Interview with artist Milica Ružičić

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Milica Ruzicic is a visual artist working and living in Belgrade. Political and critical art are her main interests. She teaches art in an art college, which is how she pays the bills and which also gives her a bit the sovereignty to create art in the rest of her time.


“I graduated from the art academy in Belgrade and I received a bachelor, master and doctoral degree. I received an award for my work and spent two months in New York in 2004. I spent my time wondering where I could do my postdoctoral research and I went to the heart of the capitalistic system. To be honest, it was quite disgusting. I came back because we weren’t colonised enough by this kind of wild capitalism that I experienced in the U.S. I couldn’t stomach it. But it’s really not easy to work and live here as an artist, not even as a citizen. The state funding options for artists are very low. You don’t easily find money to cover the basic costs of your artistic work. The small money that the Serbian government invests in arts goes in most of the cases to cultural heritage projects and in traditional arts. They want to conserve the cultural traditions, like folklore, but aren’t interested in contemporary and critical art.


“They want to conserve the cultural traditions, like folklore, but aren’t interested in contemporary and critical art.”


There is less and less space for the contemporary arts in the media as well. It’s hard to expect regular attention from them. We are used to accepting that nobody really has an interest in following what we do. Last year I realised a public sculpture, which is a field that is normally controlled by the government. So getting the licences was incredibly hard. I had to be clever and I needed to wait and wait on the right moment to make it possible. It was a huge interactive sculpture in a park. Some journalists came and were rather shocked at what this was. The journalists of the daily papers came, but none of the cultural journalists came or contacted me. My sculpture is a bit critical and political. I think that some of the journalists are scared for their job, so it’s better that they don’t write about my work.


We don’t have artistic institutions that are promoting and defending our work. It all depends on the personal interest of some people, but there isn’t any institutional network. We have two huge museums in Belgrade – the national museum and the museum for contemporary arts – that have been closed for over ten years. They need to be reconstructed but there is a lack of money for this. There are galleries where you can organise an exhibition. You need to apply and if you get the chance to exhibit, you need to pay for everything yourself or you have to write a file to find some money. Even if you get the money, it’s always too little to realise your project. You can’t create a living by being an artist. Many artists don’t have their own atelier. I just bought an apartment but by doing do, I will be in debt for 30 years. But al least, I now have some space now to work.


I don’t really sell my work to private owners. Last year I sold 12 watercolours to a museum. Another museum bought the painting that I made about the ‘Jugoremedija Fabrika’ (see Read More). And I also sold a series of watercolours to a landscape museum close to mining industry areas. Since I’m in debts due to the mortgage, I’m a little bit scared and stressed. Somehow, I’m a kind of stubborn person, so I don’t think this situation will change the way I create. But there is more and more pressure and I don’t know if in a couple of years I will still create works about police brutality. Maybe the pressure will push me to become silent about this kind of subjects. I just want to survive.


There is a growing scene of political active young people. Since the beginning of the new millennium, the critical mass is growing, but I’m not really part of it. There are some artists who are also activists and some of them are linked to the Social Centre Oktobar, this is a centre for politics of emancipation and they are members of the Left Summit of Serbia. You heard about the Russian art collective ‘Voina‘ (it means ‘war’ in Russian)? They were a Russian street-art group known for their provocative and politically charged works of performance art. They majorly influenced me in my thinking and artwork. They were persecuted by the Russian government. I like them very much. They were much more radical than me. I don’t have this kind of courage.


For me it’s impossible to speak and write about contemporary art in a way that also common people can be touched by it. What we write need to be accessible for the regular publics. I like the feedback that people formulate about my work. If you create something, you also need this.


“The problem of artists is that we are too individualised and are too vain, probably. Maybe this is a result of capitalism: we are educated with the idea to compete each other.”


The sculpture that I presented last year provoked some feedback from the people, but not from colleagues, art institutions or journalists. There is not really a significant network around our work. The problem of artists, probably in general, is that we are too individualised and are too vain, probably. Maybe this is a result of capitalism: we are educated with the idea to compete each other. As a teacher I try to educate and motivate my students that it’s important to create solidarity. But it’s not easy, because you need to evaluate and graduate the students. In a way, when you evaluate students, ‘the competition’ starts there already. You have ‘low’ and ‘high’ grades: this pushes them already into a kind of hard competition. They fight to be better than one another, they fight for budgets, and they fight for galleries. This makes it difficult to revive the solidarity between them. They help each other, but the system pushes them and us, the teachers, in this kind of weird competition. Everyone really tries to install and defend a basic level of solidarity, but the system makes it difficult to succeed.


“Before, each municipality had his own ‘house of culture’ and spaces where you could organise events and meet people. This were real public spaces that were used by all the people.”


You have different points of reflection and different positions that you can take, so I don’t want to generalise about a certain position. I think that none of us can escape the dominant ideology. We are all individuals and it’s hard to be not aware of the positions we take in. I don’t think that we have a sovereign position, we are part of a country that effects the impact of the economical globalisation. The infrastructure we live in reminds us of the past; it reflects the old regime and we can’t ignore it. We had rights back then that we are losing now. Worker rights, for example, and rights for the artists. We received studios from the state since you couldn’t privately own them, but that was not a problem. The social security system was well organised and every artist could work. The famous transition – from public ownership to private ownership – went very fast. They started with the factories and went on from the big buildings to the little things. This transition contributes to the criminal behaviour from the state. They do criminal acts, but then they just legalise it. You had factories that were built by the workers; it was their property. In the nineties the transition started and it was the state that took the factories. We went from social property to state property and then they sold it, so it became private. Then the workers got fired. Before, each municipality had his own ‘house of culture’ and spaces where you could organise events and meet people. This were real public spaces that were used by all the people. Most of these buildings are privatised now. The public use is gone. People need to meet each other now in private places, in cafes, galleries, or at our homes.


There are more and more cars now in our cities. It’s a symbol of the increase of consumerism. All this is unsustainable because the cities don’t have enough parking accommodation. There also more and more shops, but a lot of people don’t have enough money to buy the products that those shops try to sell.


To be honest, I do not really have a lot of hope. The thing is that the history taught us that if the left-wing parties don’t win in the central European states, we are doomed because it’s the centre of Europe that reigns over our countries. Even when the left wins here, we need support from the centre of Europe. The embargo, for example, is one of the important reasons that everything went down. Because of the war and the role that Milosevic and his regime played, the people paid the price. I can only hope.”



Interview by Victoria Deluxe and Sonderland
Paintings by Milica Ružičić





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Analysis of the appearance of collective initiatives and activist citizenship in Balkan countries, quoting Jugoremedjia as an example


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Milica Ružičić talks about her work (2011)