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Photo by Nora Hollstein
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Photo by Nora Hollstein
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Miloš Trakilović »ALL BUT WAR IS SIMULATION«, Callie’s Berlin in collaboration with FRAGILE, 2020. Photo by Jonas Wendelin
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Photo by Nora Hollstein
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Photo by Nora Hollstein

Miloš Trakilović: »Poetry Can Be an Antidote to Culture War Rhetorics«

October 8, 2020
Text by Lena Katharina Reuter
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Photo by Nora Hollstein

Miloš Trakilović on conditions of conflict, how the relation of truthfulness of language and images might have changed and the use of poetry in his practice.

Miloš Trakilović attempts to grasp the conditions of conflict and examines at how our relationship to truthfulness and accountability may have changed in the context of technological globalization. For him, conflict is not simply a certain period in time, but a material construct in which we are constantly entangled. How can we navigate through this immanent configuration in today’s reality? And how can poetry become a helpful tool? His latest work »ALL BUT WAR IS SIMULATION« is driven by these questions and a handwritten note offers a poetic perspective on how to navigate through various layers of loss. The show is on view at Callie’s in collaboration with FRAGILE until October 18. An interview by Lena Katharina Reuter with photos by Nora Hollstein.

The way you work and how you conceive your artistic works is based on lectures. How has this approach evolved for you?

I am trained in New Media Art and have largely been working with moving images over the course of my art education. With time it felt as if there was less and less, I could contribute visually in the bombardment of images out there. It became imperative to articulate and contextualize my practice in parallel to my more visual or aesthetic work. Language became a much more potent tool for me to work with, and writing and research are now at the core of my practice. I like to refer to some of my recent work as lecture-based because it is rooted in working with moving images, but incorporates research that I usually deliver in a lecture format.

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Photo by Nora Hollstein

Recently you showed your new video installation »ALL BUT WAR IS SIMULATION« at Callie’s in collaboration with FRAGILE. The piece brings together different themes and questions of the last years of your artistic practice. Could you give an insight into what the work is about?

The work seeks to address the status of images and media in representations of violence by combining theory, popular culture, poetry and personal experiences with overarching themes of migration, militarization, and digital technology. The anchor point of the work is a document from 1992 that I discovered. It is a handwritten note by a soon-to-be refugee from a town in North-Eastern Bosnia, close to where I was born. This Post-it note details a list of possessions, which one of the family members went back to retrieve from their abandoned house after eviction, at the risk of losing her life.

It speaks of the various dimensions of loss that are linked to the experience of war and displacement. The loss of one’s possessions; of identity, national subjectivity, personal memory but also of life itself. I was instantly captivated by this record because it reveals a very paradoxical state in which one is witness to one’s own erasure. Not only did this resonate strongly with my own experience of displacement, but I found this to be very exemplary of the current state of affairs, since we are currently also witnessing how things are being actively dismantled as crisis is normalized. The work, however much loaded with the topic of war, is in essence a plea for poetry – or rather, it plays off the concept of »poem« and »picture« against each other and offers perspectives on how their relation to truthfulness and accountability might have transformed in the context of technological globalization.

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Miloš Trakilović »ALL BUT WAR IS SIMULATION«, Callie’s Berlin in collaboration with FRAGILE, 2020. Photo by Jonas Wendelin

At one point in the video you say: »Because whatever war is, it is the opposite of representation. (…) A state in which meaning is being radically transformed, reconfigured and remolded at such rampant pastes that it can hardly be captured or contained«. How has the idea of what constitutes war changed for you? And how essential is it to discuss the notions of war?

It really depends on who is speaking and from what position. Although I have experienced a war from a young age, I’m not able to narrate it, nor do I want to reinforce a position of victimhood. I’m more invested in detecting and articulating the mechanisms of dissolution, fragmentation and disappearance that stem from it. By engaging with the social, political and emotional aftermath of war, I hope to get closer to understanding the source of conflict and find connections with contemporary contexts.

My experience of war is very much linked to the constant mediatization and expropriation of it through televised images. What perhaps has changed since then are the regimes of visuality or perceptibility through which conflict enacts or manifests. I think one has to be cautious with blatant proclamations of war but there are definitely forces at play in our everyday life that correspond with the logic of warfare. The fact that things as we know them are changing or disappearing through processes of digitization, automatization and mass deregulation is a global reality right now. Any perspectives that can help navigate the present are, I believe, very valuable. I think art can be a very useful tool to inspect and interrogate these things.

Poetry is crucial in your work. Language and in particular poetry become an important form of articulation. The way you use it seems to be even sharper and more precise than images can be. Why does language play such an important role for you and what is the need for you to articulate yourself in this way?

I am not a poet, but much of what I aspire for in my life and artistic practice are elements poetry contains. I am absolutely fascinated by the power of poetry to shake, shape and shift customary containers of meaning. Especially in a hypermediated and hypervisual climate of today poetry allows for an almost healing sense of dwelling and I try to foreground some of these elements in my work. There are democratic qualities to it that I think art has maybe lost by becoming a more monetizable machinery. Poetry, on the other hand, is a form of having without possessing, which I think resonates a lot with my generation.

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Photo by Nora Hollstein

But our generation is also facing a social dilemma: An analysis of Twitter postings of three million users between 2006 and 2017 shows that fake messages spread successfully more than the truth. Especially in recent political times, when populism is on the rise, scientific facts may be simply negated. Can language nevertheless be a tool for transparency and truth?

I think it’s important to look at the mechanisms that model people’s perceptions of truth. Whereas previously those might have been dictated by strong state ideologies and legislations, today they are increasingly overpowered by algorithmic processes of digitization and by depoliticized liberal market principles that turn everything into a brand. Language is a major factor in how information is circulated and spread online. It’s very hard to verify sources or show accountability in the entanglement of affect out there. Poetry can be useful because nobody measures it by its truth-factor, it just is or isn’t. It works or it doesn’t. I don’t think poetry is the solution, but it can be a slight antidote to the chaos of the present and all-engulfing culture war rhetorics we are faced with today.

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Photo by Nora Hollstein

In the past you have worked in various collaborations. Since you describe your work as lecture-based, your most recent collaboration with Hito Steyerl and Giorgi Gago Gagoshidze »MISSION ACCOMPLISHED: BELANCIEGE« has been a common dialogue. How does the approach to your own research change through finding a common language? To what extent is it a challenge?

My collaborations usually take on the form of a dialogue. This one was particularly challenging and rewarding because we were dealing with three different points of view that needed to find middle ground. We collaborated simultaneously across all levels of production and humor was often our common language. My experience has taught me that if you can laugh on the same frequency, the rest usually just falls into place.

Miloš Trakilović is a Bosnian-Dutch artist, living and working between Berlin and Rotterdam. He holds an MFA from the University of Arts in Berlin, where he graduated in the Experimental Film and New Media Art department. Trakilović’s work was recently presented in »of bread, wine, cars, security and peace« at Kunsthalle Wien, »Mission Accomplished: BELANCIEGE« at n.b.k. and »Farocki Now: A Temporary Academy« at Harun Farocki Institut. In addition to his work as an artist, he is active as educator and consultant in the art field and is a member of advisory boards in The Netherlands and abroad.

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