Asim Đelilović’c one man retrospective opened on Thursday night at Collegium Artisticum. The exhibition, filling the larger of Collegium’s two galleries, features prints, sculpture and installations from the last twenty years; the artist’s series “War Lords” and “Behind Ideology” form the spine of this period’s work, and they feature prominently.
Đelilović is perhaps best known as a product designer, but this exhibition provides evidence of a fertile and critically engaged artistic imagination. At his best, his work is at once funny, politically savvy, cynical and thought-provoking. A key driver of this work is the role of the visual in creating and sustaining ideological systems, and the painful absence of a coherent visual narrative in the wake of the breakdown of certain ideologies since November 1989.
The method is established in a group of works featuring the former Yugoslav president Josip Broz Tito. Many of the works ironically look at the lasting myths that sustained Tito’s resonance in both Yugoslav and post-Yugoslav cultures. Controversially, in one image, we are invited to compare Tito’s love of hunting (he is shown standing next to a dead bear killed by him on a hunt near Bugojno) with that of the Nazi satrap and war criminal Hermann Goering, who is showing posing with an elk he had killed on an estate in the former East Prussia. Two bland sentences separate the photographs, recording the details of each “kill”. Beneath the surface, Đelilović appears to suggest, in the manner of Vasily Grossman’s canonical novel Life and Fate, that there are far more similarities between the competing twentieth century totalitarian ideologies- as lived and represented by their public faces- than might first appear to be the case.
More poignantly, the installation Bugojno 1977-97 lays bare the psychological impact of the unravelling of the Titoist orthodoxy in the decade after it’s founders death in 1980. A photographic portrait of Tito, iconic in Yugoslav times in all public buildings, public spaces and homes, is contrasted with an empty frame twenty years later. In this piece, the stabilities and certainties of life under Yugoslav socialism, are contrasted with the breaking of the post-Yugoslav moral and ideological compass at the end of the twentieth century. Such a piece can be read in terms of loss, nostalgia and bitterness; loss of and nostalgia for an identity that no longer officially exists, and bitterness at the processes that caused this loss in the first place.
Critically, this show covers much more ground than just the Yugoslav period. In a series of Pop and Dada-inspired prints, the artist considers the Coca Cola brand as icon and present sit in a number of absurd situations and advertising scenarios. The series “Warlords” also projects a number of caustic observations, regarding the gap between American cultural self-projection and geopolitical reality in the twenty first century. In a further series of works, Đelilović questions the nature and character of “American freedom”. The sculptural installation Made in Paradise, perfectly lit and placed, shows an American baseball bat- the words “Made in Paradise” printed on the handle- mounted against a scalding crimson background.
The humour in this show mainly consists of visual puns, all of which are bitter-sweet. For example, in the 1999 print North-South Object, the crude metal contours of a land-mine- ordnance still maiming and killing people in BiH to this day, and turning many areas of beautiful countryside into no-go areas for all but the most experienced locals, is played off against the organic form of a pineapple. Signs as well as objects are exploited to good effect. Damir Nikšić’s paintings and videos from the last decade have played off the symbols of Communist and Islamic ideologies against one another; in a parallel manner, Đelilović also shows the fading of the red star of Titosim into the green star and crescent of contemporary political Islam in Survival Art.
The concluding installation- Heaven’s Gate– sees layers of competing meaning joining hands, in a wry circle. The title may refer to the infamous mass suicide of the “Heaven’s Gate” cult in San Diego in 1997; notoriously, the members of this cult were fully signed up to a bizarre narrative involving boarding a space-ship trailing the Comet Hale-Bopp, supposedly en route to a higher reality. This jackdaw’s nest of lurid fantasy, wishful thinking and discarded Star Trek scripts, is echoed in the crudity of the installation, featuring a new door installed in front of a video of moving clouds and blue sky. It also sends up the aching desire of people to believe absolutely in particular religious or political narratives in an era when such absolute belief is no longer possible. The pairs of shoes in front of the video and door also remind us of the deadly consequences of absolute belief, as evidenced in the genocidal actions seen in the Second World War and more recently in the Wars of Yugoslav Succession.
This is a rich and thought provoking exhibition which ably navigates the dizzying confusion of the post-ideological age. As such, it is very well worth an hour of anyone’s time.
Asim Đelilović “Peripheries, Face, Reverses” is now open at Collegium Artisticum until 23rd June. Opening Hours 1000-1800. Entry is Free, and a catalogue with texts by Branka Vujanović and Nenad Veličković is available, priced 5KM.
If you are on facebook, a full gallery of photos from the show can be found here: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.423188244380560.99238.422637547768963&type=1