Bosnia & Herzegovina Pavilion – 55th Biennale di Venezia. June 1st – November 24th 2013

Bosnia & Herzegovina Pavilion at the 55th Venice Biennale
May 23, 2013 8:20PM

The artist Mladen Miljanovic, representing Bosnia and Herzegovina at the 55th International Art Exhibition of la Biennale di Venezia, will present a solo exhibition of new works titled “The Garden of Delights” at Palazzo Malipiero in Venice from June 1 to November 24, 2013. It is after a ten-­year intermission that Bosnia-­Herzegovina will participate again in the International Art Exhibition of the Venice Biennale. Its attendance in the 55th biennial event in Venice this year bears the heavy load of a new beginning, one that is expected to serve as a precedent for its national participation in the future. The initial impetus came from the Museum of Contemporary Art of the Republic of Srpska, which proposed a model intended to overcome the long-­standing impasse at the state level. The participation model proposed by the initiating institution has been approved by the Ministry of Civil Affairs of Bosnia and Herzegovina, in agreement with the relevant ministries of the Republic of Srpska and the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Political disagreements continually made it impossible for local artists and projects to exhibit in this prestigious internal political and economic impediments it has to encounter. And its art, although practically imperceptible from outside the country, abounds in both people and events.

The Garden of Delights

In that sense, the selected project, The Garden of Delights, is a highly socially engaged work of art, which seeks to create effects from multiple historical perspectives, and with strong connotations drawing on the socio-political, ethical, economic and cultural context of the Eastern European society, which the artists come from. The project ensemble consists of three interconnected smaller ensembles, a marble triptych, a video clip and an installation, and the artist, as its creator, posits himself as an activist whose practice and production impose themeselves as a model in a highly specific way, making possible engagement originating in the local community, i.e. environment. His knowledge of the global world, up-to-the-minute and relevant, filtered through the local context, creates a new, clear artistic insight, which is a significant determinant of the entire ensemble. The idea behind the complete project of The Garden of Delights is that of people’s unbridled desires, of personal truths underneath the collective absurdity of the contemporaneity, as perceived across Bosnia. The conceptual framework of the project is reminiscent of Hieronymus Bosch’s famous Renaissance triptych The Garden of Earthly Delights (c. 1500), and it is firmly rooted in today’s physical world of common people’s various experiences, as the most authentic and the most banal realities of post-transition society. Mystical and provocative even for today’s interpreters, the triptych by Hieronymus Bosch was the initial inspiration for the work of Mladen Miljanović; rather complex and materialised in a way which is, by comparison with contemporary art techniques, quite non-standard and atypical, his ensemble consists of drawings engraved on marble slabs, a stonework tradition commonly used in tombstone decoration in the Balkans.

For this work he said:

—The work emulates manual tombstone engraving, which I did before enrolling in the Academy of Arts.

—The installation contains more than 100 tombstone motifs found and collected in the Central Balkans. 

—People mainly choose these motifs as illustrations of their indulgences and because they wish to see them immortalised by means of the real. 

—The emergence of this manner of representation coincided with the rise of the kitsch and turbo-folk culture in the 1980’s and 1990’s. 

—The scenery as shown in the painting The Garden of Earthly Delights by the Renaissance painter Hieronymus Bosch provided the foundation for this work. 

—The work is the outcome of a five-hundred-year-long debate and revises the notion of pleasure and its different contemporary representations as a stereotypical and pessimist vision of society. 

—The form of the image of a personal indulgence becomes an expression of the collective absurd and disharmony.

In this case, the graveyard is an area storing an encyclopaedia of images of individual lives joined into a garden of a collective eternity. 

What awaits us in the future, what our reality is and how it is represented are the major issues found in this artificial post-communist paradise, in which art, according to Boris Groys, often appears innocent, insufficiently critical or radical, following the utopian logic of inclusion rather than the realist logic of exclusion, struggle and criticism. Spatial and temporal relations, their homogeneity and heterogeneity, are but formal aspects constituting the social particularities against which real life happens.

The inherent idea of afterlife representation as Miljanović sees it is conveyed using the ready-made aesthetics, borrowed from the mass media, the everyday and some popular aspects of life of Bosnian people. Their subversive sociological, ethnological and ritual characteristics are an image of the existent representations of a mass culture that has taken over post-transition society, reflecting the failure of its economy and privatisation, political paradoxes and intolerance, and the nontransparent nature of the new models of private ownership.

While realising his concept, Miljanović made a video to be used as an accompaniment to the exhibit, which he called Sweet Harmony of the Absurd and in which members of the Banja Luka Philharmonic simultaneously play their favourite pieces. The multiplicity of this melodious plurality, tinted with personal wishes, interests and lifestyles as found in society, reflects the heterogeneity of Bosnia and Herzegovina and its cultural dynamics, at times synchronous and stimulating, at others crippling and disasterous to utter ruin. Sweet Harmony of the Absurd is an authentic representation of the ambivalent makeup of Bosnian and Herzegovinian society, marked by conflicting sentiments and attitudes. Integrated with The Garden of Delights, it rounds off Mladena Miljanović’s peculiar artistic discourse, strongly marked by an awareness of constant affirmation, according to which human creativity is best stimulated by desire.

An extensive exhibition catalog will present reproductions of many earlier works of Mladen Miljanovic and provide artist’s biography and professional texts.

Bosnia & Herzegovina Pavilion at the 55th Venice Biennale