Intervention into reality

Nenad Veličković

On the Periphery Art of Asim Đelilović

For the past fifteen years the works of Asim Đelilović have represented a continuous sequence of poignant observations on the state of contemporary man in an alienated world. Even though his life and work has been linked to Sarajevo during that time, his themes are universal. For him, art is not a refuge from reality, marked with the crisis in democracy and consumerism as an alternative to freedom, but an instrument of resistance to the managers of that new and increasingly inhuman world. 
Hence, his opus is, for the most part, a variation of a clear engagement without greater experiments in form, defined mostly by its minimalism and clarity of its message. Even when he is clearly dedicated to the material (especially in the cycles on the themes: On human hearts and Portraits) the clarity of intention and idea of the message remain the first and main goals of his artistic venture.

After decade and a half, most of his installations (or should one say interventions into objects?!) are available on posters and photographs. In some other case, it would present an obstacle to the full appreciation of the work of art. However, Đelilović’s concept does not mystify its importance. If given a choice, he would choose an abstracted visitor over an approving critic.

Play and humor pervade regardless of the technique and the material. Humor is the greatest asset of rationality, and it is an ally that Đelilović counts on in his communication with people. Sometimes laughter is caused by mere resemblance, as between a pineapple and a grenade, or a bullet and an ampoule with medicine, or a word pun (The war is over rom-pom pon), but more often the comic effect is achieved by confronting carefully elected objects (first aid kit filled with profiteer commodities) or a photography (diptych with Tito). Nevertheless, his “handmade works” are the best, the ones where the artist’s hand has prepared the ground, such as the nest made from barbed wire with two kinder eggs in it, or the “cork” on a green water melon cut out in the form of a five-pointed star. The five-pointed star is, together with the logo of coca-cola, the most frequent symbol in Đelilović’s opus; the red colour connecting the two ideological opposites is used by the artists to show the illusion of their contrariness. In his view, there is no real difference between what used to be called the East and the West; on both sides one is not free, since there is no real alternative. America is not the land of freedom. On the contrary, it is a bird of prey under whose symbol, the griffon eagle, a nightingale can survive only in the cage. Its flag, fluttering over the history of the 20th century, supposedly victorio-usly spreading democratic values, is sewn by the artist’s intervention into ordinary bed linen, which renders its self-proclaimed moral superiority unrealistic.

The American dream is a dream of security, cleanliness and warmth in the dimensions of the flag. Cynicism is not a frequent gesture and guest in the attitudes and thoughts of Asim Đelilović, but when it comes to Uncle Sam it features more as a rule than an exception. The resigned artist reminds us of the past of that free na(rra)tion by putting a coca-cola in the hand of an Indian, by turning the point of a gun at an arrow, implying, in the context of the genocide of the Continent’s indigenous population, that the American president remains- a gunman. Đelilović is an equally austere judge of the ideology of the country he grew up in. Two archive photos with the same motive, a hunter with his leg on the dead animal, by the artist’s intervention confront Göring and Tito, and at the same time confront Tito’s admirers with the question: what is the connection between these two politicians? Caught in the crime over innocent victim, in the manner of Danilo Kiš, in the sport which is not a sport from the perspective of the animal, titoism has to answer for the cult of personality, Bleiburg, Goli otok, red bourgeoisie...

Critical of every ideology (which he believes to be alienated consciousness), Đelilović does not bypass religion. The installation, which represents a kind of homage to Magritte (the half-lowered shutter on a window behind which there is a wall), consists of two parts –a picture of a closed door in the middle of the sky, and shoes scattered below the picture – on the floor of the gallery. The two parts bring together two motives: mass graves (implied by the scattered shoes) and prayer (shoes left in front of the door of the mosque). Is religion more valuable than human life and are the doors of the mosque the gates of heaven? The author’s ironic answer is no. Wasting no time on proving the obvious (genocide in Srebrenica), the artist questions the ideological (in this case religious) misuse of the victims.

Consumerism is also a target of Đelilović’s artistic and social engagement. Apart from the already mentioned coca-cola, pharmaceutical industry is also in the focus of his criticism. One of his most effective interventions into objects is the famous Gautier’s perfume bottle in the shape of a female torso, which Đelilović fills with different medicines.

Life on prescription drugs, temporary life, life on a loan, life that is little but controlled illness that is the life of the contemporary man, scared, blackmailed and stultified. There is no remedy for this: even Đelilović’s profession, product design (written on the giant box of medicines in a shopping cart) is harnessed in the global annulment of humanity. Hence the empty picture frames, hanged on a butcher’s hook like legs of beef. Similarly, items taken out of and placed in front of a chest box serve as a replacement for life and the deceased. Is that all that is left after us, are those pieces of paper and trinkets our only remains? Is the artist a necrophiliac? Or are there values that exist outside the material world that the art has to discover and defend? Đelilović’s work is committed to the latter.

In that sense, the triptych Leaders (from Instruments) is arguably the best artistic achievement in this collection, summarizing the poetics of Asim Đelilović in the best possible way. Pope Woytila, Bush Jr. and Mick Jagger, one next to the other, all three with microphone and a fist splitting the air, lined up as in an animated sequence, in which the microphone rises and the fist lowers, become one: an image of the master of the world, who governs by force, religion and leisure. But not art which laughs at him, taking off his mask, the art whose excellent representative in our time is Asim Đelilović.