Goran Micevski and Ivan Petrović detect and deliberate the reality of their cultural and social milieu in very peculiar ways. Micevski documents and (often) constructs seemingly insignificant places and scenes that reflect his intimate relation towards large-scale social and spatial shifts in his hometown Belgrade. In the Belgrade(r) series he commonly refers to art history and local myths. Petrović uses classic postulates of documentary photography in order to create the anthropological topography of his immediate surroundings. With the Nighttime Promenading series he follows the nightlife in small towns in Serbia and therefore reveals his personal view on the reality of contemporary Serbia while his extensive series of photographs titled The Documents displays diverse episodes of his own life over a period of eleven years.
Both artists have a pronounced sociological approach – both are interested in topical social developments, be they local or universal – thus recording seemingly marginal places or phenomena as a way of mirroring socio-political situations, following spatial modifications and tracing ubiquitous reminders of globalisation. They are engaged in a complex dialogue with their central medium of expression – photography. The dialogue is characterised by a profound consideration of photography’s role in society, down to the level of the intimate world of an individual, taking into account its deceptive meanings. The substance of their work is based on a critical analysis of the photographic medium, which has become automated and almost self-evident in contemporary society. Their motifs and narratives are therefore always highly ambivalent.
For Petrović the dialogue is established through connecting works from different contexts (cycles) and integrating them into new entities, thereby indicating the instability of meaning generated by photography and questioning its archival function. On the other hand, for Micevski, the dialogue is established through the selection of motifs and their eclectic fields of reference, which are often entirely based on common every-day situations while referencing history of art, film, literature and popular culture.
In The Documents series Petrović selectively records the world around him and thus creates a personal archive that echoes the wider socio-political situation in which it has been created, as its (direct or indirect) reflection. His motifs are consciously premeditated and conceived with an ambition to create an iconic image that addresses major geo-political shifts as perceived through the localised prism of the micro-world of ordinary people. The Documents project (1997-2008) is a collection of twelve different series of photographs that challenge the credibility and the unambiguous nature of archives as well as raising profound questions about personal and collective memory and their often inexorable relatedness. Several episodes of artist’s life, from different autonomous series are presented together, in a cohesive bundle; however, they are not contextualised by related narratives.
Naturalistic photographs of students in their modest, rented, flat shares in Belgrade testify on the reality of a generation that has been deprived of the privileges of their parents’ generation, living in unenviable social conditions and a turbulent political climate. The image of soldiers sitting around the table, which could also be a photograph taken from a family album, turns out to be artist’s intimate record from a period when he was mobilised in the Yugoslav reserve army unit during the armed conflict in Kosovo, in 1999. He was documenting the dull life in the barracks as well as collateral damage in the wake of the conflict in which he did take part directly. Through presenting a highly intimate perspective of these infamous events, he points to the basic principles used in the building of discourses that, in a very simplified manner, subsequently constitute collective memory.
Petrović renounces any direct conclusions and judgments and instead seeks ultimate archival image, which is of itself a witness to a historical – albeit marginal – event where the only certain fact is that this event has really happened. In the Night Promenading series of photographs he has been transformed into an objective observer and voyeur who portrays casual passers-by without their awareness. He took on a highly analytical approach and during the period 2009-2012 recorded scenes of night life in suburban city centres in Serbia. The people he portrayed actually came out to the streets in order to be observed and eventually, to be seen; he focused on the social pulse of these places, on the street trends, and finally on the fashion which he believes is the ultimate personal statement of every individual. As Petrović himself comes from a small town (Kruševac, Serbia) he is familiar with the dynamic of small cultural milieus which, over the past several decades, have been subjected to the hegemony of pop-cultural influence, globalisation and demographic downturn as a consequence of the all-encompassing centralisation which strengthened the role of big cities in the post-industrial era.
Micevski, like Petrović, is obsessively dedicated to the fundamental formal and conceptual questions of photographic medium. He commonly refers to iconic images from the history of photography, re-enacts them within changed contexts and therefore questions their credibility. An inscription from of his series thus reads “the stance that a photograph is a document has been outdated for a long time. However, this standpoint is still very much present in the mind of the viewer.” Moreover, for him the photography is not a final fact but rather a fluid and ambivalent visual record whose significance depends on the experiences, beliefs and expectations of its viewer. This has become a leitmotif of the artist whose works have always proved to be ambiguous since they are either accompanied by an ambiguous explanatory text or they induce the viewer on the associative level with their visual vagueness. For instance the photograph titled Peas shows a pile of disused mattresses deposited in the public space whereby the title alludes to the famous children’s story and thus creates semantic turn which – albeit unconsciously – affects the perception of the viewer.
Belgrade(r) is a long-term work in process primarily dedicated to phenomenology of a specific urban space whose dynamics trigger a number of unexpected interventions and situations. Even though the images reflect the overall socio-political situation of an economically colonised, post-socialist environment embodied in the city of Belgrade, his approach remains distinctly localised and intimate. After the break-up of Yugoslavia, Belgrade was relegated to the capital of Serbia which caused a dramatic transformation of the cityscape. Micevski thus predominantly explores marginalised urban areas that are typically marked by vile economic and political transition. The common denominator of the work is the city of Belgrade as a unique geographical and spiritual place that inevitably affects and influences the every-day life of its inhabitants. However, one would search in vein for distinctive urban sites and landmarks; what connects all these works is the display of a specific type of madness and endurance that this city embodies. Despite their potential topographic quality the photographs remain broadly multifaceted as the viewer is constantly challenged by the question of whether the images are coincidental documents or deliberately constructed photographs.
© Miha Colner, 4 March 2014