Braverman Gallery is pleased to present a selection of works by Serbian artist Biljana Djurdjević on view in the gallery’s online viewing room through February 15th, 2020.
Since the 1990s Biljana Djurdjević has developed a salient body of work that investigates the insidious aspects of the contemporary collective experience. Social structures, violence, alienation, anxiety and aggression are the underlying themes which inform the artist's work across all media. Inspired by the work of European Old Masters and heavily leaning on classical painting techniques, Djurdjević creates dense and haunting compositions that are evocative and unsettling at once.
Djurdjević’s paintings are characterized by the placement of human figures within sterile, claustrophobic interiors or amid teeming landscapes of forests and moors. Compressed into tightly packed compositions of vivid colors and intense brush strokes, the humans and their surroundings embody the sinister nature of the social spaces we occupy. In her work, Djurdjević reflects on the radically changed social sphere and the unobtrusive tensions that constitute the contemporary experience. Presenting a unique perspective on the inconspicuous violence that underlines our daily lives, Djurdjević intensely draws the viewer into her work, leading to an unparalleled experience of attraction and recoil.
Passion, 2005oil on canvas, 220 X 90 cm / 86 1/2 X 35 1/2 in
Here, a young girl holding a baby-doll is depicted lying vertically on a black and white tile floor, an expression of horror on her face. Her childish garments and disheveled socks suggest her tender age. This sterile and alienated space brims with ominous and sinister evocations, bringing forth subject matter that is almost unpalatable. Drawing inspiration from multiple sources, predominantly the history of art, ״Passion״ explicitly references Ford Madox Brown’s 1851 painting "Take your Son, Sir!", which in itself emulates traditional Madonna and child scenes.
A classic composition in Djurdjević's oeuvre, this exquisite painting evokes the brutality in everyday life and how the different forms of power plays inform our daily living.
Dark is the Forest , 2010/2012oil on canvas, 255 x 905 cm / 80 11/16 X 51 1q8 in.
An exceptional, large-scale polyptych, "Dark is the Forest" is one of Djurdjević's major works to date. This work, consisting of 5 large panels, is largely informed by 15th century incunabula that deal with philosophy and human relationships. The two exterior panels present human figures—a male and female—painted from a birds-eye view perspective. Wearing nothing but white linen underpants, each figure is lying on a bed covered with leaves.
The three middle panels depict woodland scenery devoid of human presence. The forest, in all its beauty and trepidation, is subject matter rich in associations from fairytales, to horror stories, from the supernatural to the subconscious. It is a metaphor for uncontrollable and irrational fear, which serves as a reminder that, even if not explicit, violence is timeless and ever present. The unique combination of the human form and wild landscape is analogous to the overwhelming, subliminal sense of fear we harbor within us. The scale of the work immerses the viewer in its environment, creating an illusion of density while producing an aura of the unattainable.
Moor, 2010oil on canvas, 185 X 105 cm / 73 X 41 1/8 in
Djurdjević creates realistic portrayals of surreal, unearthly scenes through which she examines the tension that exists in the everyday. In "Moor" (2010) two young girls are lying on their backs in the thicket of a moor, their young bodies slightly submerged in water and intertwining with the surrounding vegetation. Their gaze, empty and dark—as if looking into the abyss—is frontally directed towards the viewer. This striking image is an excellent example of the ways in which Djurdjević’s unique lexicon expresses the inexpressible and confronts the veiled intricacies of the collective subconscious. Using formal tools of classical painting to express the tensions in contemporary society, and with multiple references to the history of Western Art, "Moor" offers a clever analysis of human nature. In that violence is implied through artistic tools, the work suggests a new point of view- that of the perpetrator rather than the victim.
Hotbed, 2010oil on canvas, 70X190 cm / 27 1/2 X 74 3/4 in.
For more than 15 years Biljana Djurdjević has been creating works characterized by a narrative realism that is both dramatic and ruthless. Her 2010 oil painting "Hotbed" depicts a young girl lying in a moor, its waters and flora gently surrounding her still body. Her white pleated school skirt and light top, brush her porcelain-like skin and contrast with her bright red shoes and the vivid greens of the natural surroundings. Splayed on her back with her hands spread out sideways, the girl lies motionless, her face devoid of any expression. The stillness of her body and her empty gaze elicit speculations on what has just occurred. This enticing and enigmatic painting evokes the works of Pre-Raphaelite painters, with a particular visual reference to John Everett Millais’ iconic painting "Ophelia" from 1851-1852. Derived from pure emotion, the artist creates an eerie effect in which victim and perpetrator are rendered interchangeable and as one and the same.
School Girl, 2005oil on canvas, 150 X 90 cm / 59 X 35 1/2 X 3/4 in
In this austere oil painting Djurdjević explores the threshold between youth and adulthood, as it relates to the thin line that runs between politics and aesthetics. The vertical canvas presents a concentrated and confined composition, in which a young girl with pigtails is seated at the center of the picture plane on a metal bar stool, a wall of monochromatic ceramic tiles behind her. Her small black eyes and emotionless expression, together with the uneasiness of her arms and hands radiate an inner turbulence gone quiet, an unspoken trauma that is perhaps too immense for words. Her crumpled pleated school-skirt and disheveled red shirt correspond with her shiny red shoes, creating a sharp contrast to the cool colors of the tiles and the cold metal stool. Using few formal means Djurdjević creates a tight and dense composition that investigates the fragility of female youth within pre-ordered structures of violence.
Green Room, 2006Oil on canvas, 170X217 cm / 31 1/8 X 46 X 11 1/4 in.
