Looking for Mercury and Venus

Stepping off Ilica and on to Margaretska, Saturday’s špica is in full swing. After a long winter, the cafes are crowded again, full of spring colours and chatter. Any other day, I’d look for an empty chair, but today I’m on a planet hunt; I’m walking around, slightly lost, hoping to stumble into Mercury.

Zagreb is a small city, but somehow it manages to squeeze in the entire Solar System (including Pluto) within its streets. The planets are unassuming – simple stainless steel orbs fastened on city walls. They stand in plain sight, but without any additional pomp, tend to get crowded out, even when they stand alone.

When I finally spot it, between the Josip Račič studio and a little boutique, I realize I’ve passed it every day for months now.  It’s a little knot on a plaque with a simple engraving – MERCURY. I feel both silly and excited.

Finding Venus is even trickier. It stands somewhere on the Main Square, the only place in Zagreb that’s almost always crowded, hidden between vendors, stalls, fixtures, sculptures, teens, cafes, stores, cycles, and an upbeat Saturday.

It’s fastened on a granite pillar along the walkway that leads to Dolac, the open market. The fact that it resembles a functional bolt, makes it even easier to miss the engraving, and with it the significance of this installation. When I pull out my camera, a number of people give me the look – why is she taking photos of a pillar, and a bolt? Foreigners! Yesterday I’d have thought the same – why is she taking photos of a pillar, and a bolt? Weird!

The planets are part of the Nine Views Installation created by local artist Davor Preis. It was inspired by one of the city’s well known sculptures – The Grounded Sun (Prizemljeno Sunce). The giant bronze sphere, now scrawled in graffiti, is a 1971 creation by artist Ivan Kožarić. I’ve always seen it bearing the weight of exuberant teenagers, posing for the camera, or as an odd drop back to this busy pedestrian street in the centre of Zagreb, and I’ve often wondered where the rest of the system was. As it turns out, not too far away.

Preis designed nine scaled-down planets (Pluto was still one of the cool kids, back then) to accompany the Sun. When designing the installation, he stayed true to the actual proportions of the miniature planets in relation to the Grounded Sun. He also placed them at distances to mirror actual distances. So while Mercury, the size of a button, is a mere 75 meters from the Grounded Sun, Jupiter is the size of a respectable beach ball, and is located further away from the centre, along a leafy street with elegant villas; the further you explore the solar system, the further you explore Zagreb.