Milivoj Bijelić
After a long period of absence from the Croatian arts scene, Milivoj Bijelić exhibited an installation entitled “Powered by e.go” at the 39th Zagreb Salon in 2005. This installation, created the same year it was exhibited, was premiated at the show. It consisted of three basic works: a sculpture of a rabbit on a pedestal, a print with the letters e.go, and a print of a photograph of a detail of the painting of the celebrated French Baroque painter Nicolas Poussin Et in Arcadia ego, 1645.
On the printout of the photograph of the detail of the Poussin painting, we can clearly see the flash used by the author to register this part of the picture with a view to its future use. The printout is regarded by a little sculpture of a rabbit from an earlier series of Bijelić works created in the early 1990s, invoking the oeuvre of and paying tribute to Joseph Beuys. The third part √ the print impression relates to the last part of the name of the painting, but with the recognisable typography and the added dot that separates the e and the go it is in fact a variation of the name of the German oil industry giant E.on.
When I invited Bijelić to exhibit at the Salon, we had a short conversation during which he showed me his new project entitled Et in Barbaria ego. Bijelić had wanted to repair the ruined old school in Bribir below the important archaeological site of the Bribirska glavica and equip it as an open studio to bring together artists and people involved in culture from Croatia and the world at large to spend time and do creative work in it from time to time. This laudable project, thanks to the persistence of the author, had in the mean time managed to take on clear outlines, and Bijelić, working on it, was enabled to combine his artistic personality with his new role as mentor and patron in the revivification and formation of contents on a topos practically abandoned by civilisation today.
Hence the earlier described installation was a kind of adumbration of this project. Arcadia is the name of the Greek plateau located in the Peloponnesian plateau inhabited by shepherds and shepherdesses with their flocks of sheep, often met by their divine patron, the sylvan god Pan and his nymphs and satyrs. At the turn of the 15th and 16th century, Italian poet Jacopo Sannazaro in his poem Arcadia started off the poetic idyll, and a hundred years later the great painters of Baroque Classicism, Lorraine and Poussin, who in their painting invoked the ancient world as a matter of course, often allegorically painted Arcadia too √ a happy, promised land, an inscrutable ideal of carefree and practically ideal life. Bribirska glavica (in Latin Varvaria) has neither history nor present and is totally at odds with such an ideal projection of life. However, quoting Poussin, Bijelić is unconsciously hoping that a similar ideal might perhaps be partially personified in his vision of the revivification of Bribir and Bribirska glavica.
On this dualism, this polyphony of meanings, Bijelić builds his current project in life and art. In the installation, Bijelić confronts Beuys with Poussin, two times and two artistic worldviews, so far apart, and yet close. The posing of the rabbit on the pedestal suggests his longing for his return to his natural surroundings, but also tells of the need for an Arcadian position in art, irrespective of the time and culture in which it comes into being. The print placed a little off to the side is a symbol of money, power and energy, without which any idyll must remain a utopia. This installation was in many ways indicative of the way he was going, for it was done when the artist drew the line under his work to that date and announced a new episode in his highly creative work.
As many times earlier, now too Bijelić is not speaking unambiguously, but is opening up with this work a number of issues, both artistic and social, that is, to do with life itself.
The model of the school placed at this exhibition is marked outside with the Poussin painting, which exceeds its architectural volume, while in the interior there are works of prominent European and Croatian contemporary artists. The panoramic aerial photographs of Bribirska glavica tell of the history and millennial habitation of this space, which fell into disuse at the time of the Turkish wars, and has since that time not even approximately re-attained its great importance in affairs of civilisation. The circular video projection tells explicitly of the configuration and position of this site: the karst plateau from which Velebit is to be seen, the Dinarid mountains, and the Adriatic Sea, all the way to the island of Vis. When the Liburnian Celts inhabited the area, it really did, for a short time at least, represent Arcadia, but the numerous migrations, wars and marauding campaigns confirmed, alas, the correctness of the name of the place later erected at this site √ the Roman municipium of Varvaria.
Bijelić hovers between these two concepts, attempting to pull of his project through his social and cultural commitment and via his artistic oeuvre. Some twenty years ago he patented as his author’s mark the riddle-man, a pictogram that we can now find as a densely imprinted raster on his large oils and watercolours shown in the Račić Gallery. Bijelić applies paint directly from the tube to every pictogram or marks it in watercolour with a single touch of the brush, in this way creating a new kind of Pointillism. The iconography of these paintings is extremely banal, for the author puts on frames from blockbuster films, adverts or simply images of a brass band on the march. This kind of iconography undoubtedly calls for a new broad-spectrum gathering and socialising in a possible Arcadia, which ought to be a purgatory for the kitsch layers produced by the time in which we live, and a nursery of new and real cultural and artistic ideas.
Perhaps Bijelić did, unconsciously and unexpectedly, resort to Pointillism, because this is in effect the painting of an imaginary perspective, such as the imaginaries and themes of the originators of this trend, Signac and Seurrat. They too aimed at a new Arcadia, painting it with their dots, but also knowing that they were painting a false and servile moment, a short excerpt of time that only supported utopia. Bijelić is aware of this too, but unlike his predecessors, he controls the painterly composition with the concrete pictogram raster composed of his own author’s sign. Riddle-man is present here because man is a riddle, and the solution of a riddle is often unpredictable. Perhaps Bijelić realises his own Arcadia, for with his inexhaustible energy, with the numerous ideas that go with it and his creative potential he has spent a good part of the path to setting utopia within the framework of reality.