Radoš Antonijević, Shape and Colour – The World of Branislav Nikolić, 2011
While the Gallery Treći Beograd was still in construction, I was visiting the construction site with the friends from the eponymous art group trying to understand, based on the walls that were just being built, the ultimate intention of the architect. Walking between the scaffolding poles and the building material scattered around I noticed one object leaning against the wall. It was an object in a form of a pillar 60 centimeters in diameter and 4 meters high. This shape was made by narrow planks of different lengths and colours and at first I thought it was some kind of the form for casting concrete pillars. I was on the construction site and the proportions and the material of the pillar implied such conclusion. The planks were mostly recycled old door-posts, windows and cupboards, and there were also some newer planks. Namely, the form for casting is usually not made of too solid material because it is used only once. Once the concrete pillar is made, the form is dismantled or completely taken apart and thrown away, that is why I thought that the builders, saving material, decided to use some old wooden elements. This is something that often happens in individual construction, people are usually resourceful.
However, something in that object – the form, was not quite in order. On its surface, I could see the traces of fresh interventions in colours, but the biggest percentage of colour came from the original colour of the objects that were taken apart. I thought, jokingly, that the builders of the Treći Beograd have extraordinary gift for painting. And as I analyzed this object in detail I sensed that it could not all have been a coincidence. Synchronized and balanced relations of the painted surfaces, harmony and extraordinary coloristic force of the form for casting concrete pillar in the middle of the construction site, you must admit are extremely unusual. I was wondering – could it be that the builders knew that they were building future gallery and that it could all be somehow related? Everything was pointing out that something unusual was hiding behind this object so I continued my investigation from up-close.
Equipped with experience from building my own house and constructing several sculptures I stepped closer to the mysterious object. Outside planks were connected with round discs at the distance of a meter in height (it was visible through the joints between the planks). Internal space was not functional; it was only constructively supporting the external shape. So – it was not a case of a casting form. Bearing capacity of the construction was very economically balanced and was able to bear only itself, so it could not have been an independent pillar. „What is it then? “, I wandered. It looked like there must have been a painter amongst builders, most likely this was a three-dimensional painting“, I concluded, while my friends were coming closer and their voices telling me that they had finished the tour of construction site were becoming audible. At that moment someone behind me said: „It seems you like Brana’s sculpture“.
As luck would have it, my first encounter with the work of Branislav Nikolić happened precisely on the construction site, on the location of the gallery that was to be constructed. Later on I found out that he was a painter, art academy graduate, who made sculptures as well. And did that very well.
His sculpture was temporarily stored on that construction site, but this unusual environment was very significant for my interpretation of his work. Three-dimensional painting essentially means that the object has dual nature, that it has sculpturality, but that it cannot be completely understood without the context of painterly treatment. As sculpture that controversial object is actually a shell whose walls are made of plank. Internal space hides nothing new that has not been already suggested in its external form, which is revealed quickly and directly thanks to its minimalist simplicity. Painting is a surface that does not allow physical penetration into its depth. It does not have to be flat, because flat surface (one without distortions) exists only in Euclidean space. With this assumption, the colour obtains the legitimacy to bear the visuality of the object with equal responsibility as it were a shape. The layering of this work and its juiciness start the moment we realise that in the space, the width of the already mentioned shell, the possibility opens up for experiencing the fleshiness of the world. What I want to describe is very similar to the squid, molusk with a hollow form encircled by a fleshy wall.
On the exhibition Beogradski stubovi (Belgrade Pillars) in theDom Omladine in 2011, Branislav exhibited five such pillars. He used materials of discarded object, doors, windows, found in different parts of town whose names became the names of the pillars (Pillar of Banjica, of Dorcol, of Novi Beograd…). In a white gallery five pillar like forms seemed very convincing, but different. The fact that there was no enigma of its origin, made it easier to understand the sculptural vs. painterly conflict contained in this work.
The colour in this work was used also as material. Some spots cracked, chipped and peeled off over time showed signs of years long painting. With all these layers it was easy to dive into the past, and history written in that way had a force to wake up my emotions. As if the range of all the apartments of my subtenant’s days moved into Branislav’s pillars. Suddenly, the door-posts of these tiny apartments „spoke“, bringing memories of the lines carved into them for our birthdays; until one day we were not able to go through these doors without bending our head. In my mind I dismantled these pillars and put up again the doors of childhood when the world was still in colours.
Defunctionalization in the procedure of deconstruction is absolutely clear, because the material does not embrace a new function but remains free in space for observation. It is a free space, where a door-post becomes again an ordinary wooden plank and displays its meat and potential to transform into something else. As if Branislav were telling us that the door used to be a wood and that things had potential to transform into something else. He does not transform them to their new function, nor does he care about the old one. The material of dismantled objects remains arrested in simple minimal pillar forms whose only purpose is to be looked at. They are in a manner of speaking an accumulation of material and silos of colours.
The pillars are actually bearers of the coloured extracts of the world surrounding us. As if Branislav were teaching us how to observe the world and asking us did we know what the things surrounding us were made of? He is amusing us with harmonic coloured relations, but is also criticising us and warning us that the things escape us and that we can only really know very little. His work is a criticism of consumer society which just buys and discards without thinking of consequences, but it is also a cry of life finding its way to new joy and beauty of the world.