I'll be honest. Before this interview, what I knew about Serbia was limited mostly to the fashion world and random stories I'd see in the news. I certainly had no grasp on the design scene there, which is why I set out to do this series in the first place.
After talking here with Mirko Zarkovic, a Serbian designer (who also happens to use Semplice.com for his portfolio), I got a taste of the delightfully weird, vibrant and unexpected voice of Serbia and Serbian design. Mirko's words here have as much style as his designs, and it made for an enlightening and entertaining look into design in Serbia.
I'm a 39-year-old interdisciplinary designer from Novi Sad, Serbia. I like how the word interdisciplinary sums me up. My professional experience spans video editing, visual effects, motion graphics, CGI, web design and extended reality. It was heavily influenced by the music I used to listen to and now, the data I browse. This all flows and combines through my career, but, the most important update I go for daily is from the field of visual communications and the relevant technologies. It is a chain reaction guided by instinct, constant questioning and exploration to clear the clutter that piles up around us on every level of our lives.
This might sound like a careless life, but It was difficult and it still is. Every project must be better than the previous and on top of that, socially and environmentally responsible.
There’s a difference between Belgrade and Novi Sad. The mentality is different. Throughout history, Novi Sad was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire until 100 years ago, and Belgrade was part of the Ottoman Empire. This is really embedded into the culture and that’s something you can feel as soon as you step in.
Novi Sad is going to be a European Capital of Culture for 2021, which is nice but there’s something stuck here on the educational level. There’s no link between students and the market. As a designer, it’s really up to how self-thought and mature you are to overcome this gap and aim further for international projects and collaborations.
On the other side, if you scratch the surface you’ll find many brilliant small initiatives scattered across Novi Sad that are popping up in a stealthy manner. They connect like-minded creatives and breed in content and narratives to some new and rediscovered places.
"I see it as a small dose of Eastern European awareness, mixed with Balkan trumpet bass music while driving your German car in an Armani tight-shirt going out tonight."
Lokal is a small creative initiative that fits into 30sqm. It’s a ground-level commercial space that sits where four small streets intersect. Rarely someone passes by into this easy-to-get-lost area called Almaški Kraj, and it’s still five minutes by foot away from the city center.
The space itself is inviting and it really takes just a click kind of initiative, and it happens. Almost without any effort. No financial plan, no clue what’s next, just pure responsibility to pull up values that are around us and combine them in order to get and feel something whole and different. When you create a wave, it triggers other waves around and then you get this creative social stimulus that results in something tangible through real human connections and creative output. That’s what matters the most.
A film Mirko animated for ANIMANIMA, an international animation festival.
I see it as a small dose of Eastern European awareness, mixed with Balkan trumpet bass music while driving your German car in an Armani tight-shirt going out tonight.
Art yes. But, design no.
"It’s really amazing how you can wrap up your portfolio and send it to someone as one-liner within a second. This way I become a part of a global environment."
Yes, it’s true. We have a hole in our recent history because of the civil war that happened in the 90s. But in the last 5-10 years, we are becoming aware of our design heritage that comes from the Yugoslavia era. Many institutions from around the world, like MOMA, found it valuable. Then there are Post II World War Yugoslavia monuments and Brutalist architecture from that time. I'd also like to pull up Zenitism, an avant-garde movement that happened before II World War that had a really strong statement and aesthetics.
It’s really interesting now to see how we’re accepting our cyrilic alphabet. It’s a pity because it’s still mainly seen as something related to Eastern Orthodox Church and its ideology, but that’s something we should definitely overcome. Nowadays, since we have a strong street fashion influence coming from world known Eastern Bloc designers, I see more and more good use of cyrillics that’s mainly coming from young designers' new perspectives. Again we need this self-reflection coming from around us in order to become aware.
I see only good here, and I hope it will always be like this. Because in the end, it is just up to us.
Basically no impact at all. I rarely share my work on social media. In a way, I like to act from the backstage and send my work straight to the desired locations. It’s really amazing how you can wrap up your portfolio and send it to someone as one-liner within a second. This way I become a part of a global environment and only this way I can become relevant and bring more to the local community.
I’d like to mention the Department of Digital Art on Media and Communications Faculty (I hope that’s how it translates) in Belgrade as a great starting point for young creatives.
Most designers in Serbia are self-taught. Design classes are limited to a small number of students and to be honest, I feel that in order to become a good one, you need to be self-taught and enter this world from a different background to bring something unique and multidimensional.
On the other hand, I feel that we can’t just jump into design education without learning and practicing creative approaches for problem-solving. That’s a missing piece that is my major concern.
"In Serbia, there’s this feeling that somehow everything works. Like there is an invisible force that just works."
Good design is invisible. It just works. In Serbia, there’s this feeling that somehow everything works. Like there is an invisible force that just works.
Unfortunately, generally no. Aesthetics are not embedded in our DNA and the amount of visual junk around us is defines clients' expectations while completely demolishing their potential to distinguish between good and bad. Lower offers win the pitch.
Design trends are morphing and recycling but we’re still stuck into our screens. We need to break this tight, two dimensional, non-tangible surface and start thinking about how to reinvent the way we are, what we do and how we relate.
Good question. Let’s co-create something about it.