Animals: Mihailo Vasiljevic
By Miroslav Karic


Man serves the interests of no creature except himself.
George Orwell, Animal Farm

Mihailo Vasiljevic belongs to the generation of artists/photographers, whose work has appreciably marked the contemporary art/photography scene over the past ten years. This generation of artists base their practice on a permanent stretching of the boundaries of the photographic medium, but also on an active survey of the meaning and significance that photography has in the broader social context. Their artistic engagement could be most precisely defined as a long-term, complex, visual, sociological and anthropological study, through which they learn, discover and make comments on the various manifestations and the experiental reality of the world that surrounds them. The subjects Mihailo Vasiljevic has so far been choosing in his work all largely refer to the nature of the photographic medium, and the application and use of photography in the interpretation and elucidation of certain phenomena. The focus of his interests moves from issues of local, specific identity and mythological space, to ways and regimes of photographic representation, and from personal and collective history and memory, to the relationship between the amateur and artistic photographic practice. These studies have always been accompanied by the author’s intense reflections on exhibiting models, approaches and procedures within the conceptual development and visualization of the thematic contents he initiates and problematizes.

We have in front of us one of Vasiljevic’s more recent photographic series, ‘Animals’, began as part of his researh into some technical aspects of the photographic medium – more precisely, macrophotography. The artist has used the procedure of creating a multiple blow-up of the photographic object and its details invisible to the naked eye for documenting what probably constitutes the most famous set of toys and the most common collector’s passion worldwide – small plastic life-like animal figurines. These toys appear on the market in the form of very precisely executed miniature replicas of animals, but also in the form of the almost caricatural copies manufactured in China. It is the latter that are the main motif in Vasiljevic’s work. The modelling of plastic animal figurines belongs to the long history of man’s observation of faunae and the creation of their visual representation in his attempt to approach, understand and eventually tame and control them. From the earliest cave drawings, the images of faunae and their purpose have continually been changing, always in close relation to the context of the time, geographic area and heritage of civilization. Today, these representations, like everything else, are mostly conditioned by the rapid development of technology and the possibility of manipulating digital images. A bizzare example of such manipulation is the website Switch Zoo, where, just for fun and with a few clicks of the mouse, a visitor can cause a refiguration of the animal body parts and thus create an entirely new animal species. In a specific photographic process, by registering the details of imperfection in manufacture, such as the ‘anatomical’ defects of Chinese figurines, Vasiljevic raises some of the questions about our complex and often contradictory relationship with the animal world. The author investigates these questions primarily in the context of the social, scientific and technical achievements and changes that are at present culminating in a serious, even dramatic, violation of every relationship that previously existed between man and nature. “Why look at animals?” – asked John Berger, the writer, theoretician and art critic, in his popular essay of the same name, explaining how the flow of accelerated industrialization and urban development have led to the physical and social marginalization of animals. The animal has become a biomachine, a subject of entertainment, man’s memento of his former immediate environment, and is no longer capable – as Berger says – of responding to our look: “Therein lies the ultimate consequence of their marginalization. That look between animal and man, which may have played a crucial role in the development of human society, and with which, in any case, all men had always lived until less than a century ago, has been extinguished.” [1]

Radical transformations and new dissociations accompany the virtual age and our observation and experience of everything, such as looking at animals through their compensating images. In her extensive study Looking at Animals in Human History, the sociologist Linda Kalof refers to the present time and notes that the loss of authenticity in animals is most disturbing, and that it is contributing to their further alienation and eventual disappearance, with a high probability that one day, as in the sci-fi story by Philip K. Dick, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, they will be strolling around us only as simulations. Modelled on a photographic template, produced from material that has become synonymous with environmental catastrophe, the animals in Vasiljevic’s photographs pose silently in their artificiality and grotesqueness. They are more than a direct testimony to these times of constant competition between economic systems, of migrations from the real to the virtual; they are becoming a powerful metaphor for human nature, our ambitions, mercilessness and desire to control, manipulate and conquer the world around us.


[1] John Berger: Why We Look at Animals (excerpts); 2010/09/why-we-look-at-animals.pdf.


Miroslav Karić, “Životinje”, in catalogue for the exhibition “Životinje”, Gradska galerija, Kulturni centar Požega, Požega, 2012; trans.: K. Radovic/J. Boulting

Miroslav Karic is an art historian and curator at the Remont, Independent Art Association, Belgrade.

© Miroslav Karic


back to texts