Dragana Zarevska & Jasna Dimitrovska
While I was in Skopje I was only able to meet with Dragana, but this entry deals with the work of both artists, which they have created as a team under the name of Ephemerki (the name is a play on “Bapchorki,” a group of grannies who sing traditional Macedonian folk songs). The two then create their own ephemeral works and ephemeral traditions, which are both real and not real at the same time.
I first encountered their Lele project when I was preparing to come to Macedonia. The two created a performance based on the Macedonian word “lele,” which is more of an interjection into the conversation, similar to the French “oh-la-la!” or other such words that we use for exclamation, to make a point. I thought that an English equivalent might be something like the word “really,” which can be used for exclamation and also questioning. In the Lele project they attempt to bring awareness to their fellow Macedonians about the frequent use of the word, co-opting Shklovsky’s idea of defamiliarization (making the familiar unfamiliar) by drawing attention to the word and giving it a prominent, as opposed to peripheral, place. During the performance the two stamp the word “lele” on the hands of the visitors coming to the exhibition, drawing attention to it and literally exposing it, instead of allowing it to hide in conversation. They also exhibit official-looking charts regarding the usage of the word, which are titled “The Lele Method.” For example, arrows point the speaker to use the word lele to express shock, wonder and surprise. The instructions go beyond the ridiculous, almost akin to trying to describe slang words to non-native speakers. The whole point is to draw attention to this word that gets used every day, but is never thought about. It is a meaningless word, but automatically gives one an air of authority when they add it to their statements for emphasis. The Lele Method challenges this use of empty words and demands that people pay attention to what they are saying.
Furthermore, this Lele performance is one that can be interpreted on many levels. One can appreciate it without getting too deep into theory, but the theoretical aspect further nuances the work. In fact, the piece was quite well received. It was popular without being populist, and enables viewers to engage with contemporary conceptual and performance art without feeling ignorant. And this was precisely the point, as Dragana mentioned – they wanted to make the piece simple “so that people could digest it.” Quite often, people feel silly in the face of art that they can’t grasp, but in focusing on a word that everyone uses, every day, this project is something that everyone can comprehend, engage with, and enjoy.
Another project that can be approach on a variety of levels was the artists’ Retrospective Exhibition. The exhibition was an event that showcased the work of two artists from the partisan times. The artists created not only the concept of the exhibition, but also the characters of the artists, and their works of art as well. The piece pokes fun at the trend of having retrospective exhibitions, which only look to the past, which is why all of the paintings are of rear-view mirrors. Even the brochure for the exhibition addresses the practice of creating empty texts full of fluff that offer no critical analysis or real discussion of the artist’s work. Once again, this project focused on emptiness and lack of meaning in everyday society, and aimed to infuse these areas of vacuity with new thoughts and create a real discourse.
The story behind the exhibition is, like with the lele project, filled with irony and humor. The story goes that the two female artists never met in real life, but worked during the same time, painting similar subject matter. Their work was brought together by the granddaughters of the artists, played by Dragana and Jasna. Due to this theme and the way it was presented, the exhibition attracted viewers who came to see the work of real partisan artists. When they arrived at the exhibition, they found something completely unexpected. Once again, this is a piece that can be read on many levels. Taken seriously, it becomes a sweet story, but viewed through a discerning lens, one becomes aware of the criticism that is being leveled at not only the art world, but also the rest of society that approaches life with little reflection, constantly focused on the past displayed in the rear-view mirror.
Dragana’s and Jasna’s work has a significant role to play in contemporary Macedonian society, where artists struggle for intellectual discussion and debate about not only art, but also other real aspects of society. These artists approach quite serious issues with humor and irony, using their performative methods to engage the viewer and make the raising of these questions accessible to all.