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.
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.
“… each form is the face that watches us…”, Serge Daney
What is reality? What we see, what we feel or what we know about the world that surrounds us. We rarely stop and think about it because it goes without saying, and yet to each of us it is different.
Somebody said once that memories are not what we have been through but what we remember. The same can be said about the experience of reality. Branislav Nikolić does not lean on memories or what he has experienced in his work. His starting points are realistic items that he collects, notes down and modifies. They are every-day mundane objects which become aesthetic once they are separated and replaced from their usual contexts. Branislav Nikolić’s paintings move along the trace of pop research of industrial products which the artist ambivalently plays with constantly. Volumes of notebooks of printed matter, newspaper cut-outs, pages from magazines, different packaging materials. They are all heroes of our times, products of consumer culture
When you extract an item or its part from its usual environment, it does not represent anything by itself, but if you reduce it to the level of form, which has a feature of a sign, then it can be a prototype and yet a symbol, too. In the simulation times of simulacrum the world is created by simulation models which almost completely replace reality. By applying Baudrillard’s theory, Branislav creates a meta-space where the form is the primary and building element. By transforming products of the modern civilisation he creates a new simulation model which, on both the formal level and on the level of meaning, represents the view of the other. Why the other? Well, maybe because contrary to the very item which closes down due to the style and personal signature, Branislav Nikolić’s forms expose something that exists only during an encounter, during a dynamic relationship that is established between his statement and other forms.
His images are reduced, minimalistic clean and naked, with a form which dominates. Yet, the very beauty of the form is not the goal by itself. Although seemingly simple, his paintings are multidimensional because they involve images of values that a modern society writes into forms recognizable to all of us. There we can see a modern man’s fascination with goods which completely take up the space of our social and cultural lives, and the capital alone reaches such levels of accumulation that it becomes a painting.
Who are you and what is your work?
I am an artist. More precisely, I think I am almost equally a painter and a sculptor.
Drawing is very important to me just as alphabet is to a writer. It is the source of ideas that are transponded to a larger, more representative format, or into a more permanent material. It is, actually, the limitless freedom where one can do anything, without aiming to create a piece of art. Sometimes I just cut out klippings from magazines that I like and stick them in my notebook.
It is quite another thing with paintings or sculptures. One invests more conscious work and that is why one expects more. Especially with sculptures. More often than not, there is no improvisation. Where an error in painting can be removed with another layer of paint, in sculpture each plank that is cut in a wrong way or a piece of rock that is chipped has to be replaced with a completely new piece. You need concentration and a lot of technical knowledge. I think that there is a streak of calmness and a sculptor’s nature in me.
I create “ordinary” objects recognised by all. They are transformed, in my way re-interpreted, reality. I direct my art towards everyday life so that it can communicate with those who are not art consumers, with those who do not go to museums and galleries. Public work has that exact opportunity.
I love materials. I love wood, I love clay, plastic, concrete, metal… I love painting with a shovel and a chisel, hammer and nails, just as I love sculpting with paint and brushes. “Muscles”, as a friend of mine has said.
I paint because I think that there are things that can be presented better in a form of painting than in 3-D format, in space. I think that the paintings are cool. I imagine them on the walls of designed apartments with people who really like them. Paintings are my personal messages to you only.
A dose of humour is always present and important in what I do.
Why do you do what you do (what is the point)?
I choose art because that way I can address people the best I can. If I were unable to share my ideas with people, I think I would “flip the lid”. My pieces of work are ideas transformed to objects made of matter. Sometimes I manage to show a lot more than I have previously thought I could, and sometimes it is just a bit of a splendid idea I have had in the beginning. It simply happened at that moment. My next piece is important. It must be better. It is most important to surprise yourself or else your effort was in vain.
How do you see yourself in the scene?
I think that I am, just like the majority of artist here, in quite a complicated position both in the sense of capacity to produce and in the sense of exhibiting. Sometimes I make a big piece for an exhibition (Belef, October Salon, Youth Biennale…). Sometimes it seems as self-satisfaction. But it is important to work every day. Those little things are important. The big ones come by themselves (or they do not at all).
