Maja Ćirić, Belgrade Pillars, 2011
Branislav Nikolić, the author dealing for many years with a social dimension of the sculpture as a medium in public space (to remind ourselves of his earlier works: Kiosk, Cake, TV Mountains), has acted as an archeologist of the contemporary society within the project Belgrade Pillars. The objects of his interest are wainscot, door frames and windows, abandoned by the garbage containers, which have lost their purpose: natural one (as a tree) and utilitarian (as woodwork). The artist uses the found waste as indexed location of social circumstances in order to create his own processuality, i.e., his own artistic gesture intervening in the social body. The process preceding Belgrade Pillars entails searching the streets and collecting materials, joinery thrown out of the houses, business premises and institutions. Then, their assortment, cutting – in order to obtain usable parts, and then assembling takes place as well as attaching of the ‘collage’ onto the previously prepared wooden constructions. Material of every pillar relates to certain part of the town, therefore the gallery now holds The Pilar of Banjica, of Dorćol, New Belgrade, Dušanovac. These pillars display colours characteristic of the part of the town where they came from. For instance, the specific red windows of Banjica ‘have painted’ this particular pillar in red, the typical old fashioned white colour of the woodwork from Dorćol is responsible for the white colour of this pillar etc.
Nevertheless, Belgrade Pillars do not represent only the part of the town whereming out of the boundaries of the institutional norms, i.e., about ms and rules, then we are talking they came from or Nikolić’s skill in transforming the material. Branislav Nikolić’s intervention entails introduction of socially discarded facts into the institutions of art where they obtain new function: the status of the work of art. City vibrations become resonant in a way that optimizes the society and institution in artistic and socially engaged terms. Moving of the material from the exterior into the interior, ever since the 60’s, endures as an anti-strategy in the whiteness of the gallery space, so-called, white cube1 and the display area becomes the location where artistic practice and politics intersect.2 Sterile white gallery/institution walls are only on surface social regulators subscribing to the rhetoric of inclusivity. If we take the institution to be separate intersubjective dimension of the structure grounded in norms and rules, then we are talking about the special way of stepping out of the boundaries of the institutional norms, i.e., about creating artistic practice as a social critique. Nikolić’s action is not the subject of the external normativity, that is, the lack of it in the society undergoing transition from one political system to another, but it is a construction of its own hypothesis, with intention of testing the surrounding world. The artist is not limited by the offered lack of model for treatment of waste, but creates its own model of acting. He does not see abandoned materials as mere change in what we can perceive with our senses, but he rearticulates what is offered and in that way creates his own harmony revealed in the pillar as a universal structural element whose function is to support the system.
If the goal of the critique is to dearticulate existing hegemony in order to establish a more progressive one3 by means of rearticulating new and old elements in different power configurations, the key to interpreting this exhibition is the level of artist’s intervention4 in the proposed interpretation of the offered social content.
If we understand the abandonment of the solid wood as politization of the aesthetics (W. Benjamin), then the recomposing of the wood waste into a pillar form, as some kind of transformation or recycling, should be considered as a critical aesthetization of politics5 both in figurative sense (geometrical transformation from natural cylindrical shape of the trunk into the rectangular material, and than from it into trunk like form of the pillar) and in the literal sense of the recycling of abandoned natural resources.
Critical capacity, then, does not entail rehabilitation of the previous function, but creation of the new one.6 Branislav Nikolić is not interested in passive appropriation of social facts, but in their interpretation, thus creating the work of art whose function is productive social critique grounded in recombination, recomposition and reconstruction of existing facts. Productivity is revealed in tendency to improve or change function of what has been unjustifiably abandoned by the society. The history of the town transformed and ennobled by this artistic gesture is inscribed into what one day will be institutional history of the specific gallery space.
Unlike institutional critique, which is an historical term for different waves of critique directed towards the institution of the world of art, in this case art has been used to create productive critique of the society. Rearticulation of the waste in the form of pillars is a kind of critical practice directed towards society where paradoxically the institution of art, that is, the gallery space as exponent of the dominant politics, becomes precisely that which supports the social critique and brings order into the aesthetic regime.
1 Brian O’Doherty, Boxes, Cubes, Installations, Whiteness and Money, A Manual / for the 21st Century Art Institution, Koenig books, London, 2009, p. 27.
2 Macro Scotini, Neo-Capitalism and Re-Territorialization, The Grammer of the Exhibition, Manifesta Journal, p. 68.
3 Chantal Mouffe, Critique as Counter-Hegemonic Intervention, http://eipcp.net/transversal/0808/mouffe/en, jul 2011.
4 Nicholas Serota, Experience of Interpretation: The Dilemma of Museums of Modern Art, Thames and Hudson, London, 1995.
5 Politics is here understood as the production of the subject.
6 Maurizio Lazzarato, From Knowledge to Belief, from Critique to the Production of Subjectivity, http://eipcp.net/transversal/0808/lazzarato/en, jul, 2011.