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.