An essential component in Mladen Miljanović’s practice is violence. From the materials he employs, the images and references he uses – his military past, the Yugoslav Wars, the trauma resulting from them – to what he makes himself endure during his performances – he would call it discipline or persistence –, the artist clearly uses elements of violent nature as well as the notion of violence as a complex raw substance. This simultaneously gives violence the role of a base to build on, a thematic to deal with and a tool which disintegrates during use and sublimates into its own cathartic, transcendental negation. The new group of works presented in acb Gallery unfolds further in the narrative exploration of how violence and healing are complexly interconnected and how the artist can permute violent acts or non-acts into individual or collective healing processes.
The central piece of the exhibition entitled Strike 1 (2016) bears an imagery and use of material that the viewer is familiar with in relation with the work of Mladen Miljanović. The detailed operation carved on large pieces of black granite is a transcription with military symbols of choices made by ordinary people to leave their village, Osječani, located deep in the Bosnian countryside, far from the capital. Deprived of perspectives, the inhabitants have to move to Western countries, wealthier places in which they hope to find work and have a better life. These everyday narrative strategies for private survival take the form of a monumental map of military operations, violent symbols of what seems at first to be a series of hostile actions, occupation tactics, and modes of diversion or attack. The decisions taken by these persons are as heavy as the tombstone-looking black granite slabs they are engraved in and are violent as well; to cut their roots off, leave their original environment behind – language, culture, social network –, find a liveable place and adapt to the new parameters of an unknown situation. The choice of the place where these ordinary people flee from is also of importance as it reminds us that the fight for survival happens far from the centres of power, far from the capital cities where official decisions affecting people’s existence are taken. But hope is cruel, as Mladen Miljanović reminds us by erecting a memorial to hope for a better life and hope in the future.
Another emblematic work entitled Future (2016) presents a piece of black granite adorned with the eponymous engraving and supported by crutches. Future’s portrait is made of violence. It looks like a tombstone, a dead, long-forgotten possibility lost in the infinite starry sky of the cosmos. But Future stands like a man, leaning against the wall and staring at us, the Present. Future is a wounded man whose image projects the bleak and uneasy perspective of a physically and psychologically traumatised humanity’s future. Future is, or should be full of hope, though. But Future is still standing. Future looks at us, the Present and is clearly playing the role of a mirror of shame, a heart-smothering reminder of the consequential permeability between the now and its possible long-term outcomes. Without any pathos, the work makes a clear statement; we, the Present, have all the keys in hand not to turn Future into a wounded, lame perspective or worse, to bury it. Hope is tiny, but does exist.
Once again, Mladen Miljanović goes beyond geographical and historical boundaries and guides us to metaphysical and existential domains. He opens up each thematic towards life and death, war and peace, pain and joy, violence and healing, thus embracing the broad spectrum of existence.