Synthetic memories and polymachines in the Blade Runner era: Exhibition of the laureates of the XI Vladimir Veličković Foundation Drawing Prize

This year, the Chaos Gallery has a difficult but significant task: to present last year’s laureates of the Vladimir Veličković Foundation Drawing Prize without its great artist and founder who has passed away in August of this year. It is therefore particularly important to preserve the legacy of Veličković through the continued work of his Foundation and the Chaos Gallery’s ongoing commitment to drawing.

Last year’s Drawing Prize winners were Ivan Šuletić and Marko Kusmuk, with second place awarded to Milan Antić and an honorary mention to Nadežda Kirćanski, Aleksandar Mitrović and Aleksandar Rakezić. All six artists were born during or after 1982, the year of release of the sci-fi movie Blade Runner. As of this month, Blade Runner is no longer set in the future but in our present, so it is interesting to see some possible intersections and continuities.

The extent to which Ridley Scott’s dystopian vision fits into our present perception of reality is evidenced by the works of the laureates Ivan Šuletić (1982) and Marko Kusmuk (1985). Šuletić’s drawing often appear as an extended vision of the architecture documentarians Alfred Stieglitz and Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, who viewed urbanity through Bauhaus-influenced patterns, as well as the depersonalised textures of contemporary hypermetropolas seen through the lens of the photographer Michael Wolf. Šuletić’s repetitive, symmetrical exteriors cancel out the vibrancy and individuality of space and its occupants; the functions of space remain hidden, its forms are reduced to hallucinogenic patterns that by their synthetic anonymity offer a catalogue of our everyday lives. The alternating tiles of urban blocks and water textures hint at the conflict between global hyper-population and climate change, between rigid habitats and an abstracted element of nature, suggesting an impending clash between these seemingly reconciled elements. The artist’s hand-drawn script remains the only humanised link in this anonymous, analytical network.

Blade Runner’s legacy is also evident in the work of Marko Kusmuk, whose cycle Surditas deals with the problems of communication, interaction and cognition of the other. The strict limitations of the Anthropocene brought along the loss of meaning, hope and faith. Without the pre-modern belief in a deeper cause, the need for motivation or virtue fades away; without the humanistic script of modernism according to which everyone fulfills some predestined cosmic role, our life becomes a power race in a world emptied of all deeper sense. Twenty first century elders are living longer, but with less sense of purpose. Their memory is replaced by algorithms, privacy sacrificed for the sake of an extended life. Those dysfunctional systems are maintained by monitors, pumps, computers; the authentic inner voice is lost in the noise of biotechnology. Kusmuk draws from this Narrative Self that reinvents itself through a reconstructed vision of the past, present and future.

Like the stained glass windows of the Matisse Chapel in Venice pierced by flying shrapnel, the pure monochromatic forms of Milan Antić (1984) barely, if at all, touch one another. Shy in their flight, fragile and timid, like the carefully curated flat lay props of the Insta generation, they exude translucent beauty that simultaneously alludes at themélange opaque (the impressionistic system of broken color spectrum), and the diffractions and polarizations of social alienation, here sliced like thin laboratory samples and placed under the microscope of social networks. These beautiful and toxic jellies are perhaps closest to the psychological urge for creativity borne in the replicants as a reflection of an emerging creative stimulus.

Nadežda Kirćanski’s (1992) visual language is reminiscent of compact anthropological operettas; by using symbolic codes and sub-languages that allow connection to the unfathomable worlds of otherworldly powers or untouchable institutions, the artist alludes to the Bathes’ semanticised forms and ritualised artifacts of communication.

Aleksandar Rakezić (1995) links signs of populism and consumerism by closely copying the pages of the German “Burde” magazine, focusing primarily on the appropriation of the material and the immaterial (semiotic) content of the advertised objects. This micropolitical praxis of retrieving (and thus liberating) the elements that used to represent the pinnacle of living standards at the end of the last century, Rakezić strives for the performative movement of the theater machine(Gerald Raunig), problematizing the structuralisation and apparatus of desire (Guattari).

Aleksandar Mitrović (1990) draws nostalgic, monochromatic fragments of an idealized childhood, where the textures and substrates of nature play a leading role. While the children in his drawings resemble some kind of genetic matrixes, the grasses, roots and leaves thrive with rich life. These avatars of childhood and nature are seen with a seductive distance, giving them the dry character of an herbarium, framing them into saccharine pseudo-biographical artifacts.

The drawing research of these six young artists is a Trojan horse brought into the gallery, whose psycho-social role hints at an understanding of the factors and continuities of its time. Hopefully, in the year 2049, their joint quests will highlight a more aware and meaningful world.