In "Green Room" three little girls in white school skirts and under shirts are seated frontally on a row of metal bar stools. Their facial features uncannily similar—as if replicated from one another. Their small black eyes stare forward, yet their empty gazes do not return that of the viewer. The decorative green and white background behind them and the patterned floor beneath bring forth a formal dialogue of color and shape while the overall composition invokes the fears and vulnerability of young life. This poignant painting alludes to the practice of ‘systematic examinations’, which was a prevalent, yet invasive, health check for children in the Balkans in the 1990s.
Rising, 2011oil on canvas, 250 X 130 cm / 80 1/4 X 51 1/6 in.
Biljana Djurdjević draws inspiration from a vast range of sources from philosophy, to literature to the history of Western Art. In "Rising" Djurdjević creates an enigmatic forest scene that refers both to the Pre-Raphaelites and to European folk tales. "Rising" brings forth questions on youth and its loss and on the failure of civilization to confront primal fears. In creating the sense that we are catching a moment frozen in time, Djurdjević adds a dramatic charge to the work, thrusting us into the undertone of violence that is so prevalent in our daily life.
Gluttony-Crucifixion, 2004oil on canvas, 251 X 162 cm/ 64 X 99 X 1 1/2 in.
Inspired by Christian iconography and the work of European Old Masters, "Gluttony-Crucifixion" (2004) is a classic example for Djurdjević’s practice. In this large scale painting the artist employs the formal tools of painting in order to immerse the viewer in the work and leave her gridlocked in the subject matter. Using a distorting shortened perspective, she constructs a picture plane that is teeming with emotion. Here a full-bodied, middle-aged woman in her dressing gown is strapped to a red cross by black leather straps. Silver forks are bolted into her wrists, echoing the nails used to secure Christ's body to the cross. The stark contrasts between the drama of the crucifixion and the decorative background add another layer to the unbearable tension the viewer is swept into.
The title of the work, "Gluttony-Crucifixion", refers to one of Christianity’s seven deadly sins- gluttony-- which is humorously accentuated by the women’s body build and the forks and meat hooks featured in the painting.
The figure of the woman, and in particular her discombobulated facial expression are deeply inspired by the work of dutch painter Hans Memling. Morphing and mutating the classical approach to crucifixion scenes, Djurdjević reveals the ruthlessness of civil society. Creating a dense and turbulent composition she succeeds to pack incredible emotional intensity and undeniable physical pain within a constricted picture plane.
Far Away From Home, 2006Oil on canvas, 123 X 88 cm / 48 3/8 X 34 5/8
A young girl in a bright yellow striped shirt and white linen underwear stands with her face against a blue tile wall. Her hands are placed against the wall, body muscles clenched, flesh red and plump. The light blue tiles are densely arranged, their continuous rhythm interrupted solely by a line of darker blue tiles, which, together with the girl's body create a cross-like formation.
Here Djurdjević creates a sterile yet haunting composition that alludes to the violence and isolation of contemporary life. The girl’s body language assumes the classic posture of a victim—arms raised as in surrender—but as with much of the artist’s work, our preconceived notions of victim and perpetrator are overthrown in favor of larger ethical and aesthetic questions.
Synchronized Swimming, 2008oil on canvas, 208 X 380 cm / 81 7/8 X 145 5/8 in.
In "Synchronized Swimming" Biljana Djurdjević continues to explore trauma through the prism of youth and its fragility. Here a group of young girls are lying together on the floor of an empty swimming pool, their bodies arranged in a crown-like formation. Autumn leaves are scattered organically around the pool, functioning as a memento-mori of sorts. This somber and curious scene enfolds in a multitude of layers that slowly unravel in front of the viewer. The adolescent girls embody the concept of youth, the fears and horrors it entails, and the many ways in which we navigate it within our social order of aggression.
Biljana Djurdjevic (b. 1973, Belgrade, Serbia) is an artist practicing mainly in painting, animation works, and sound works. Djurdjevic holds an MA from the Faculty of Fine Arts in Belgrade, Serbia, and a PhD in Fine Arts from the Faculty of Fine Arts in Belgrade, Serbia. She was also a guest lecturer at Parsons the New School for Design from 2010 to 2011.
While in earlier years Djurdjevic concentrated mainly on painting, she has recently begun developing her large-scale paintings into video animations, which also incorporate sounds.
Djurdjevic portrays realistically what seems as fabricated, unrealistic scenes, managing to examine the tension existing in the everyday. The subject might be a collective experience or a very subjective standpoint; all are based in harsh surroundings – an alienated, claustrophobic interior or a dense exterior. The correlating animation develops these themes, allowing her to deviate from the still depiction and deepen the effect on its viewer.
Selected solo shows include: Museet Moderna (2006, Stockholm), Galerie Davide Gallo (2006 Berlin), Gallery KIBLA (2009, Slovenia), Haifa Museum of Art (2009, Haifa), Cultural Center Belgrade (2010, Serbia), Museum of Contemporary Art (2013, Belgrade), Braverman Gallery (2015, Tel Aviv) and Goethe Institute (2017, Belgrade). Examples of her recent work include ‘The Dark Forest’ (2012) and ‘Instrument of Activity’ (2015).
Selected group exhibitions include: Palazzo delle Arti Napoli (2006, Naples), Sonoma Valley Museum of Art (2006, San Francisco), Ascona Museum of Modern Art (2007, Ascona), Musée d’art moderne Saint-Étienne Métropole (2009, Saint-Étienne), Museum of Contemporary Art (2009, Klagenfurt), Austrian Cultural Forum (2010, New York), Hagaur Museum (2010, Oslo), Frissiras Museum (2010, Athens), ESSL Collection Museum (2013, Austria), and Belgrade City Museum (2016, Belgrade).
Djurdjevic was awarded the Beijing Biennale 2nd prize in 2008 and the “Politika” prize for Best Exhibition in Serbia in 2013.