So, after all the months of preparation, opening day of “Memory Lane” is finally upon us. The artists who are coming tonight have all arrived, and I am writing this article against the whine of an industrial vaccuum cleaner, preparing the space for the opening.
Today, for the final article before the opening, I decided to concentrate on what we might call the “title track” of the whole exhibition; Adela Jušić’s photographic installation Memory Lane. Longstanding observers of Adela’s work will recognise the biographical theme as one of her signatures, but these four photographic prints, together with a rather moving text written by her sister, responding to the images, marks a new departure.
Amidst the intense trauma of the 1992-95 war in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the loss of small personal items seems almost trivial by comparison with the human suffering and the colossal damage to the built environment and infrastructure. However, the near-total destruction of a family’s photographs, the loss of the physical evidence of collective experience and memory, built up over several decades, is in a micro-parallel to the attempted erasure of the collective memory of BiH (for example, with the shelling and destruction of Vijećnica in 1992). The four photographic prints, therefore, act as documentation of a vanished pre-war world, an attempt to re-enagage with the past and to re-construct it, having survived that trauma. They mark a similar painstaking and slow process of re-construction and re-evaluation; the frustration of broken links and black holes in the records; the photographs had to be gathered where they had survived, from relatives and friends.
In this show, the prints are cleverly placed next to Adela’s video When I Die, You Can Do What You Want of 2011. As such, the viewer can see the life of her grandmother bookended; a beautiful young woman, about to marry a handsome soldier; a daughter and mother with a growing brood of small children; her son, and Adela’s father, posing with his sniper’s rifle (an image seared onto the viewer’s memory by Adela’s The Sniper of 2007- shown elsewhere in this exhibition); a group of kids standing together in a group of six, staring with the fierce curiosity of small children at the camera, an image made poignant by our fragmentary knowledge of their subsequent transition into adulthood. In this sense the video marks a full stop at the end of these life events; an old lady looking back on her rich and complicated life story which we can see like the fragments of a broken mirror, in these photographs.
Memory Lane holds together, in confessional tension, the main animating forces in Adela’s work from the last three or four years. The impact of the war on her childhood and development; the role and contribution of women in the history of war in the former Yugoslavia, and contemporary Bosnia-Herzegovina; an evolving personal evaluation of gender and the role of women in contemporary society; an engagement with family and family narratives, as validating of personal experience and development; and, a desire to work in series, to expand and develop this material in new formats and new presentations. All of these factors come together in an intimate revelation of the roots of the artist’s personality and set of interests, in a frank self-revelation which avoids much of the narcissism and trivia of contemporary artistic “biographical” and “confessional” strategies.
Between the grey-silver tones of a past long faded, and the pixelated life story of Adela’s grandmother, lies a handwritten testament by her sister, a verbal link between the two works. Part of the extract from the text reads:
I know very little about my father, and the little I know, I am not sure whether it is my own memory or a memory created based on other people’s stories. I know that thanks to him I am left handed and I am glad. My mother wanted to convert me to being right handed, but he wouldn’t allow that. I know I have only three photographs of him. This one is my favorite. I also know that to a great extent I amnow a soldier, because he was one too, and that I have the same name on the uniform as he did – „A Jušić”
It will be interesting to see where Adela’s work goes next. She has been developing a new body of work in a residency in Tirana on the experiences of women in the Hoxha period in Albania. It may be that Memory Lane will continue to develop as new stories are uncovered, or it could be that this powerful piece will draw a line under the work of the last few years, and clear the ground for new pieces in different but related discourses. Whatever the outcome will be, the gripping tension between candour and intimacy, the scrupulous avoidance of sentimentality and nostalgia, in this work, will keep visitors to this show coming back to look again.
Tomorrow (sometime) we will post an interview with Jusuf Hadžifejzović, and review his and Alma Suljević’s performances from the opening night. These articles will bring our coverage of the “Memory Lane” exhibition to a close.