From 2003 to the present, Milutin Gubash has created numerous videos in series or as stand alone pieces. Ranging from 30 seconds to a half hour or more, the scenarios depicted in these videos are always created with the artist’s family friends, and professional acquaintances, who portray of versions of the roles they play in life for Gubash (the artist’s mother plays “his mother”, while a friend or colleague acts the role of another hapless artist or disinterested curator).
It is impossible identify Milutin Gubash’s work with a specific medium as his highly multidisciplinary practice plays with narrative codes of video, sculpture, photography as much as performance.
Generally, the videos deploy humour or lean toward absurdity, using an easy sense of amusement to lure in the viewer, all the better to treat unfunny topics. The artist’s domestic life, his professional trials, his loneliness and dreams dramatize the complex array of forces that various bodies – those of other people but also social, political, historical and economic – enact in the life of the individual.
Gubash does not hesitate to alter a fact in order to make the underlying reality of his subjects and themes more credible, understandable. The artist exacerbates the issues of memory by deploying a set of family stories that constantly intertwine facts and fiction, past and present, idealization and historical acuity, building over time a real, serious and amazing saga. Born, in Novi Sad, Serbia in 1969, Gubash has immigrated to Canada as a young child. He Lives and works now in Montréal and Québec City, Canada. Gubash has continued to build a relationship with his native country, through his parents’ stories of their life in Serbia, intensive research, and his own imaginings to fill in the gaps.
With humor and intelligence, the artist addresses ideas of authenticity and perceptions of cultural, political and social identities. He highlights the contradictions of our capacity to construct a sense of identity whether it is through his large scale black and white photographs of Monuments to Communists, his “lamps-sculptures” created in collaboration with his family still in Serbia or through the episodes of the DIY sitcom soap-opera reality show « Born Rich Getting Poorer », which predicted by a couple of years our current selfie-driven culture of continuously updated autobiographical constructions.
« Birds, From Near and Far Series (2003-2005) »
2003, 1 min. 28 sec.
16 mm color film transferred to digital video, sound
« Birds » (2005) is one of 24 short interconnected videos (each 30 seconds to 5 minutes in duration) from series « Near and Far », which were created through improvisational techniques. Like other videos in the series, it was enacted in collaboration of the artist with his parents, his partner and daughter, friends and art colleagues. In « Birds », the artist’s parents whistle into the bushes, an unrecognizable tune that turns into a private language, communicating something that only they understand. The artist’s head pops out between the branches, and he whistles back, before vanishing again, and taking their image with him after the minute-long exchange. MG
« Tournez »
2005, 53 sec.
Digital video, sound
« Tournez » (2005) is also one of 24 short interconnected videos (each 30 seconds to 5 minutes in duration) from series « Near and Far ». In « Tournez », two camera angles appear to capture simultaneous actions that occur in front of one another; two generations of family are circling around, and spectating on, one other: a young couple (the artist and his pregnant girlfriend) are locked in an embrace, while the artist’s parents turn around the younger couple in a rented convertible : two orbits of seeing and being seen by each other. MG
« Which Way To The Bastille ? »
2008, 8 min. 40 sec.
Digital video, sound
« Which Way to the Bastille? » is the final video created with the artist’s father before his death only a few days after it’s footage was shot. In it, the artist asks his father to repeat the first lines of an autobiography the father has started to write. They are speculative words about the cosmos and express curiosity about the meaning of life, extending from his earliest childhood memories to the present; but the artist has asked his father to speak those lines in English, a language and task with which his father clearly struggles. He is asked to repeat the same lines over and over ad nauseam, until the words and their meanings start to lose any sense, and simply become a source of frustration. And then we die. « Goodbye cruel world », as the artist’s father repeats over and over, before quitting the video. MG
« Mirjana »
2010, 6 min 04 sec.
Video, colour, English and Serbian with French subtitles
« Mirjana » (2010) is a video shot over Skype, and created with the artist and his mother in Montréal Canada, and his aunt in Pancevo Serbia. In it, the artist sets out to “interview” his aunt on the topic of censorship of art and artists in the socialist era, particularly the 1950s to 1970s. He employs his mother as translator, but in turn, she ends up censoring his questions, in order to spare her sister/his aunt, the discomfort and compromise of speaking publicly on such matters. His aunt claims not to know very much about visual arts, preferring instead world literature, which the both the artist and his mother must confess they know next to nothing about. An inadvertent comedy of errors, where all attempts at communication are frustrated or interfered with, and where no one claims to know what the other is talking about… MG
« Vesna @ Monument » 2016, 3 min. 46 sec.
Digital video, sound
In « Vesna @ monument » a humble middle aged woman appears on the site of a dilapidated, in-the-middle-of-nowhere monument, likely erected in the time when she was youthful and at her most optimistic. The monument was commissioned in order to commemorate the heroic actions of common citizen in their struggle against fascism, and to promote and participate in a progressive, utopian state. She shuffles past the monument, and sits to smoke a cigarette. Off screen a voice is heard, asking her questions such as what is the meaning of this place, this monument, this moment. She does not answer, as though she does not hear the question, even while acknowledging the camera, and the voice itself. It could, one supposes, be the voice of the cameraman or director, perhaps the voice of the monument itself, trying to ascertain the meaning of itself in this day and age. It gets no reply, and eventually (perhaps fed up with the question), she simply leaves, with the interlocutor left in his own uncertainty. The video seems to reject or deny a past, while expressing grave uncertainty as to the future. MG
« Re-Enacting a moment in 2008, when I encountered a monument near Jagodina (Serbia) as a puppet act »
2016, 2 min 51 sec.
As it’s title describes, « Re-Enacting a moment in 2008, when I encountered a monument near Jagodina (Serbia), as a puppet act » (2016), the artist tries to recapture a moment of deep inspiration, when he encountered first one monument, then another, and another, and another, on his travel through the country which he was born in, but left as a boy.
These monuments were commissioned from artists in a style (something that could be called « Balkan abstraction ») that was disregarded or ridiculed mere years earlier, by the Socialist government, both to honour the great sacrifices that partisan fighters and civilians made to fight fascism and secure the continuation of the socialist experiment, and also to provide a point of competition for the then-current Western style of art and public sculpture prevalent in the United States and Western Europe, to attract tourists and foreign currency alike.
That lineage, coupled to the fact that the monuments were made in the years around the artist’s birth, and constitute a kind of « calling », a revelation as to the purpose and meaning of art. A papier-maché likeness of himself and his camera as a marionette (which he himself will manipulate in front of another camera), some tinfoil shaped by the artist’s hand into a form roughly resembling the original work in monumental scale in concrete and metal, of another artist from a faraway place and time. Scraps of fabric and plastic to make spirit animals and conveyors of a secret message, one only the artist himself may or may not apprehend... MG