What did you do in Holland?
During my three years of post-graduate studies in Holland I was working with different materials and in different media. I wanted to communicate with as many people as possible, and I wanted that fast. I needed the instant reaction to my works, quicker, more direct communication. I wanted to see what was going on around me. I spent my time riding my bike down the streets, collecting cast-away objects (planks, wooden boards, TV screens…) and I made different things with them. I wanted to give these thrown-away things back to the people but in an altogether different form. I was doing a sort of recycling (the Tower – big black chimneys, TV Mountains – TV screens cast in a layer of concrete. Cake – a stage made of cast away wood, Collection – found marbles in a form of collection etc.
I never think rationally about my topics. I get there accidentally, as if they find me. They are just ordinary objects that are unusually attractive to me. There are certain topics that have always attracted me. They are factory towers, houses, mountains and, generally, powerful architectural or natural shapes, then little fires, because they are so evasive, etc.
The most important thing in my life is freedom. I do not want to have to answer to anyone about my art. I do not worry about whether or not I will sell a piece. If it happens it has happened. I do not create art to make a living of it. I really enjoy myself doing it.
When you come by to Mercator shopping mall, down Boulevard Umetnosti coming from the centre, wishing to compensate for the loss, maybe you will stumble up the IN/OUT sculpture. You will search in vain for the data on the author. It’s not there. There were numerous problems about it but we are no telltalers. It was made by Branislav Nikolić (and, as far as I know, his dad, also an artist, helped him with the mould and casting). That is one of few sculptures that you can find in Novi Beograd public space, which was installed after the revolution and which has to do with contemporary art. Actually, I know of no other. Although rumour has it that very soon a competition will be announced on the city level in cooperation with big companies for the proposals for sculptures placed in front of banks and shopping malls. It will be for the artists younger than 35 years of age, so maybe I will make it, but, B.N., you are too old now.
The concrete letters that the above mentioned sculpture consists of, say a lot, it seems to me, about the time we live in and, as far as I am concerned, this piece of work is year IN, year OUT. Depending on the IN/OUT list and the vogue of the moment one can find topics of other sculptures and drawings this artist has created. I am mentioning the ones I remember and they are: cakes, tyres, coconuts, TVs, jackets, kiosks & churches, windows, planets and Wunderbaum trees.
Such a free approach to topics and sculptural work derived from pop-art, trash and minimalist procedures allow you to think of them what you will and the visual pleasure and communication with these pieces of art will depend on your capacities and knowledge. Another quality of these pieces is the awareness of material recycling, which is a part of modern tendencies and actions that this artist has adopted during his studies in Holland. Such a method and approach to the materials in our condition makes additional sense because it allows easier experimenting and increases the awareness about the forms and objects that surround us. I can confirm that it is not often the case here, because I was myself witnessing a discussion among our young curators who were at a contemporary art fair abroad complaining that they did not get it why the collectors buy some “rubbish” made of cardboard and planks.
I have to thank B. Nikolić for promoting me into a model at a fashion show and performance of the New Remote group whose member he is and whose work I find very interesting. I met the only Indian woman in my life there (Camilla Singh) and spent a couple of unforgettable moments with Miss YU – just in our underwear.
I am sorry for breaking one of your little fires – my hands ached. I have been unloading beer boxes in Sex and the City Bar.
In the relation of factors of probability (equal – unequal – similar) transformed into visual culture, the term similar has obvious consequences in the field of art based on which the new art is considerably different form the classical art. The term similar is a comparison mediator, both between the terms equal and unequal and in the domain of the term similar, as a relation in contrasting something to something else or someone to someone else. As in the classical art, until the end of the 19th century motives came from natural forms, so is the art of the 20th and 21st centuries focused more on itself as an object. Similar is manifested through the given frames of reference and determinants of new technical and technological signifiers, capacities and standards, by which a contemporary work of art is massively realised. Due to that the term similar in works that are realised under the same technical conditions is unified in style but individualised poetically. And so similar and similarity in contemporary works of art are quite close as types, regardless of individual concepts, dimensions and techniques. In this way visual arts absolutely concretely “borrow” virtual quality of similarity from the natural and embodied shapes, almost without participation of the direct creator during the process of creating the piece. This does not belittle the importance and artistic range of a contemporary work of art, but multiplying the similar leads toward the anonymous form. An important part of such kind of art production remains only in traces of remembering and reduces the authenti-city of a work of art.
