Bojan Đorđev –Producing (America) with Drawings, text for the catalogue of the exhibition Reconstruction (Kontekst Gallery, Belgrade, Serbia)
Tina Gverović and Siniša Ilić shared a studio in New York in October and November of 2006, during their residence at ISCP (International Studio and Curatorial Program). During the Open Days they organised a joint presentation of their work in the studio, that they reconstructed a year later, in November of 2007 as an exhibition in the Magacin u Kraljevića Marka project space in Belgrade. Set up on two facing walls, the New York presentation featured “invisible” wall drawing by Siniša Ilić, nine drawings accompanied by text, from Tina Gverović’s series “At First Sight” were at the wall across. There was also a table in the studio that had artists’ informative material – publications, portfolios and such. I am describing the space of the original display, because later, each of these three segments was reconstructed and/or restituted at the Belgrade exhibition – the table was transformed from an informative desk into a joint space installation in the first room of the gallery, while the two wall interventions were replaced by two ambiances. Reconstruction, the title of the exhibition, however, does not pertain only to the process of reconstructing the exhibition from the New York studio, but also to the reconstruction of the time spent in New York, from a perspective of spatial and temporal distance, through associations, invocations of various references to America in the medium of a spatial installation. By focusing my attention on a detailed description of the exhibition, I too am repeating the process of reconstructing that Gverović and Ilić used in exhibition in the medium of this text. This is also the reason this text does not flow smoothly and neutrally, but is constantly ‘obstructed’ by my own personal interpretations, associations and information about other works by Gverović and Ilić.
The architecture of the gallery itself (three interconnected identical rooms) divides the Reconstruction exhibition into three entities. The first room features a blue table on top of which neat stacks paper of various height are arranged into a grid. There is a thick, uninterrupted brown stripe spreading across all four walls of the room. In the second room is an ambiance by Tina Gverović, and in the third room there are two drawings, along with a slide show projection by Siniša Ilić.
If we take the reconstruction of memories of the American context, (and even more precisely, the New York art scene), as an interpretation key to the exhibition, then the joint piece in the first room clearly refers to the triumph and collapse of high modernist art in minimalism. The modular, reductive and repetitive structure of the paper stacks on the table is a clear reference or quotation of minimalist art. The sheer size of the monochrome intervention on the wall – one that transforms all content into a picture with its dominance and aestheticism – in this case, the heavily damaged wall of the gallery, a former medicaments warehouse – is some kind of a comment on the art market in New York, still dominated by large scale formats, characteristic for abstract expressionism, regardless of what the work itself is: abstract art, hyperrealism or photography. The brown stripe, arbitrarily, and in the same fashion stretches across the wall and the cracks in the wall, the holes, electric installations and all other traces of reality, transforming them into an aesthetical object. However, in this way, the line paradoxically both hides and reveals its foundation/base. The table installation is double-coded in a similar fashion. On the one hand it is a non-referential, concrete formal play of modular structures – stacks of identical papers that in various configurations create a geometric relief structure – a typical minimalist grid, and on the other hand it represents a simplified model of Manhattan. This double-coded ambiance functions as a comment of the declarative, non-referentiality (and non-politicality) of minimalism and abstract art – it is important we mention that Gverović and Ilić mainly produce figurative drawing and painting.
The works of Tina Gverović originate from a certain data base – drawings the artist uses to produce publications, spatial installations, video works… Drawings are executed in delicate cross-hatching of graphite pencil, usually based on the photographic original, sometimes containing text. Sometimes it is hard to distinguish whether the drawings are a hyper-realistic representation, or a silhouette or shadow. Thematically, the drawings are related to geography, travel, or in case of the New York presentation, sea travel – they show shipwrecks, disembarking, explorations of polar regions… Gverović exhibits them almost exclusively in series and there is almost clear distinction between work and drawing: as if the drawings themselves are not a complete work, but building material that is recombined in every new work into ambiances with wall and lighting interventions, publications, performances, video or even pleonasmic simulations of the ‘Cabinet of Curiosity’ (Wunderkammer). For instance, the drawings from the ‘At First Sight’ series also appear in the ‘At First Sight’ publication which is not only meant to accompany the exhibition (actually several different exhibitions of this series), but also functions as an independent work. The drawings are reproduced in various colours, one drawing may appear as a blown-up detail, but also as a reproduction contrasted by the whiteness of the following blank piece(s) of paper, or by another drawing or just a detail of a drawing, or in a ‘documentary’ manner, as one of the pages of the notebook it came from. All the drawings from this series are ‘presented’ as contact sheet on the final two pages of the publication, as some kind of film credits, ‘Cast: …’
At the Belgrade exhibition the drawings of Tina Gverović become video and slide projections and a base for the performance of the actress Vladislava Đorđević. At the very entrance to the room there is a video animation of the drawing of the Fire Island lighthouse – the very first piece of American soil that the trans-Atlantic immigrants from the beginning of the 20th century saw from their ships as they arrived. The drawing of the ship from the ‘At First Sight’ series becomes a barely visible screen for this small projection. At the other end of the room, the actress, illuminated by the ‘vintage’ epidiascope projection of drawings, wearing vintage costume and hairstyle from the 1940’s, reads fragments about travel and motion from the backsides of the drawings, fragments of a dialogue with the ‘constant traveller’. The drawings that she reads from are the same ones that illuminate her through the epidiascope projection. A few months later in the BOP gallery in Zagreb, this performance becomes a two channel video installation called “The Constant Traveller” – the drawings and their backsides are projected onto a floating projection screen, while on the other side of the screen the same actress in the same costume is shown reading from the drawings in various urban settings. Also, the lighthouse that appears in Belgrade as an animation, in Zagreb becomes an object made of mirrors. In the several aforementioned situations the drawing is the only source of the spatial installation/ambiance, but not being reconstructed in or applied to the ambiance. On the contrary, the ambiance is constructed, built from drawings as Lego building blocks. The drawing as a script for performance, drawing as a light source, drawing as an illusionist representation of the snow covered lighthouse projected over the drawing of the ship. If we apply the reconstruction of the American experience as the interpretation key, then the Belgrade ambiance also becomes a hommage to New York, this time as the city that is the living monument of emigration.
