01.02.2012

18.03.2012

Bunker – Nitrianska galéria, Župné námestie 3, Nitra

Borders

Although Serbian artist Svetlana Mihalj (1976) only presents one piece at the alternative space of Bunker, it is a demandingly conceived video installation Borders (2011) with a semantic centre of gravity of more than a two-hour recording of performance...

 

Svetlana Mihalj

Venue: BUNKER – Nitra Gallery
Župné námestie 3, 949 01 Nitra, Slovakia
Duration: 1. 2. 2012 – 18. 3. 2012

Curator: Katarína Rusnáková

Although Serbian artist Svetlana Mihalj (1976) only presents one piece at the alternative space of Bunker, it is a demandingly conceived video installation Borders (2011) with a semantic centre of gravity of more than a two-hour recording of performance. By this ambivalent work based on personal memory and recollections, the artist reacts to a recent traumatic situation in the Balkans, namely the political events in Serbia. It is paradoxical that while the fall of the Berlin Wall and the following revolutions in 1989 brought the desired freedom and democracy to most of the Post-Communist states, former Yugoslavia, before considered as the most liberal country within Eastern Bloc, became a place of outbreak of armed conflicts during the 1990’s. The detonator of these conflicts was mainly nationalism, insularity and ethnical intolerance, strongly generated by the political elites.

The critical account of Svetlana Mihalj is a response to heavy trauma, such as the breakdown of multicultural Yugoslavia into several independent states with the price of an enormous number of victims, destroyed lives, corrupted relationships and incalculable material and cultural losses. In her work, the artist reflects the relationship of politics and art, where on one hand she points to the fact that every “crossing of a line” in the widest sense is followed by punishment. On the other hand, the notion of borders which according to Andreas Huyssen “is related to the era of ethnic cleansing and refugee crisis, mass migration and global mobility of more and more people, when the experience of expatriation, migration and diaspora is no longer an exception but a rule” resonates in her work. One of these examples is the personal story of the nomad artist Svetlana Mihalj, a Serbian citizen of Slovak nationality, who studied in Slovakia and works in the UK at the moment.

Coincidentally, the multimedia work Borders with which Mihalj intervenes into the space of Bunker appropriately corresponds with a similar space of the Gallery Art Klinika in Serbian Novi Sad, where the author carried out her almost 7-hour long video performance. The characteristic spirit of both spaces, although geopolitically distant, is compellingly related, and Bunker in Nitra offers a congenial platform for the site-specific video installation combined with the recording of the endurance performance. During its course, viewers watch the artist in a seemingly claustrophobic environment resembling a prison cell wearing a uniform typical for Serbian female prisoners, which is in some passages enhanced by a black band on her eyes. Mihalj constantly moves around the space of a small square area delimited by bars made of textile straps and restraints containing electrical current. While her raised arms indicate surrender, her closed eyes in a detailed view of the face may mean resignation or blindness and the clogged ears inaccessibility or narrow-mindedness. The repeated enduring ritual of walking during which the performer speaks only one word Srbija is once in a while interrupted by a wrong step, when Mihalj changes her position for a moment – crooning the Serbian national anthem while kneeling, then she gets up, changes her direction, and the whole ritual repeats again. It seems to us that Mihajl acts in a double role: first she takes all blame of the war crimes perpetrators, but she also plays the role of a victim. The identical real fragment “the bars” with electrical current, which is part of this installation, also threatens the spectators. Despite the fact that the bars seem subtle, they actually create a dangerous border between the screened video performance and the space in front of it. Through this, the artist intensifies the feeling of threat, which she transfers to the spectators, and their mental and emotional reception is enriched with new sensory experience.

Multimedia installation, in which the “presence of the past” resonates, has a long duration and demands concentrated attention, reflection and empathy. In this work, where the significant meaning is played out by the individual, generational, public, cultural and national memory, the author managed to connect personal and political aspects with meanings exceeding to the wider socio-political contexts of the globalised world.

Katarína Rusnáková

Svetlana Mihalj (1976) was born in Novi Sad (Serbia). In 2000-2005 she studied at the Pedagogic Faculty of Matej Bel University in Banská Bystrica. She graduated from the Studio of Intermedia of doc. Miroslav Nicz with the diploma project Borders (2011). She took part in several exhibitions in Slovakia and abroad. She now lives and works in UK.

Hranice Svetlana Mihalj (1)Hranice Svetlana Mihalj (2)Hranice Svetlana Mihalj (3)Hranice Svetlana Mihalj (4)Hranice Svetlana Mihalj (5)Hranice Svetlana Mihalj (6)Hranice Svetlana Mihalj (8)Hranice Svetlana Mihalj (9)Hranice Svetlana Mihalj (10)Hranice Svetlana Mihalj (11)Hranice Svetlana Mihalj (12)