In that sense the term similar achieves unity in the standards of technical performance where the term and the meaning of the term authentic almost lose priority in connection to the requirements of permanent modernity. Technicaly, new roads are thus open towards seeing the familiar in a different way.
On the other hand, the other part in the production of the work of contemporary art that emerges from the need of emphasizing a “personal touch” in the production of contemporary works of art, which promote authentic attempts of a “strictly personal signature” (which is importantly connected to the term and meaning of art freedom, so tempestuously conquered by the art of the twentieth century), is approaching more to the general term unequal (as a gesture of differing from others), for that, one by all means believes in achieving authenticity and, what seems, a personalised opinion regarding understanding one’s own art. As much as, in the first case, modern techniques and technologies unify the art production in a media way, adjoining itself to the dominance of the term similar, in the same ratio, the other field is dominated by the term unequal in its widest meanings.
In a wider context of the meaning of similar we find an important poetic segment in the art of Branislav Nikolić. This is especially connected to the sculptural objects intended for public spaces, whose objective-spatial and functional offering is in its appearance quite importantly connected to the similarity to something very well-known. Those are not symbolised attributes of the “portrayed shapes of reality”, but present a self-determined approach to the emancipation of their conventional banality. Actually, it is a demonstration of the author’s desires to create a new show where he wins the power of his already obvious recognisability. Thus, each shape “deserves” its own re-interpretative presentation where it will never be what it was thought to have been. It is a refined step forward from Duchamp’s “army coat” and it is not just the source of just renaming the function of a former conventional-functional object towards its “profane sacralisation”. Branislav Nikolić leans on the essential movement of the outer contour of a reshaped object, not annihilating the feature of the source model, but with crystal clarity pointing out the naked appearance in elementary characteristics of materialised form. Very often he uses a discarded object or one that has already been used. In that sense the term similar of that newly-made object, indicating a sculptural form, in Branislav Nikolić’s work establishes a new convention of recognision of sculptural in relation to taking example by a “similar” already existing object. Aesthetics and poetry of his sculpted objects (church, pillar, ceramic circle, cake), or objects-installations seen in TV commercials cast in concrete, or shapes that represent “trash aesthetics”, as he himself says, actually resurrect an almost invisible world of forms and materials, which only in sculptors’ interventions, as re-composed objects, are given a status of highly emancipated sculpted objects.
In these circumstances of reflexion upon sculpting and installation capacities, this author connects and engulfs the contemporary principles of visual culture with the principles of environmental awareness and recycling. As an artist of urban orientation he makes a simple path towards a creative process, not bearing a burden of instant and passing effects, where he cherishes his art in coordination with his personality of a serious, curious, quiet man ready to learn.
The best example for this is one of his works called IN/OUT (a sculpture containing the two words), exhibited within BELEF in 2003, in front of Mercator mall in Belgrade. The letters cast in concrete (150 x 100 cm each) are levelled with the ground but at different heights, pointing out to a much wider context, thus presenting the first steps towards understanding urban sculpture in Belgrade, intended for the very urban structure of the city, stripped of any conventional/monument-like role.
Apart from all this, it is necessary to mention his very interesting drawing opus that has emerged during his daily recording of certain shapes and ideas that somehow remain invisible for the “rest of the world”. This is directly connected to his research work in the field of visual culture, and with the passionate collecting of the materials for this activity through drawing, photographing, cutting out newspaper articles and surfing the Internet.
Branislav Nikolić is the co-author of the textbook for art culture from the first to the fourth grades of elementary school. Mentioning these interests and activities is not a mere introduction to his public work, but it is a lot more important to point out a new profile of an artist who does other things on a daily basis, but who can therefore profile his world of art in a modern way.