Visual codification of reality

Branka Vujanović

On the Periphery Art of Asim Đelilović

A multilayered notion of periphery art has been used by Asim Đelilović to designate his artistic activity since the mid 1990s. The layers of hierarchical positions (“high” art and popular art) and territorial positions (center – periphery, Western culture – East European culture, national – international) are accompanied by the problem of being engaged in the field of art that is moved to the periphery in relation to our daily-political and economic reality. From such a position of “periphery” artist, Asim Đelilović carries out his relentless visual critique of both local and regional transitional post-Yugoslav situation (cycles titled After Paradise and War Lords) as well as of global “post-ideological” era of liberal capitalism (cycles Cocacolanization and Behind Ideology). Ideology is not only a specific doctrine or a system of illusi-ons about the real conditions of life (Althusser) but also a system of everyday practices or habits that directs subjects’ self-realization (Bourdieu). Đelilović focuses attention upon the visual codification of the everyday in order to point to its cultural, economic, religious, and medial role in shaping the mentality of contemporary man. At the border between high art and design, the principles of Pop Art in this case serve as means for disclosing the broken pro­mises of prosperity, while the advertising strate­gies are put in the service of “demythologisation of contemporary iconic culture [...] This type of contemporary art becomes documentary, and the artist is a documentarist of the world that passes by” (Besim Spahić, introductory text to the exhibition of A. Đelilović, Cankarjev dom, Ljublja­na, October 23rd, 2003).

Asim Đelilović documents how ideology functions further in “post-ideological” era in the form of consumerist propaganda that swallows cultural, political, and religious value systems. However, the artist does not reduce his work to disclosing post-ideological myths. His interest goes to the universal questions of humanity, questions of heart and mind, which add another layer of meaning to his notion of “periphery art.” Particularly telling in this regard is the series of works titled Little Story on Peoples Hearts (2002-2005) in which the mane means of expression are visualized and materia­lized poetic metaphors: there are hearts of light, earth and flowers; there are wooden hearts with traces of burning; there are hearts of stone covered by moss and hearts eaten by corrosion. This Story is followed by the series of Portraits (2009) in which the pattern-portrait goes through transformation depending on the background it leans on: from leaves to waves. Digital print “Closed Mind” (2011) is also a visualized poetic metaphor with universal meaning.

Although Đelilović’s visual critique is conducted with a characteristic humor, it is also imbued with bitterness that cannot be ignored. The visuality of these bitter, humoristic, and associative works is based in the encounter of contradictory associati-ons, and the confrontation of the phenomena and their reverse meanings. However, visual organiza-tion is therein grounded in the principle “nothing in excess.” According to this principle, in contrast to Dadaistic or Surrealistic visual manifests, there is nothing accidental, saturated, chaotic or phanta-stic. Even garbage is carefully arranged and every juxtaposition thoughtfully planned: the arrange-ment of waste around “The Man of the 20th Centu-ry” or on the “Map of the World”; chocolate eggs Kinder-Surprise in the nest of barbed-wire (“Sarajevo Surprise”); the First Aid box in which the grenades, boxes of Marllboro cigarettes and cans of Coca-Cola are placed; glass bottles of Coca-Cola in objects and installations; visual similarity in form of the grenade and pineapple in the photo-work “North-South”; steel grilles as real-experiential counterpoint to the abstract two-dimensionality of American flag as a symbol of “American Freedom”...

In its triple appearance (as text, as visual cod and as materialized metaphor), the work of Asim Đelilović enters into the expanded field of visuality that in contrast to “pure visuality” of high modernist formalism and sometimes depoliticized visuality of Pop Art becomes a space for questioning the social and cultural mechanisms of remembrance, difference, and distribution of meanings, but also a space for the affirmation of universal values of open heart and open mind. Visual codification of reality is one of the most important mode of production of cultural values and our ideas about what is worth seeing and why it is worth seeing. Conceptual richness and critical engagement of Asim Đelilović’s works go beyond his primary vocation of product designer. They show suggestively the complexity and functioning of the image in the process of creating and shaping the ideological imperatives, as well as the critical power of artistic “image-text” that brings about the concurrence of ethics and aesthetics.