Mladen Miljanović

At the Edge

Venue: acb Gallery
Date: Jun 06 – Jul 17, 2014

Mladen Miljanović (1981, Doboj, Bosnia-Herzegovina) is a defining figure of the young generation of artists that emerged after the Balkan Wars, introducing a radically new art practice that points far beyond national boundaries. He attained international attention and acknowledgment already at a very young age: in 2009, he was granted the Henkel.Art.Award, which honors the most prominent young artists of Central and Eastern Europe. This was followed by a solo exhibition in one of the largest and most important museums of the region, the Mumok of Vienna. He had numerous solo exhibitions from New York to Berlin to Bosnia-Herzegovina. In 2013 Francesco Bonami asked for his collaboration. Last year, Miljanović was invited to the Bosnia-Herzegovina Pavilion of the Venice Biennale; his project entitled The Garden of Delights was deemed one of the most notable pavilions by the international press.

In his project The Garden of Delights, the artist used Hieronymus Bosch’s famous work The Garden of Earthly Delights (circa 1500) as his point of departure, filling it with the hyperrealist tombstone depictions so fashionable in the Balkans. It is in this way that he transformed the painting into an absurd granite tableau of contemporary Balkan and universal human desires. The utilization of the somewhat unusual technique can be traced back to Miljanović’s youth when he sustained himself as a  tombstone engraver, thus day after day inscribing in granite, in a hyperrealist style,  his commissioners’ desires of self-representation addressed to posterity.

It is not only in this project that Miljanović’s life and art become intertwined; numerous stages of his life have served as points of departure for his works. He spent his childhood years near the frontline, walking an hour and a half each day to and back from school. Later he attended Reserve Officer School, where he was promoted to the rank of sergeant and subsequently trained thirty privates to become riflemen.

He then enrolled in the Academy of Arts in Banja Luka, where he earned a BA and MA degree in painting. Ironically, during his student years, the Academy changed locations, moving to the ex-military base where Miljanović had spent his service. In other words, he found himself as an artist in the same place from where he was discharged as a soldier. It was during this time that he created his famous photo series entitled I Serve Art. He confined himself to campus grounds for nine months, or, to be precise, two hundred and seventy-four days – which was the exact length of time he had served in the army ­– taking a picture of himself each day in a different location. He “shot” the photos with a self-timer from behind, the same way a rifleman shoots his victim in the nape. This was his method of sanitizing every square meter of the barracks through his art. Since then, his artistic motto has remained the same: “I Serve Art”.

His Budapest exhibition signifies the fulfillment of the plan laid down in one of his early, ironic paintings entitled SM Artattack (2007), in which Miljanović prepared a military strategy for conquering the museums and galleries of the world. Although he could not have known it then, he has now managed to capture all locations except for Budapest, which was last on the list. While Miljanović has used military strategies in his art practice in other instances as well, he never does this in the spirit of the pathos of war, which he explicitly rejects. In his art, his experiences have transformed into a general, radical attitude. In his work entitled Reserve Shot, he shot a rifle, tracing the silhouettes of human – adult and children – figures on large pieces of cardboard, instead of aiming at their hearts or heads, like he learned, and taught, in the army. In his project Do You Intend to Lie to Me? he had his university professor and mentor Veso Sovilj kidnapped by the elite command unit of the Serbian police. In the police headquarters building, Sovilj was hooked up to a lie detector and was asked by the interrogating officer about his role in the war, whether he considered himself to be the most talented artist of his generation, and whether he believed in art and its truthfulness. After the event, the kidnapped professor, who had spent his life encouraging his students to test the limits of art, simply said: “What an ingenious, brutal performance! Thank you!”

In addition to I Serve Art, Do You Intend to Lie to Me? and the associated Indigo Power drawing series, as well as his early granite works (We Love Freedom of Form; Monumental Fragmentation), the Budapest exhibition will also feature his large-scale photo series entitled Show Where it Hurts With Your Hand. The work comprises a visual diary of the daily communication between a man, incapacitated by war-related PTSD (posttraumatic stress disorder), and his wife. We come face to face with somebody’s daily brutal reality. The installation evokes the fragility of the invisible body, deterioration, and the most fundamental difficulties of communication, thereby causing a shift in viewers, drawing them in from their comfortable position of the outsider.     

The title of the exhibition At the Edge is a reference to Miljanović’s performance series, which can also be seen by the Budapest audience at the opening on 5 June. The artist hangs from the façades of galleries all over the world, struggling with gravity, sometimes at a height of ten stories. The artificial boundaries between reality and the exhibition space must be erased, argues Miljanović. To him, art and life – be it his or “Life with a capital L” – are inseparable. To Miljanović – in whose home country the “Truth” became the primary tool for manipulating the truth, and whose experience is that “every time he opens his eyes, he is watching a film” (quote from Tomislav Gotovac) – “probing into the truth of art” is fundamental. And while he ponders the troubling discontinuity of life, as well as questions of power, responsibility, and truth, he resolutely believes that art is the most important means for resisting totalitarian systems and for achieving political emancipation.   

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