What else did you see? – I couldn’t see everything! 24 oil paintings on canvas, 40x60cm each, 2010-2012
Art Paris Art Fair 2015 – selected works
Radenko Milak, a practicing iconologist
By Branislav Dimitrijević
In one image from the most recent series of watercolours by Radenko Milak, we are placed in a room from which we, as hypothetical internal viewers, gaze through the window at streets and blocks of buildings. Our gaze is partly veiled by a thin, semi-transparent curtain in front of which a small TV set is switched on. The image could have been taken from some recent East European film (as it belongs to a series in which we might recognize some better-known film references), but it could also represent author’s own experience of looking from an interior, resembling a hotel room, onto a gloomy day, experiencing certain sense of longing, stillness, even depression. We are once again confronted with one of the crucial obsessions of modern art at its formative years in the second half of the 19th century, a motive of gazing through the window onto public space, a position of a threshold between private and public experiences, between intimacy and sociality. And also we are dealing with an issue raised in that time, the issue of a double nature of images, its natural nature and its conventional nature.
It is certainly something in the very medium of watercolour that brings about a sense of a very intimate yet transient quality to an image. Here a watercolour technique, which Milak meticulously develops into a recognizable personal manner and style, provides a hands-on method of analyzing qualities and meanings of certain images by transforming them into a material uniqueness of a manual gestures, sensible traces and subtle layering. Milak usually departs from images already canonized with their recognizable cultural codes. His first series of paintings were dealing with the assassination of Prince Ferdinand in Sarajevo, i.e. with imagery taken from a documentary film about Prince’s fatal visit to the Bosnian capital in 1914. Milak’s oils on canvas evoke, in a specific way, those “free strokes” of first excitements about visibility of a brush gesture in order to “catch” a specific moment along with questions of subjective perception that aimed at separation between modern painting and camera-obscura induced representation.1 After that he conducted a “masochistic” series of 24 painterly copies of a famous news photograph by Ron Haviv showing one of the most cynical acts of sadism during the Bosnian war as intimately confronted by manually copying the image that has become symbolic not only as a representation of a surplus of violence, but of a surplus of enjoyment in the violent act.2 In both of these series of works, the process is not only an intervention that is directly provocative in the local political debates and social typecasts in Bosnia and Serbia, but they also show Milak’s own self-questioning and very intimate self-positioning when the chains of attributed identity are at stake as domineering.
In the most recent series of watercolours the painter’s identity is not immediately present as these pictures draw from myriad of references mostly found in the repository of cinematographic images. Yet, these images are ceaselessly becoming our own private images and we tend to find the way to situate ourselves in them. Like in the picture mentioned in the beginning, we are both outside the image, as spectators, and inside it, as interlocutors. In fact, this series somehow appear on the margins of a larger and a very disciplined project that Milak carries out during this year, 2013. Every day he makes one watercolour “copy” out of seemingly randomly chosen photographs that became emblematic for picturing the decisive events in the history of the 20th century, and enduringly mediated, but which we tend to make ourselves intimate with. Outside of the cultural and political recognizability of these images, cautiously emerges a series of watercolours with lesser popular familiarity, but images that do flicker in the cerebral cinema of our memories.
Milak’s paintings and watercolours are dealing with modes and ways in which a certain image captures us. They certainly play around the barthesian schema of studium-punctum, as they are always dealing with both the readable (and sometimes already over-read) photographic content and the very capacity of the image to “pierce” our eye and “wound” us, through a detail or a manner, and to provide some surplus value or even some surplus meaning as a singularity in front of us and for us. By repossessing a photographic image or a film still and transforming it into a new manual image, Milak provides a hands-on iconological analysis carried out in another medium, and here undoubtedly an intimate one. As in the watercolour mentioned at the beginning, the media translation is visibly manifest in the image itself. We are captured by the blurry (possibly sexual) image on the TV screen in front of the curtain that screens the view through the window onto the streets. A watercolor rendition of a TV image is a translation from one intimate medium to another, yet these two intimate media being seemingly the world apart. Milak’s work is about the question how to approach the problem of replicating vision itself, and not just about copying visible traces and objects, not just about “reporting” in a new image what is there in the copied one. It is about how the process of vision may in itself be indicated and how images live amongst us and for us. If “medium” represents “the whole set of practices that brings an image together with an object to produce a picture”3, i.e. as a social institution and not merely a technological device, Milak’s chosen media is not watercolor: it is simply his technique which he understands, develops and nurtures in a way a traditional artist cherishes his craft – for instance by keeping cotton paper with drawn lines and shapes over steam in bathroom in order to add water to watercolour in another aggregate condition. He does not work-in-a-medium but rather he locates his art within the entire process of mediation between natural vision and cultural vision, technological image and manual image, and simultaneously he is aiming at the rhetorical substance of every translation.
Whereas a photographic image is understood as a carrier of visual information, the technological image, as Gombrich has shown long time ago, does not guarantee that the more advanced it is the more information it carries.4 By translating technological images into manually produced ones, the accuracy of information is lost for the sake supplementing the very contours of the technological image with an introspective gaze, sensual strokes, imperfect likeness and the new mode of seeing and understanding the information conveyed. This process is not based upon a comparison of the original photographic or cinematic image (original motif) with the new manual image, but “on the potential capacity of the image to evoke the motif”5. This evocation is based upon the relation between what we think that is natural in our perception and what we know that is just a perceptual convention. In this sense Milak explores our urge to scrutinize an image through the process of analytical comparison, by making an image by matching it, in a gombrichian sense. In Plato’s Cratylus, Socrates advises the painter not to reproduce all the qualities that the image imitates, or it will not be an image at all but a duplicate. The image is therefore necessarily imperfect, representing things both by likeness and unlikeness, by virtue of a dialogue within the world of conventions that leads us to its limit.6 This is where an image provokes reflection being not merely an object of our gaze. Reflection that Milak’s images demand from us supplements the proverbial silence and immobility of the image. This is why Milak mostly chooses cinematographic still-images, exploring the temporality of the image beyond any movement of the figures represented.
