A large part of this body of work was done during my master studies at the National School of Fine Arts in Paris (École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts) in 2015, in the studio of a French painter and professor Philippe Cognée, and it was exhibited the same year in the Cultural Center of Serbia in Paris. The paintings from this series became a part of the permanent set design for a Serbian TV show called Agape, in 2016.
The visual structure of these paintings borrows ornaments from Serbian traditional tapestry, which is an evolutionary stage of oriental tapestry. My childhood memories are filled with woven ornaments. They can be related to almost anything: concepts of life, death and beauty; feelings of mystery, fear and joy. What lacks is the original meaning which would enable better understanding of the Serbian traditional tapestries. The interpretations of their content have definitely changed over time, which was also the case with Slavic Pagan divinities, described in Sreten Petrovic’s theory of the revival of the old faith in the medieval period.
The composition of visual elements in the old tapestries might suggest that we are witnessing an event, ritual, and probably a story. Every story follows a certain system. The repetition shows temporality, the variations show the development of events, and the spatial positioning of a certain motif could imply the importance of a particular event within the narrative.
There is no connection between the visual structure and the concept of this series, aside from both being centuries old. The name of this series is a reference to an old Serbian expression “Hvatam Zjale”. The expression translates to “I’m chasing Zjale”, which means “I’m being idle” and it sounds as if the person saying it is busy trying to “catch” something.
The word “zjala” is archaic. It means: a hole, nothingness, emptiness, abyss, void and mouth cavity. It may also be related to Serbian verbs: “zevati”- to yawn, or “zijati/zjati” - to (idly) stare (with your mouth open) at nothing.
It is a centuries old gag of an unknown prankster who found a way to make “doing nothing” sound like hard work by saying “I’m chasing the void” - “I’m idly staring at nothing”.
Now we get to the part where I try to explain why I gave this name to these images.
The chances of grasping the original meaning of the old ornaments through the act of painting are equal to those of seizing the void. Nevertheless, that is how I tried to justify my artistic effort when my colleagues at ENSBA, Paris, asked me “Why are you spray-painting old ornaments in 2014?”. I was being smug: “My artistic effort might unlock some forgotten knowledge about my ancestors, some information which we all carry buried in our unconscious”.
This strategy is borrowed from the bag of contemporary artist’s tricks. It perverts the simple truth of “nothing worth doing is ever easy“, by relying on the fact that there is nothing harder than chasing the impossible. That further implies that “unattainable goal brings absolute value”, doesn’t it? Particularly vain and insecure artists hide behind the size of their “cross”. Even in art, it is absurd to aim at a target you are bound to miss.
Realizing my own deceitfulness, I named these paintings Zjale (“holes”, “voids”). It became a joke at my own expense, at my own vanity.