The Plot, 2017-2021,9’43” (excerpt from video)


The Plot, 2021, 9’43’’

Art project The Plot was created in a span of three years and it consists of about 5,000 drawings that have been turned into a sound film by frame-by-frame animation. Fragments taken from various cinematographic achievements made during the period of Cold War by major film productions of “Western Powers” (USA, UK) are drawn on book sheets, maps and encyclopedias written and published during the same period in the territory of SFR Yugoslavia. Books and encyclopedias used as a background for the drawings have for subject theoretical reflections on the socialist system, while maps represent cartographic documents of cities, borders, states and continents from the same era. In this historical period, Yugoslavia was one of the few countries behind the “iron curtain” in which Hollywood movies, TV series, jazz, rock’n’roll and Coca-Cola were not only allowed but were an integral part of everyday life. American film, as the most massive form of artistic expression, entertainment, and often propaganda, played a special role in Yugoslav society, holding absolute dominance among foreign cinematography in domestic cinemas. Getting to know luxury, wealth and unconventional way of life through it, the ordinary man in Yugoslav socialism had the opportunity to dream the American dream in non-American conditions.[1] Growing up in the ruins of that system, in a period that could be characterized as an endless transition from one system to another, I realized that these extremes and contradictions defined my attitudes, hopes and views of the world around me.

Scenes of nightmares, escapes, chases, panic, fear and surveillance introduce the viewer to a collage narrative that points different levels of meaning and understanding through the prism of seemingly opposing ideologies. I wanted to accentuate the inextricable mix of political, social and cultural history through the contrast of ink, rough montage cuts and the tense sound from film score made by composer Pavle Popov.

Referring to the language of surreal film, the story follows a woman and a man who meet in their dreams. Together they try to avoid the coming cataclysm which often changes its form from war catastrophes (bombs, planes, explosions) to natural ones (big waves, fires, earthquakes). After waking up from their nightmares, heroes discover that they are trapped in the TV screens, doomed to endless watching of the film within the film within the film …

This project does not aim to produce a pre-defined conclusion but should provide the observer with a wide range of experiences.

[1] For more on this topic: Radina Vučetić, Coca-Cola Socialism: Americanization of Yugoslav Culture in the Sixties, Central European University Press, 2018


The Plot (work in progress), excerpt from video

Text about project: Sima Kokotović, Miloš Zec

Continuing with a research in the medium of animation, initiated with the works Panic book (2012-2016), Double noir (2015) and Uncontained images (2017), with his latest one, The Plot, Nemanja Nikolić, offers, what seems to be, a final stage of the journey.

The Plot is the collection of works on paper and black board, done in the pen and ink technique, with the occasional use of carbon and white chalk. All are drawings of the scenes, small pictures (frames), and sequences taken from the films originated during the Cold war period (1947-1989/91). Though employing, for the most part, similar materials and a method of drawing that he relied on in the previously completed series, the artist now introduces several differences. While in the work Panic book the images were drawn on the pages of books and magazines from the areas of social and political theory, or biographies of significant persons from the socialist self-management period, in The Plot, for the drawing base, he introduces, as well, maps from the same period representing the expansion of the railroad, the progress of the electrification of the country, military maps, and similar. As in the previous instances, he found this material, which dynamically varies in its format and shape, searching around Belgrade flea markets, dusty archives and besaments of the former social companies.

In the Jean-Luc Godard film Pierrot le Fou, American director Samuel Fuller explicitly pontificates the following: Film is like a battlefield. Love. Hate. Action. Violence. Death. In one word... emotion. The fragmented nature of the citation suggests mutual collision of these heterogeneous elements, with the film itself operating as the connecting combustible explosion. If we take this to be true, then The Plot – final moving pictures of Nemanja Nikolic, offers an insight about the specific zero position of the cine-world[1]of the artist himself, that is, his fragmented universe of cine-effects, signs, images and comments drawn from the specific tradition of the Hollywood cinema. Employing his means of expression in the loosest manner till now, Nemanja intertwines the dramatic film scenes of escapes and chases with the melodramatic escapades, roaring cinetic pictures of the locomotives and airplanes with the close-ups of the Hollywood stars awaken from the nightmarish dreams, threading a kaleidoscopic interpretation of practice which film theorist Pavle Levi names – cinema by other means.[2]

Central narrative thread, provisionally speaking, is being woven throughout several montage units (motives) – nightmarish dreams, panic, escape, airplanes, trains, chase, fall, explosion. Stylistically, these new images remain within the formerly constituted framework of the artist’s drawing expression, characterized by the high level of expressivity and effectiveness imbued with emphasized contrast. In more detail, the montage of these individual units is again based on the visual analogies, external similarity of bodies, objects, movements, and narratives. Through the animation of the individual frames, Nemanja creates a specific cine-effect by the juxtaposition of the heterogeneous film images which operate in contrast, literally as well,  to their original purpose. In other words, these are the pictures that don’t necessarily belong together, even though, offered to us in such manner, create shared visual contexts.

Using famous visual references,[3] the artist helps us to recognize them, while the simultaneous lack of the original context disables an easy interpretation, thus keeping the work in the slippery interpretative zone. The easily acknowledged references are annulled, while the visual codes which previously signified one thing, now, decontextualized, distort and blur former meanings. Thus, the asymmetrical connections between the references and the newly created images are being established. These micro aberrations only highlight the endeavor’s fictionality, and point to the artist’s own cinematic space without actually existing within it.

