QUESTION SERIES WITH MILOŠ TRAKILOVIĆ
This is Badland
When we first met Tuzla-born Miloš Trakilović we talked almost incessantly, jumping over combinations of disparate topics; From youth spent between Bosnia and Netherlands to performance lectures, from his inner circle of friends to critical theory writings. All of our following conversations were somehow permeated with an interweaving of biographical elements from Miloš’ life and attempts to situate his art practice — which is less concerned with production of objects and more with research, most often taking on forms of texts, performances and lectures. Here is a young artist that attempts to think outside traditional art disciplines, making work that engages with current issues surrounding the digital turnover. In many ways, the format of this sequence of questions with Miloš manifests as a continuation of our exchange, and extends as a mediation on his generation.
TIB: Is it important to belong to a place, a country or a culture today? What is home for you?
Miloš Trakilović: This is a straight up a difficult question. I find it hard to say, because I think I’ve never known home in that sense. To be more precise; I have known many homes, maybe that’s more why I struggle here.
I’m from a particular generation born in the late 80s in former Yugoslavia that never actually got to experience and live in this social reality, but nevertheless felt a significant loss with its disintegration.
In a way there is always this spectral presence, or absence of a time and place that seem very familiar and should in some way resemble home, but the contours of which have been violently erased. I was three when the war broke out in Bosnia, and towards the end of that war my family immigrated to The Netherlands, where I grew up. Large parts of my life have been spent between these two places. For the last six years I’ve been living in Berlin. I guess home should be somewhere in the sum of this triangle.
Miloš Trakilović in front of Künstlerhaus bethanien.
I believe there’s not really one coherent idea of what Balkan is or what it should mean. It’s basically being tossed around like a hot potato that no one wants to be associated with, since it carries connotations of something undesirable.
How did these displacements affect your own understanding of identity?
In Bosnia, and the Balkans in general, cultural identity is still a hugely complicated and often a conflicting issue. The struggle to desperately reinvent new national narratives after the war, continues in many of the newly formed countries.
We often tend to think of nation states as eternal, singular and naturally occurring concepts when in fact these are constructs that are contingent in their own existence. As much as being a refugee has marked many aspects of my upbringing, I think that this experience has also taught me from a very early age that identity is something fluid. That a culture and a country are huge yet fragile categorical constructs that serve to uphold a particular idea of belonging in place, that in no way can account for the multiplicities and complexities of actual human experience.
What about national identity?
I personally never felt a significant urge to identify with such forms of belonging; maybe because I had the privilege to belong to many different places, maybe because the country I was born under no longer exists. But regardless of our own beliefs, we often get categorised in such terms by our surrounding.
It is often just enforced upon you unwillingly by randomness of life, like your name or place of birth. My own sense of belonging has always been somewhat fractured, incomplete, multiple and in becoming. This is something that has enriched my life tremendously, but I’ve seen it also make some people more susceptible to the trap of needing to resort to clearly defined ideas of national belonging, often at the cost of dangerously misguiding their perception of reality.
In a globalised world we think of migration and free movement as vital parts of our identity, but there are very clear restrictions as to who gets to enjoy such freedoms and under which conditions. I think it is important not to belong to a country, but to rather be aware of the kind of privileges access to a certain cultural and national identity can give to a body. This often becomes very clear when one’s identity somehow cracks, or fails to assimilate
How do you negotiate the struggle between the right to belong to a country and this desire not to identify with nationhood?
I think that belonging to a country can actually be very dangerous. It can sprawl all kinds of populist appeals and illusions of superiority, but belonging to no country at all can be equally dangerous.In this sense I see it as a constant battle that one has to wage not to adhere to strictly defined categories of nationhood that are being enforced upon you, while still being worthy of the rights inscribed in citizenship. It is about fighting to keep an open mind, really.
I really dislike it when you meet people and the first question someone asks is, “Where are you from?” I honestly never know how to answer this question or what to say, I even started refusing to answer it, instead I prefer asking: “How come you’re here?” I find this a much more insightful question.
Is there such a thing as the Balkan?
There are times when I would like to think of Balkan as nothing more than a geographical range of mountains that it’s named after. Wouldn’t that be nice? But of course, things are much more complicated than that. There is a strong geopolitical link inscribed in this term that refers to a specific cultural climate as well.
I think that for me the Balkan stands for an inherent sense of contradiction. I believe there’s not really one coherent idea of what Balkan is or what it should mean. It’s basically being tossed around like a hot potato that no one wants to be associated with, since it carries connotations of something undesirable. The Balkan is ‘always somewhere else’, always ‘south from here’.
In a way it remains an almost fictive association, some sort of mythical place that is too Western to be Eastern Europe and too Eastern European to be part of the West. Paradoxically I think this is how it exists, in its own negation.
What kind of balkan identities are being formed today, in a globalised age of the internet acceleration and hyper-connectivity?
I think that my generation of people born in the late 80s is often wrongly labelled as being nostalgic towards the past, that we harbour some sort of Yugo-nostalgia. I don’t consider myself nostalgic towards a past I never experienced. There's definitely some sort of longing involved, maybe we are more melancholic, but not really nostalgic.
Still, we are often taught to mistrust nostalgia, it’s being very easily dismissed as a sort of disillusionment with the present, but I don’t think this is very helpful. There are plenty of things we can and should take from our relationships with the past and this should not exclude feelings of nostalgia. As a cultural phenomenon I think it’s actually quite interesting to observe, but I do not consider myself Yugo-nostalgic, for example. New generations are, in my opinion, just sick and tired of the miserable conditions at present and are looking for ways to work against a post-war disunity. There is a strong need for connection, for movement and for change. I think that the Internet did play a role here, the fact that information now circulates more freely makes younger generations feel less cut off form the rest of the world.
