Milena Ristic – on the happy side of art and the blunt side of life

December 2, 2010

Milena Ristic is one of those artists who is deeply rooted into everyday reality, but manages to capture its absurdities like miniature fragments – bitter sweet, edgy, direct and hard to resist.



Her work ‘Transparent’ is a miniature 10×10 cm, bearing the sign ‘Fuck politics’. It’s made by knitting bands cut out from the most famous daily newspapers in Serbia – Politics. Those were the newspapers that were the first to publish the fall of Milosevic, and were regarded as the media which introduced u new, Western-oriented, politically correct way of communication. And Europe wanted everything to be transparent, so it was impossible to read one article and not to bump into that over pronounced word.

Simultaneously, people new that criminal, lies and corruption were hidden behind the transparency, and the more that word filled the covers, the more you could here ‘Fuck politics!’ from the mouth of ordinary people. Everything is within the frame, nicely composed and neat, but those ribbons are intertwined and the text is fragmented so it’s hard to make sense out of it, exactly like it’s hard to make some sense out of big words coming from politicians, both European and Balkan.


Choice or Dilemma

The same method of knitting paper bands Mielna Ristic applied in the work ‘Choice or Dilemma’. The idea came from women’s magazines filled with smart advices how to please a guy, how to dress for dinner, how to look… So, she made tops with tags copying the real ones, only the signs were funny references on how much the new guy costs, what to wear for the first date and alike.

The composition was completed with Barbie garments, silent manipulative devices that could be a good weapon against emancipation which we thought we gained in the last century.


Choice or Dilemma, detail

The first application of paper knitting was used by Milena in the project ‘Spinning program’ – as her specific answer to the contest organized by Paper Company. Milena’s work completely subverted the nature of paper – first she subdued it to knitting and weaving, and than proposed spinning as a way of marinating it. The contact of contradictions won the 1st prize!


Spinning program

‘Underpants – Stil Life on Body’ represents one more way of creative subversion of material that becomes the ironic comment and the aesthetic challenge. Together with Nena Skoko, Milena Ristic made underpants from fake fur, and used the motif with dogs from the Black & White Whiskey for coating. So, life becomes still life, a decoration, a pattern on the body that can afford it.


Underpants – Stil Life on Body

‘Black Birds’ is Milena’s collaborative video work made by combining graphic animation with the selected documentation material of various television stations. This is what she says about it: ‘Turbo-folk culture became obvious example of media power within distressed society, for it had easily taken over with its own values.

Breakdown of the society values and morale was aided by hyper production of the turbo-folk industry. The lyrics of turbo-folk songs are full of words of verbal violence such as death, killing, curses, as well as they rely upon certified and consistent chain of mythical endangerment and sexual jokes wrapped in a form of sentimentality.

Turbo folk image represents the most extraordinary mixture of Arab and Indian folk music blended into local Serb tunes performed on lavish Hollywood-like and Italian-styled stage sets with a touch of à la Moulin Rouge erotic appeal. Some of these songs over-emphasize national identity and placement on a global scene.’

Black Birds

But there is one more very intimate nature of some of works by Milena Ristic. For her MA she produced ‘Wall Papers’, an associative story that in the Proust’s manner draws on smells of a childhood. ‘In my childhood room I find a 7-year old girl in her mom’s high heels. As she dances and walks around the room, she imagines that wall papers are the décor of her stage, but also a public for her show, which creates her own world outside the real life, but the one real for her.

She becomes a hero, a teacher, a ballerina, an actress… The wall papers are there to protect, to witness, to fight against forgetting… The print is also the story that I’m telling; the play that allows the deepest spontaneity with the possibility that that spontaneity becomes intentionality.’


Wall Papers

Milena Ristic creates using many levels of engagement: social, political, cultural and personal but always remaining very subtle in layering meanings and evoking emotional or critical reactions. The variety of motifs and techniques is great – as textile artist she uses knitting, weaving, crocheting and sawing, but with the same expressiveness Milena Ristic goes into video or sculpture.

The Art book with the sign Melancholia does have a monumental dimension, associating to graveness and severity, but than there’s the sign with completely different, more spiritual meaning.


Art Book – Melancholia

Her last work, ‘As long as memory goes’, is dedicated to her too early deceased brother– soft and gentle frames with delicate painting like clouds of emotions and memories that are as real as the black and white photo. An art family album becomes a public work of art, and in the artist’s intimate world there’s a part that relates to us all.


As long as memory goes

Milena Ristic graduated at the Academy of Applied Arts, Section Textile, in Belgrade, where she also finished her MA. She gained additional education at the Academy of Fine Arts and Design, Poznan. Since 1998 works at the Design School in Belgrade.

Milena Ristic participated in many solo and group exhibitions at national and international level, from 1995 collaborates with Nena Skoko and from 1998 initiates experimental assignments with the pupils from Design School. Milena also took part at Art Service workshops in Belgrade.

(Ivana Podnar is a co-blogger on Body Pixel)

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