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Everybody left the room and I’m alone with an empty glass in my hand

Vuk Vidor

25/10 - 2/12/2018

He invited me to drop by, and I was wavering – it was a hot summer afternoon and I was moody. We’ve known each other all our lives, since birth. We’ve never had a fight, never let each other down. In the ‘70s we would spend summers together in Dubrovnik, first in Vis 2[1] on Lapad, then in Argentina[2] inPloče. My mum and his dad were hood buddies born in the same year, they both attended First Belgrade Gymnasium and studied architecture. Our fathers are colleagues, his mother is from Split, a skilled photographer of exceptional beauty and a curious name – a portmanteau made of two words that means “star of the sea”. Our birthdays are only 52 days apart.

He is working in an overpriced rented warehouse in Dušanovac. I had been wandering around Zaplanjska Street for more than half an hour when I realised I was going in the wrong direction. He tried to navigate me with GPS since he himself wasn’t really sure where he was, he only remembered the route to the bridge and back. Urbanization last time reached this part of the city just before the WW2 so it was full of blind alleys, like in the PAC-MAN game. When I arrived, Slavke and Ozbolt[3] were already there. I sat down to catch my breath, he offered me a drink, and then I looked up and became speechless. I silently observed for some time, maybe half a minute or a minute passed, and then I said: “This is the best thing you’ve ever done!”  I was truly moved looking at the sight in front of me – the portraits of his dead friends, my acquaintances, who were given through these expressed visions their final peace and deserved eternity. These pieces are monumental. And, when I say monumental, I don’t refer only to their physical dimensions – these are monumental works that complement and round up the image of the presented personas, of the epoch they were creating in, and it must have been some kind of cosmic justice that it was him who painted them.

In the summer of 1980 he came for a regular summer visit to Belgrade from Paris, where he has lived since he was 3. Upon his arrival we went to a small park near hotel Moskva and I introduced him to some punks who were regularly meeting there: Rosa, Cane, we were all peers. “Aaah, Veličković…” said the lead singer of Urbana Gerila[4]  in his distinctive twang. That „Aaah, Veličković“, has followed him his entire life like a ballast, although it seems he has always carried it quite easily – this marker of a prestigious Belgrade family whose gatherings on every 18th December, the evening before the family Slava[5], are considered within elitist Belgrade circles a social event of great importance for confirmation of one’s own position. The family gained the status with hard work, courtesy and social intelligence, and although people tend to over-emphasize it so they could promote themselves through closeness with them, they carry it with no prejudices, and with directness absolutely free from arrogance, with tact that suggests they know perfectly well who they are, where they are, and why they are, and that you had better not take advantage of their affection and nice manners.

He was introduced to Milan[6] by Goran Vejvoda whom he had known from before due to the fact that his grandmother Lenka, who witnessed The October Revolution as a five-year-old daughter of a Serbian consul in Russia, stayed in touch with diplomats of all the subsequent regimes, hence the Vejvodas as well. The arrival of a gallant, cheerful, and discrete guy in a circle of older lads of the rock ‘n roll scene didn’t go unnoticed by the heroines of the time, and it wasn’t before long that he gained the aura of a cult hottie, although he always gave an impression he wasn’t quite comfortable with the role. He had a different perception of himself, but it seemed nobody really cared too much about that. Soon, he became chicks’ favorite and surrendered to the hormonal wave that overflew him to the point of drowning.

In this period we seldom met, from mid ‘80s to the sanctions in the ‘90s. We remained close and somehow the roads we took, the aspirations and experiences we pursued, led us to meet again at some point, although we were roaming along different paths. When we were kids in Vis 2 I had a crush on Maria Baxa, his crush was Ivanka Živković. In our teens he was into Bowie, I was into Iggy Pop. He was regularly going to London, I to Berlin. He loved EKV, I loved Disciplina[7]. And now, when I sum it all up, I realise that all this time we’ve been the two poles of the same reality that intertwines, carrying the torch that searches for the eternal question of what life today is and how it should be lived.

There was something truly missionary in the fact that Milan and Magi[8] saw in him something more than just a playboy with a pedigree, and allowed a 23-year old student of architecture from the Beaux-Arts with no previous experience in the field of visual arts to come up with the solution for the cover of their third studio album. Since the time of Katarina II[9], the already well-established EKV had been struggling with identity, both style and image-wise. There was a huge disproportion between the music they were making and visual solutions for their album covers and music videos, which were supposed to be wrapped up in a unique combo, and this had been troubling them for some time. Then the miracle happened. Vuk gave them identity. And when you think of them today, what comes to mind is the solution that callow youth came up with 30 years ago, his premiere work in the field of visual arts – the photos, album covers, music videos…The collaboration continued and grew, but then came the 90s and the Reaper, mercilessly scything everything on its way.

 

We got together, just like in the old days, in the spring of 2000 when I was in Paris for 6 weeks because of the exhibition I was having at the Galerie Nationale du Jeu de Paume. Vejvoda, Kevin Westenberg, Nataša Vojnović, Mihael Milunović, Andrej Aćin, Nicolas Bourriaud were all there, and it was exciting. He was painting more and more. We were in our mid-thirties, full of creative enthusiasm and everything was bursting like it was going to last forever. It passed quickly like every time before. In the last couple of years, since he moved to Belgrade for a bit longer, maybe even for good, we are as close as we used to be and I can follow his work again. For some time we shared the same workspace, and I watched him – we realised several very successful joint projects quite easily. He is hardworking and thorough. But this, this is something else – something completely different from what he was occupied with before. That scorching summer afternoon in the warehouse I told him something like: “Y’know, everything you’ve done so far, the artistry you demonstrated, will be remembered in one way, but this here, this is your zenith, because you used that artistry as a tool to tell a deeply personal and human story about the love you shared with the people in these paintings and it’s something that can be seen in every brushstroke you made. Try to stick to that in future, try to get out of yourself and show with this painterly act – which has become distinctive of your work – your reality, surroundings, ghosts, dreams and traumas, because only that which is personal can become recognised as universal”.

There, I said what I’ve got. Now others may speak, or keep silent.

Uroš Đurić

 

 

[1] Hotel in Lapad.

[2] Hotel in Ploče.

[3] Slavimir Stojanović and Djordje Ozbolt, notable Serbian designer and painter, both internationally recognised.

[4] Former Yugoslav punk rock and new wave band from Belgrade.

[5] Family’s patron saint day in Orthodox Christian tradition.

[6] Milan Mladenović, lead singer of EKV, a Serbian new wave band from the 80s.

[7] Disciplin A Kitschme (trans. Backbone Discipline) – Serbian post-punk band.

[8] Margita Stefanović, EKV keyboardist.

[9] First & only studio album by Katarina II that after internal conflicts decided to continue in different lineup as    Ekatarina Velika (Catherine II of Russia was also known as Catherine The Great) or EKV for short.