Branko Miliskovic is a performer in the truest sense of the word. I arrived for my meeting with him tired after a long day of meetings in the Belgrade summer heat. He told me that it was his job, as a performer, to captivate me – and captivate me, he did.
Branko is interested in politics as the ultimate performance. In fact, he tells me he was always more interested in politicians than performers, studying very carefully how they behaved. He combines the force and power of political speech with a military aesthetic, preparing very intense long durational performances, sometimes with audience participation, and sometimes without.
In Curfew, for example, a performance that he has done several times in different venues, he announces the piece via social media for weeks or months before. Those who come to view the piece as part of the audience unwittingly become participants in it when they arrive. The artist takes on an authoritarian role, commanding the participants to carry out various tasks. During this “curfew,” it is his rules and regulations that would apply to the audience, however the artist remained aware of the possibility of civil disobedience within this framework. In fact, in one of the performances, one of the participants left, then came back later and kissed him! It was perhaps the greatest form of civil disobedience – the violation of one’s personal and private space – but Branko, the true performer, didn’t flinch, and remained in character.
In Interloper, however, Branko himself was the transgressor – not necessarily of rules, but of boundaries. The artist appeared at a gathering for Norway’s National Day celebrations on May 17, 2011, dressed completely in black and carrying the largest Norwegian flag that he could find. Given this appearance, he stood out among the crowd, all of whom were dressed in national costume. The performance was about the possibility of fitting in in a foreign society, and though Branko, the foreigner, carried the “loudest” and most patriotic flag, by virtue of its size, he was actually criticized by one of the onlookers for blocking the view with it. Clearly, no matter how hard the interloper tries, he cannot fit in in a foreign society.
Branko is not only interested in crossing borders, but also straddling them. The Song of a Soldier on Watch is another performance that he has repeated several times. It involves the singing of a song that was written during World-War I, but became popular during the Second World War, “Lili Marlene,” written by the German soldier Hans Leip from Hamburg. In the performance, Branko embodies both Lili and Hans, becoming an androgynous and therefore ambiguous character. When he performs the piece, he sings the song continuously for several hours, bringing both himself and the viewers, should they remain in the audience long enough, to a point of mesmerization. For Branko, performance isn’t simply a genre that he works in, it is an experience that he undergoes. Among other long duration performances are Ceci n’est pas un Garcon a la Pipe (This is not a Boy with a Pipe), where the artist performs as a living embodiment of Picasso’s 1905 painting Boy with a Pipe, and The Absolute, which consists of two days of performance: 1.) The Speech, and 2.) The Day of Defiance. The first day involved four hours of speeches, where the artist is speaking off the top of his head – not a prepared speech. The aim is to rouse the audience for the next day, which is a battle that never happens. During The Day of Defiance, for four hours Branko waves a red flag and salutes to it, and at the end of each hour, plays the Russian antifascist song: Svyashchennaya Voyna (Sacred War, composed by Aleksandr Aleksandrov). The artist whose focus has been on power, politics and military rhetoric once again aims to stir something within his audience, by pushing his own body to the limits of its capabilities.
These performances bring to mind the long durational performances of Marina Abramovic, as well as those of Rasa Todosijevic. Despite being from Serbia, he was unaware of the legacy of these artists until he saw a poster for an exhibition at the Student Culture Center, which featured Abramovic. In fact, this was the first time that he had heard of performance. Since then he has studied the work of Abramovic, among others – Otto Muhl, for example. What he brings to his performances, however, is uniquely his own: an intensity that cannot be matched, and a consistency in approach to the power structures that surround us on a daily basis. Although I haven’t witnessed Branko’s performances in person, viewing them online gives a hint as to just how powerful they must be in person – as a performer, his intensity carries through.