Since 2001. Siniša Ilić has been doing wall paintings, that with their ephemeral quality – each work is scraped off/whitewashed after the exhibition – come quite close to performance. Another step in this specific practice of dematerialisation of the art object (a drawing) into the artist’s work (the producing/performing of the drawing, often at the exhibition openings) Ilić makes with his ‘invisible’ drawings – wall compositions executed in graphite pencil on the wall that are barely visible without a focused attention of the viewer. Two wall drawings by Siniša Ilić are located in the third room of the Belgrade exhibition. One is completely in the dark and cannot be seen unless the viewer is using a flashlight or the short term, collateral illumination caused by the slide show projector – not aimed at the drawing itself but to an adjacent wall. In these two compositions Ilić shows in a certain retro-active way the possible historic references of his wall paintings. Ilić makes two depictions of the lobby of the central building of Rockefeller complex in New York – the famous venue for which a mural titled “Man at the Crossroads” was commissioned from Mexican painter Diego Rivera. Before it was finished this mural was destroyed (because of its depiction of the First of May parade in Moscow along with a portrait of Lenin, which were not in the original sketches), and replaced with a mural by the Catalonian artist Hose Maria Serto titled American Progress. This painting, in a quite Michelangelo-like manner, portrays muscular black slaves that build America. Ilić’s wall composition refers to both of these murals repeating the fascination of foreigners with America, but also by appropriating Rivera’s narrativity and Serto’s iconographic style, creating a new, current and arbitrary image of contemporary American society, flow of money goods and services as well as racial and class hierarchy. On the other hand, by showing the very hall of the Rockefeller complex central building, Ilić points to the site of disappearance of another wall drawing (Rivera’s invisible and destroyed mural) which was probably scraped off and white-washed in the same way most of Ilić’s works end up. Part of this ambiance is the slide projection of photos that is the only source of light for the second wall composition that is in the dark. These photographs are actually screen shots of Ilić’s computer screen, which apart from the photographs of the city, show empty e-mails, word documents and such. The photographs depict out-of-focus, voyeuristic images of building windows, window views of skyscrapers, photographs of other photographs and posters in the city and so on. The factographic quality of these screen shots, their almost casual and incidental, documentary value, is juxtaposed to the virtuously executed drawings of American society allegories of the wall paintings. In the context of reconstruction of a stay in New York, these slide stand in the place of tourist photographs and post cards that are shown/sent to friends. In relation to the wall compositions they function as footnotes, voyeuristic foundations of the allegories of American society in the reality of the city.
The narrative quality of Ilić’s compositions further defines the meaning of Tina Gverović’s installation. The emigration process is the very phenomena creating the complex social structure shown in Ilić’s compositions – one of the compositions features a female figure quite reminiscent of the actress from the other room. In that sense, the very process of walking through the three spaces of the venue offers a certain trajectory: from the schematic ‘helicopter view’ of Manhattan (first room), through step back to the emigrant past via Fire Island lighthouse (second room), to the depiction of the mechanisms of American society in which the actress, the ‘constant traveller’, has already taken her prescribed place. Or the other way around: the second two rooms function as a backstage, behind the scene process, reverse side which contributes to and creates the glamour and seemingly cold and disinterested minimalist aesthetics of the first room. While each remains loyal to their own practice of producing (with) drawings Gverović and Ilić lead an exceptional artistic dialogue. Their écritures used in Reconstruction not only complement and re-interpret each other, even more so they inter-react creating a hybrid third écriture as well as a new logic entity.