I would say a lot of people from the Balkan, whether they have left or not, have developed various and often complex dimensions of being and belonging. This is perhaps what dealing with a Balkan identity means to me — a multiplicity of belonging, a hybrid identity.
Tell us about the specific concepts that underline your practice and research.
I often find myself on an intersection between theory and practice. I definitely consider myself more of an artist than a theorist, but I don’t always fit the traditional brief of an art practice. As someone who is trained in new media art, I have been working with moving images for quite some time. I became more interested in the codified structures that shape and form todays digital images. To me, dealing with code is essentially dealing with language. This paradigmatic shift between text and image, how they overlap and inform one another in our digital age, is something I’m very interested in. This often brings me to the field of poetry.
Language has somehow become an obsession of mine in both my theoretical and artistic efforts. Right now I’m interested in exploring the limitations of language as a communication tool, how it can be used not as a static and theoretically immovable construct but as a vibrant technology that models human perception and shapes our understanding of the world. Human language, as well as code, is something that is in essence invisible, yet it informs so many aspects of our visual experience too.
I guess that with my work I’m looking for ways in which to twist and bend such logics in a rather playful and poetic way, in attempt to try to expose some of the socio-technological conditions behind today’s digital and visual culture.
RA-TA-TA, Miloš trakilović, 2017. videostill
I think we need to approach art as a kind of generative potential that can be weaponised and put to use in various aspects of life, outside of just institutionalised art practices.
Why art? What can we learn from contemporary art?
I think this depends a bit on what you understand as contemporary art. There are many interesting practices that I find very contemporary but that are not given any space within the mainstream machinery of what is considered to be art. I believe it’s a huge mistake to think of art as solely that which the art world itself creates. I think that much of what we consider to be contemporary art offers a too narrow view on the current world we inhabit. I’ve personally always thought of art as the ability to capture and format intensities in a way that engenders some kind of potential for change.
It is a form of communication that is in itself always relational and contingent. It can take on many shapes and points of view that don’t necessarily fit in categories. This definitely includes traditional artistic disciplines from fine art to dance, to design, but also thoughts, experiences or a good conversation. I think we need to approach art as a kind of generative potential that can be weaponised and put to use in various aspects of life, outside of just institutionalised art practices. To me art is about the belief that change is possible, not by providing solutions or answers to things but by inspiring one to go through with life.
Unfortunately in today's advanced capitalist world, contemporary art is all too often about woo, wow and win. It’s an economic system of institutionalised coolness that is riddled with anxiety.To answer your question at the risk of maybe sounding pessimistic and vain, what we can definitely learn from contemporary art is how uncontemporary we are.
How do you think today's digital age shapes our view on representation?
There are various levels of representation we could address here; political, cultural or artistic to name just a few. From the perspective of art, there is naturally an emphasis on visual forms of representation whereby traditional notions of image production have now become entirely overhauled by digitisation.
The ubiquity, speed and ease with which digital images get produced and mediated today have altered how we relate, understand and interpret their impact on society. Images are no longer defined purely by their visual or pictorial quality — what they represent — but have gained operational characteristics that make them computable and also profitable through various processes of data extraction.
Digitisation has also made our lives hyper-visual by default, but the actual coded content, the digital matrix that determines so many aspects of our lives, remains largely invisible to us, which creates a very conflicting sense of self-understanding. Representation has acquired quite a dubious status in today’s world; it’s no longer really in our hands. I think we live in strange times where code prevails over law and where power comes with numbers but still pretends to be inscribed in forms of representation.
XYZ, Miloš trakilović, 2016.
What consequences does the digital turnover have on our visual culture today?
I can mostly just talk from my personal experience within the field of art. Looking from the point of view of the artist, as someone who is supposed to have a certain knowledge or expertise in creating a visual or aesthetic experience, there is very little space left to contribute something triggering in a world that is already over-aestheticised and saturated by images.
Relying on purely visual qualities of work gets increasingly impossible, and so the role of an artist is to also further imbue their work with meaning. Aesthetic processes are accompanied, if not replaced, with the need for articulation.The artist seems to no longer be the one who gets to question things, but is supposed to give answers and provide solutions to things as well, which brings the prefix of visual in the arts under serious question.
I definitely notice a return to language, narration and didactics within the field of art, especially in those circles that are somehow concerned with the development of digital technologies. I find this both interesting and worrying, because there are types of knowledge that cannot be communicated rationally or in language alone. As humans we will always rely on visual forms of understanding too.
Can we devise new ways of seeing? How?
In a pool of infinite varieties of images induced by a shapeless mass of informational flows, the politics behind image production and circulation become pretty much the only viable backdrop against which they can be critically assessed or evaluated. We cannot rely on vision to inform us about these crucial issues, it needs to be communicated differently.
To my mind, what makes some politicised art practices of today particularly successful and receptive is the fact that they are in some ways aware of these shifts, understanding this double bind and employing shape-shifting tactics to cut across traditional fields and disciplines in attempt to articulate a position within the now, from which to ground views towards possible alternatives.
I think that precisely this ability to articulate things, to make sense of our surrounding, to distinguish signal from noise, is increasingly being called for, even — if not especially — within art. Articulation might very well be the new twentieth century abstraction of our time; it’s a lauded virtue within a milieu of all-encompassing information. On the other hand I think this is a clear sign that we need to re-evaluate what we understand as art and how we practice it.
Photography: Ina Niehoff
Interview: Nina Vukelić