Mrđan Bajić, Kiseonik / Oxygen, 1989.
An important part of the artistic production in Belgrade, and partially Novi Sad, in the '80s had a very accentuated relationship with the new wave in rock music. What was at the beginning impulsively called new image painting was in fact, together with other urban happenings, part of a striking picture of the spiritual climate of the somewhat wild but primarily (at least at first sight) carefree eighties. Not burdened with politics, artists were able to create, particularly in the first half of the decade, distinctive postmodernist works – mostly structured and sophisticated. At the end of the '80s there was a change in the visual production, with a generation of artists – primarily sculptors – whose plastic language was far from the boisterous expressiveness of their immediate predecessors. Although it was frequently marked as new generation – which I found wrong and Prussian in relation to their activity and those works: by their context and their broad deliberation they belong to the body of postmodernism, regardless of their mimicry of the paradigmatic works of modern art.
The exhibition called The Early Nineties – Yugoslav Artistic Scene, held in late summer of 1993 at the Contemporary Fine Arts Gallery of Novi Sad, showed this generation's horizon clearly, although slightly post festum. It was the generation of artists who matured at the end of the '80s and the very transition to the '90s. Those were the artists who could in some way be connected to the concept of unexpressionism and who marked the end of the eighties: first of all, Srdjan Apostolovic, Dusan Petrovic, Dobrivoje Krgovic, Zdravko Joksimovic, then artists who brought a little bit of the narrative into the dictate of geometry – Dragan Jelenkovic, Bozica Radjenovic and Marina Vasiljevic, and the group Apsolutno (Absolutely) from Novi Sad, with Zoran Pantelic, Rastislav Skulec and Dragan Rakic.
Events in art frequently gain unusual acceleration and surmount unexpected paths – as soon as a, conditionally called, circle has seized its appropriate place within an artistic system, there comes another model through the capillaries of the dense social circumstances and very soon it constitutes its own horizon. Such a new scene, yet to be established – at least in Belgrade – comprise those artists who began their activities in a parallel layer of underground, and gradually built "overground", more conspicuous forms.
Within that space several groups are active today, gathered around projects of longer or shorter duration, of greater or lesser internal coherence, as well as several individuals. Their common characteristic would be intermediality, their assured presence in several parallel fields (music, literature, photography, painting, performance...) and a sliding centre of gravity located in one of the media, according to the needs.
The artists I plan to talk about are active, like all other artists – on the background of totally changed social conditions. This may be of importance since, contrary to the above mentioned predecessors, they openly take this into account.
The fact that we are talking about certain segments of current art does not, in any way, assume that in other parts of Belgrade's artistic scene there is nothing of interest or significance – quite conversely. The presence and active participation of the youngest artists, continuing in a way the line of un-expressionism or insisting on their personal visual expression, testify of the fact that the Belgrade scene of mid-nineties is again stratified and dynamic.
One of its most dynamic parts is certainly the one that has been able to maintain, and even radicalize, its relationship with rock-music. Several names are at its peak – starting with Miomir Grujic Fleka (who was a successful organizer, in cooperation with Darka Radosavljevic, of a significant project – Urbazona), then Srdjan Markovic Djile, whose big paintings of precisely chosen colours revitalize the language of underground comic strips, and a pair of artists whose painting is defined by the concept of autonomism – Uros Djuric and Stevan Markus.
Each true art lives in a ghetto, but these may differ in size: some circles of devotees are smaller, some larger. In areas where criminals become heroes, black-market smugglers bankers, and inflatable dolls ministers, it becomes quite logical that the verified and celebrated artists of the moment are either charlatans playing the role of tribal shamans or, famous forgers. However, we re not talking about them – despite the overall nouveau-riches set-up of culture, this city has artists who sustain their artistic personalities, creative individuals who gather around themselves those – ever fewer – artists recognized by the value of their works.
Škart, Tuge / Sadness, 1993.
Srdjan Djile Markovic, a painter with the experience of a rock musician (he has recently appeared in theatre as well) and a witty commentator of different aesthetic problems of what could be defined as underground, takes American radical, underground comic strip as his point of departure in painting. Traditional criticism would try to define the foundation of this phenomena – particularly because Srdjan Markovic, with just a few young authors from the rock milieu, is a rather solitary figure in Belgrade. But, that would be a wrong trail, since, if there is a musical and club underground in Belgrade, it is quite logical that there should also be an authentic space for the development of similar visual activities. His works do not try to disguise the landmarks of American urban plastic scenes – comic strip background, newspaper illustrations of specialized magazines, graffiti art and those who entered art galleries directly from metro railways.
However, the works of Djile Markovic are not buried in that other, underground, Belgrade. Although their point of departure is the aesthetics (even more, ethics) of the subterranean parallel city – they endure on a specific sinusoid of underground-overground, if for nothing else then for the fact that they have been the central points of almost all official exhibitions in recent years. A similar contradiction continues within the material itself: the dynamics of an undulated composition, a particular horror vacuum of the new age in collision with a perfect, patient execution. The aggressive colorific thrusts are framed within a consistent drawing, the foundation of these paintings. The presence of these sharp polarities is the precious energetic substance of his paintings whose narrative layer contains strikingly grotesque, bizarre situations. An inexorable glance from the basement frequently frames petty-bourgeois hypocrisy (paintings like Little Dog, Nouveaux Riches) or freezes the scenes of violent parties.
