Radical Earth: The Art of Đorđe Stanojević

The art of Đorđe Stanojević (1974) aims to capture the energy imprint of nature. His paintings, sculptures and multisensory installations are rooted in the desire to work in harmony with natural life. Their main building blocks come from the plasticity, colour and tactile value of earth, but also its energy, stoical presence and its elemental potential to contain life. In rediscovering the landscape, he finds connections with flows and fluxes of greater nurturing powers of nature, and ultimately the connection between the external world and the world within. 

Trained as an artist at the University of Arts in Belgrade from 1994-1999 where he also finished his Masters and Doctorate studies in 2001-2017, Stanojević experienced the break in the systemic flow first hand. The nineties, which formed many of his positions as an artist, were a tumultuous historic period that saw the prolonged Balkan wars and the NATO bombing in Belgrade. Such circumstances, not unlike the postwar circumstances that defined American Land Art, placed the artist at a crossroads and eventually caused the radical departure from his academic training, inducing a complete rethinking of his relationship with art and landscape.

It is in this light that we should consider Stanojević ‘s reference to Maurizio Nannucci: “Changing Place, Changing Time, Changing Thoughts, Changing Future” (2003). Installed in the garden of the Guggenheim Museum in Venice, those words sum up Stanojević ‘s vision for art as created and changed by the great outside forces, and in turn changing and affecting the forces within.

The new scientific evidence, breached by the physicist and systems theorist Fritjof Capra, supports the long-held supposition that all parts of nature are closely interconnected. Capra announces that evolution is no longer seen as a competitive struggle but “a cooperative dance in which creativity and the constant emergence of novelty are the driving forces. And with the new emphasis on complexity, networks, and patterns of organisation, a new science of qualities [the systems view of life] is slowly emerging.” (The Ecologist, 20 January 2017)

This scientific breakthrough that calls for a new kind of thinking in terms of relationships, pattens and contexts, is in fact not at all new. The same idea is at the core of the Earth Charter, and at the root of the philosophical ideas of noetic science and panphysicism, the philosophical view that consciousness is a universal and primordial feature of all things. We find its reflections in the work of visionary artists, architects and thinkers that turn to nature as their central concern: Robert Smithson, Richard Buckminster Fuller, Agnes Denes, Joseph Beuys, Tomás Saraceno, Danae Stratou and many others. The same interest in the flow of interconnectedness is at the core of Đorđe Stanojević’s work as well.

Stanojević observes two parallel realities, one materialising in the external world and another taking shape as a deeper inner calling. His curiosity in flow and in earth – as matter, as a metaphor, as alchemic element, and as a state of mind which follows and records the pulse and recurrence of life, ‘the tingling of matter’ (De Quincey) – shaped his formal approach to art.

Stanojević uses earth, mud, clay and bone pigment to build his paintings from the frame up, using the pull of nature – the force of gravity, fluctuations of light, temperature, the erosion and change created by rain, frost or currents – as a tool for direct intervention. The paintings are made on jute canvas primed with earth, structurally fused, fed rather than painted with soil, organic pigments, bone ash and glue. This method of painting from the structure up with soil, clay and organic matter invokes the meditative planting of seed in the ground, waiting for the soil to return the gift.

Colour is never decorative in his work, but something that is residual and given. It reveals itself through the process of closely following natural cycles, as an integral attribute of form, locality and history – a carrier of memories, rituals and reflections.

Rast (Growth) 2010, is a series of large wooden frames filled with soil left to naturally dry and crack, leaving fissures across the surface. The size of the frames (170 x 100 cm) and the weight of the soil (cca 50 kg each) reflect the earthly frame of a human body. This work, and subsequent Zima (Winter), 2011, is created during a period when artist experienced a personal loss, and also during winter: a season for grief and for leaving the earth to rest from the demands of warmer months while waiting for the passage of time to bring peacefulness and future growth.

From then on, Rast occurs as a seasonal meditation, observing changes in relationship between mind and matter, through change of plasticity, pigmentation and pared down aesthetics. Over the years it developed towards the series of paintings Klijanje (Germination) 2011-2013, that follow the energy of a seed planted into the darkness on its way upwards towards the sun.

This process continues with Fantastic landscapes, 2015-2016, again created in conjunction with seasons and natural elements. Stanojević leaves room for the tensions within and outside of the work itself, allowing himself to ‘paint as nature’, following the intuitive sense of deep connection with the earth which, by passing through fingers, charges, changes and is changed in turn. Here the artist is a live representation of Beuys’ battery (Table with Acumulator 1958-1985), where the spiritual and creative energy is fed by the Earth itself, bringing the flow of energy directly into the work.

In parallel with the earth paintings, Stanojević realises a series of sculptures, such as Takt (Beat), 2011, Ljudi (People), 2011, Češljevi zemlje (Combs of earth), 2010/2012, that rhythmically arrange traditional wool hackling combs and other crafting tools into groups of small families or triptychs. These seemingly plain and utilitarian objects, resembling totems from the past, symbolically represent the measure of human life seen through slow, ritualised crafts that chanelled and measured its parameters, rhythms and expanses, reflecting our one-time natural limits as species.

The interest in old crafts and materials continues in sculptures Poniranje (Plunge), 2014, made of woven twigs and black bone pigment, which take shape of cones (reminiscent of model huts or villages), and a group of scattered objects. The use of aged, burnt and exposed wood is often reminiscent of David Nash’s wooden boulders and domes (Three Red Columns: Deepcut, 2010, Red Dome, 2007, Flaire, 2015, and others).

The installation Ergonomija zemlje (Ergonomics of earth), 2013, evokes some of the Joseph Beuys’ installations, especially Lightning with Stag in its Glare (1958-1985), with a scattering of objects in front of a diptych from the Rast series. Stanojević builds his own mythology of objects with crafting tools on the ground instead of Beuys’ barely formed objects and the ‘goat’ cart, but the installation’s geometry, and especially its density, owes to the visual spectrum of Beuys. The main difference lies in Beuys’ wholly modernistic, personalised mythology versus Stanojević’s interest in community and relationships. As ecology, derived from Greek oikos, means ‘household’, so the relationships among his objects clearly relate to various members of the Earth Household.

Stanojević’s interest in the rural and natural creative environment took a turn in 2010 when he founded the art initiative Priroda i Umetnost (Nature and Art) in Osečina, Serbia. Started as a platform for site-specific interventions, workshops and performances, the project hosts regular international residencies in Osečina since 2012. The residencies take place in an old rural settlement that invites artists to rediscover the harmonious proportions of traditional life and to pay attention to the meaning, purpose, and value embedded in nature that surrounds them.

Historically seen as the opposite from the technological and cultural sphere, the world of nature has been either idealised or disjoined from thought. Romantic or utopistic visions of nature gave way to awareness of environmental issues which, from 1960s onward, simply adapted the concept of a passive landscape into that of an environmental project: both proposing that the driving force always comes from outside of the nature itself.

What Đorđe Stanojević does is an attempt to listen and to be guided by nature. His work and experience represents the desire of his generation to balance and experience both freedom and responsibility of the times, to tap into the flows and fluctuations of the external world and to respond to it. His interests in geometry and form in nature with its cycles of growth and rest, in physical and sensory worlds, and in social ergonomics of the old village settlements, are all a part of the worldview that seeks to explore the interconnectedness of mind and matter, the harmony that exists in a great chain of being, creating compelling and evocative work at one with the deeper world.

Alexandra Lazar, 2017