The Bulgarisches Kulturinstitut’s collaborative exhibition Von hier zu mir (“From here to myself”) brings together artists from eight different Balkan cultural backgrounds to reflect on their experiences of displacement through photo-realism, portraiture, surrealism and more. Traditionally the region is known for producing art and film centred squarely on its conflicts with a a vibrancy of delivery that is often mistaken for melodramatic: Emir Kusturic’s 1995 film Underground is a prime example. Von Hier Zu Mir utilises the characteristic liveliness of Balkan art but does not, however, touch on the region’s conflicts. Instead, as viewers walk through the exhibition, what stands out are the artists’ parallel perspectives on processes of distortion through displacement.
In realistically rendering figures and positioning them in her painting’s surreal contexts, Croatian artist Lovro Artukovic, seems to muse about identity and movement. In a piece entitled “Badende”, there is a naked girl striking a classical pose that contradicts the sterility of the cold and raw interior environment that surrounds her. Rather than sitting on the wood floor, she’s on a cold plastic tarp. Beside her is a tub where fish are swimming, illuminated by synthetic light that highlights the “arti-fish-iality” of of a strange home. Surrealism evocatively allows viewers to explore the difficulty of a house not instantaneously becoming a home.
The ethereal faces of Eastern Orthodox icons form an integral part of Bulgarian artist Boriana Pertchinska’s works. Although “Beziehung Gravitation” is bisected by linear brush strokes, the scientific contraption it depicts, featuring the portrait or reflection of a child’s face, is connected by colourful lines to the eyes of the nurturing icon. Perhaps this instrument is the tool of memory attempting to preserve distant, yet foundational experiences.
While for some artists memory and its reality-eclipsing tendencies seem to be a source of mourning, for German artist Semra Sevin, whose family is from Turkey, this is not the case. Sevin admits that visiting the iconic sites and cities that are important to her is a way of reclaiming her identity beyond preconceived cultural constraints. The artist’s photographs depict Berlin, Paris and Istanbul, in the reflection of an imperfect mirror. The light bounces and contorts off the surface, mirroring the subjective experience of perception. Although Sevin was born in Germany, spent time in Paris and visited Istanbul, each place is equally distorted. Thus, the artist shows that these distortions are not cultural, but personal, and while they may not be easily quantifiable, they shape identity.
Many other of the artists’ works seem to agree with Sevin’s sentiment that the complex layering of a person’s identity is an empowering process. Multiple identification makes you more conscious of what it means to be both within and without a home. Ultimately, distortion isn’t a problem but an opportunity to reflect on flux and growth in general.
VON HIER ZU MIR Through Feb 12 | Bulgarisches Kulturinstitut, Leipziger Str. 114, Mitte, U-Bhf Stadtmitte, Mon Fri 10:00–18:00