BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead Quays, South Shore Road, Gateshead, NE8 3BA

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David Maljkovic: Sources in the Air
15 March - 30 June 2013
Review by Chloe Reith

For Croatian artist David Maljkovic, methods of display and the treatment of the exhibition space are central concerns. Considering the architectural configuration of the space a ‘language’ through which to frame, contextualise and re-read the work, Maljkovic manoeuvres his films, sculptures, collages, paintings and installations like props in service of the larger mise en scène. For the artist, ‘Sources in the Air’ - an overview of his practice from the past decade - represents not a collection of works, but a new work in itself.

Some suspicion of such a highly authored approach may be wise, however this treatment produces a complex yet unified vision leading the viewer on an incisively choreographed journey through compelling, multi-layered scenarios. This dramatic arrangement provides a stage for the artist to re-present his backwards-looking explorations into modernist aesthetics and utopian ideologies; history and Cold War politics; collective memory; recollection; and meaning and its loss.

Maljkovic’s direct intervention in the presentation and reception of his work is realised in a series of rooms within rooms, which invert received conventions of display, play with concealment and revelation, and develop an expertly paced narrative. Immediately upon entering the space one finds oneself once again outside a gallery, with high walls blocking all visible access. Encased in vitrines, projectors flank this enclosure, and with their backs to the viewer and their lenses pointing inwards, indicate a space within. This unexpected deferral, apprehending immediate contact with the artwork, builds tension and heightens awareness of this unforeseen space with its half-light and soundtrack of whirring 16mm film reels. With little sense of what lies beyond, this skilfully staged opening movement cultivates a sense of furtive discovery.

Inside the main room, a series of interrelated set pieces and poised vignettes unfold. Positioned at the threshold, a large vitrine lies empty, with abstract canvases hung around its sides (‘Sources in the Air’, 2011). Smaller vitrines, scattered around, hold undulating metallic forms. Nearby, a large sculpture resembling organic geological matter emanates bass tones (‘Lost Pavillion’, 2008), and emphasised by stark spotlighting, a silver tarpaulin is laid out on the floor as if part of some experiment (‘After the Fair’, 2009). Now revealed, the multiple films projected from outside onto floating screens and raw constructivist viewing structures, punctuate the room with dynamism and movement.

On this stage, Maljkovic continues to construct his theatre of interruptions, erecting barriers and allowing revelation when there is nothing to see. The different elements of ‘Temporary Projections’ (2011) punctuate the scene with architectural contradictions. Occupying the central space is another room within a room, this time inaccessible, yet its bare contents is brightly lit. Said to be an artist’s studio, it more closely resembles an interrogation chamber. Across the gallery a long curtain is drawn, screening whatever lies behind, and in the far corner a black photographer’s umbrella faces the wall, simultaneously illuminating and obscuring a cluster of small works. This totalising scenography creates a vague, science fiction aesthetic endlessly suggestive of possible narratives: could this be the site of a covert lab for scientific experimentation, the residence of a secretive corporation, a place of indoctrination or interrogation, or perhaps even a totalitarian regime’

Maljkovic’s silvery films, populating the space like archaic visions of the future, continue to propagate this appealing otherworldly aesthetic. Like his sculptures and installations, these films, many of which are documentary in nature, take their starting point from iconic architectural sites. Seen through this filter of memory and nostalgia, Maljkovic confronts ‘exhausted forms’, failed utopian ideals and abandonment. ‘Scenes of New Heritage’, 2004-06 is set in 2045 against the now dilapidated metallic structure of the Petrova Gora memorial, once conceived as an embodiment of progressive ideals. In this world however, it has lost all meaning for contemporary society. Similarly, ‘Out of Projection’ (2009) presents a wooded scene where an elderly group gathers silently around futuristic vehicles. Documented at the Peugeot headquarters in France, this is a truthful portrayal of an encounter between former employees and the experimental prototypes they helped create, but in Maljkovic’s hands it adopts the mysterious air of an encounter with a cultish society.

Throughout ‘Sources in the Air’, Maljkovic reinterprets his own artistic oeuvre in the same manner that he deconstructs cultural history in his individual works. In doing so, he successfully emphasizes a kind of magical realism in his practice, although at times a little too much precedence is given over to aesthetic form and architectural arrangement, sacrificing the works’ individual power for the seductive appeal of the whole.

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