Skver Art Festival : Wild on the Croatian Island of Mali Losinj
Three words: Skver, Mali, Losinj. I’ll take a punt and say there’s few people in the world who can explain those words. I’ll try. Simply, Mali Losinj is a spectacular Croatian island located in the Adriatic Sea (like all good Croatian islands). And Skver means two things – it’s Croatian slang for “shipyard”, and it’s the name of the most unique experimental contemporary art festival you’ve never heard of. Every year, local and international contemporary artists invade the rugged workplace of the Mali Losinj ship-workers, installing art into a historic, but still very real and operational shipyard. On the surface, Skver would appear to be the ultimate clash of cultures.
The port of Mali Losinj is said to have once held a merchant fleet of ships that was the largest in these parts, rivalling even the merchant fleet of Venice. Today it’s a shadow of it’s former greatness, and feels semi-abandoned. In contrast to the spectacular scenery to be found all over the island, the shipyard remains a gritty, dirty, and dangerous workplace, where men are men and women aren’t seen at all. Helping to inject a little life and new-found interest, Skver has created a now four year old gallery throughout the shipyard. As for “experimental contemporary art”, this year the “installations” included an artist sticking a pulsing red light into his eye to self-hypnotise himself whilst digitally painting on his iPad, and projecting the results live onto a shipping container.
Clearly, Skver is not a place for classical, or traditional art. Forty-four gallon drums filled with water and wired to home made electronic devices, creating an interactive instrument that emits loud 1980’s video-game-esque bleeps. A cute girl performing tongue twisters from around the world. An old pile of concrete blocks that were swirling with psychedelic projections – and not only that – the discarded bricks were talking to me in an alien language. A huge abandoned Russian ship covered with skillfully projected light paintings. Murals, music, noises, and unexplainable oddities. LSD, not required.
Shipyard workers, contemporary artists, locals and tourists alike stroll through the enormous warehouses, scrap piles, workshops, ships, and outdoor spaces. Whether you have a deep interest in the arts, or not, the Skver festival is something that can be enjoyed by everyone. Free beer (free, as in, “free beer”) and a BBQ prepared and provided by the shipyard workers during the Saturday night opening sealed the deal for even the most hardened critics. However, it was the piano accordion musician enthusiastically singing traditional Croatian songs next to the beer and BBQ queue, that made me believe that on this night – I had found the best time to be had anywhere on Earth.
In the days leading up to the Skver opening, I spent a lot of time at the unbelievably cool mid-century Hotel Helios. Built in 1963, staying at Helios gave me an intriguing view into the day-to-day life of Mali Losinj. Basically, predominantly European tourists head to the island for good food, a relaxed atmosphere, and a countless array of beaches and inlets. The water is crisp and clear. And Losinj – unlike many Croatian islands – is thick with trees and vegetation. The hotel is located within a beach side Pine tree forest – planted a century or so ago, and sadly, the entire complex is slated for demolition. It will be replaced with a giant (and no doubt faceless and impersonal) resort – perhaps sooner rather than later.
Mali Losinj is a reasonably compact island, with a permanent population of around 6000 people. This can double during peak-season. By comparison, other Croatian beach side destinations such as Split and Dubrovnik, have around 6000 tourists arriving a minute. Occupied since the times of Romans, Mali Losinj is small enough to feel a real sense of the local life. And, unlike more popular tourist destinations (hello Split), I wasn’t left with the feeling that I was simply a walking wallet. Tourism isn’t just “tolerated” in Losinj, it’s warmly welcomed. In a laid back sort of way.
The photos in this article are portraits of the Skver shipyard workers, the Skver artists, the Skver art, and a piano accordian player. I really enjoyed taking the portraits. I hope the subjects see this as just one way that the Skver festival can give a little back to these hard workers who – let’s face it – are invaded by beer swilling art freaks once a year. My personal thanks goes out to these gentlemen.
click to see an interactive map showing the location of this article
So you feel like an island getaway. My personal suggestion – next year, head to the Skver festival. Stay at the incredible communist-era mid-century-modern Hotel Helios (more of my Helios photos here), which would be just at home in 1960’s Southern California as it is out here in the Adriatic Sea. Grab a tan, relax, and you’ll get to enjoy one of the most unique experiences to be found anywhere on Earth. Keep an eye on the Skver website for more info. June is an ideal time to visit – the weather is great, and the peak tourist season has yet to begin in earnest.
Finally, I really want to give a huge, genuine, heartfelt personal thank you to Lisa Mangum and Dunja Jankovic for inviting Phillipa and I to come check out Skver art festival. You’re both amazing ladies, and the world needs more amazing ladies. I’m sure this won’t be the last time we catch up over a cheap Croatian beer.
PS , those of you who follow Yomadic on Facebook, will get to see plenty more photos from Skver. And the occasional photo of various ladies in bath (which has now generated a small amount of controversy).
PPS, I have now been on the road for 329 days. But, the journey is far from over.