Uros Djuric and Stevan Markus emerged on the scene together with a number of younger artists who became active at the beginning of this decade (Milica Tomic, Jasmina Kalic, Dimitrije Pecic, and others). However, there have always been distinguishing marks in the paintings of Djuric and Markus that separated them from the group since the very beginning – their thematic framework, their general attitude and other features. Their painting has on several occasions been defined as escapist, as a romantic step into the parallel world of rock culture.
The iconography of Uros Djuric contains somewhat strange characters (for the uninitiated) – the cult places of the rock universe, comic strip heroes and people from the street. But, most of all, the main hero with both Djuric and Markus, is the artist himself – personality. This is a kind of I-painting, a romanced pictorial autobiography where the protagonist lives in the spaces of his desires, fascinations and obsessions and brings back pictures from these spaces, scenes as acute reports.
Srđan Đile Marković, Danger, 1995.
The direct subjective discourse of these artists succeeds in finding the most adequate pictorial and mйtier solutions – their paintings are expressive but not wild, they always have the right measure of energy and do not let the scene (the backbone of the painting) dissolve. Uros Djuric has a more robust gesture, thick paint is an element of the painting and its protagonist – the author, as a figure, sometimes as a flying identification with Superman, for example, and the coloured field is frequently the place for quotations, either from the works of the classics of avantgarde or artist friends.
The painting of Markus is much more tranquil and polished in execution; his coating is thin and shining, the artist is almost always in the (self)portrait, and the painting has a binary arrangement, like a bewildering or bizarre encounter. Despite his desire to make them hard, these paintings frequently contain a specific rectitude, the honesty of a deliberate and conscious urban naivetй.
As already said, Djuric and Markus are not the only artists who underline in their works the relationship with rock music, but they represent the nucleus of a broader movement. It could also incorporate recent works of Zoran Marinkovic, an active member of an eminent rock ensemble Bjesovi from Gornji Milanovac whose painting does not have the iconography of rock but his direct expression conveys the reference.
An artist who began to exhibit in mid-eighties with the generation of un-expressionists, to which he belonged biologically but not conceptually – the fact that made a critical reading of his works difficult – produced provocative and always brilliantly executed works, under the pseudonym Talent. His early works, environments, objects, photographs, facade paintings of large dimensions, and later videos and video installations bring to the forefront an obsessive theme – birds. The roots of these and many other works of Talent disguise a frank fascination, one could even say the fascination of a child that discovers the world, or its material remains. Therefore, no wonder drawings from his childhood, of animals, again, are incorporated in some of his works.
In his assemblages and other works Talent uses objects he has found, rejected civilizational artifacts and applies them sometimes as a specific ready-made, for example in the latest series of works that could be defined as alphabetaries. For several years he gathered metal junk, frequently of undefinable original purpose, and choose those pieces that could visually be associated with letters of the alphabet or punctuation signs. This lead to a particular logotype Talent has used in other works of visual and applied arts, record and compact disk designs. These are not Talent's only connections to music; sound is also an area of his interest, e.g. samples, either for other authors or his own projects.
The backbone of overall Talent's work could be defined as unobtrusive metaphysics of things found. The rejected and corroded, the decayed or dried are mixed in the laboratory of this peculiar archivist with the latest video and photo technology.
Sasa Markovic also began to exhibit his works in the eighties. His first one-man show revealed a long-term secret project with an impressive quantity of visual material as its result. He was then a student of literature, with none of his later artistic names like Mikrob, Mladozenja, Meksikanac, Kaludjer (Microbe, Bridegroom, Mexican, Monk), and had a large circle of friends. With his friends, and later some other persons as well, acquaintances or passers-by, Markovic took photographs in photo-booths.
Somewhat later this work acquired two additional elements: the cartridge belts of these photographs were provided with written commentaries that resembled literature in their structure and quality. The other element were masks; the protagonists of Markovic's photo-belts wore masks produced by the author himself in a reduced and visually aggressive form, adapting each of them to the person who wears it.
In the following phase, masks became drastically complex and self-contained – they were either the artifact exhibited or part of a more elaborate performance. Rudimentary drawings with persons reduced to signs inhabit unusual calendars, visual-literary chronicles of urban life, rock and roll and political events.
Uroš Đurić, Bespredmetni autonomizam: Ubistvo ili dva najveća srpska slikara umirena svojom veličinom / Non-objective Autonomism: Murder or two greatest Serbian Painters subdued by their own Greatness, 1997.
The Skart group can be singled out by its endurance, in the dimly lit space of underground, but also by its overall achievements. The group comprises primarily students of architecture and has been active from the very beginning of this, last, decade of the millennium. Although there were more people involved at the start, its active nucleus was soon reduced to just three names: Dragan Protic, Djordje Balmazovic and Vesna Pavlovic, but the essential principle has remained: to incorporate other artists in certain projects, depending on the nature of the project – composers, writers, visual artists, actors, designers, even people who could simply be defined as – personalities.
