As if you could kill time without injuring eternity

Bogoljub Đoković


December 1st – 24th

Bogoljub Đoković’s solo exhibition, “As if you could kill time without injuring eternity”[1], shows works that depict elements of the landscape taken from a video game scenography, created by imprinting numbers using a typewriter. These endless lines of cyphers represent the number of hours the artist has spent in another reality, playing a video game. It is clear at a first glance that the number of hours is enormous and is measured in thousands, and that it stands for months, even years of playing. For the author, the video game itself is the starting point for thinking about a universal theme: the concept of time. In his work, it can be viewed from several angles, and it raises the question of what is worth investing time in, what is the relationship between art and eternity, where are we as individuals in time and how to establish the balance of the time spent.

Video games have been one of the most popular forms of entertainment for decades, especially among the younger population. Although the gaming industry is huge and a whole subculture has developed around it, playing video games remains perceived as a pointless activity, a waste of time with very few benefits if any. From a psychological aspect, playing video games is tempting because it doesn’t require much effort, only time and patience, and it grants instant gratification and reward. Playing games provides a good feeling, or at least removes the discomfort of our own reality by offering an escape to an alternative one. Video games are addictive because with a series of prescribed paths and actions, with a clearly defined scenario, they push us towards goals, which are almost never accomplished, but strive us to continue playing, thus easily distracting us from everyday life. By being drawn into another world, by playing with ease, we forget about putting off obligations and temporarily reduce accumulated stress and feelings of anxiety. That’s exactly why this kind of escapism is so alluring. Of course, it is a trap because video game playing easily becomes extreme, extending into endless procrastination and a complete escape from reality.

On the other hand, playing video games is associated with a period of life when we had more time and could afford to sit for hours after hours in front of a screen, without a feeling of guilt. Games can remind one of the carefree moments of childhood or the period before adulthood and a life filled with responsibilities. We live in a time in which we have an impression of it constantly accelerating and consuming us, and that the pressures on the individual to abide by socially prescribed norms and achieve a certain level of success are increasing. A narrative that is imposed on us is that we have to make use of time effectively and that unproductively used time is unacceptable, even if it makes us happy. In this context, playing video games becomes a peculiar form of luxury and freedom and even resistance against socially imposed expectations. Seen more broadly, this is a way for the artist to talk about the possibility of controlling his own time and trying to find a balance between the increasing external pressures brought by everyday life and the internal search for what is really important in life and art.

The time component is strongly engraved in the very process of creation of these works. The processuality and the amount of time invested are clearly visible because each imprint of a cypher on paper represents one stroke on a typewriting machine. In simplified terms, the process of playing the game and creating the works is identical: the artist sits at the table and, with limited movements, types on the machine, whether it is digital or analogue. The relationship between digital and analogue is constantly intertwined in Bogoljub’s work. The appropriation and fragmentation of landscapes taken from video games are done in an unexpected manner. The artist transfers the digital, computer world into an analogue format, a drawing on paper, and the digits he types can at first glance seem like binary, programming code.

By playing with the relationship between one useless action, and formally equalizing it – playing video games and a sublime action – creating a work of art, the artist takes an ironic look at the question of the artistic value of his work. Throughout the history of art, there is a romanticized image of an artist-genius who, with his talent and dedication, materializes the timeless, and ensures eternity for himself and his opus. In today’s era of instant culture, it is clear that Bogoljub’s works are not an instant product, but that they were created in an almost meditative, months-long ticking, sign by sign. As in a video game, he grinds[2] his work with a simple repetitive action until he achieves the expected result. Thinking about eternity seems too abstract, ambitious, and superhuman, but thinking about the way we spend our time, what we invest it in and where our collected experiences go in the grind culture[3], what items they provide us and what is the next level that awaits us, are some of the main questions that Bogoljub Đoković’s work sets.

Text: Sanda Kalebić

Photo: N. Ivanović

[1]The exhibition title is a quotation of an American naturalist and philosopher Henry David Thoreau (1817–1862).

[2]In video games, grinding is the act of repeating an action or set of actions to achieve the desired result. Players usually perform these tasks to earn experience points, in-game items (loot), or to improve a character’s level/stats. Results of grinding are usually the predominant motivation for continuing to play.

[3]Grind culture (or hustle culture) is a way of life in which it is believed that an individual is valued only through his productivity and radical commitment to work and business. It is often associated with members of the millennial generation, to which the author of the exhibition also belongs.