In respect to the contemporary artistic research procedures which rely on uncovering the visual repository of the historical project of the Yugoslav state socialism, Nemanja’s work operates as an elaborate model for setting up a dialogue between the content of different media formats. The  dialogue juxtaposes two different media registers; on the one hand, film stands as a constant within the  cycles Panic book, Uncontained images, The Plot, while on the other, the backgrounds take turns in the shape of socialist textbooks, the political theory books of self-management, and, in the most recent work, maps of the state infrastructural achievements. In this manner Nemanja delineates the network of relationships between different models of cultural content, uncovering, from a temporal distance, unexpected affective, as well as, symbolic repositories of the Yugoslavia’s socialist cultural sphere and its heritage.

The material testimonies of the nation state’s political project are offered as a backdrop for the experiments in the field of animation, which are propelled by Nemanja’s cinephile relationship toward, above all, Hollywood cinema. This cinephilic impulse stands in a direct relation with the cultural imaginaries generated in the period of Yugoslav socialism. If the status of the American cinema in the local cultural climate doesn’t come as a surprise, as an imperial tool of the Euro-American liberalism is certainly a century phenomenon which doesn’t need an additional explication[4], its significance, which shows itself  throughout The Plot as well as the former series, reminds us of the limitations of the geopolitical horizon projected on the period marked by the anti-imperialistic tendencies. In an attempt to avoid the limitations of the Cold war dynamics, Yugoslavia emphatically joined and significantly contributed to the project of the third world internationalism. Although the contributions of the Yugoslav film workers to the cultural infrastructure, which was being built at the end of the 1960s and through the 1970s, through the organizations such as The Third World Cinema Committee[5] have become the focus of scholarly and artistic research only in the last few years[6], revolutionary geopolitical readjustments during the “long 60s”[7] resonated insignificantly in the field of Yugoslav film culture, and consequently, in the popular imaginarium of this region.

Relying on Nemanja’s reference to Šijan’s drawing experiments in the field of moving images as the role models for his own artistic procedure, Stevan Vuković[8] recognizes Nemanja’s work as an extension of the Yugoslav avantgarde tradition, centered around the ontological examination of the possibilities of media. As much as the same impulses propel and mold the creative process of this tradition, Nemanja’s work enables us to discern and contemplate the cultural and geopolitical horizon of the Yugoslav socialism, as well as the artistic imaginaries of the ex-Yugoslav/Serbian postsocialism.

[1] Dejan Sretenović, Kino-svet Slobodana Šijana, MSUB, Beograd 2009

[2] Kako bi opisao one oblike kinematografske prakse koji ne počivaju na upotrebi normativne filmske tehnologije, već drugih medija i formi izraza kao sredstava proizvodnje “kino-efekta”, u: Pavle Levi, Kino drugim sredstvima, MSUB, Beograd, Beograd 2013

[3] The list of used films counts over 100 titles, some of them are: (Vertigo (1958), Sunset Blvd (1950), Rebel Without a Cause (1955), Forbidden Planet (1956), High Noon (1952), The Night of the Hunter (1955), Ace in the Hole (1951), Kiss Me Deadly (1955), D.O.A. (1950), Panic in the Streets (1950), The House on Telegraph Hill (1951), The Giant Claw (1957), The Narrow Margin (1952), Peeping Tom (1960), Eyes Without a Face (1960), Birdman of Alcatraz (1962), The Manchurian Candidate (1962), Seven Days in May (1964), Black Sunday (1977), The Poseidon Adventure (1972), The Hunter (1980), Logan’s Run (1976), Soylent Green (1973), High Plains Drifter (1973), The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976), Pale Rider (1985), The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1965), Red Dawn (1984), The Kremlin Letter (1970), Advice and Consent (1962), The Eiger Sanction (1975), Condorman (1981).

[4] Skorašnje istraživanje Lee Greiveson na maestralan način iznosi istoriju isprepletanosti korporativnog kapitalizma, evro-američkog  liberalizma i medija pokretnih slika. Grieveson, Lee. Cinema and the Wealth of Nations: Media, Capital and the Liberal Wolrd System. UC Press, 2017.

[5] Mestman, Mariano. “From Algiers to Buenos Aires: The Third World Cinema Committee (1973-74),“ u New Cinemas: Journal of Contemporary Cinema 1:1, 2002.

[6] Hadouchi, Olivier. Images of Non-Aligned and Tricontinental Struggles. Museum of Contemporary Art, Belgrade, nd, ili novi film u pripremi Mile Turajlić o Stevanu Labudoviću.

[7] Ross, Kristen. May ’68 and Its Afterlives. University of Chicago Press, 2002. Eshun, Kodwo and Gray Ros. “The Militant Image: A Ciné‐Geography.” Third Text 25.1, 2011. Gerhardt, Christina and Sara Saljoughi (uredile). 1968 and Global Cinema. Wayne State University Press, 2018.

[8] Stevan Vuković, tekst u katalogu izložbe „Vanishing Fiction“, Umetnički prostor U10, Beograd, 2018.

Mail: nemanja_nikolic@ymail.com