Text by Rebecca Travis
Conveying what an exhibition feels like in a short review is never easy. However, in David Maljkovic’s current show at BALTIC the indistinguishable atmosphere permeating the space contributes so much to the viewing experience, it is impossible to ignore.
An off-kilter sense is provided immediately by the custom-built architectural layout – effectively a room within a room – that initially confronts viewers with a high blank wall, punctuated with contained digital and analogue equipment. Tantalising glimpses of projected works are provided through small apertures in the façade while the technical process of projection is totally revealed in the technology’s open display. By presenting the works in this way, an immediate awareness of interior and exterior space is created. This is further amplified when the entrance to the exhibition is reached and a large window looking across the Tyne riverbank is revealed.
Maljkovic has been experimenting extensively with modes of presentation and the exhibition at BALTIC is the second in a triptych of European exhibitions showing work from the last decade. It is immediately obvious; both from the external architectural layout and the plethora of semi permanent equipment in the interior – tripods, pop up screens, a tarpaulin – that he is interested in the mechanics of presentation, and particularly concerned with methods of screening and the experience of projection.
In its rather cluttered layout Sources in the Air makes for a disruptive and vaguely unsettling viewing experience. A myriad of projected works, sculptural pieces and a further room within a room, all act as works in their own right but with an interconnecting aesthetic appeal, bound together by pulsating soundtracks and the persistent whirring of projectors into one big tableau.
Much inspiration is taken from his home environs of Croatia and a key work in the exhibition, the Scene for New Heritage trilogy, focuses in particular on the Petrova Gora monument, a futuristic WWII memorial that now lies derelict. The trilogy is screened into a sort of constructivist stage set and follows a group of young people on a pilgrimage to the monument in the years beyond 2045, where they discuss its potential via guttural Croatian folk singing. Watching this film series the viewer takes on the role of time traveller as all grasping of time, tense and heritage is merged and reworked.
As more time is spent in the exhibition the initially intensive atmosphere takes on a more melancholy tone. There is a running theme through the works of potential never realised, in particular through utopian design. A notably striking film Out of Projection is shot at the Peugeot headquarters and depicts retired workers slowly moving around test tracks in nostalgic black and white footage. Futuristic automobile designs destined never to be put into production are pushed around by mechanics or just stand still. In one gently moving scene the elderly workers cling to each other and sway, perhaps a human reaction to the failure of these machines. Elsewhere are further references to utopian architecture that no longer exists, a studio space devoid of an artist and even a banana plant inhibited in growth via its boxed in surroundings.
Sources in the Air works on several levels but it is perhaps this sense of latent potential that rises above the individual content and gives that all important immersive atmosphere. It is an exhibition with stacks of visual appeal, offering highs and lows of chiaroscuro a la Ingmar Bergman and an unsettling sci-fi-esque feeling enhanced by the excellent audio accompaniments. As a viewer you are taken on a journey of varying speeds, from static sculptures to rhythmic projections, and finally to a restful archive area by the window where you can reflect on the viewing experience that Maljkovic has so carefully constructed.
David Maljkovic: Sources in the Air will be on display at the BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead until 30 May 2013.
Rebecca Travis is an artist, curator and writer based in Newcastle.