Božidar Jurjević

 Božidar Jurjević
is an artist who consistently engages his body in performance in
order to achieve maximum expression regarding the issues concerning him. There
are themes that he often returns to: life, death, energy, monumentality,
crisis. More specifically, his work responds to particularly overwhelming
events, such as the siege of his city of Dubrovnik, the terrorist attacks of
September 11th, and the global economic crisis. These are events
that the artist feels profoundly, and he commandeers his art to achieve
catharsis, for both him and his viewer.

“The space of our survival” 

A leitmotif in the artist’s work is a circular form, an
object that he found in the ruins of Dubrovnik’s Imperial Hotel (now the
Hilton) after it was bombed during the Siege. While rummaging through the
gutted building, he came across a pile of towels that had been burnt and
destroyed. The manner in which they burned left only a circular/oval form
remaining, as if they had burned from the edges inward, and only the small
round circle from the center of the towel remained. This white space, the
artist told me, is “the space of our survival.” These white circles reappear in
his two-dimensional and performative work. Laid out in a circle, for example,
the artist performs a meditation on these sacred spaces, by moving around them
as if they were stepping stones, constantly reversing directions and increasing
speed, until he finally faints from the disorientation.

 Božidar's modified flag

Božidar’s modified flag

These white ‘spaces of survival’ can be found in a new flag
that the artist hand-crafted, using a ‘borrowed’ towel from the new Hilton
Hotel in Dubrovnik, which contains the same blue and white stripes as found in
the American flag. Instead of stars, however, the artist included the white
circle. The pairing of Greece and the US had to do with the global economic
crisis, which began in the US and was profoundly felt in Greece. For Božo, the US is a potent and
evocative symbol, and he often cites connections between Dubrovnik, and the USA
– for example, the fact that both of strong symbols of liberty; in the US – the
Statue of Liberty, and in Dubrovnik, the Libertas flag, which was the secondary
flag of the Dubrovnik Republic.

Dubrovnik may be a symbol of freedom, but the city also
evokes a different feeling for the artist, as well – that of confinement. The
Old City itself is a walled city, perfectly self-contained in medieval times.
It goes without saying that the war took its emotional and economic toll on the
city, leaving this UNESCO World Heritage Site completely decimated. In some
ways, artists there tell me, the city never really recovered from the Siege.
During the period immediately following it, people were depressed and couldn’t
see beyond the war to any kind of future. Eventually, the city was revived, but
inhabitants decided to capitalize on the influx of tourists – many sold their
homes, and now in winter the Old Town is virtually empty.

  Eclipse   (2007)

Eclipse   (2007)

Božo created
a performance meant to capture this feeling of living in Dubrovnik, entitled The Door. In 1997, the artist locked
himself in an abandoned hospital on the island of Lokrum, just off the Croatian
coast near Dubrovnik. He described this as similar to their position in
Dubrovnik – “locked in.” The artist found a dry reservoir and jumped in, but he
was unsure of how he would manage to get out – that was part of the
performance. He struggled, grasping for things to grab onto that would take him
out of the pit. Eventually, it was the vine of a fig plant – a very common
plant in Croatia and typical of Dubrovnik – that enabled him to get out. (Maybe
the message is that inhabitants of Dubrovnik possess the tools necessary to get
themselves out of whatever difficult situation they find themselves in!)

A sense of being trapped also pervades Božo’s work. One day, when he was in
his garden, he came across a wasp that was struggling in the flypaper hanging
from the trellis. No matter how hard the wasp struggled, he couldn’t free
himself. “This is life,” Božo
tells me – a constant struggle. He carries this struggle into his 1997
performance Eclipse, and acts it out
on the streets of Zagreb. There, he attaches himself to the sculpture Landed Sun by Croatian sculptor Ivan Kožarić. The sculpture was installed in
the city in 1971, and later moved. Božo attempts to move it
back to its original position with the help of the bungee cords connecting him
with it. The task is ultimately futile. The artist struggles and struggles until,
like the wasp, he becomes exhausted and gives up. The artist re-enacted this
performance in 2007, and plans to re-enact it every ten years (perhaps until he
finally succeeds?). But, as he tells me, what the performance demonstrates is
the fact that “the destiny of every artist is death.”

  Wind Rose  , 2009

Wind Rose  , 2009

Nevertheless, the
artist still attempts to save himself. In 1991, when the Museum of Modern Art
in Dubrovnik was packing its entire collection into boxes to preserve its fate,
the artist himself climbed into one, asking the question why the city wasn’t
packing its living artists into those boxes. For him, the city’s living
inhabitants were just as important – most likely more – than the inanimate
works of art that were being saved. The war was not the artist’s only brush
with death. In a January 2009 performance, Wind
Rose
, the artist announced the global economic crisis by standing atop a
mast on the pier. He then descended to the water’s edge and proceeded to walk
into the sea with a rope attached to his waist, while blowing up black balloons
(symbolizing the crisis). He chose this day in particular, because he had been
in touch with meteorologists who told him that it would be extremely wavy that
day. Indeed it was, and the artist nearly drowned trying to return to
shore. The crashing waves represented
not only the instability and drama of the economic crisis; the water also
offered an opportunity for cleansing, and regeneration. This theme returns in
the artist’s 2003 performance in Zaragosa, where he struggled in a waterfall,
also while blowing balloons – this time, red ones.

 

Bozo’s struggle with
nature is the eternal one that has plagued man, who becomes dwarfed in the
overwhelmingly awesome powers of nature.
Božo expanded on this
contrast in Flight in the Monastery
(2003), also in Zaragosa, where he uses the power of his own breath to move a
feather around its monumental surroundings. For the artist, monumental
architecture has its own energy field, and he wanted to create a contrast
between that and the lightness of the feather.

That said, his work
is by no means light, and consistently carries the heaviness of the world and
its earthly burdens with it. The only release, it seems, comes from death. His
video performance, Katerina’s Flight,
was dedicated to his mother, who died of cancer after the war. In his garden,
he takes on the role of the shaman, decorated with feathers, and communicating
with the seagulls. In his dance, he attempts to become one of them, and fly
away, in the ultimate escape from this closed situation – in Dubrovnik, and in
life in general.

The artist has said
that he feels that there is more potential to express with his body than with
painting, and he engages his body not only to express and to feel his way
through these situations, but to enable his viewer to feel them as well. In
feeling them, the aim is catharsis and purging, a way out of the body and into
the spiritual realm.