About the artistic practice of Ljubljana-based artist Danilo Milovanović. The text was originally published in the catalogue of the Street Blues exhibition at Miklova hiša Gallery, Ribnica [22 October 2020-14 February 2021]
In present day and age, the street is one of the most obvious spaces that constitute contemporary living; however, its meaning is at the same time multi-layered. The street can, among other meanings, designate the entire public space; that is to say, as a space that is used as a meeting point of various groups, is open to everyone and is organised according to certain agreed upon rules in order to avoid conflicts of ideas and interests between its users. Furthermore, the street is a space of self-representation, political activity and creative expression; it is a democratic and open space that can handle various interventions, however, these are only possible when certain unwritten rules are followed. The artist Danilo Milovanović is very much aware of that fact and his creative practice consist of observing and analysing different visual manifestations on the streets and in public spaces. In his works he often (literally) occupies public space where he enacts situations and creates interventions that address mostly coincidental audiences, i.e. ordinary users of public space. His actions are most commonly subsequently transformed into material pieces in a studio by using different visual media such as film, photography, printing and collage.
This exhibition showcases a selection of documents and visual reinterpretations of Milovanović’s public actions, be it the intervention in a poster site, the imprint on the city’s tarmac or his analytical photographic roaming around the urban environment. All of the presented works were completed in post-production, a process by which the artist transformed them into gallery artefacts by using their reinterpreted visual appearance in order to emphasise the addressed subjects. Milovanović therefore addresses, in an entirely universal manner, the modern state of affairs and the ongoing processes that are changing public space.
Nowadays, public space seems to have become something almost self-evident; however, it has constantly been undergoing change following the concurrent socio-political processes. In the period of post-industrial and consumerist society, humankind has almost imperceptibly crossed into the age of surveillance and given rise to a society that is completely subordinated to corporate capital. In such an environment, private interests usually prevail over public ones. It is a process that has left profound traces in the structure and organisation of public life and space; both follow topical tendencies for privatisation and corporate organisation of everyday life. Gentrification of urban and tourist centres, which has been a widely discussed topic in the past couple of decades, is actually a process of transferring commons (public property) into private hands. A part of that process is the ever increasing capital control over public and private (living) areas. In a same way that the citizen has become the consumer, also city centres have often been transformed into shopping and tourist zones, promenades have been changed into private cafes and residential areas have been turned into gated communities. As a consequence of the invasive expansion of the human race, the urban environment also became one of the crucial instigators of the climate change. While the general consensus is that urgent and radical change is needed in principle, in reality most of us are not ready to give up our entrenched habits. This might as well be an entirely new perspective on modern individualism. This ultimate ideal of modern age in the 20th century has, in many ways, dictated the organisation of living space; nowadays, this individualism can be, in the 21st century, perceived as rather unsustainable and dangerous.
All these concerns and ideas are constantly appearing and interweaving in Milovanović’s works, which are often combined with and empowered by direct citizen activism. His public actions are usually non-invasive towards the space they occupy and towards the user they address. In the execution of these pieces, the artist uses different approaches; he can be a silent observer of the events who documents some of the most symptomatic phenomena in a public space, or he can be the one who directly intervenes in it with his presence and his activity that can incite a controversy and a polemic. His outdoor spatial interventions can, for instance, on a very subtle level, disturb the perception of a casual passer-by who, as a result of experiencing the unexpected visual sensation, is able to closely confront certain topical phenomena. However, the artist’s most radical gestures are those in which he takes on the role of the responsible citizen and performs useful interventions that have immediate effects.
Milovanović could therefore be regarded as a conceptual street artist who maintains some of the street art credo, but he also turns these conventions around conceptually and focuses on much more unconventional sensations. In one such intervention, he turned and transformed the seasons under two trees in Ljubljana; in the autumn, he collected fallen leaves from under those trees and stored them over the winter, and then, in the late spring, he put the same leaves back under the same trees. This short intervention undoubtedly caused visual alienation in the space; nevertheless, in the overabundance of all kinds of sensations, it remained unnoticed by most passers-by. In yet another action, he similarly tackled the visual cacophony that every human being is subjected to in everyday life because he or she is surrounded with various visual and textual impulses that most commonly tend to address, invite and convince. In this long-term public action, he collected old posters from advertising spaces and slots, recycled the paper back into blank posters and put them up in the same poster places. Thus, for a short period of time, these advertising spaces became completely empty and white, devoid of any direct messages. With this gesture, he replaced invasive visual pollution with completely barren white surface without any visual and textual references.
However, his interventions, apart from subtle addressing of selected themes, also contain a strong visual and artistic aspect that help transfer his ideas to the final users. Because his public spatial interventions are consciously limited in their duration and inevitably transient, he usually documents them in the medium of photography or video in order to prolong their otherwise ephemeral life. However, in this transfer, a significant switch might also occur at times, since the artist is able to freely process, manipulate, emphasise and distort the subjects he is dealing with. The artistic practice of Milovanović is therefore distinctly poetic and political, visually ambivalent and socially engaged, because it has the power to cerebrally stimulate and at the same time visually engross a viewer.
© Miha Colner, October 2020; proof reading: Ana Cavic