This exhibition is Jusuf’s first showing in Zagreb in many years. With thirty-five years of varied and restlessly inventive practice behind him, this exhibition works over some themes familiar from that career- the performative, the transformation of the everyday object, the history of art, repetition, the profound consequences that random events, and chance meetings can have.
“Property of Emptiness” deals with the material detritus left behind by everyday life, and their transformation via Jusuf’s creative imagination, into art objects. Empty packaging, bottles, cartons, cans function as material evidence of Jusuf’s daily life in Sarajevo. These objects have been collected and assembled since he returned to the city following the end of the war, after a period in Belgium. The passage of time is marked by the obvious age of some of the packaging which makes up the installation; old cigarette packets with long-out-of-date health warnings, for example. Such details demonstrate the length and intensity of collecting-as-art; of a daily curation of unremarkable objects which come together to make a sum much greater than its parts.
In one sense, of course, such a practice locates Jusuf in the tradition of Marcel Duchamp and Joseph Beuys; the making of everyday objects and commonplace materials into art objects, in a gallery space. But, unlike both these historical figures, Jusuf does not seek to intervene or manipulate; the objects, emptied of their original content by the process of everyday consumption, are presented as mute witnesses to the life of the artist, and markers of the passage of time.
In fact, the response of the artist to these objects is perhaps more painterly, and in particular reflects upon and pays tribute to the Italian nature morte painter Giorgio Morandi (1890-1964). Hadžifejzović is quite clear about the relationship between this current installation and the intense, near hallucinogenic vision of Morandi. “Property of Emptiness” is a play on words; the dual meanings of nature morte and “still life” are quite deliberate. The deadening effects of consumption, or the halt in time for an artist as they respond obsessively and intensively to different visual stimuli, are important elements here.
Once these objects contained fluids or solids vital for everyday survival and comfort; food, medicine, alcohol, tobacco, perfume, cleaning materials. Now voided of their contents in the process of consumption, the artist suggests that his own body has been filled with a like emptiness; all that is left is our contemplation of objects whose original purpose has been fulfilled. All that is left, is the obsessive relationship between Jusuf as bricoleur and his assembled materials; a constantly evolving, never fulfilled relationship. In one sense this installation can be read as a marketplace of past experience, shared freely, as opposed to a supermarket of consumer goods.
If we are what we consume, then this process reveals its emptiness; hollow objects filling the space of an art gallery, seeming to function as a sculptural depiction of the emptiness of lives primarily affected by consumer trends rather than by ideas or feelings. Further, it focuses on the status of the object; the ability of a humble carton, ignored by most, to trigger memories of a particular day or a particular encounter with someone; the empty bottle of wine as a marker of a brief meeting and interesting conversation with a stranger.
This latest show seeks to maintain the cutting edge of installation, and performance, as social critique and invitation to dialogue. In the very specific circumstances of culture in Sarajevo and wider BiH, installation and performance remain marginal, subterranean activities; culture, such as it is, is administered by political and business classes that are at once indifferent to, and ignorant of these practices. Perhaps it is this which gives Jusuf’s practice such a pungent relevance; these practices provide a dual space, to dream and remember, as well as to critique, that has perhaps been flattened out of such practices in other countries.
This artist, and those whose practice he continues to influence, continues to use whatever tools come to hand as a means of generating discussion, humour, social interaction, and the combination of all these factors into critique. Jusuf’s art is nothing if not social, and relational; this show here invites us to think of memory and how we order our thoughts of the past, and how to make sense of these memories in the hyper-capitalist present. It can be argued that much of the political edge of 1970s performance art has now transferred itself into contemporary “socially engaged art”. If that is true, then this exhibition shows us that transformation in the career of one artist.
Property of Emptiness: Homage to Giorgio Morandi by Jusuf Hadžifejzović opens tonight at the Institute for Contemporary Art, Zagreb and remains open until December 30th. You can follow the ICA on facebook for more photos; or visit the show at Trg Kralja Tomislava 20, Tuesday – Saturday, Opening hours are 1200-1900.