Selena Vicković

April 11, 2019 | ID

Selena Vicković

Selena Vicković’s painting, in regard to formal transformation, has gone from her early explorative work in the 1980s, where she focused on elements and technique: shape, the expressiveness of colours, their contrasts and bold brushwork, to the period (during the 1990s) where symbolic and, sometimes, emblematic content of the painting took primacy over the exploration of form now used to create the atmosphere of the scenery, to her mature artworks after the 2000s when she attained the clarity and simplicity of form and thematic wholeness.

Still, there is a certain common denominator that connects all these periods making them, not only stylistically recognizable, but also unmistakably evocative of a particular sentiment, despite the stylistic and thematic shifts. It appears that this common denominator, the fundamental feature of her artwork, is made of something almost intangible, something we primarily perceive as an “atmosphere”. We see it materialized in a rough, yet, gentle drawing; in the use of bright reds, blues and greens, and her necessity for constant tonal variations (even on the monochromatic surfaces); in the discontinuous, brisk brushwork and always a certain kind of expressiveness — be it the bright contrasts or disturbing scenes. Also, the choice of subjects in her paintings was affected by the changes of context: during the period of war in the 1990s, her work was characterized by feelings of discomfort, fear, anxiety worry and nostalgia (this becomes apparent in the series of work where the motif of target is painted on a man’s head and over the house). The birth of her child was also followed by a thematic shift in her artworks, now focusing on games, toys, family portraits and landscapes dedicated to her son. But, even when she paints for her child and chooses toys for the topic, the scenery does not provoke the feeling of comfort and joy, nor they are cheerful, naive or childlike. By illustrating mutilated body parts of either people or toys, eyes with no pupils, or simply by the choice of colour or the drawing itself, she points to the delicacy of children’s emotional states, the fragility of the constructs and notions we have about the world (and ourselves), as well as the fragility of form, which she uses to emphasize transience, ephemerality and aging.

There is something rather melancholic in her paintings: as if she is repeatedly evoking the memories of toys from our childhood in order to elicit nostalgia, yet not entirely so, as feeling nostalgic about a traumatic childhood would be contradictory. Ambivalence is, therefore, one of the essential features of her work. Drawings and paintings provoke both empathy and contradictory feelings: simultaneous tenderness and sadness but fear as well. Undefined and ambiguous scenes, characters and contexts, evoke the feeling of mild discomfort every time we look at her artworks. It is not only form that creates the impression of physical, emotional and mental frailness but also a peculiar blend of incongruous motifs within one painting: in the painting Warrior Baby (2009) we see a baby riding a one-eyed teddy bear and holding a large metal knife in his/her hand; in the series of work titled Crying Game a girl’s head is placed next to a gun, and, even though the context of the scenery is quite associative, it is not entirely understandable.

Brilliantly conceived by the artist herself, the title of the series of work Crying Game1 sums up the feelings triggered by her art, as well as the message it sends. On one occasion, the artist described the feeling as “the moment when a child is on a thin line between exaltation and despair....the feeling of something, simultaneously gentle and cruel, funny and scary, comforting and disturbing ...the moment of balancing between two extremities... comparable to walking on a tightrope.” It looks as if she is using her art to explain the cruelty of the world to a child, as well as to remind the adults of children’s fragility, instability and unpredictability that we all carry.

Speaking of fragility, it is interesting to analyse how the female body is presented in her art. It appears that its treatment significantly changed from her early artworks to the mature ones. The subject of her artwork from the 1980s is not only the female body, but also feminity/femininity ¬ through the series In Vogue – which was an important part of her artistic exploration. During 1986 and 1987 she created a series of work where the female body is illustrated as hefty and voluminous, but not generic; while some presented women who seem to be enjoying their lavishly plump bodies, the others are scared, hiding and cowering. This is why these pieces of art realistically point to the complexity of a woman’s attitude towards her body, its size, weight, expression, sexuality, attractiveness and appearance.

In the 1990s, the series of work Nameless carries the title that suggests disrespectful treatment of women’s identities, personalities, individualities and cruelty: women hiding their eyes and faces, holding their foreheads worriedly, pressing their cheeks, crying, scarred and desperate. Bearing in mind that the art pieces were created in the period between 1994 and 1996, facial expressions of these female characters can be linked to the psychological states of women in the time of war, their feelings of sorrow, loss, worry, traumas of suffered violence and hopelessness.

In her latest work, the female bodies, usually young girls’, are materialized in toys. And yet, despite this objectification, it seems as if they still keep their corporeality; when observing them, we cannot be quite sure whether they are characters, objects or persons. The girls/women express their emotional states, show motility and possess expressive capacities of their bodies, characters and gestures. The artist, yet again, creates the impression of confusion and discomfort, using ambiguity and ambivalence: by erasing the clear disambiguation between an object and a person, she points to the ubiquitous objectification and commodification of both women’s and all other bodies in visual culture.

After a decade of working and exhibiting outside Serbia, Selena Vickovic is presenting her art to the Belgrade audience in her solo show at the November Gallery. The selected paintings and drawings belong to the latest phase of her work that bears the maturity of the artistic expression acquired by years-long painterly experience and a curious fascination with motifs of toys and games. Carefully collecting toys from both her and her family members’ childhood, by purchasing them at various flea markets, the artist creates her personal little cabinet of rarities. In these old, once used, broken, dysfunctional, worn out toys, she finds fragments of other people’s memories and, through the reinterpretation of these fragments, gives them a new meaning with every new artwork she creates. The world of her toys is far from idealization of childhood and romantic nostalgia for good, old days. Quite the contrary, the artist reminds us of the ambivalent feelings that can be found in any memory of any time, and employs defamiliarization of her presentations to emphasize the fragility of memory and perception.

Ana Simona Zelenović

1 The original title “Igračka-plačka” refers to a dangerous, rough game that may easily end up in tears. The most similar phrase to this term in English language is “It’s all fun and games until someone loses an eye.”

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