What impressed me about Era, from the moment we met, was his seemingly limitless and ceaseless energy – even in 40C/100F weather! Era Milivojevic is one of the artists who was part of the activities at the Student Culture Center in the 1970s, and continues to work in performance and installation to this day.
Era was kind enough to show me his studio, and even did a performance for me while I was there, recreating a piece that he does with 64 small square canvases, which are painted alternatively black and white – just like the squares of a chessboard, which also has 64 squares. The artist stacks the canvases, then picks them up and paints them. In the process of covering the white canvas with black paint, figures appear, which the artist feels resembles Chinese calligraphy. He notes that it is impossible to cover over the white canvas in one fell swoop – figures and marks will invariably appear. And as he covers the canvas with black paint, and makes those marks, he documents the process, along with the figures that take shape. He hands the canvas to an audience member, who holds it until it dries, at which point it can join the remaining canvases on the floor. The artist documents the entire process – the interaction between viewer and artwork – as well.
For Era, this piece is about the demystification of the black square. Art, he says, suffers from "an incurable disease of mystification." Malevich’s Black Square, which has captivated artists for centuries, is a prime example. In deconstructing and reconstructing the square, and handing it over to the viewer, the artist reveals that the square is one field that is part of many – just as in a chessboard. In painting the black square white, then black again, he creates and recreates new fields – spaces for new opportunities.
The chessboard is a particular fascination for Era. In a performance entitled Odeon he held a chess match with himself on the roof of the Odeon cinema in Belgrade. The chessboard was demarcated in outline form, and various objects dotted the chessboard as makeshift pieces – tree stumps, stones, bricks, tires, horseshoes. The video of the performance shows the artist hopping across the board, moving pieces this way and that way, a group of onlookers observing his quirky moves from a balustrade up above.
Era moved around his studio in a similarly frenetic manner, shuffling from this corner to that one, from work to work, object to object, which filled his studio. The artist is now an amateur archivist – he documents and saves everything from his performances and installation. Perhaps this is compensation for the lack of documentation of the activity that took place in SKC, of which he admits he has very little. One of his most iconic performances from that time involved him wrapping his body in rubber bands and slowly removing them, like peeling away a layer of skin that was constricting him.
Era also demonstrated another interactive piece for me – one that used frottage, or rubbing/scraping, and gave control over to the viewer. The artist took out a textured board, which he had painted, and placed a black piece of paper on it. He asked me to choose a crayon color, which he rubbed over the paper, revealing the pattern of the texture beneath. He asked me to choose another color, then another, and told me that it was up to me to say when the work was complete. After I did, he added one last touch of his own – thus allowing for the artist to intervene (and have the last word), and finished it off with not only a signature, but also an official stamp.
Era’s unrelenting energy has persisted from the beginning of his career to this day, and his passion for action and body art is evident in his everyday actions. It is with that energy that he also builds his archive, and amasses further materials for future performances and installations.