Miša Perić- Sculptural Alienation

When Tolstoy's Natasha Rostova went to the opera for the first time, she did not find anything there meriting her approbation. Expecting a sublime drama in the luxurious theatre, she, instead, watched a portly dame with artificial plaits running from an equally large gentleman. The gentleman in question was, moreover, inappropriately and vulgarly dressed in tights, only accentuating his fleshness, and carried a wooden knife at his belt. A similar thing occurs in some accounts of travels through exotic lands in which magic rites are represented as mere slaughter of pigs and chickens. However, when it comes to their own religious practices, the writers do not find eating and drinking a substitute for somebody's body and blood unusual.

Our view of the world is clearly conditioned by social codes which we imperceptibly and, for the most part, painlessly adopt in the process of socialization; a programmed view in which what one sees is not seen as it is, but according to the way in which it should be perceived. The world is already given, and in order to see it at all, we must observe it through the eyes of a child, foreigner, eccentric, psychotic, or, and that is what is in question here, of an artist.

Viktor Shklovsky and the Russian Formalists thought that one of the basic characteristics of true art was the ability to impart the sensation of wonder - alienation. In other words, the artist's ‘ ostranenie ' in the world: the eternal position of the different spectator who does not belong. After all, in English, isn't something bizarre, wondrous - strange and someone who does not belong - a stranger ? The most important thing is that it is not we who are in question anymore, rather he who sees us differently who is strange. We are many, or at least there are enough of us to allow ourselves to be lulled into self-deception, whereas he is alone. And that is the only argument we use to prove that we are right, the fact that unlike him, we share the same perception of the world. Such a relationship between the artist and his surroundings is one of the important characteristics of the avant-garde, to which Formalists, and not at all accidentally, belonged as well.

In most cases alienation is brought about by decreasing or denigrating the symbolic plane of an object, being or event. In the works of Miša Perić it is the exact opposite. His sculptural models are everyday, prosaic or use objects: an umbrella, seal, bag, mixer, corkscrew, empty tube, audio and video cassettes. Enlarged, made of unsuitable materials (mostly wood, steel and animal remains ), wrought so extremely, that they either negate or emphasize to paroxysm their own nature, these objects almost start to look like relics of some forgotten, yet familiar cult.

Miša Perić's sculptural poetics are founded on alienation, on imparting the sensation of wonder, on a different view of a stranger and the outcast. In the eternal and comfortless repetition of all things in the world, he is an outcast without banishment, because he has not left place and time, but everything around him has changed so extremely and radically that he has been mercifully left only in the position of a stranger. Over these last two decades and more, during which everything has started to fall apart and decay around us, and such times have come when the clever remain silent, fools start talking and scoundrels get rich , so many men have been turned into strangers, eccentrics and psychotics, precisely because they have remained true to themselves, because they have not changed and agreed to the new rules of the game, because they have not started to dance to the macabre music of blood and soil, because they have not been dazzled by rings and necklaces taken off fingers that have been cut off and slashed throats. During these last two decades, a whole new class of masters has risen above the pyramids of plundered, stripped corpses, a class made up of the above mentioned scoundrels. And they, as it always is with masters, have no mercy.

Miša Perić shows us this state of things in his sculpture Jukebox, Serbia . It is an expanded accordion – an instrument with opposing connotations –made of steel and brass, with bellows made from a charred, black poplar tree, which open up like a dark mushroom. There are metal ribbons hanging all about, while both ends of the accordion melt and start to resemble degenerative, organic forms. Only the tips of the keys and buttons emanate a dim glow, as if recalling the touches of someone's fingers. Gradually, as Perić leaves his sculptures to the passage of time, that barely noticeable glow will disappear, and with it, the last memory of what that object before us really is. Even the tiniest traces of merrymaking, joy, folly and agony, sadness of life and humaneness will vanish and the corrosive decay will be the only thing left.

In his work The Remains of Our Day he revisits the association of sound. It is a monumental furniture sculpture, almost three by two meters, with thirty-three giant audio cassettes, with its form according to the space in which it is exhibited. If it is time that changes the work of art in Jukebox, Serbia , here it is both time and space; if it is an expanded accordion that is at stake in the former, it is the process of the insides being turned inside out in the latter. The sculpture defies gravity, it represents a frozen moment similar to that experienced by victims of a car accident, when adrenalin furiously courses through their veins and, incapable of creating an escape, freezes everything mid-air: sunglasses, a fir-tree air freshener, newspaper no one will read, a good-luck rabbit. When everything comes down, the person who remembers it all will be gone, and the plush rabbit will be soaked in blood. Such is Perić's The Remains of Our Day . We look at it in fear, expecting it to crash down and break, and, with that, break a part of us that will disappear. The unrolled and tangled audio tapes are sometimes made of reliable, colored metal ribbons and sometimes left to implacable corrosion, which is eating away at them. These can be recordings of music that developed us, with which we grew up, but also tapes of life, like Beckett's, recorded voices of people, friends, lovers, our children or other people's children if we did not have any, recordings of our parents' voices we made, fearing their disappearance, and in fear of our own solitude. And now, it all stands suspended and scattered in the air. A miniature, grotesque human face peeps through one of the cassettes, a steel tape emerging from its mouth, and in the other we see a beautiful metal leaf. Those are The Remains of Our Day , the day in which we became lost and from which we will not find a way out.

The exact moment when time froze, in which a whole new world was created as if in eternal ice, is also not without importance. Audio cassettes suggest that it happened in the 80's of the previous century when they were the most widespread.

Other of Perić's works, like Mixer and Corkscrew , carry a similar sensibility. The prosaicness of the titles is there to finish us off. Mixer is a big sculpture almost a meter and a half in size, made of broad metal ribbons, folded in the shape of a manual mixer. Among the ribbons, there are mighty palms made of deer antlers. Corkscrew is an upright wooden sculpture made of a cherry tree, with a metal end to which crossed, spirally bent ram horns are attached. The metal surface has been altered by a welding gun so that it has a dotted and hornlike structure which naturally flows into the structure of the horns. The whole sculpture, entirely black except the horns, with outstretched handrails, is placed onto a white cowhide with light brown and reddish spots.

Both in Mixer and in Corkscrew the presence of antlers and horns disrupts the functionality, but Perić insists on them. Mixer and Corkscrew , dynamic forms which seem as if they were made for whirling movement, suddenly become intriguing objects with almost a mystical, sacral purpose. Monumental, strong and strange, they stand before us and we get the feeling that we are seeing them for the first time.

Perić's sculptural language is ‘transrational ‘( and here there are again the avant-garde and the Cubo-Futurist Kruchenykh ). It is closer to an exclamation, sigh, onomatopoeia, tautology, tongue twisters and true experiment than to branchy, seductive and attractive semantics. With this, in some way, he comes closer to Dadaistic expression from which the entire avant-garde issued, squeamish at clichés and the shameless association of necrophilic society and its arts.

We live in the land of the dead, like dusty, dusky and grey souls, in the land under eternal monochromatic light of the early dawn, or late twilight, similar to a pagan netherworld, colorless and joyless, in the land where the old that have died from starvation are eaten by their miserable and hungry dogs, in the land which is laughing in our face with a cynical, disfigured, sly grin of the new elites. In the land that has its own ‘art,'that enjoys lies, hypocrisy and mirages. Death is celebrated there.

The sculptures of Miša Perić, if someone were interested, constantly remind us of that. They seem to be asking : Is there anyone left alive?

Milenko Bodirogić