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Feature 08 Jul 16

Belgrade Rising Star Returns Home

Up and coming international artist finds true artistic freedom in his hometown.

Natalia Zaba
Simic is now planning to compete to represent Serbia at the Art Biennale in Venice. Photo: Courtesy of Igor Simic.

Igor Simic always knew he’d leave Belgrade. And he did at eighteen, right after finishing Belgrade’s math gymnasium.

Belgrade native Simic, a film director, writer and conceptual artist, is a rising international art star who needed to leave his hometown to find himself.

“I knew that studying both film and philosophy would be impossible in Serbia, so I decided to make my dreams come true in the US,” says Simic.

While Igor isn’t very well known in Serbia, he’s already recognized both in Europe and the US. His video installation “Drone” won first prize at the 2016 LOOP Barcelona competition.

The artwork recently sold and became a part of the permanent collection of Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art. “Drone” is a short film about a NATO drone that comes to Belgrade to monitor the situation after floods. It’s full of humour and irony, a universal story of a society under total control.

“I was told that people in Barcelona liked ‘Drone’ because it tells a concrete story, it’s funny, it has a plot and is universal,” says Simic.

“Paradoxically, my drone has more feelings than some humans, and that’s the main issue in the story. People become more robotic than the robots.”

Despite being only 28, Simic has participated in many important exhibitions around the world- New York, Barcelona, Frankfurt, Moscow- and is now planning to compete to represent Serbia at the Art Biennale in Venice.

After such a successful start, Simic decided to return to Belgrade and settle down for good.

Belgrade freedom

Simic says he came home to pursue artistic freedom in ways that would never be possible in New York.

“After finishing my bachelor’s degree I had three options: continue to a master’s degree in math which meant keeping up with scientific circles, and skipping the arts for a while; or finding a full-time job, which means good salary and no art at all; or leaving New York, coming back home and living life the way I want,” says Simic.

He chose the third option and has now lived in Belgrade for eight months.

Home sweet home

Simic considers New York his second home because he is an alumni of Columbia University, and the time he spent there made him more mature.

Yet for him, Belgrade beats any city on the planet hands down. “Belgrade is simply inviolable,” says Simic.

The list of reasons for his great passion towards the city runs long. He missed Belgrade’s loose atmosphere, and the fact that you can never be anonymous in the Serbian capital.

“You know this feeling when you’re walking down the street, you see familiar faces, this feeling when you know the crowd,” says Simic.

He’s also happy to live in a city that hasn’t become a touristic spot. “Despite multiple efforts to advertise Belgrade as a touristic centre, party city, with drugs being sold at every corner, I think it’s not a very proper picture of this city, says Simic.

He adds that what he dislikes in big cities like New York or Budapest is that everything is adjusted to tourism.

“Budapest became a Luna park, in New York there’s no normal life in the city centre, only skyscrapers built by tycoons, whereas normal people have to escape to Brooklyn or Bronx for a normal life,” says Simic.

Asked about his favourite places in Belgrade, Simic lists at least ten without thinking. First on the list are well known traditional kafanas: Prolece (The Spring) and Mornar (The Marines) – “for low cost and great food”, then a place called Dzakarta in New Belgrade, Cobanov odmor, for fat sandwiches with pork cracklings (Simic doesn’t care about cholesterol).

He loves to visitv a splav – river bar called Jazbina – “a half–decomposed place where people sit in bikinis and drink lemonade”, and Great War Island, island on Danube.

Simic loves food, but the main reason why he wanted to live in Belgrade is the authencity of the place.

“I love Belgrade because of Belgraders. I want to live in a city where a woman who sells burek tells me on the street whether she liked my article in Politika or not,” says Simic.

He has been writing columns for Poltika daily, Serbia’s oldest newspaper for two years.

New work

Simic is now working on another installation called “Spine”. His idea is to create an advertisement of an imaginary spine implant, equipped with WiFi and Bluetooth. The spine would send special signals to the doctor in case of imbalance or serious health problems. The fictional spine was created for spineless people.

The imaginary advertisement Simic created says that the first pre-orders for the device came from the government of Serbia, specifically from Aleksandar Vucic.

“Be a human being 2.0. If you don’t have a spine, you can always buy it,” says a laughing Simic.

He says that his intent is not to disrespect the Serbian government; the same project will be done in English starring American politicians and will be presented in the US.

“Spine was invented not to tackle the Serbian political scene; it’s intended to be universal. Believe me, Serbian politicians are like kids if you compare them to US politicians like Bush or Clinton,” says Simic.

Simic has a long-term aspiration. “At the age of sixty, I’d like to be for Belgrade, what Fernando Pessoa was for Lisbon,” Simic concludes.

This article was published in BIRN's bi-weekly newspaper Belgrade Insight. Here is where to find a copy.

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