Maja Djordjevic: THIS MUST BE THE PLACE at Carl Kostyál Gallery

Maja Djordjevic
Carl Kostyál Gallery
12a Savile Row, London
10 December 2020 — 9 January 2021
All images copyright and courtesy of the artist(s) and the gallery

The Belgrade-born Maja Djordjevic is known for her digitally-native aesthetic sensibility and her innate ease within the realms of computer-generated visual syntax and digital manipulation.

Djordjevic’s work has from the very beginning directly engaged with the legacies of deskilling, net art, and feminist figuration. Its use of antiquated Microsoft Paint software and expressly simplified essential forms deliberately eliminates the dogmatic pressure of technical prowess and institutionalized criteria of virtuosity as well as exclusionary connotations of tech-agility and opaquely seamless coding associated with misogynistic preconceptions and attitudes.

What has always attracted Djordjevic to the aesthetic of Microsoft Paint, an early bitmap graphics program whose crude algorithm generates colour pixels so large as to pre-emptively foreclose any possibility of granular detail or advance chromatic modulation, is the paradoxical rawness and immediacy that its unadulterated shapes convey to and from a vantage point of someone raised with the pixelated vocabularies of Sega, Space Invaders, and Pac-Man as points of foundationally constitutive reference.

That is not to say that Djordjevic’s work lacks in skill or labour investment – quite the contrary. Indeed, the multi-stage process entailed by the artist’s method is both manually rigorous and time-consuming. It begins with Djordjevic composing – or, more accurately, sketching from direct immediacy of an inspired moment – her compositions in Microsoft Paint. This is then followed by a meticulously precise process that sees the artist scrupulously replicating the digital images pixel-by-pixel and line-by-line in glossy, sumptuously bright enamel oil paint, relying purely on hand and without the aid of customary projectors or masking tape. The choice of medium here is instructive as well – Djordjevic has settled on the enamel paint for the uniquely reflective quality of its surface – as close as one could possibly get to an approximation of the computer monitor itself. In this way, the resulting works are left forever oscillating between the extremes of forgetting or jettisoning of the painterly skill and its deliberate recuperation and celebratory exacerbation through the artist’s craftsmanship and manual virtuosity.

Motifs unmistakably specific to the female experience customarily absent from the language of video games of Djordjevic’s cohort of contemporary digitally-native artists sharply distinguish her uniquely feminist take on these elements of new ubiquity. Thus, while mining the same discursive fields that shape the current artistic landscape of her peers, Djordjevic’s combination of deliberately and daringly simplistic “still rendering” visual elements with deeply personal linguistic expressions charts a feminist path all of its own.

Djordjevic turns to the title of her favourite song, This Must Be the Place, by the Talking Heads for a source of this exhibition’s title – a reflection of both the inextricably personal nature of these works and their deeply interior source of origin – a proverbial snapshot of the artist’s inner monologues and idle ideations divorced from any modifying outside influence. Conceived in the months of the global lockdown, all of the paintings in the show speak to this unique historic moment and the longings that it engenders.

Home is where I want to be is both the title of one of the paintings in the show, the first line of the Talking Heads song, and an inspiration for the exhibition’s unusual layout. “Home is where we’re all supposed to be right now” – Djordjevic observes, “so I decided to make furniture from my paintings – a table and a chair so that we can all “sit” and have a thought about the places where we dream to be, where we were, and where we are now – a home where we want to be. The paintings themselves show these kinds of situations”.

While Djordjevic’s canvases are hardly ever devoid of a healthy dose of humour and darkly ironic self-reflection, the situations her signature “naked girl” stick figures find themselves in here are distinctly reflective of a kind of particular COVID Derangement Syndrome of fidgetiness – spread out on the table (THIS MUST BE THE PLACE), serving up daisies on a dinner plate (I am serving you), hanging upside down from the rooftop (My point of view) – they’re restless, sleepless, and decidedly not sober. It is as if the physical works themselves have imbibed the spirit of confined restlessness and want to stand, and lay down, and rotate sideways in search for a new perspective – on themselves, as well as each other:

Home is where I want to be

Pick me up and turn me around (…)

I guess I must be having fun …