There were five of them. All wearing hoodies and bandanas, backpacks filled with spray paint. It was early fall 2012. and days were getting shorter. They checked their blueprints and equipment, loaded them in the car and headed for Ravnice, a neighborhood on the east side of the city, as the sun started to set.
‘We don’t know if we’ll get in trouble for this, that’s why we have bandanas. It’s a precautionary measure. ‘ says Bare, looking at a design he made for this evening’s target.
They stopped the car in a parking lot just outside a maze-like constellation of small streets. The kind you get lost in if not from around there. That was the old part of Ravnice, one of those ‘like it used to be’ parts of town. There, at the first intersection, next to a small market that’s seen better days stood Iron Frankie, their target. They were about to make him look good again.
Iron Frankie (Zelezni Francek) is a street term for old communal water pumps that one can find all over the city. They were used mostly by neighborhoods on the edge of town, where households were still not connected to the city’s water infrastructure. Zagreb had them since 1930’s and it was the main source of water for most locals. As the city grew and fringe parts of Zagreb got engulfed into it, the need for Iron Frankies dwindled. By the early 1980’s they were used mostly by children in between games and manual workers that had shops in the vicinity of a Frankie.
‘The pumps bring found memories of our childhoods. They represent a more innocent time for us when we used to play around the hood all day long. Most of them were working then and had been maintained but now nobody seems to notice them any more. They are a big part of Zagreb’s identity, we wanted to make people be aware of that’, says Ljuba.
He, Bare, Ruska, Noty and Berni had painted their first pump on Tresnjevka, at the corner of Kranjceviceva and Metalceva streets, where they grew up. They painted it in honor of Janica Kostelic, Zagreb’s legendary skier. The ones that still worked they’d scrub, polish and paint in dark green, the color they used to have before time and negligence did their work on them. The ones that stopped working they would paint in different styles, mostly paying homage to something from that neighborhood.
‘We think we’re doing something nice for the city, but municipal codes treat this kind of behavior as vandalism and we could get hefty fines for doing it. Most locals, when they see us, are baffled at first. Some wave their hands in disregard, some come to us and ask questions, but so far no one has ever called the cops on us. I think they recognize our work.’ said Ljuba as they scrubbed the pump in Ravnice. And he was right. Police patrols that caught them doing it looked the other way and the municipal government started noticing the potential of such work.
Since those first nightly guerrilla makeovers started, the guys became famous throughout the city as Pimp my Pump art collective. They’ve painted and repainted every pump in the city a couple of times, at least once a year and started to expand on their themes from marking special events to broad pop cultural references. They are guests of most street festivals, they had a couple of city founded exhibitions, last one being held on the main train station, set up in the old unused wagons. They also expanded their work organizing block parties, rallying locals to repaint gray stricken facades and elements for children in old hidden neighborhood parks.
‘There’s about a hundred of Frankies around the city. We’ve painted most of them, but some are still hidden. People tell us about them, but you can’t find them if you don’t know where to look. Most of those lost are on the hills overlooking the old town.’, says Bare, ‘We’ll get to them eventually, but for the time being there’s plenty of work to be done with making other forgotten parts of the city shine again.’
You can check Pimp my pump collective’s work on their Facebook page or on their brand new website or you can start a scavenger hunt around old city neighborhoods to get the feel of Zagreb outside of main tourist attractions.