Eric Angles

About the Art of Milenko Prvacki, Gravity, and Aboutness

The only artwork on my walls is a small painting by Milenko. It isn't that I don't like art - I make some myself- but I often find art on permanent display quite disturbing. The stuff of occasional nightmares, even! Like the proverbial exhibitionist lurking at the bottom of a playground toboggan, it smugly expects decipherment by a cornered viewer, all the more delighted to welcome you (over and over again) into its private theater of signification that it has managed to enlist architecture and gravity to its cause...

It is safe to say that Milenko's lovely little green square plays no part in any such third-rate tragedy about the tyranny of meaning and my own sorry fantasies. This painting isn't on display in the room; it operates in the room. Come to think of it, this painting operates the room. It is not a tedious rebus, a ritualized anecdote that uncle Fred will recite for the hundredth time to the cringing family guests. This painting is not a text to be understood, or a performance to endure. It is a tool that scans the texts that are already traversing me, its viewer. It is an abstract machine that produces the parameters of my engagement with the world -that produces me as a subject. I am never able to recognize this green painting for what it really is, yet it always recognizes me as I go about my daily business - such as, right now, writing about it. This painting has become a sensory and cognitive organ that I can no longer do without. Yes, a live organ: the other morning, in fact, I noticed that it had crept from the center of the small wall near the bookshelf all the way to the edge!

Which brings me to these wonderful new drawings and paintings. I scrutinize them, I auscultate them, the familiar voices of the artist and the dozens who have written of his work echoing in my head. To my great relief, I remain entirely puzzled as to what they may well mean, on the table, there, on their own. There are just many too many persuasive clues, credible leads, apparent themes and possible lineages for this amateur detective to get his story straight. Starting with the single word or phrase scrawled in across the bottom of most of the drawings: "FRAGMENTED," "RECOLLECTION," "NOW YOU SEE IT NOW YOU DON'T." And next to it, the artist's signature, duly dated. Are these captions, thematic guides? Pure visual material? Or conceptual props cleverly impersonating titles? Furthermore, how not to follow their obvious suggestion - supported by my acquaintance with Milenko's professional and life trajectories - that we are dealing here with the classic quandaries of memory, perception, communication, not to mention of course the language of painting itself? But wait - should artistic intentionality and biographical detail even be relevant, in any way, to how the work behaves outside the studio and the artist's reach?

Let me look again. I notice recurring shapes and motifs: a ropy weave, quirky architectural fold-outs, sketchy outlines of a figure or object that must be familiar or symbolically charged. I can probably also diagnosticate a number of stylistic and pictorial procedures that may have been formative for Yugoslav painters of his generation, neo-expressionistic virtuosity and minimalist seriality, (post)modernist disjunction and conceptualist play. These avenues and many others have been richly explored, and will continue to be, by qualified observers of Milenko's work. Parsing through these is a fun, open-ended exercise: the correct story will always be the most convincing one, the best argued, the most elegant -or sometimes, whichever one I happen to have just read. Realizing all of this, of course, brings me no closer to seeing this work in some pure, natural state. How cruel you were, Paul Valéry, exhorting us to see by forgetting the name of the thing one sees! Then it strikes me: these are all the wrong questions. Milenko's new works are about a great many interesting things. Conversely, a great many interesting things may be said about them. These double equations are exhilarating, and infinite in number: let us just enjoy them! Case closed. In these few lines, I am looking to solve a rather different matter: what is the mechanism that draws me to these works in the first place, inexorably, here and now, in my living room, in the artist's studio, at Taksu? Not what is Milenko's work about- but how are a particular room, a set of bodies, and the world beyond made to orbit together about the work? How, exactly, do these drawings and paintings steal gravity right back from the grip of the stunned exhibitionist, reverse it, and reinvent it altogether?

This is where I am finally made to remember something I keep forgetting. From the slew of sophisticated decisions -installational, critical, sociological, financial...- that pull us all into orbit around Milenko's new offerings, I realize that it is indeed the extraordinarily sensitive and considered formal elements of the work that matter the most. The miracle of art, lest we forget, being this quick-fingered, alchemical Houdini trick: highly specific material procedures self-disappear into a cloud of smoke, a perspectival illusion, a neurological blind spot: NOW YOU SEE IT NOW YOU DON'T! Meaning dissolves, the site is torn open, and yet all I experience is the slightest of flutters, the mildest of wind drafts -little aware that my thoughts have been delicately, and radically, reconfigured.

I can now take a third, much more expansive look at these mini-walls of watercolor and oil that are gesturing towards the walls of plaster and concrete which, in turn, frame them. No more recognizable figures, symbols or objects: instead, a wild web of transversal grids, a Babel of faintly hued surfaces and angled fishing nets "thrown over chaos," as Gilles Deleuze once demanded of art. What is crucial here is that I am not facing an inventory of architectures and topographies. Rather, I am subjected to a new physics, churned out by an army of industrial-strength, ultra-quiet home appliances.

This is a game of reflections, and also of overlaps. Layers bound together so tightly they cannot exfoliate: some of the works are thicker than others. Age-old hierarchies between drawing and painting are long abolished. Each proposes a different modality of layering, a variation in the "histological fantasies" set forth -to paraphrase Jean Clay's marvelous writing on the painting of Martin Barré. In Milenko's paintings, events and textures seem to be peeling off a prehistorical wall; in a vertiginous time leap forward, the ground of his drawings offers us instead the coded blank field of the digital age, the depth without depth of unflattened Photoshop layers. As in a maze of funhouse mirrors, surfaces unmake and re-articulate one other, within the drawing and without: I, these walls, ceiling, site of exhibition, those streets and expanses beyond, and you, too, have become data atoms gyrating and agglutinating according to new principles we somehow already knew.