Promise of an image
Image of movement, image of time
Seeing in Radenko Milak’s practice a mere virtuoso use of painting, watercolor, ink wash or drawing would be by all means simplistic. Radenko Milak is a complete artist who questions the imaginary potential of images, and conceives his paintings as installations that confront the real and fictitious power of images, their interpretations and readings, their status within our visually saturated society, as well as the standards of representation of reality. Radenko Milak opens our eyes through revealing the aesthetic potentiality held in each image, as well as their haunting ghosts. His work is a visual echo to the continuous stream of images seen as deceiving reflections of the world’s visual archive. Every day, millions of new images are produced and immediately visible on Internet. The body of images men produce has never been as extensive and diverse. It is impossible to grasp all at once, and we are all walking through a chaotic mental landscape without being able to make any connection whatsoever between images. Radenko Milak transforms and twists this “image dust” -to use Guy Debord’s expression- to make it into a strongly coherent body of work, both in terms of meaning and aesthetical unity.
Representation of conflict
One of the artist’s most striking pieces is a twenty-four copies painting inspired by an iconic image of the Ex-Yugoslavia war- a famous photograph taken by photojournalist Ron Haviv at the beginning of the war in Bosnia, showing a frighteningly apathetic Serbian paramilitary man beating up what cannot be distinguished as dead or alive Bosnian civilians lying on the ground. Through this work implicitly referring the twenty-four images per second timeframe of cinema, the artist impulses motion back into an image that we were no longer able to see. He draws our attention on the power held by the image through the process of twisting, reinterpreting, and repeating it until we are blue in the face, thus creating a depth of field and meaning that our tired up and constantly solicited eyes had ceased to perceive. For Radenko Milak, painting can reactivate depth of field through the aesthetic gap it creates with the image, its mental representation, its memory and perception. This first artwork sparked strong controversies in Ex-Yugoslavia, thus proving the subversive nature of painting when used to question the world through the distortion of our ways to represent it.
Image of time
More recently Radenko Milak carried out an ambitious project entitled “365- Image of Time” which consisted in painting one black and white watercolor a day (some will call it ink wash painting) representing an event that took place the very same day, in relation to modern and contemporary history, and over the course of one year. The event could be related to politics, to wars, to philosophy and arts, or to scientific and technological progress. This project elaborated a striking visual representation of the brief, yet intense and extremely violent history of the 20th century. For the artist, these images unfold as one big saga despite the diversity of their sources. Here, the painter is no longer a mere witness of his time; he sheds light on the underground aesthetical connections between different historical representations. The choice of black and white watercolor -a technique that does not allow for any retouching- is no coincidence. It shows the artist’s desire to not just reproduce images but to tone them down or put emphasis on them in order to bring new interpretations to light. “365-Image of Time” is a 21st century Mnemosyne Atlas drawing on the world image bank. Such Atlas exists through the sole will of the artist who collects and assembles images in order to give shape to both a personal and collective visual world landscape.
Image of motion
At the age non only of their mechanical reproducibility, but of their immediate and constant access, images are looking at us even though we do not notice. In addition to capturing the image of Time, Radenko Milak also sought to grasp the image of Movement; drawing on the world repertoire of cinema and images he interconnects through his brilliant watercolor technique, as well as through animation. Radenko Milak created a mental image of cinema through a series of artworks inspired by iconic directors like Hitchcock, Godard, Bergman, Antonioni, Welles, Kalatozov, Laughton, and Tarkovski. While we all know the over-used definition of cinema as a mirror of society, Radenko sees it as one big image factory from which he builds up his own aesthetics. Acting as a cinematographic picture editor, he startles us by exhibiting the paradoxical human truth of cinema, telling our proximity and remoteness, our presence and absence, as well as the deep loneliness of observing and being observed. Each piece of his series entitled “Endless Movie” confronts our contemporary human condition of feeling strangers to others and ourselves, as images both divide and unify us. Radenko’s looping animations talk about movies’ promise of eternity- one we already know to be a profound illusion, yet creating a feeling of melancholia that could fuel our action and reconcile us with our own creation. For the artist, the images that haunt us are mere artificial creatures that we can learn to love if we use and transform them to feed our actions.
Painting at the digital area
We are only beginning to understand Aby Warburg’s contribution to a renewed approach of art history that would take distance from theoretical classifications (in relation to territories, time periods and identities) to focus on connection making. I always wondered what would be Aby Warburg’s take on the digital era, what he would think of the vastness of this new visual continent that is internet. From the moment I laid eyes on Radenko Milak’s work, I often thought that Aby Warburg would have taken a great interest in his creative collection of images, and that he would have encouraged him to develop his storytelling on the history of images.
Paris, March 2016.