Muzej grada Beograda, Konak Knjeginje Ljubice
Text for catalogue, Nada Seferović, custos of Museum of the City of Belgrade
The metallic glitter of Urban Warriors or somewhat subdued and warmer gleam of the Woman – Sun, endowed with an almost votive simplicity or “totemic” (R. Hiršl) elegance, as well as the imposingly huge dimensions of the sculptures composed of steel or titanium modular elements of a Boeing airplane, assemblages infused with a cyber-futuristic spirit radiating with powerful dynamics even when their forms are almost airy, create an image of an almost perfect harmony which also reveals contrasts towards the magical and somewhat nostalgic forms of the fabulous vegetation in one of Belgrade’s most beautiful urban gardens – where they are currently exhibited – and the 19th-century residence of the famous and unfaltering Princess Ljubica in their background. They offer an image or a part of the story of urban Belgrade’s past two centuries. This is the story that speaks of the first steps towards the ‘modernization’ of Belgrade, but also the one that reminds us through the specific visual language and poetics of their author, Aleksandar Gligorijević, that we have not only left behind the peak of “industrial modernism”, which flourished in urban environments, but that we also witness the “decay of civilization” of that very “industrial modernism” (B. Buden).
Having grown up and formed as a person in the spirit of Belgrade’s most creatively progressive and most essentially urban cultural and artistic circles, Aleksandar Gligorijević (1962) spent the last decade of the 20th century in California, in Los Angeles, where his need to determine and express himself as an artist came to full maturity. It was by no means coincidental that he chose for his teacher the then professor of sculpture at Santa Monica College of Design, Art and Architecture, at that time the somewhat forgotten artist George Herms, although one of of the founders of the California school of assemblage. Already then, Gligorijević felt that the language of assemblage was the main mode of his artistic expression. According to many, George Herms – a versatile visual artist and jazz musician, today almost in
his eighties, who has shifted again to the focus of attention of assemblage admirers in the USA and Europe, side by side with the ever-present Edward Kienholz and Bruce Conner – has been a genuine artistic shaman of the US West Coast. As a member of the famous Beat Generation, together with prose writers and poets far more familiar to us, such as W. S. Burroughs, J. Kerouac, L. Ferlinghetti and A. Ginsberg, visual artists such as Kienholz and Rauschenberg, and before all these, with Wallace Berman, who was the closest to him, Herms turned to the poetics of found objects as the most suitable means to express his artistic credo already in the 1950s.
Having chosen assemblage as his preferred technique, Aleksandar Gligorijević faced no dilemmas from the outset: he was not attracted by the call of just any found object, no matter how intense it may have been, but only by those created in the earliest or rather early periods of industrial production, plenty of which could fortunately be found at California dumps. His almost boyish fascination with these, for him, mysterious and challenging objects designed by some unknown industrial visionaries aroused in him both deep respect and the desire to transpose them by deciphering the message enclosed in them that is only readable to him into his own vision, into an entirely new, this time, artistic harmony. Guided by his inner vision and poetics, with huge respect for their previous life, as if creating a jigsaw puzzle, the artist assembled and combined into a new whole the unmodified, discarded and exhausted products of the American industry, such as screw bolts, discs, propellers, ball bearings – all those objects created by machine, and not the human hand, i.e. objects which do not reveal a direct imprint of human emotion. These sculptures – assemblages, which until recently had rather small dimensions, began to gain public acclaim already at his first student exhibitions and the approving reception persisted after he had completed his studies in California (1996) and returned to Belgrade (after 2000) throughout a series of exhibitions in Serbia and Switzerland, which, though displayed in rather different exhibition settings, nevertheless unfailingly revealed the continuity of his initial creative impulse. It was through the fusion of the old life of various machine elements and the new, personal, visual language, and owing to an apparent desire to offer pleasure not only to the creator but also to the beholder, spectator, that the sculpture of Aleksandar Gligorijević gained footing in real life, in various layers of reality, through whose harmonious articulation the artist managed to create new forms in which past and present persisted equally
and parallely, expressing perfectly through that very unity of time the spirit of the contemporary urban environment.
When Aleksandar Gligorijević decided to return to Serbia at the beginning of the new millennium, he brought with him huge supplies of the basic material for his assemblage sculptures: almost two tons of dumped elements of industrial machines collected over the decade spent in the USA. Although huge, the stock of materials, being transformed into works of art, began to shrink drastically and the artist had to seek for new supplies. It was by pure accident that he found the new source of materials in the equipment storage of the JAT Airways technical department, whose management decided to get rid of large amounts of needless thirty-some-year-old spare parts for Boeing 727 planes. Owing to their understanding, the artist took these materials, paving the path towards certain changes in his usual method of creating assemblages, which he practiced for fifteen years.
