UZNEMIRENA TLA / DISTURBED SOIL



PAUL LOWE

LCC, University of the Arts London, UK



Vladimir Miladinovic, “ACE68570R0000253363 Picture showing the place where the body of the witness's father was found.” Charcoal on paper, 188x151cm, 2018. Courtesy of the artist.



Hung on a gallery wall, from a distance this large scale image resembles a photograph, but on closer inspection reveals itself to be a hand drawn artwork, with traces of the soft touch of fingertips embedded onto the surface of the paper. Measuring almost two meters by one and a half, the drawing is epic in scale, and seductive in its flowing tones of charcoal black, modulated greys and pale white highlights. The drawing shimmers, the texture of the foliage vibrating with a suppressed energy that makes the seemingly pastoral scene appear charged and alive. The drawing is one of a series of eight works that the Serbian artist Vladimir Miladinović has painstakingly enlarged and copied from postcard sized original photographs taken by forensic investigators working with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) [1] who were documenting suspected mass graves sites in the Belgrade suburb of Batajnica in 2001. [2]

Entitled Disturbed soil/Uznemirena tla, the images in the series are identified by code numbers - “ACE58681R0000228501”, “ACE58682R0000228502.” — rather than captions that reveal anything substantive about their meaning. [3] Miladinović uncovered the photographs in the ICTY archives as part of his long term project of questioning the contested histories of the events that occurred in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s. The drawings have a sense of structure and internal rhythm, but they are also of what appear to be banal areas with little of the usual compositional elements of a typical landscape painting. The spaces depicted are claustrophobic, the point of view filling the frame of the image with the density of information of the textures of leaves, flowers branches and soil. They have a haunting, but disturbing beauty, their scale a testament to the artistic endeavour and hours of effort needed to realise them.

Through his process of painstakingly copying and re-presenting these small images, previously invisible in the morass of material enclosed within the court records, Miladinović pays testimony to these nondescript places where human lives were treated with such disdain, dumped in mass graves, hidden from sight and from memory. In this process of making visible to a public audience documents of human rights abuse that would otherwise remain hidden, Miladinović calls on the topology of atrocity itself rather than the human victim to deliver its testimony, reading the landscape as archive, expanding beyond topography, transforming it into a space of memory, allusion, metaphor, association and ultimately, remembrance.

[1] Established by Resolution 827 of the United Nations Security Council in May 1993 the ICTY was a body of the United Nations established to prosecute war crimes and their perpetrators committed during the Yugoslav Wars. During its 26-year existence, the court indicted 161 persons, with 90 being sentenced and 18 acquitted. The ICTY’s archive holds a vast collection of records, evidence and testimony relating to the conflict in the former Yugoslavia, making it a key site of memory in relation to the conflict. See https://www.icty.org/

[2] The investigation was gathering evidence relating to the execution of Kosovo Albanian civilians by Serbian paramilitaries. Between 7 and 11 of May 1999, members of Serbian forces killed 93 Kosovo Albanian civilians in the town of Gjakovë in Kosovo. The remains of 78 of the victims were found in Batajnica, the youngest of which was 17, and the oldest 70 years old.

[3] For more on the Disturbed soil/Uznemirena tla exhibition see the Eugster Gallery website https://www.eugster belgrade.com/artists/vladimir-miladinovic/?section=exhibitions&exh=437&tab=2 (accessed 20/11/2020)




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