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Pigment Solitaire

Nina Zeljković

Eröffnung: Freitag 31.3.2023, 19 Uhr
Einführung: Ulrike Gerhardt


Ausstellung: 1.4.-6.5.2023


Pigment Solitaire

Nina Zeljković, a visual artist and conceptual painter from Belgrade and Berlin, explores early Christian art, architecture and history in her solo exhibition Pigment Solitaire. She is interested in painterly and architectural methods that influence the body’s movements through space and activate its embodied knowledge. Her extended painting and video practice explores the intersection between painting and embodiment – particularly in early Christian and Byzantine painting, the image is informed by the presence of human bodies, rather than the logic of the gaze. This realm of painterly immersion forms a distinct and constant undercurrent in the history of painting. It ranges in its beginnings from Neanderthal and early hand stencil cave paintings in places such as the Maltravieso Cave in Caceres, Spain, to avant-garde actions, performative and provisional painting techniques of the 20th and 21st century.


In 2021, the artist undertook a 10 000 km long dedicated research trip, a “performative pilgrimage” by car from Belgrade, through Bulgaria and Greece and the former Roman Empire to the easternmost border of Turkey and Mount Ararat. She explored a vast landscape of monks’ caves, early Christian iconoclastic churches, networks of underground cities and ancient dovecotes, particularly in Central and Southeastern Anatolia. The two-channel audio-video installation Nave Nartex Navel (2021) features landscapes of rock-carved monastic caves and iconoclastic paintings. The audio-video installation includes a sensual and rhythmic tour of painted caves, it shows traces of the symbiotically linked people and animals that lived in a sustainable way and were surrounded by these paintings. The audio layer was recorded on site during the trip, composed by sound artist Luka Ivanović and also forms the sound sphere of the entire exhibition.


In the window front of the Ursula Walter Gallery, the abstract paintings from the series Signals (2022) are installed on unstretched canvases. These ‘wildly’ hung paintings refer to the dovecotes’ and their ornaments painted by monks found in Southwest Asia, which from Zeljković’s perspective build a starting point for signs, symbols, frescoes, and icons to gesturally merge. To create her pigments, she used traditional Byzantine methods and experimented with animal protein, rabbit skin glue, tree resin, egg tempera, as well as marble dust. Through the left gallery window one can see architectural works titled Santuaire (Bođani), Fragment, that suggest spatial history. Spatial history in art takes the approach that places are historically significant in that they are shaped by movements of people, objects, and information through space and by actions that delineate and redefine dedicated spaces. Marxist geographer Doreen Massey thinks spaces as open, multiple, and relational, as unfinished and always in the process of becoming; therefore they were also a prerequisite for history to be open. Zeljković’s mobile architectural and purposefully provisional trompe l’œil elements Côte Méridional (Gračanica) Mur occidental (Krušedol), are emptied of all pictorial representations, containing only the outer form based on early Christian architecture and playfully transforming the space into the imaginary cave of a monk’s colony, a social laboratory and refuge for the Early Christians once persecuted by the Romans.


Her most recent painterly work is titled Solitaire (2023) and is a curved canvas that embraces visitors. Zeljković’s works invite an immersive, transhistorical, and temporarily hermit-like spatial experience. She imagines that her ‘proto-paintings’ bring the viewer back to the origins of painting history, embrace them, touch them, create ephemeral structures, and give them refuge. Her works test out what she calls a performative historiography, that is, they encounter history with and through bodily responses, as described by literary scholar Elizabeth Freeman. Zeljković’s paintings and video works create vibrant spaces in which spontaneous connections between painterly architectures and bodies become possible in light of the long-ago history of Christian monasticism – and its secluded as well as communal ways of life.

Exhibition text by Ulrike Gerhardt


Nina Zeljković (*1985, Belgrade, Yugoslavia) lives and works between Germany and Serbia. In 2019 she completed her MFA at the University of Fine Arts Hamburg in the class of Jutta Koether. Zeljković’s work has since been shown internationally in galleries and institutions including Eugster II, Belgrade; Non canonico, Belgrade; Holger Priess, Hamburg; Kunstverein Bonn, Bonn; Chez Malik’s, Hamburg; Pina, Vienna and Belvedere 21, Vienna.

The solo exhibition Pigment Solitaire is part II of this year's three-part exhibition series Interwoven Histories I-III at Galerie Ursula Walter. It deals with themes and questions about European migration, human biographies and global responsibility resulting from dialogues and encounters with artists. On the 6th of May the artist Bertram Haude from Leipzig will give a lecture about his current project Out of Europe. Interwoven Histories I-III is funded by the Cultural Foundation of the Free State of Saxony and the Stiftung Kunstfonds Bonn as part of the NEUSTARTplus program. This measure is co-financed by tax funds on the basis of the budget passed by the Saxon state parliament.

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