If I had to summarize Natalija Vujosevic’s work with one main idea, it would be the infusion of life and reality into the space of the gallery. It is a common trope of the avant-garde artist: to merge art and life. The Dada and Futurist artists tried this by including sounds and experiences of the real world in their art. Allan Kaprow attempted to make the line between art and life “fluid and indistinct” by including the audience in his Happenings. Natalija reverses the aim of art into life and brings life back into art. She achieves this in different ways: she introduces real life elements into the gallery space, for example wind, scent or sometimes actual human beings, involved in their own personal worlds in the space of the exhibition.
The strength of Natalija’s work, I think, is precisely this sensitivity to the senses. By introducing natural elements that speak to our senses, we respond on a visceral level – a manner of responding that we are more accustomed to. Because of its separation from life, often we might not know how to respond to an artwork, but our response to tactile and olfactory elements is instinctual.
One of the most overt of these “infusions” of life into art that Natalija told me about was a performance that she created for an exhibition at the Ars Aevi Exhibition Hall in Sarajevo. The theme of the exhibition was “Fluid Identity,” and the performance dealt with both issues both individually (fluidity and identity) and as a unit (fluid identity). She invited around 50 teenagers to subtly invade the gallery space. Lost in their own little worlds, they could be seen talking, listening to music, eating potato chips, etc. – doing the things that teenagers do. They were all dressed uniformly – in the uniform that could be seen to represent individuality: jeans, a t-shirt, sunglasses and Converse All-Stars. The t-shirts read “Joy Diversion” on them, a play on the name of British post-punk band Joy Division. While all of these elements represent what seems to be a unique “alternative” identity, in being alternative they have now become mainstream. The work presents this “identity” as a pre-packaged element that one can “download from the internet,” as Natalija says. It also demonstrates how fluid that identity can be – while the teenagers were all dressed the same, they were all involved in different activities that somehow made them unique. Finally, I think the work also represented the fluidity of the space between art and life; as these bodies were interwoven in the gallery space, among the artworks (and artworks themselves) they brought the viewer’s attention back to the everyday world and life outside of that artistic space.
In See You at the Line of the Horizon, from 2011, she uses industrial fans to bring the wind into the gallery, and shows us the effects of that wind with a video of tall field grass blowing in that wind. It is in our mind that we connect the tactile blowing of the fans with that which moves the grass, thus we, the viewer, are the conduit between inside and outside, between art world and real world.
The element of time is also present in her work. In In Case I Never Meet you Again (2005) the artist conveys the different experiences of time by showing a video of two people, a man and a woman, staring at each other. They are virtually motionless, and, watching them, one senses time moving slowly. Two smaller screens present around 500 rapidly changing images from everyday life. Those, however, are still images – moments frozen in time, or timeless – yet they convey the sense of the rapid passing of time. Once again, these are phenomena that we, the viewer, feel on a visceral level, because essentially time is always the same, moves neither fast nor slow, yet depends on our perception for this sense of speed.
Sensory perception is key in Natalija’s work, and all of these sensory experiences presented by the artist converge within the viewer, who digests them and brings his or her own experience of the real to the work of art.