Aleksandar Battista Ilić was born in 1965 in Croatia. Multidisciplinary artist, cultural activist, and initiator of Community Art; Project leadership of Zagreb – Cultural Kapital of Europe 3000.
Weekend Art: Hallelujah The Hill (1995-2005)
Weekend Art: Hallelujah the Hill, a series of images by Aleksandar Battista Ilić taken exclusively on Sundays on the Medvednica mountain near Zagreb,(1995-2005). Accompanies the five-year long performance by three artists: Aleksandar Battista Ilic, Ivana Keser, and Tomislav Gotovac. This project is about different relationships, about reality, life space, and artistic circumstances. Due to the circumstances in the region at the time when the work was started, idyllic Sunday walks across the mountain surrounded by friends had become rituals of personal freedom, as much as an action and a performance. It was time of difficult political situation in Croatia as well as new wars in Balkan. Images in this controversal project, exquisitely composed and whose light and colours are always perfect, exude serenity and calm, the tranquillity of a friendly complicity, and the simple pleasures of a life lived according to the regular rhythm of the seasons. But under the surface, the Weekend Art series is wrought by the profound evils which course through society and pierce bodies. It is not just a hymn to nature, the body and a simple life, but rather an aesthetic resistance to horror. By its nature, this work is a ‘performance without audience’. Using a process involving a self-timer, more than 3000 images were taken, and presented in the form of transparencies, posters, postcards, web sites, newspapers. As a series of images the project is actually a ‘film realized in slides’.Aleksandar Battista Ilić.
Texts by Ivana Keser, from the Weekend Art Newspaper, produced for the exhibition "After the Wall" in Stockholm, October 1999.
Friendship, Mountain, one meter from civilization
Aleksandar and me have climbed up the mountain voluntary since childhood. For the last fifteen years we have been conquering Medvednica together, tackling it from gentle, but not quite tame sides. We began our friendship with Tomislav in 1990’s, which has culminated in this performance. Tomislav Gotovac, a well known avant garde film-maker and author of the life concept "paranoia view art" has been conquering the mountain since he was a child. At a peak of his strength, when he could do a thousand push ups every morning, it took him only two and a half hours to run to the top of Medvednica from his home.
Wandering around the mountains is nothing unusual in this region. Just about everyone does it, from the very young to the very old. Depending on the weather, hundreds of other citizens of Zagreb do events such as walking, resting or picnicking.
Our collaboration can be seen as a sort of deviation from urbanity and a sign of the impossibility of a dialogue in public during these years. It is nothing new that people who declare themselves artists, apart from their art activity, must do a second job to earn their living. The questions remain: is the Sunday artist a true artist, and may a performance without an audience be called performance at all? For us, the answer lays in friendship and woods. During countless walks on the Medvednica hill near Zagreb and during endless talks, we lost the feeling of doing something under the imposed license of art - who are the artists; what is to be perceived as a performance - instead we developed a true dialogue. Instead of an egoistic possession of a certain area, we built a communication on all levels. Areas apparently historically conquered were transformed into a puzzle. These pieces built a comprehensive and relaxed image of an extremely simple dialogue: Hitchcock, the Marx Brothers, Ozu, Bresson, or Kurosawa. Each path in these considerably large woods was named for one of them, while we quite easily continued to walk, sometimes in a circle and stopping to take a shot. We were drawn by a certain sense of pleasure, which grew into a therapy, freeing us of tension. This unknown hill with its different paths offered numerous possibilities. Forced by the circumstances, we could go there only on Sundays (and we realized that we had become “weekend artists”), and we accepted our walks as Weekend Art. Since the start of 1995 until now, we have spent thousands of hours talking and I produced with the self-timer almost thousand self-portraits with friends.
Over the last ten years the south-eastern region of Europe, due to the war and various other circumstances, has seen a sudden release of an aggressive Hellenic spirit characterized by a ridiculously overblown cult of sport and military deftness. Here, once again, muscles and endurance have become the epitome of ideal man. In the general fear of anything different, in the grip of set mediatic and ideological models, cosmopolitan artists have remained listed as undesirable social elements. They are forced to find shelter elsewhere, as the dictates of the official political line, devoid of any vision, have driven them to the very margins of society. In the scanty remaining space of personal freedom they are obliged to develop their sense of hearing, so as not to over-develop their sense of obedience. In the meantime, so as not to become an end to ourselves, Tomislav, Ivana, and me, set off into the outskirts of our city. Forests full of leeches, grass snakes crushed on the asphalt and swarms of wasps in the hollow trees, provided the idyllic basis for us turning our backs on the city. Our decision to return to nature following in the footsteps of cave-men, was an easy one to make after experiencing the degradation of the role of art in society. In the forest, all three of us, having found a tolerant environment, felt less superfluous than in the city.
We became weekend artists slowly and noiselessly, by spending all week doing unexpected and irreconcilable jobs. These would provide us with sufficient material means to spend our Sundays being what we in fact are. Doing all sorts of things is nothing unusual. Persevering in amateur conditions, on the other hand, is quite hard. Therefore, the idea of Weekend Art is like a perceptual inversion, something like an axiom of life whereby a hopeless situation can be turned into an advantage of friendship and dialogue. Initially, our Sunday outings had more of a therapeutic character than an artistic one.
At the same time, even the first few photographs Aleksandar took in the spring of 1996 on Medvednica, showed clearly that this fictive site of activity, barely marked on the superficial map of Europe, would, to us, become the center of the world. We chose Brestovac as our first destination. Brestovac is a rather derelict place overgrown with moss and undergrowth. This once lively complex, a sanatorium for tuberculosis sufferers was a health center frequented, it seems, by those concerned more with cerebral activity than muscle tone. Brestovac was a refuge for all major Croatian artists. By the end of its eighty years of existence the sanatorium was a complex employing a staff of two thousand. In the 1970s this complex slowly began caving in and was deemed undesirable and unhealthy for the morality of the inhabitants of the nearby city. Life surrounded by wilderness acted as a spur to literary, but also, sexual appetites. So it is not surprising that the sketches of the most important Croatian works of art were created here, on the ideal altitude of this Austro-Hungarian sanatorium.
"Weekend Art, Hallelujah the Hill" was also shown as an Internet project at the Frac Languedoc Roussillon. website (www.fraclr.org/weekend.html) in collaboration with the curator Ami Barak. During one year, (from June 28 through October 18, 1998), every Monday, the day after outing, the new photographs as a sort of a diary have been sent and shown at the Frac L.R. website.
Performance without an audience
From the very belly of Weekend Art and as a participant of this friendly threesome, I admit that as a civilized being I am deeply troubled by the knowledge that I cannot do without the mountain, but the mountain can do without me. To be deep in the woods at dusk, far from the sound of engines, with no demarcations and with the suggestion of a few hours of walking to the first asphalt leading to the center of town, means at the same time to be nowhere. These all day wanderings around the woods, intercepted by performances without spectators, are accompanied by long conversations whose contents often inspire the situation recorded on the slides.
Weekend Art, therefore, shamelessly tries to compensate for the whole working week following the instructive example of the ubiquitous E.T.A. Hoffmann who, during his lifetime two hundred years ago, set certain days aside for practicing music, others for composing, others for writing, and ended up by painting on weekends. Sundays reveals complex relations between nature and urban life, work and leisure, especially artistic work and its position at the labour market.
Private - Public project Weekend art was interpreted by writers and critics in various ways, from a kind of political act to the pure hedonism, but for us it is an inspiring friendship.