Lorem ipsum dolor amet, consect adipiscing elit, diam nonummy.



Conversation with Vladimir Nikolić

Artist’s Institutional Path

With Vladimir Nikolić we spoke to interpret an artistic career through its institutional path and position. What does it mean to be a successful artist? Is there a condition of inaccessibility of institutions? How can one build their individual authorial position?

On How to Become a Great Artist (2001) by Vera Večanski and Vladimir Nikolić

The Academy (The Faculty of Fine Arts) was a safe place where we talked only about art. When you get out of the Academy you face a situation of having to build your career and that job is not necessarily related to the content you produce as an artist. This specific work was our attempt to deal with the moral dilemma we fell in, facing a slap you receive once you exit the safe place. So, there is no art, it is us who matter, not the art, but the two of us. In this work we are “fighting” against the stereotypes about artists, the fetishization of artists, the elements of career building that for the artists is a job they’re less interested in. As a matter of fact, that work is naive and funny, being about the pain of growing up, getting out of the safe environment.

On definition of a successful artist career

It is a question of context in which an artist will place their work. If an artist sees themselves as a producer in a market, they will opt for the market-oriented scene. If they grow a career through the institutions like museums, biennials, program-led galleries, the criteria to measure their success will differ from those of the market. Anyway, it is possible to make a living this way, it is not impossible, but unfortunately, most likely it won’t happen.

On importance of institutions for starting a career

At the time when we got out of the Academy, the Centre for Contemporary Art started, with their School of Art Theory and History. The School was run by the people who would later lead the Museum of Contemporary Art. The Centre was one of the platforms that defined the local contemporary art scene. At the same time Remont started off. Those were two platforms that we turned to at that time. That choice was our responsibility. We could have oriented ourselves to some other galleries and institutions, which would cer- tainly have directed our careers differently, but that would have ment we were different types of artists.

On Parking spot (2001)

I was putting road signs across towns to secure my place in public space, on the streets. You don’t get to argue with the vertical road signs. No arguing with the law. A road sign is the law. That work is a reaction to the situation of a young artist, just out of the Academy, facing the fact there is no place for him in the economic reality.

On building institutional presence

Honestly, I wasn’t building it. I was just lucky. I got invited to show my work. I suppose it had to do with the places of artist circulation I had chosen at the beginning, with the context and the kind of environment I placed myself within. Those places could lead to something abroad. It came as a wave, suddenly, after 5 October and bringing down Milošević’s criminal regime. At that moment, as if you pressed a button, big international curators started showing up in search of local artists for their exhibitions about the Balkans. Every self-respecting leading art historian at the time was supposed to curate a Balkan show. They would meet the artists through the local partners. At that time I was at the place where they could meet me and my work. That successively led to other places and institutions shown on your map. I was very lucky, everything was just happening to me. I’ve never had to apply to calls and look for my place in the shows. I was at the right place at the right time. That window of opportunity lasted for three to four years. Then the circus moved on. Opportunities like that have not come up ever since to push forward the younger generations.

On artists from an “exotic region”

For someone like us here, being at the periphery of events, it is a true “carrot” when you get noticed by someone from a big centre. That was an opportunity that many seized. Some artists were feeding that stereotypical colonial way of looking at the periphery. Without any reserve, they opportunistically made a career out of it. Others acted that way only to keep the head above the water, turning to making art without the Balkanic context afterwards. I didn’t want to push myself into that stereotype. For several reasons. There was also a misuse of Duchamp’s ready-made. One could go to a village with a camera and record how they butcher lambs there and then exhibit that video at a museum. That’s why of all the great artists upon whom contemporary art is based I chose Duchamp.

On Event Horizon (2017)

The subject of the work are server farms where visual data is stored. That is directly relevant for my art. In one of his books, John Berger, British author, art critique and theorist, made a fantastic hypothesis in his analysis of Western painting, referring to Renaissance oil painting in particular. A civilization superior to the Western one would undoubtedly conclude this cul- ture was obsessed with private possession and that oil painting was to the visible what the capital was to social relations. According to him, Alberti’s definition of painting as “a window to look through” was not a true concept of the Western painting. That would rather be the concept of a “safe box in the wall” where the visible is stored. Those paintings were so veritable that you felt you could reach for the lavish subjects they depicted. Berger sees that entire tradition of painting as an obsession with private possession and the image as a safe box where the visible material reality is stored.

This is where I saw the analogy with the server farm. It is literally a safe box where the visible is stored and amassed, while the global economy is to a large extent generated with the mass production and use of images i.e. with a certain type of vision. The very way we see reality produces capital, the act of viewing becomes labor (for another, naturally). For that reason I found it important to get inside the server farm, make photos of it, record it and produce artwork from that material. It turned out to be a “mission impossible”. The reason wasn’t in Facebook’s facility being in the Arctic Circle, as I managed even to get there, but in it being secured like a military base, where I was denied access although I was supported by the Swedish Government and their art organizations. As I don’t quit that easily, I approached the object “from the back”, through the surrounding forest, walking in deep snow. At last, I took only photos of the forest. I realized that I don’t actually need to photograph that giant cube where the “collective, globally visible” was amassed. The location itself, the physical reality where the server farm is placed, proved more exciting. My experience in that Arctic forest was exciting, being completely alone, standing on the line where two realities touch. I thought of a black hole nothing can escape from, which sucks in everything that comes close. In physics that’s called Event Horizon, beyond which neither light can escape from the gravity of the hole.

Vladimir Nikolić (1974), Visual Artist and Assistant Professor at the Faculty of Fine Arts