April 11, 2017

Bosnia & Herzegovina back to Venice Biennale 2017

Filed under: Art, Contemporary Art, Media, Photo, Reportage, Web — pix4notes @ 4:07 pm

Bosnia and Herzegovina will be back to this year Venice Biennale after four years of absence with an international project called University of Disaster, represented by the artist Radenko Milak and supported by an international team of curators composed by Fredrik Svensk, Sinziana Ravini, Anna van der Vliet and Christopher Yggdre. The exhibition, which will open in Venice on May 12, 2017, will be the starting point for a work in progress that will culminate in a conference to be held in Venice, during the last week of the Biennale in November, open to writers, researchers, theorists and artists.

We met with the commissioner of the pavilion Sarita Vujković, director of the Museum of Contemporary Art of Republika Srpska in Banja Luka, which is promoting the project, the artist Radenko Milak, and Christopher Yggdre, one of the members of curatorial team. That’s what they told us.

3. Radenko Milak, University of Disaster
Radenko Milak, Chernobyl (University of Disaster), 2016, watercolour, 95×135, Courtesy L’Agence à Paris

Bosnia and Herzegovina is coming back to the Venice Biennale after four years. Again, it is the Museum of Contemporary Art in Banja Luka promoting the Bosnian participation, as it did in 2013 when Mladen Miljanović represented the country in Venice. Are you satisfied with the achievement? 

We are very proud of the fact that, after several months of efforts and a constructive dialogue with the Ministry of Civil Affairs of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Ministry of Education and Culture of Republic of Srpska, Ministry of Culture and Sports of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as other referent institutions in our country, we received the official confirmation for the participation of Bosnia and Herzegovina at the 57. edition of the Venice Biennale. The organiser is once again the Museum of Contemporary Art of Republic of Srpska, which again strives to find a way for a continuous participation of our country at the Venice art biennale, the most prestigious event of contemporary art in the world, and hopefully also at the architecture biennale.

1. Radenko Milak, Hiroshima (University of Disaster)
Radenko Milak, Hiroshima (University of Disaster),  2016, watercolour, 95×145, Courtesy of L’Agence à Paris

What are your expectations? 

As it was for the realisation of the Pavilion of Bosnia and Herzegovina at the 2013 Venice biennale, the long-term goal of the Museum is to set new parametres when it comes to this kind of organisation and, thanks to this year international project, with artist Radenko Milak and other guest artists, to connect with other institutions and artists in order to improve the development our local contemporary art scene.

Why do you think Radenko Milak is the best candidate to represent Bosnia and Herzegovina in Venice?

Like Mladen Miljanović, artist who represented Bosnia and Herzegovina in Venice in 2013, Radenko Milak also graduated from the Academy of Arts in Banja Luka and belongs to a newer generation that in the past ten years drew attention within the region. Radenko has been working on his international career for a number of years and has accomplished a lot when it comes to the affirmation of his art, which in the end resulted in the assignment to represent his country at the 2017 Venice Biennale. His project University of Disaster, in its core idea, possesses the elements for developing a work in progress platform whose aim is to continue to evolve after Venice. Our goal is to establish a collaboration with an international curatorial team and to develop a network of international artists willing to share the same artistic idea within this platform and this initial idea. This would probably be one of the main novelties concerning our presentation at this year’s biennale, and we can most surely say that the project is very innovative not only in our region, but also beyond.

4. October 23, 2015, Migrants are escorted by Slovenian riot police
Radenko Milak & Roman Uranjek DATE October 23, 2015, Migrants are escorted by Slovenian riot police, 2015, watercolour, 50×140, photo Matija Pavlovec ©, Courtesy of L’Agence à Paris

Radenko Milak, this is your first time at the Venice Biennale. What does it mean to ‘represent’ your country?

I was invited to represent Bosnia and Herzegovina by the Museum of Contemporary Art of Republic of Srpska and commissioner Sarita Vujković. I haven’t much thought about it as ‘representation’, rather as an opportunity to realize a project called University od Disaster associated with Bosnia and Herzegovina, that will be showcased on a specific site such as the Venice Biennale.

Do you find it an honor or problematic? 

Since Bosnia and Herzegovina doesn’t have a permanent pavilion, which implies a discontinuous appearance at the Venice Biennale, the very decision of having a Pavilion in Venice was very challenging and requested a lot of courage, primarily for the Museum and for me as an artist as well.

How do you feel about it? 

Life has very interesting dynamics. With this project, I am already invited to take part to other exhibitions and projects that will occur after Venice. Still, I am very satisfied since the University of Disaster will have its premier at the Biennale.

5. April 04, 1945, Soldier praying in Cologne cathedral during WW2
Radenko Milak & Roman Uranjek DATES April 04, 1945, Soldier praying in Cologne cathedral during WW2,  2015, watercolour, 70×100, photo Matija Pavlovec ©, Courtesy of L’Agence à Paris

Are you approaching the Venice show in a different way to how you would with a ‘normal’ exhibition? 

