In the English language, the word superstructure has several different meanings all of which derive from different viewpoints and are manifest in the layered artistic references in the work of Branislav Nikolić.
This word can be primarily interpreted in architectural speak as an addition and refers to a part of a building or some structure other than the foundations. The abstract connotations of the word are a physical or conceptual structure developed from a basic form. Finally, there are the more discursive meanings of the word which are also relevant to the artistic field of creativity in which Nikolić is active and derive from Marxist theory in which social ideology and institutions are seen as additions or a superstructure to the base which comprises the forces and relations of production and the economy.
The methodology behind the work of Branislav Nikolić, which is embodied in the gathering of discarded architectural elements, of interior fixtures, furniture and wooden material and in their reuse in the artistic process for the construction materials of artistic works, is enmeshed with all the above mentioned interpretations of the word superstructure. The syntagm “secondary architecture” helps to characterise this process which is a core part of Nikolić’s artistic activities and is evident in the economic activity of collecting and recycling materials specifically for the building of ‘cardboard’ houses as found in Roma settlements. This process, drawing on certain specific and craft based skills, enables one to put ‘a roof above one’s head’ but can also be an art work whose shape is an architectural form. The final outcome of the work conceived for the Salon of the Museum of Contemporary Art Belgrade is characterised by a simple craft based approach to the construction of a temporary dwelling like those in Roma settlements and also by the addition of a ‘painterly’ and ‘sculptural’ treatment, apparent as a collage type process of building, assembling and slotting together variegated and discarded elements.
Constructed in the gallery space, the roof structure or architectural addition, voided of its inherent purpose, is transformed into an artistic object, a sculpture of monumental proportions but also one of limited duration since after the exhibition, the exhibit will be dismantled and put back into circulation and recycled in the city rubbish dumps. This structure also presents a powerful metaphor of the social changes in Serbia on which Nikolić reflects and which he connects with the forms of economic and force migration which came in the wake of the wars of the 1990s and the new millennium when this change became evident in the spread of unregulated building in urban areas. As the artist points out, even though this type of building is frequently viewed as an ‘architectural pestilence’ which has infiltrated the urban substance, one cannot but view it in the broader social and economic context and in connection with migration and the economic disenfranchising of villages and the accumulation of power in cities. Migration has become today a global phenomenon and stands in the foreground of local affairs since Serbia is one of the main transit routes of refugees from the war torn lands of the Middle East. From their point of view the roof has become a synonym for the lost home. Nikolić’s work speaks about this phenomenon and the different economies at work in the building process, from ‘illegal building’ to the extension of dwelling spaces and it underlines the symbolic significance of the roof as an archetype of the home.
Branislav Nikolić was born in 1970 in Šapac. He graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts in Novi Sad, the department of painting, in 1996. He received postgraduate degrees from the Dutch Art Institute, Enschede, Holland in 2001 and in 2002 from the Academy of Arts in Novi Sad. From 1995 he is member of ULUS and from 2002 on the selection committee for the artist colony “Jalovik“. He works in painting, sculpture, video, design and as a curator and has exhibited in 22 solo and many more group exhibitions in Serbia and abroad.