We have a wonderful life

Mila Panić


March 2nd – 18th

Towards a wonderful life – an intimate elaboration of a social illusion

In the course of the past few years of her artistic practice, Mila Panić has had an active role in generating new artistic practices within the contemporary art scene in Republika Srpska. From the conceptual and contextual point of view, her work is inseparable from contemplating the complex social and political reality in Bosnia and Herzegovina, followed by the transformations that have taken place over more that two decades, as well as problematising societal upheavals in times of globalism, transition and economic crisis.

The work We have a wonderful life should be seen in this light. It is a work that Mila started working on already during her studies in 2014, which then expanded into a complex multimedia project consisting of a six-channel video installation, photography and objects. In an unusual connection between a raw, stripped realism and slightly bizarre humour and irony, this project deals with the phenomenon of the post-war migrations from Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the abiding effects of experiencing life in a war torn, divided country undergoing the process of democratic and neo-liberal transition.

The work We have a wonderful life utilizes a method which gradually develops by the means of externalizing personal memories – private, intimate memories of individuals, through rendering different autobiographical micro-narratives into the artistic discourse. Revealing a personal history in such a way implies working with extremely delicate relationships between the private and public sphere, as the private is intrinsically located within the public and is thus a part of a larger discourse concerning culture and history. Here, memory not only has the role of reconstructing the past or reconciling with it, but actively participates in constructing and depicting the present. This particular method is characterised by employing objects, photography, video and audio material directly or indirectly in connection with the mentioned memory database*, and in the case of the work of Mila Panić, they are photographs and videos which she takes from family albums and uses in their original form.

The photos and VHS cassettes used in the work We have a wonderful life were sent to Mila’s family by relatives that moved to Australia at the beginning of the last decade.
Years later, discovering them by chance in the family archives brought back the artist’s fragmented memories of her early childhood and the conditions of the post-war society in transition in Bosnia and Herzegovina, plagued by impoverishment and deprivation. This, for that time usual mode of communication with family living abroad or those who left and those who stayed, resulted in a multitude of exacting, overly emphasized and even absurd photo and video documents or ‘testimonies’ of their new, better and perfect life far away from Bosnia and all its problems – an ideal towards which most aimed when leaving the country at the end of the nineties. This was primarily the case with families who stemmed from ethnically mixed marriages; where their unfavoured status in a divided country dominated by a nationalist paradigm, in fact represented a ‘ticket’ to another ‘promised’ land.

The domain of private memory is in this work a starting point for a narrative depicting the occurrence of mass migrations from conflict ridden territories such as Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the search for another (illusory) reality, prompted by materialistic desires and dreams of social status, whereas migration in the physical sense unmistakeably and almost habitually represents the migration of a culture, a particular mentality and its customs.

*Joan Gibbons, Contemporary Art and Memory. Images of Recollection and Remembrance, I. B. Tauris, London – New York, 2007, 9, 15-16, 29

Text: Žana Vukičević, art historian
Translation: Isidora Krstić
Photo: Mila Panić, U10