Milak’s work is about a perceptual empathy, of how we are inculcated and habituated by images, and how we get addicted to them. But these works are not about any “magic” of the image, they always seem as results of a careful, studious and dialectical process. It is dialectic between two natures of the image, the second one being the one created in a collective unconsciousness of beholders. As a painter Milak finds his own artistic method of practicing iconology by “reconstructing the previous existence of the image and demonstrating the necessity of its rebirth in that present absolute”7 as Argan would put it. And in the described picture of the room we have also both of these natures suspended in their life, by their presence and by our absence. This cursed absence is what makes us attracted by images, and also the other way around.
Press selection :
CV Radenko Milak
Radenko Milak, born in 1980 in Travnik in the former Yugoslavia, lives and works in Banja Luka, Bosnia and Herzegovina. Studied at academies in Banja Luka and Belgrade, group exhibitions in Paris, Munich, Vienna, etc. Works included in the following collections: Deutsche Telekom Art Collection; Agnès B., Paris; National Gallery of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Sarajevo; Museum of Contemporary Art of the Republic of Srpska in Banja-Luka, etc.
1999-2003: Academy of Art, University of Banja Luka;
2003-2007: University of Art Belgrade, Faculty of Fine Arts;
2015: Memory of violence and dreams about the future, Museum of Contemporary Art, Vojvodina, Novi Sad, Curator: Sanja Kojić Mladenov
Solo Shows (Selection):
2015: Art Paris Art Fair, Grand Palais, Paris
2014: 365 (The image of time), Kunsthalle, Darmstadt, Germany, Curator: León Krempel
2014: Radenko Milak – Big Time, Galerie Priska Pasquer, Cologne
2014: Unfinished Story, Galerie Patricia Dorfmann, Paris
2012: I have said too much, I have not said enough, DUPLEX100m2, Sarajevo
2012: And what else did you see? – I couldn’t see everything!, Museum of Contemporary Art, Belgrad/Belgrade.
2007: Intimacy of Planetary Event, Museum of Contemporary Art of Republic of Srpska, Banja Luka.
Group Shows (Selection):
2014: Anmerkungen zum Beginn des kurzen 20. Jahrhunderts Gegenwartskunst zum 1. Weltkrieg – Motorenhalle – riesa efau. Kultur Forum Dresden, Dresden
2014: 4th International Canakkale Biennial – International Canakkale Biennial
2014: Il s’en est fallu de peu / So close and yet so far, Kunsthalle Mulhouse
2014: (Hi)Stories, Galerie Bernhard Bischoff & Partner, Bern
2014: Sans tambour ni trompette, Cent ans de guerres – La Graineterie, Houilles
2014: Never Ending Stories, DUPLEX100m2, Sarajevo
2014: Memory Lane, Galerie du jour agnès b., Paris;
2014: Time Being Time, Museum of Contemporary Art Banja Luka;
2014: Drawing Now – Salon du Dessin Contemporain – Galerie du jour agnès b. Paris
2014: Et la peinture, Galerie du jour agnès b., Paris;
2013: EN-LIGHTEN, Galerie Bernhard Bischoff & Partner Bern;
2013: Show Room One, Duplex/100m2, Sarajevo;
2013: I CanBe Outrageously Patient, Museum of Contemporary Art of Republic of Srpska, Banja Luka;
2013: I CanBe Outrageously Patient, Kuća Legata, Belgrade
2012: International Underground, Piradmid Sanat, Istanbul
2012: Premio Combat Prize, Granai di Villa Mimbell, Livorno
2012: Image Counter Image, Haus der Kunst, Munich
Curated by Patrizia Dander, León Krempel, Julienne Lorz and Ulrich Wilmes
2012: Individual Annotations, Künstlerhaus Wien/Vienna.
2011: No network – Time Machine, Biennal Nuclear war bunker Konjic.
2010: Krieg. Kunst. Krise, Artpoint Gallery – KulturKontakt Austria,
2010: Where Everything is Yet to Happened (WEIYTH), part two – Exposures, SpaPort Biennial, Banja Luka.
2008: Retro-spectrum, Art Gallery of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Sarajevo;
2008: Interspace, Museum of Contemporary Art of Vojvodina, Novi Sad; Gallery of Cultural Center, Belgrad/Belgrade;
2008: Salon Revolucije, Galery HDLU, Zagreb.
2006: Continental Breakfast, Memory (W)hole, Museum of Contemporary Art of Republic of Srpska, Banja Luka;
2006: Eastern Neighbors, Cultural Centre Babel, Utrecht.
2012: Premio Combat Prize for Drawing , Livorno, Italy
Art Collection Telekom, Germany
Collection Agnès b., Paris, France
National Art Gallery of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Museum of Contemporary Art of Republic of Srpska, Banja Luka, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Collection10m2, Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Private collection in France, Belgium, Germany, Italy, Japan, USA…