Brankica Žilović – Eruptive Worlds

03.30. - 05.07

Eruptive worlds

Questions of identity are a vital issue for the generation born in the 1970s. The fact that we were born in Yugoslavia and grew up at the time of the collapse of all the values we were taught means that we do not feel completely comfortable anywhere. If you add emigration to that, then that feeling of being dislocated, of discomfort, becomes dominant and internal battles become the search for a sense of belonging.

Brankica Žilović has lived in Paris for more than half her life. She left right after college, young enough to not be fully formed either as a person or as an artist. Although it is a very difficult position, this is exactly what helped her find her own expression. Perhaps the very fact that she came from the Balkans, at a time when Yugoslavia fell apart in a very bloody and cruel way, looking for a place of belonging made her feel inadequate like any newcomer who has to prove herself again and again. This probably led to textiles and weaving which were not a very popular medium in contemporary art at the time, unlike the times when Brankica was born, in Zlatibor, the place where she grew up. Looking for her own corner of the world, she returned to her safe-space, Zlatibor, nature and folk heritage, the famous warm and itchy Sirogojno jumpers. Like life itself. In the village of Zlatibor and in Paris; a beautiful idea, but heavy and layered in reality. Brankica began her exploration of tapestry, its tactility and unpredictability. This game of hers seems to be an attempt to find a soft and accepting place, a world that she can control, make and remake, reshape to her liking; a world where she can take refuge and feel safe. Also, let us not forget that the knitters from Sirogojn are not only an ethnic symbol; this work was also a path of emancipation for these women. In socialist Yugoslavia, knitting was an opportunity for them to live of their own work. Perhaps it was this idea that led Brankica to making art that depended on her hands, which leads us to the conclusion that the personal is always political. Choosing to create with her own hands the world for which she is responsible, Brankica begins to deal with territory. Tapestry affords worlds that surpass the borders of a frame. There is the possibility for expansion, addition, tearing and overlapping. Tapestries become places of utopia, mixing the past and future, memories and predictions.

Brankica goes back to cartography again and again in her works. It is as if she is permanently marked by the breakup of Yugoslavia, by those maps that we were told at school were unchangeable and which ultimately betrayed us. How then can we trust? If the protocontinent, which we also call the supercontinent, broke apart never to be put back together, then how can we trust some arbitrary lines on paper that they say are boundaries? The material and medium in which Brankica works make those maps crumble, split and tear. Boundaries become fluid, unstable and unreliable. And what exactly are maps? Well, they are boundaries. They are a line that someone from the outside places upon our world; an imaginary thread that determines where and how we can move. This is probably the reason why Brankica, in her search for her own freedom, and in an attempt to overcome her own “borders,” destroys these limitations imposed from the outside.

The mixing of materials, the introduction of a book, text as a template, or concrete as a place to imprint the past, complicates the layers of reading and complexity of Brankica’s work. Just when she conquered these materials in her latest series, Brankica returned to the beginning. A tapestry is a drawing, a three-dimensional tactile image. What made her go back to her roots? Athanasius Kircher – an incredible man born at the beginning of the 17th century in Germany. He was a Jesuit but also one of the most respected minds of his time. In literature he is often deemed the last Renaissance man, in reference to the wide range of interests and fields in which he worked. Although many of his theses have been refuted, and some even come across as banal, what fascinates is his curiosity of spirit and ability to connect the micro and the macro. This is precisely the idea Brankica Žilović takes as a starting point. In her new series she deals with Kircher almost obsessively, tracing his paths as if trying to enter his mind and encompasses his thoughts. She explores the work of a man who was one of the most respected scientists of his time, only to be ridiculed as a charlatan and then forgotten. Today, he once again has a mass following of individuals who discover with fascination what this free spirit was capable of producing. This is precisely the key to Kircher’s popularity today. Current times, lacking in ideas and revealing poverty of spirit can hardly comprehend the breadth of thought that Kirscher had. And without breadth it is not possible to think of new worlds. In his work, Kircher was equally concerned with the micro and macro worlds, trying to prove a system in which everything around us is connected. If we add belief to this scientific approach, we reach an implausible imagination and a susceptibility for strange connections and implausible ideas. 

Brankica discovers Kircher’s maps and drawings of natural phenomena, volcanoes, rivers, mountains. She follows his drawings, sometimes copying them and occasionally building upon them following the principle of micro and macro, because, simultaneously, Kircher’s landscapes may be the inner world of a person, both physical and emotional. When Brankica adds texture, colour, soft or rough, short or long to those drawings, she comes up with not merely exotic landscapes but also eruptions of emotions, boiling blood and the strength of bones. Brankica’s tapestries move Kircher’s work from the field of science to the spiritual and metaphysical, to the territory of emotions, which does not tolerate borders and boundaries, because if you impose them, an eruption occurs. And yet, every explosion, every tectonic shift creates new landscapes, new mountains and rivers, new possibilities and new worlds.

This series is also a new, more mature phase in Brankica’s work because her struggle is no longer about breaking down external (imposed) boundaries; her struggle is within herself, with her own emotions and her own limitations. Her search is on a micro, almost cellular level, but it is directly related to the need to repair, restore, and even invent a new world.

Because, if you want to change the world, start from yourself.

Curator and author of the text: Mia David