However, the creative process leading to his new works has remained basically the same. The artist still starts from primary industrially manufactured components as constructive elements, but these components are now airplane elements made of aluminium, steel or titanium, i.e. the finest, the most resistant, the hardest and the most durable materials normally required by aircraft industry. Furthermore, these elements have considerably larger dimensions than the materials he previously used; consequently, the creative procedure requires a sort of operative realism personified in the inevitable help of aircraft engineers, who rely on a more rational and professional approach to the material and utilization of proper tools. The new materials of considerably large dimensions also require larger space for storage and processing and the artist has found it in the vicinity of his former studio, namely in a former underground club in Savamala. In this authentically urban space typical of Belgrade, assisted by experienced aircraft professionals, Gligorijević creates sculptures of large dimensions, in which he did not try his hand before, but which reveal the joint effort of science and art to achieve a perfect harmony.
The process of transforming industrially manufactured machine elements has now become considerably more complex due to more sophisticated materials and a specific technology
typical of aircraft industry, which both impose more complex professional tasks. Being aware from the outset that his idea chooses the material inasmuch as the material determines the tendency of the creative process, the artist also understands that the more sophisticated material leads to more demanding aims. Accordingly, due to the greater recognizability of initial forms – aircraft elements – it is a much greater challenge to design sculptures. Joining and combining various elements requires an absolute balance of masses in order to create a sculpture of abstract form, perfect movement, open dynamic form and new intrinsic energy, which all endow it with a new identity – that of a work of art.
As if these sculptures were ornaments in air, Aleksandar Gligorijević lets energy flow through their movement and highlights the power of their dynamics, refreshing our memory of the works of Umberto Boccioni – one of the main theorists of historical Futurism – which sought to express the then new aesthetics of spatial dynamism, movement and speed. However, these new works of Aleksandar Gligorijević really bear the imprint of futurism, but the futurism of our times, whose marks we find in all those figures from science-fiction films and comics that accompanied our years of growing up.
The series titled Avio-skulpture (Aircraft-Sculptures) includes ten new sculptures, five of which are exhibited on this occasion, and was made specially for the concert of the British electronic breakbeat band Prodigy and the 2012 Warrior’s Festival in Belgrade; it is in full accord with the title of Prodigy’s latest album at that time – How to Steal a Jet Fighter. What is more important is that we encounter in these works another new element that did not appear before in the works of Aleksandar Gligorijević; that new element is music, or more precisely sound. The aircraft elements used to make these sculptures were cast using high-quality techniques similar to church-bell casting and the air flowing through and around them creates a pleasant, resonating tone of the specific and lasting ‘airplane sound’ that distantly evokes the sound of sonar engines from Rauschenberg’s works from the 1990s, reminding us of the appeal of the fusion of the visual and the auditory, which encourages the dialogue between the artist and the world surrounding him and bridges the gap between art and life and art and nature.
It is well known that during the previous century a whole series of artists sought to express that deeply abstract, dynamic, non-material concept of reality, confronting
us with our own perception of forms, but also with the awareness of the feeling of vulnerability arising from the encounter with a huge object, for example a sculpture of large dimensions placed in open space, in a garden or a park. Furthermore, the introduction or placing of a sculpture in the poetic nature of an urban garden opens an active dialogue not only between the sculpture and the nature surrounding it, but also with the wider environment, with passers-by and even with the nearby buildings – or, in our case, with a residential building. Having in mind that these structures embody their own history, including artistic values, they are by no means merely a piece of decoration, nor a neutral background. The incorporation of sculpture into an urban context, no matter whether interior or exterior, is meant to prompt a reaction on the part of all of us, to awaken all of our senses, but also to disturb or change our usual perception of the place, space and the work of art.
In our times, it is by no means uncommon for a museum or a gallery to present works of a sculptor in open space, in a museum’s or gallery’s garden or a park. What underlies that idea is undoubtedly the desire to additionally stress the importance that we apparently attribute to individual expression of the personal identity of every artist by exploiting the unique atmosphere of these spaces and the interaction between works of art, on the one hand, and their environment and spectators on the other.
Accordingly, it may be said with great certainty that the personal identity of Aleksandar Gligorijević primarily reveals itself in the perfect synergy of the intrinsic rhythm, music and poetics of his works. Without resorting to narration, he has managed to infuse them with a soul, a sense of human presence which can be recognized in all of his ‘urban warriors’ because they faithfully follow the impulses of his gesture, thought and body, reveal his sensibility, his personality, the immediate handwork of his poetic being, which creates a monument to the new time and the world we are living in, just like Tatlin once did.