
„Rog, the way it is today happened organically, because there was need for it. Let the tree grow where it started to grow!“
The new life they want to bring to this old factory comes at a very high price and that is letting the life that is there today die. The question people of Rog ask is: is it worth it?
The Old Days
Rog factory is not only interesting now, it also has a rich history. Back in the 19th century the place was used for leather manufacturing which is why in 1922 the main building was built. After WWII Rog is becoming a bicycle factory, famous for it’s model Pony and it stays open until 1991. After the factory is closed, Rog is being abandoned.
Shortly after, the main building of Rog is being protected as cultural heritage and in 2002 the Municipality of Ljubljana buys the entire complex. In year 2006 Rog is slowly becoming what it is today. A group of young people are taking the initiative to transform the old factory by the river into a cultural centre and it all begins with lectures by Antonio Negri, an Italian Marxist sociologist and political philosopher. Soon, Rog organizes a film festival and an exhibition followed by the establishment of Cirkulacija 2, a transdisciplinary art collective. They use the location for their artistic expression and at the same time Kinodvor Cinema uses the space for film screenings. This is the time when Rog comes to life.
A Different Perspective
To get another point of view about the current state of Rog as well as the thoughts on it’s future, we talked to a fifth year student Petra Vranković, studying at the Faculty of Architecture at the University of Ljubljana. As a part of their faculty duties, the students got an assignment to each come up with their own conceptual solution for the transformation of Tovarna Rog.
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Her idea is to leave the community where it started to grow but to renovate a few buildings inside the complex so it would become a sort of an artist retreat that would attract artists from other parts of Europe or even the world, to come there to create and educate each other. “I still go there whenever I can and the people there are really relaxed and welcoming, which is cool. And I also want my project to be welcoming for everyone who will decide to come.”
The main problem is, that the buildings are not safe. According to Petra they need to be cleaned and repaired. Another problem is that the people living there don’t have proper access to water, electricity etc. Those are the main things she wants to focus on first in her project.
A very important detail is that the students did in fact communicate with Rog’s community to find the best solution to combine the city’s needs and the actual needs of people. “Our task is to find a way between both of them.” They spent one month researching and getting involved in Rog activities before starting to work on their conceptual solutions, but in the end only a few students actually stuck with the initial plan to keep the community of Rog intact. Just like municipality, they decided the project can not happen with people already there and a compromise can not in fact, be made.
An architecture student Petra Vranković talking about her conceptual solution for the transformation of Tovarna Rog.
The conflicts here are obvious. One side wants to keep Rog the way it is, while the other side wants it completely changed. This battle has lasted for years and it doesn’t seem it’ll be over any time soon. Even though the ending of this story might be sad, it is an indeed one happy story, a story about life, about art, about people. It is a story about home and how it grows with time, despite the direction that growth is going to take. Whether the the walls will be torn down and new toilets built, life that exists there today will never be erased and at the end, all in all maybe it isn’t just another crack in the wall.
Lucie Hillová, Jana Milošević, Petra Šporčić