26 thoughts on “Skver Art Festival : Wild on the Croatian Island of Mali Losinj”
It looks like an awesome time. Such a shame about the hotel, the owners should know that there’s money to be made in retro, especially stuff with a Mad Men era vibe.
And yes, you do need to get to Lisbon. It is amazingly fun.
It was a great time for sure. And I 100% agree about the Hotel Helios – the owners may live to regret their decision. A few of us spoke about it – a little bit of renovations to the rooms, marketing playing to the mid-century fans, and this would be one of the most popular hotels in Croatia. It’s an unknown gem. I came across guests that have been coming here for years and years, it’s such a special place, and has exceptional customer loyalty. Such a shame!
I really enjoyed your photos in this post. Interesting color palate, is it film or the X Pro-1? The last three portraits are all awesome in my humble opinion, love the expressions!
Cheers Luke – it’s all X Pro-1. I’m a film buff, so I’m constantly experimenting with colour/tone to get the feel I want. One day, I’ll get it right!
I think photo #19 (the worker in the yellow top and braces) is an absolute cracker. I love the light and the slightly wider viewpoint. The background is nicely blurred, but you can still make out the equipment and tools giving context to the man’s situation. I also really like the way the yellow top complements and contrasts with the yellow and red hardware in the background.
IMHO, some of the other portraits are a bit too close-up for comfort, but that’s just me! What a superb photo-essay though. And where else in the world can you experience art and party in a dry dock with a real ship in it?!
Thanks for an amazing blog. Happy travels.
Hi Don, thanks for the feedback, I really appreciate it. I know that these are not “typical” portraits, but I’m so drawn to facial expressions I couldn’t help but get closer and closer. Interesting point about the context – it’s something I’ll keep in mind in future. The light inside the workshop was incredible, definitely no flash required!
Once again, inspiring photos. God to travel there before it goes down. Have you done split yet?
And I know you probably have been asked a hundred times, do you plan on doing a small group photo tour workshop? And it’s Ashes Cup, who will win!?
G’day Laurence… I did visit Split, but only very briefly (one night), as I needed to get to Mali Losinj. And, I did feel very fortunate to be staying at the Helios – I can’t compliment it enough. As for the Ashes – well, I’m going to have to say Australia, of course! BTW – Cricket is my favourite sport, by a long shot. Love a great test match!
It seems that your countrymen are causing a bit of rambunctiousness in the Queen’s country. Looked up the Ashes Cup and some weird matches over its illustrious history. Seems like a great time with time outs for lunch and tea ;-)
I also do what I can to keep up with Australia and NZ politics and current events. Rudd in Gilliard out it seems. Truly hope to visit your great country. Be well
Yes, a big day in Oz politics today! And for sure (in reply to your other comment) – the Ashes is one of the worlds greatest historical sporting rivalry’s – I would love to attend a game in England one day…
Oh – and I forgot to say… I have toyed with the idea of a photo workshop…. one day it may happen – but my number one pick is Iran (which introduces a host of complications!)
Your posts are so unique and different from most other travel bloggers that is…quite refreshing. Looks like I share your posts with my readers every time you post a new one. And we are discovering so many new places from your posts! Thank you Sir!
Thanks dude… I really appreciate the sharing, I often check in to your site to get some reading material! As for being different from most other travel bloggers, I will take that as a huge compliment ;)
Hi Nate – For those interested in the hotel, here’s the trailer for the film by Ryan Jeffery that screened there when we were all there. http://www.usaprojects.org/project/guest_house_helios
Thanks for the amazing photos.
Thanks Quinn! I’ve been in touch with Ryan today – talking about his wonderful Helios film. I really enjoyed the movie… and it was pretty special, and a little strange even, watching it at Helios. Helios forever!
Fabulous photos, my man! I think you captured the spirit of this mysterious little festival just perfectly – definitely looks like something I’d love to do one summer.
We should do it together – BALKANS DOMINATION!
AWESOME photos, Nate! Love the portraits. You really captured something, there.
Thanks Jeremy – nice to hear from you mate! I knew going in, that the workers, and the location, would make a great combination for portraiture. Glad you enjoyed them.
Wow Nate, amazing portrait photos. It’s awesome that you were able to convince a few to allow you to. And what a wild concept for a festival! But these quirky and odd types of things are exactly what I love to experience. Looks like a helluva good time!
Thanks Ryan… some of these guys were a little intimidating – they were in the middle of some very hefty manual labour. There’s a few that just wouldn’t let me take their photo, no matter how hard I tried to convince them. Others were totally into it. And yeah – the Skver festival is totally wild – if you ever find yourself in this part of the world, look it up!
a little (ironic) Orange dominant ??????
The hue in the photos? If so… yes… (life is too short not to play with colour)… but I’m not sure about the irony?
Wow, what a cool experience. And as always, amazing pictures. Love the portraits of the shipyard workers, such a contrast to what’s going on around them with the festival.
How could I forget to reply to Noelle! Always appreciate your feedback, thanks Noelle!