Laughter is the best medicine, so they say, and so, too, does Gjorgje Jovanovik. In much of his art he uses laughter, humor and irony to confront issues relevant to those of his contemporaries, especially those of his generation – most significantly, the issue of the transition from socialism to capitalism. Gjorgje works in a variety of media – from drawing, painting and collage to performance, installation and sound, and even collaboration and curating. He responds to each unique situation with the appropriate form and content to address the issue, but there is always the underlying element of humor present, making his work accessible to all.
One of the main themes running through his work is collaboration and cooperation. In fact, he and some fellow artists have responded to the current situation in Macedonia (and in the Balkan region in general) of the lack of space and infrastructure for contemporary art, by creating KOOPERACIJA (Cooperation) , which organizes exhibitions and seminars in various temporary locations throughout the city of Skopje, including abandoned buildings and courtyards. Where art lacks a space to exist, artists create the space, which then enables the creation of new work and foments new ideas.
Perhaps one of Gjorgje’s best known performances is Confessions of the Cake Monster, during which the artist first confesses his deepest, darkest secret obsession to the audience – cookies, cakes and sweets, which he has been consuming compulsively since childhood. He then shares these cakes with the audience, and invites them to share their secret obsessions with him and the rest of the group. Like a scene out of Oprah, or perhaps a window into a Weight Watchers meeting, the performance not only engages and activates the participants, but brings them closer together by having them share their most intimate details with one another.
Much of Gjorgje’s work responds to the post-socialist situation in the region. The Depression of New Year’s Eve addresses the issue of holidays and how much more meaningless they have become following the transition to capitalism. This work reminds me of Enisa Cenaliaj‘s work about the family, and how that unit also diminished in importance after the end of communism in Albania. Gjorgje’s performance involves him wearing a rather Hugo Ball-esque cardboard suit, but the suit resembles that of a paper doll, which represents the superficiality of holidays nowadays, in the consumer-driven capitalist environment.
He also invites his viewers to engage with and respond to the current situation, for example in For Skopje with Love, where viewers write their opinions and thoughts on boards like those that you would see at a demonstration or protest, and put them on sites around the city. The idea is that all inhabitants are responsible for their city. The artist expects people to contribute their thoughts and share their feelings, good or bad, and take an active role in shaping the future of their surroundings, instead of simply passively standing by.
It is not surprising that Gjorgje looks for different ways to engage with his public. Earlier he was part of a multi-media group called Svirachinja (The Orphaneus, a combination of orphans and Orpheus), and from 2006-2009 they had a radio show that was broadcast on Kanal 103 Radio. He described this as an “art project through radio,” and the show consisted of various improvised sounds, noises and exclamations, which his website described as representative of “the current social and political turmoil.” It was a very experimental and avant-garde venture, and had its own considerable following.
Gjorgje told me that after the 1963 earthquake, Skopje became a city of “solidarity.” All of the people came together to support and rebuilt their city. He tells me that this solidarity is now lost in the context of capitalism. He is not the only person to have told me this. Capitalism, driven by the desire for wealth, is by definition individualistic. So it makes sense that an artist such as Gjorgje would seek to reinject that spirit of solidarity into his city and country. It is precisely by using performance and participatory art forms that this can be accomplished, as viewers become participants and co-collaborators together with both the artist and with each other. It is in a newfound spirit of collectivism, in the post-socialist landscape, that solidarity can be found again. And this solidarity can be found in the art of Gjorgje Jovanovik.