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August 11, 2022

Field Notes: Toby Üpson on Vladimir Nikolić, Serbian Pavilion, and Tomo Savić-Gecan, Croatian Pavilion, 59th Venice Biennale

Art & Education

Vladimir Nikolić, A Document (detail)2022Multiscreen 4K video (11000 × 2100 pixels), 2 minutes 16 seconds. Installation view, “Walking with Water,” Serbian Pavilion, 59th Venice Biennale, April 23–November 27, 2022. Photo: Toby Üpson.

Tomo Savić-Gecan, Untitled (Croatian Pavilion), 2022.

Tomo Savić-Gecan, Untitled (Croatian Pavilion), 2022. Installation view, Croatian Pavilion, 59th Venice Biennale, April 23–November 27, 2022. Photo: Toby Üpson.

Field Notes: Vladimir Nikolić, Serbian Pavilion, and Tomo Savić-Gecan, Croatian Pavilion, 59th Venice Biennale
by Toby Üpson

Even through the slightest of gestures, the sublime can be revealed in the everyday. Amid the bustle of the 59th Venice Biennale, two seemingly simple pavilions caught my eye with their refined pairing of technology and visual subtlety. Contrary to practices that foreground computery spectacle, Vladimir Nikolić, at the Serbian Pavilion, and Tomo Savić-Gecan, at the Croatian Pavilion, elegantly deploy technology as medium and method, questioning the perception of our contemporary digital reality and the conception of what works at “the intersection of art and technology” can be.

The Serbian Pavilion exhibition “Walking with Water” features two quiet works by Nikolić, both achieving a sublime effect through the artist’s painterly rendering of different bodies of water. 800m (2019), a monumental video project reaching toward the pavilion’s ceiling of the pavilion, depicts the artist swimming up and down the length of an Agnes Martin-esque swimming pool, rupturing the still surface of the scene with his corporal presence. In the multichannel video projection A Document (2022), eighteen kilometers of midnight blue and azure Adriatic swells writhe, silently melding in and out of one another beneath a solemn blue sky. Lacking any extraneous details—no boats, no beaches, nor birds hovering—and showing instead two horizontal planes of sea and sky, A Document illuminates the rear wall of the narrow pavilion. Recalling modernist painting—think the crashing waves of Courbet and the transcendental juxtapositions of Rothko or Newman—this video projection records the artist’s pursuit to picture the experience of being in an “absolute space,” here, a formalist space outside of a reality shaped by cognitive, colonial, or capitalist perspectives that also condition bodily experiences of space and time.

Filmed on three synchronized cameras surveying a 120-degree view of the Donkova Seka, a shoal off the coast of Montenegro, what A Document fails to record is the sky and sea harmonized as a “zero state,” that is, the climatic event when an absence of wind smooths the sea’s surface, transforming it from an undulating jitter into a flat blue mirror. Rather than picture this stillness, the video pairs a flat sky above and behind a vast moving ocean, accentuating the sense of depth experienced through the human eye and representing, for now, the impossibility of experiencing such an absolute space. Keeping true to modernist practices that challenge optical technologies and perspectives tempered by external devices, Nikolić uses the formalities of the moving image to push the reality of this scene to hyperreal ends.

Read more of Toby Üpson’s Field Notes review on Art & Education.

Field Notes is a new series of reviews from the next generation of art writers. Featuring texts on the 59th Venice Biennale and Documenta 15 contributed by students and recent graduates, Field Notes makes original connections between the work and the world and takes a closer look at what other observers might have missed.

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