University of Disaster is a platform that gather around art theoreticians, curators, and artists. Our idea is to present a project that has a potential to grow and sets the basis for a future continuity. The focus will be on various activities; parallel to my exhibition, we will present other international artists working with different media.

Can you tell me more about the University of Disaster? 

The idea behind it came very spontaneously. In 2014, I had a solo exhibition titled 365 at the Kunsthalle Darmstadt in Germany, in cooperation with curator León Krempel. When the exhibition was set and a book published, we took a distance to better sense the idea behind it.  Talking with Christopher Yggdre, one of the curators of the pavilion, I have come to realize that most of the themes for my Biennale project came from historical perspectives related to the idea of disaster. That was the trigger for the University of Disaster. Later, confronting myself with the pavilion curatorial team Fredrik Svensk, Sinziana Ravini, Anna van der Vliet and Christopher Yggdre, we together elaborated the idea for the Venice exhibition. It is important to emphasise that the University of Disaster will be an international exhibition. As I was mentioning before, other artists will display their artworks in the pavilion. At the end of the Biennale, in November, there will be an international conference dealing with the same subject as the exhibition, the ‘disaster’.

Will your works on display be made specifically for Venice?

Yes, I made a completely new production. The first part of my work will consist of aquarelles which were made, for the first time, in a large format. The second will be an animation, and the last one will display artworks made in cooperation with Slovenian artist and member of NSK (Neue Slowenische Kunst) Roman Uranjek and the Dates project.

What are your earliest or best memories of the biennale?

The 1993 Venice Biennale curated by Achille Bonito Oliva. I didn’t have the opportunity to be there, but the catalogue was very influential to me and my work.

Christopher Yggdre, as curator of the Bosnian pavilion, could you tell me when did you first meet Radenko Milak and what impressed you the most about his artistic practice? 

I would like to point out that I am but one of the curators of the exhibition and the project, alongside with Sinziana Ravini, Fredrik Svensk and Anna van der Vliet.  We all bring our own sensitivity.  Indeed, since my first discussions with Radenko Milak on the concept of University of Disaster, it has always been clear to me that the project should be elaborated in a collective and shared way.

Before meeting Radenko, I first met his work.  It was in Sarajevo, six years ago now, in the gallery and art center Duplex/100m2.  I was immediately struck by a painting and a black and white watercolor.  Both referred to images of the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina.  Beyond the virtuosity in the execution of his two works, I can perfectly remember that I told myself that the artist knew how to grasp the hidden meaning of these two images and that he expressed History.  I attach great importance to contemporary photography in the way it contributes to the stories of our time.  At the same time, I know its limits in an ultra-mediated world.  The work of an artist like Radenko helps to highlight the offscreen images of current events that clutter our gaze.  I cannot say what most impresses me in Radenko Milak’s artistic practice.  Without a doubt, everything pleases me.  I do not dissociate his personality and character from his work, which has a power and certainty and which is perfectly balanced between sense and emotion, which in our day seems to me to be essential, when intellectual misunderstandings as to art and its definition multiply by the play of sterile theoretical oppositions.

Radenko Milak, Chernobyl (University of Disaster)  2016, watercolour, 95×135, Courtesy L’Agence à Paris

Why do you think he is the best candidate to represent Bosnia and Herzegovina at the Venice Biennale?

I do not think that we can say in any way that an artist represents a country, an artist only represents himself, his singular imagination, his word, his presence and his interpretation of the world.  The Venice Biennale is the oldest Art Biennale in the world.  It continues to organize itself between the International Exhibition and the exhibitions of the National Pavilions and to these two main dimensions, it is today necessary to add several independent projects. The paradoxical virtue of a National Pavilion is to allow artists from regions of the world that are not identified as important places, from the point of view of the strong places of art that are the great Western capitals, to be present.  But one should not expect a National Pavilion to be the place to give voice to an “official” artist who would represent his country.

The project will have an international character, hosting several artists from all over the world. Could you tell me more about this decision?

The theoretical and political stakes of the exhibition University of Disaster require us to be completely open to the world, which is why, in the mind of the artist and curators, the exhibition could not take place without these first invitations to artists from different regions of the world.  None of the artist present in the exhibit are from one culture, one territory, one language.  Like everyone else in the world – despite the tendencies to retreat that we see everywhere – we are today from several places at once, we do not have a unique identity but an “identity relationship” as the writer and thinker, Edouard Glissant, so well theorized.  He also declared, at the dawn of the 21st century, that he believed in the future of small countries.  It is to the credit of Bosnia and Herzegovina to host a project like University of Disaster.  Our wish is that the exhibition in Venice be only a first step, that University of Disaster develop in the future through exhibitions, conferences, publications and that we collectively define its future.  It is amazing for me to see to what extent the issues posed by the first presentation texts of the project resonate.  No doubt, we have an exacerbated sensitivity to disaster in view of our recent history and the present threats.  We need all the imaginings to extricate ourselves from the global disaster.

Claudia Klara Zini

Sarajevo, April 8 2017


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