Welcome to Shady Laguna!, Marija Avramovic and Sam Twidale

February 08, 2019 | Ana Simona

Welcome to Shady Laguna! 

You are in an unknown summer resort, in real-time, or closer to the distant future. Activities here are unpredictable and utopias are flexible. 

The paintings and installations lead you to a mysterious location where you will find traces of a recent wild party, but not the guests. Only Ada and Milica are there, who, living with the help of artificial intelligence in a virtual world in real-time, and independently make their own decisions. 

Does reality matter if we feel nostalgic about the things we have never experienced in real life? 

This introduction is written at the entrance of November Gallery by two multimedia artists Marija Avramovic and Sam Twidale whose works are exhibited in the gallery from the 1st of February till the 20th of March. With those words, Avramovic and Twidale are describing to visitors their universe made off fictional characters and virtual spaces that exist only as a result of artificial intelligence. Virtual characters, like Lazaret, are created ‘on the ruins of postmodernism’ as Lazar Trpkovic notes in his essay specially written for this exhibition on request of artists. In two artworks they created together - animation in real-time NonPlayable - AfterParty (2019) and animation on screens Lazaret (2019), Marija Avramovic and Sam Twidele introduce virtual characters that are alone, isolated, deprived of any sign of emotion, with programmed self-referential identity. These characters have no social interactions with others, use no language, and express no feelings - they look like humans only because they still have a human body shape. The cyborg identity emerged probably as an escape in the parallel programmable reality - post-conflict and post-inequality reality, created as a much-needed sanctuary from society. 

The issue of lines between reality and fiction (regarding identities, relationships, emotions etc.) is omnipresent in art, we can even say it is there since forever - art IS actually posing that question all over again - but theoretically, it is problematized from the roots again by ‘postmodern state’. Since the possibility that everything is perfectly real and completely imaginary in the same time is finally allowed, it is plausible to freely rethink or create fictional reality (which stopped being a contradiction) without any need to be mimetic in artworks. Contemporary artists do exactly that - having in mind combining visual arts with engineering in creating animated videos, movies or games - visual arts became ‘expanded field’ of reality where everything is possible. As artists themselves say - Activities are here unpredictable and utopias flexible. 

While watching exhibited artworks one could easily recall Donna Haraway’s theory and her feminist postmodernist Cyborg Manifesto (1985) in which all identities are fluid and fictional (or her more recent books Staying with the Trouble and Manifestly Haraway, both from 2016). Identities and spaces that Haraway is talking about became reality in contemporary society - we all create and live fictional identities through social networks - display became our mirror, we became our own creations by which we live our real selves. Art with cyborgs as protagonists offers various possibilities of thinking about utopias and parallel universes that connect all it ‘users’ in virtual space by escapism and empathy it causes. Natasa Teofilovic, a multimedia Serbian artist, also covers these topics in her artworks but with a more personal approach, and Ivana Basic, multimedia artist from Belgrade that lives and works in London, poses similar questions through the prism of biopolitics. Actually of fictional identities and rethinking utopias through art may be the attempt of young artists to give their own visions and suggestions of possible worlds after the fail of all utopist ideologies and after the disappointment in identity politics. Or as Luka Trpkovic says - Humanism as sophism. Political correctness as totalitarianism. 

A series of artworks by Marija Avramovic is called After Party - and we are all very familiar with the feeling of ‘After’ when all borders are blurred, all memories questionable, events from the last night confusing and feeling of indifference overwhelming. The world of Marija Avramovic is the world of ‘Afters’ and ‘After Afters’, the world of swimming pools and plants with big leaves, that even at the first glance provokes the desire to be lost in thoughts and to melt all your strict identities. This sentiment caused by waves, shadows, mirroring surface of the water, creates an image of relaxation, peace and even indifference. We are all familiar with the practice of daydreaming after the party (or every day) about ourselves or anything at all, but idealizing for sure, creating a utopia without relying on reality or with a great dose of re-inventing memories. Marija’s canvases are, at least to us millennials, but I also think to the others, giving the notion of blessed escapism in our own sentiments opposed to reality in which there are many ‘afters’ but unfortunately not many swimming pools. Still, she doesn’t represent people, and her scenes are not real landscapes. With the stylization, that reveals her education in academic painting, she aestheticizes reality to fiction. Her paintings even sometimes reach the level of abstraction, very subtle and lyrical, but still with small reference to the world of objects. She is especially witty when it comes to titles - He thinks it is the ocean, but it is just a pool, I can always tell if adults feel like crying, Pool full of some liquor… 

Marija Avramović is the multimedia artist from Belgrade that lives and works in Paris, and Sam Twidale, coming from Hereford (UK) also lives and works in Paris. And while Marija finished Academy of Fine Arts in Belgrade, department for painting, and did her MA on Beaux-Arts de Paris, Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts de Nancy, Sam has more pragmatic artistic education - he collaborated with many digital artists and galleries as an audio-visual engineer and consultant. Even they have different starting points and artistic backgrounds, Marija’s openness to new media and researches in art and Sam’s delight for mixing technology, design, and arts brought them together, and their collaboration started in 2017. Their common notion is putting the narrative and profiling of characters as in movies and video games in artworks. Besides the fact that they are helping each other with their different methods, knowledge, and skills, their collaboration is enriched also by their similar approaches to art as a transdisciplinary field of research of human states and philosophical problems.

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