Their first entry into a broader, non-gallery space, into the space of the city, square, were their posters, actually the simulacra of posters. Handmade in small series they already contained all of the paradigmatic characteristics of their future activities in social space (art as social sculpture), visual minimalism, the strategy of quantum effectiveness – small gestures repeated in regular intervals, oneself against the raging reality.
Those posters appeared at key points of the city, in the windows of ever rarer book-stores, on the facades of dilapidated houses. They announced nothing, advertised nothing, offered nothing. Their subject-matter was either a punctuation sign or a single letter, accompanied with a short commentary: "never mind" or "rare letter". The enigmatic posters were also accompanied by specific broadcast programmess produced by Skart at the most popular radio station in Belgrade – Radio B92: cryptic messages were repeatedly emitted and the only recognizable sign was the voice of actress Rahela Ferari, charged with positive radiation. The programmes were supplemented by comments on the activities of the group, then entirely out of public sight, commentaries by public personalities who knew of the group or people randomly chosen and brought in front of the microphone, either bewildered or prepared to say something clever on anything, be it even the activities of Skart.
Their publications in a special edition called Nothing is necessary for the beginning had similar contours, and appeared in more or less regular intervals from December 1992 until the autumn of 1993. The first issue, Tuge (Sadness of potential consumers) was handed out in front of department stores in a gloomy atmosphere of Belgrade on the eve of holidays – destitution, empty shelves, grave people offered a gift of unusual appearance – a graphic, a poem on a piece of cardboard perforated near the top and equipped with a string to put around one's neck. People, confused, unable to guess what it was about, often refused the offered gift... After the first, above mentioned sadness, there were altogether 22 works from this series, made within nine months in intervals whose regularity was sometimes disturbed by lack of the necessary means or material. Those were lapidary poems entitled Sadness of potential... (traveler, winner, Pan, return, pistols, fields, friendships, literacy, delivery...). The circulation of these works-objects – or as somebody said, "authentic talismans against sadness" – was between 70 and 150, and all of them were either handed out or sent to certain addresses.
The effectiveness of the Skart group has had some additional significant aspects, for example, in the area of design: the format and logo of the visually most successful series published by the Literary youth of Serbia, then their activities in the broad field of performance-music, their projects with the Scottish artist Mark Hawker and the premiere of Armatura, a hymn to architecture (in cooperation with Ana Kara-Pesic, Branko Pavic and other artists and performers), and, finally, the new editions of Otvoreno (Open) – autumn of 1993 – where visual artists and writers united again in more voluminous numbers but adequately retaining the emblem of minimalism, as well as Sjecam se (I remember), an edition similar in concept to "sadness", where each volume contained a drawing and recollections of those who had to leave their homes. However, I believe that projects like posters and "sadness" series can serve as paradigm of their work.
The background of the Skart activities has been indicated – we live in a country which is not in war, where the promised Swedish standard is getting ever more certain – but in another century, we live with everyday promotions of great ideas, planetary plots, with a condensed history that, as always, devours the people. As it happens in disordered circumstances, dregs have come to surface in art as well: light entertainment, supported by semi-journalists of our semi-media experiences its zenith at the time when all cultural values are being dissolved, and the most important cultural institutions hang denuded kitsch on their walls, as required by the current politics.
The response to all that was an outside-gallery and totally un-institutional engagement: unobtrusive but consistent – the growing grotesque epic confronted with undertones and whispers – turned against overall howling. The activities of Skart represent an attempt to institute a new humanitarianism into the period concerned only with the collective aspect – an individual, intimate, statement versus the crowd. Their visual language is in harmony with their approach – reduced, minimalist, the materials are always simple (crude cardboard, natron, stamps, xerox or silk-screen) both for author works and applied art. Skart does not react only to local horizons, their works, although making use of technology to a certain extent, are turned against the terror of technology through fostering the cult of the hand and manual execution.
Undoubtedly, after all of the turbulence in the society, in culture and the arts, there will come a reconstruction. Judging by the degree of destruction, many areas will have to be redone profoundly. The web that Skart weaves of the human material is an innocent netting, a small island of unpolluted cleanliness, the only place from where reconstruction can begin.
Although it would be difficult to find a common denominator for the artists mentioned until now, they clearly constitute a horizon. The points of encounter and presentation are primarily exhibitions. Apart from the noted exhibition project Urbazona, which showed in the summer of 1993, in several segments, the works of some relatively known authors, but also promoted several completely new names, one should point out also a characteristic project called Art Garden, held in a former movie theatre hall of Cinema Rex in Dorcol. This exhibition brought together artists from older generations like Pedja Neskovic, Slobodan Milivojevic-Era, Marija Dragojlovic, Jovan Cekic, Dragoslav Krnajski and the youngest authors like Vera Stevanovic, Dejan Andjelkovic and Jelica Radovanovic. Such concept was partially conditioned by the exhibition space – too limited for a certain type of art. (This could in itself be the topic of a separate study.) However, this diagonal approach instigated an interaction of different age group experiences and strengthened the continuity of what some critics called the second line of the Yugoslav art.