I first encountered Jasa’s work in the bathrooms of the Modern Galerija, although I didn’t know it at the time. What I thought was simply a “cool” decorating scheme in Ljubljana’s Modern Art Museum turned out to be the remains of an interactive installation that the artist Jasa created for an exhibition opening, which involved a party in the toilets, complete with champagne and a deejay, a VIP section, and a pillow fight. When I visited, the pillows were gone, but the graffiti remained.
Before my meeting with the artist, I tried to Google him, but his use of only his first name as his artistic name thwarts any effort to get to know the artist by traditional means. It was only later, after discovering his last name, that I was able to find his website. Like many artists in Ljubljana (for example, Janez Jansa, Janez Jansa or Baron von Reichenbach), the use of a pseudonym contributes to his anonymity, which, I believe, is also part of the project.
The artist known as Jasa has also taken on the guise of different characters. For example, Mr. Tiger, who roamed the streets of Sarajevo in a red body suit with giant ears (the better to listen to you, my dear) and an emblem on his chest, in the manner of a super hero. In fact, his only super power is the ability to listen to people, and in post-war Bosnia, the artist found that this skill was much needed. He said that he became “like a human trash can” for peoples’ stories and problems. Not wanting to pretend he understood the situation, the only thing he felt he could give to his fellow Yugoslav brethren was “pure communication.”
But the artist has other alter-egos, not all of them so pleasant. At an exhibition opening in Venice, he disguised himself as a fat smelly intruder, cloaked in a fat suit. Visitors to the exhibition, not understanding why he was there, ignored him, until he locked them in to the gallery. He described his intervention as turning the situation on its head – whereas first his character was excluded, he later came to be in control of the situation.
This idea of turning things on their head is part of Jasa’s “punk” strategy, specifically regarding exhibition openings. He takes the audience’s expectations of a particular situation, and thwarts them, stirring things up in order to provoke an unexpected response. His is the typical avant-garde strategy, although he also draws on other experiences, for example the concert atmosphere, which is an all-encompassing experience that takes the room from “point zero to catharsis.”
In his exhibition, Radikal Chic (2007), the artist created a number of situations and installations that radicalized artistic presentation. For example, for the first 30 minutes of the opening, the gallery doors remained closed, with loud music blasting from the interior. Eventually, the doors opened, but a burly bodyguard prevented people from entering. Inside the exhibition, there was a table strewn with artificial food, which looked like a variety of human waste products, such as excrement and vomit, in addition to actual rotting food. Throughout the opening, an actor circulated the room, being rude to the guests, and sounds of singing and farting emanated from a sculpture of plastic trash bags. Indeed, it was the opposite of a traditional opening in every way – with not only no food, but disgusting non-food, with not only an unwelcoming atmosphere, but an antagonistic one. Despite these annoyances, the gallery itself was filled with bright, colorful objects that belied the negative reception.
Jasa is dedicated to not giving the audience what it wants, but perhaps, in doing so, he provides them with what they, as postmodern gallery-goers, need.