A game, be it traditional or virtual, is typically a competitive, structured social activity with set rules on guided emotional and social responses. The process of picking sides and competing against another gives back more than interaction: in addition to providing opportunities for the strengthening of social ties, of planning and development of strategy, games serve as a platform for structuring aggressions and attractions transparently and in accordance with established rules. While we play, we create temporary correlations between separate events, making us more skilled at winning, losing, learning, forgetting and forgiving. Aleksandar Dimitrijevic (1977) belongs to a generation of contemporary Serbian artists that are finding their place and their visual language amidst the relative isolation of the Serbian art scene and the call of the global art market. The series of paintings Playground on which the artist has been working over the past six years represents the space in which “game” is yet another word for the art world.
Dimitrijevic, already a seasoned presence on the international scene, in his work examines the playroom as a place of critical reflection of reality and as a field of reference for the establishment of certain moral and material values of its players. Reflecting the societal value systems of winning and losing, the canvases explore confrontation and balance, experiment and chance, adopting or changing a stance; the physical presence of players is replaced by signs and gestures with which we attempt to reconstruct their temporary relationships.
By choosing the game as a formal framework of his work, Dimitrijević has started a process of resolving the fragmented and frozen memories through the visual metaphors of a battlefield, regulated by the established rules, as well as the process of personal relationship towards the contemporary arenas of transnational networking, accelerated mutations of capital and consumer flexibility and the systems of global distribution that offer amalgamated models of society which range from multicultural utopias to versions of the Game of Thrones.
Using games as a method of classification of symbolic memory and the abstract painterly gesture as a way of approaching form, in a series of clear, bright works, Dimitrijević sends a series of visual probes into the domains of repressed personal histories, pointing at their fragility and volatility. In a manner similar to Peter Doig or Cy Twombly, Dimitrijević uses not so much the finesse of the individual sign but rather a full orchestration of previously established, individually re-codified rules. The cycle Reconstruction of the Game (started in 2011) thus gave way to the present series Playground, exploring the variations of traces that mark the passage of ‘free’ time – the time spent or wasted by the anonymous players or the artist himself. The transition from the reconstruction of the game (the artist’s attempt to detect and record a certain factuality) in an unbounded playground reflects a space of tension without resolution, where the games become the contact sport of choice within a timeless eternal present. Reflecting on his work several years ago I called it transitional abstraction; but the looming power of the insatiable yet unstable present is not just the residue of the local historic transitions of the 1990s but a determinant of global society in general.
Incorporating games into the narratives of his paintings, Dimitrijević constructs several reference levels for the understanding of his work. We inevitably ask ourselves, does the subjective interpretation of an abstract concept (through the imaginary, yet emotionally invested, games scores) influence our view of an event or a work of art? Is it possible to actively build knowledge of the absurd, of an unpredictable chance in a game, an image, a society? Does the game, with its supportive grid of gestures and results and its relying on chance and luck, possibly offer a more reliable value system than an ideology, an identity, a nation? With the series Playground we remain only partially aware of the dilemmas posed by the game(s), with no way of knowing the actual positions held by the player(s).
Playground only hints at the potential scenarios (the flows, improvisations, moves) through the painterly gestures that span the fragmented tactics, dynamically highlighting or obscuring their different value- and position-markers. The debris that remains on the surface is a mixture of rational and irrational: of event, change, elation, fraud. Game, in this context, expands the awareness of predispositions, feelings and thoughts associated with fragmented memory that oscillates between false starts, vulnerabilities, insecurities and preoccupations. By reconstructing the game onto the canvas, the artist maps the metamorphoses of dialogue (with the other) towards monologue (played for or against oneself); from the incidental scripts that document the game scores between the warring parties towards the artist’s own recording of the process, through attempts to consciously recreate the present tense coordinates such as the dimensions of the painting, time of painting, or own name. In this way the painting becomes a summary of the artist’s inner voices, humming with concentrated effort and multiplied presence, measuring the relationship between loneliness and confrontation.
Dimitrijević’s method of applying paint with various tools on varying surfaces which are then cut, altered or joined leaves the traces of the process that resembles the clipping of ‘factual’ material used for the purpose of political propaganda, as “teleological sequence of significant events or words found in the crevices of the past” (Todor Kuljić). In this fictional space of shifting roles and values, polarisations for and against, in which we are asked to maintain allegiances with the repressed and fragmented selves, Playground stands as a reminder of the nuances, impacts and trends of an authentic experiential present.
Dimitrijević’s paintings somewhat resemble Raymond Queneau’s Exercises of Style or the structural methodology of Georges Perec. By using games of chess, crossword puzzles, lipogrames or palindromes as a template for the construction of a novel, Georges Perec created an aesthetic that “chased its own tail into forgetting”. In a similar way, Playground is a composite of anthropological segments that carry the fragments of past, present and future as a source of a reparative language for the (re)articulation of reality.
This text was publihed as a catalogue essay for the solo show of Aleksandar Dimitrijevic at Drina Gallery, Belgrade, June 2017.