Martin Janda

Maja Vukoje

11 Nov - 19 Dec 2015

Maja Vukoje
Exhibition View, Galerie Martin Janda, 2015
Photo: Markus Wörgötter
11 November – 19 December 2015

In her new group of works Maja Vukoje refines her interest in the West’s relationship with eastern, African and Latin-American cultures, moving away from a formerly distinctly narrative approach to embrace the technique of collage or assemblage and more abstract representations. The artist is primarily interested in the global exchange of goods, persons and cultural artefacts and how these mutual relationships and “The Distribution of the Sensible” can be read and conceived. She links this exploration with an enhanced use of found or imitated materials and the expansion of the canvas into the space.

Inspired by Paul Klee’s painting Scarecrow (1935) – which is part of the collection of the Museum of Modern Art in Vienna – in her new series of large-format paintings Vukoje creates a pictorial grammar consisting of heads, torsos and limbs which seem to suspend from the frame that shines through the transparent burlap of the canvas. Building on her series of ghosts, she conjures up avatars, fictional personae or revenants in her figurines that shift between materialisation and dematerialisation, skilfully staged by the use of various painting techniques and aesthetic strategies.

Vukoje shows texture in its entirety either as sprinkles of materiality or as imitation (textiles), combining sparkling and iridescent passages with matte and bleached ones, relief-like, shadow-casting elevations and opacity with the naked canvas that is treated from both sides. In the process, the textile structure of the burlap acts as a sieve through which colour is squeezed and pours out or bleeds through on the other side. The various techniques treat and use the canvas in a brilliant demonstration of a painting process, creating an object of an image, a projection screen the mechanisms and appearance of which are diverse, alterable depending on the incidence of light, and eventually remain enigmatic and not fully decipherable in its complex interaction. The “masterly” command over technique comes with a pinch of irony. It is a dense display that reflects and utilises the history of painting starting from action painting and the materialism of Alberto Burri and ranging to pop art’s airbrush technique and hyperrealism.

The assembled and sampled motifs and subjects of the figurines stride out a little further to combine Chinese and African masks as well as abstract and ethnical patterns with narratives of mobility, fleeing and the search for identity, for example, in the figure of the American musician and founder of afrofuturism, Sun Ra, and his reversion to a constructed and imagined Egyptian past through masquerading in conjunction with glamour and an esoteric-syncretistic exaltation of one’s own persona.

In her small-format works – which are directly painted unto burlap export bags, for example, for coffee – the artist compiles a calculated interplay between existing, already printed canvas and physical painting substances in the form of the traded products (coffee and sugar). The images touch upon the fact that the exchange of goods and the concomitant unequal distribution of profits yielded by these resources still determine global conditions.

Another variation of the West’s relationship to its former colonies is expressed in the series of peeled fruits and vegetables. As exotic and once expensive products they reach the West on long trading routes, and in Maja Vukoje’s painted stagings they are stripped off their protective skin before our eyes, revealing their shimmering and luminous flesh. They become objects of seduction and a relocated orientalism the main subject of which is no longer the human (female) skin but the sensuality of southern fruits visualised very aptly as early as in the 17th century Dutch still lifes. It seems nearly impossible to escape the power of attraction exuded by these images. In this way, the artist develops a skilful strategy to convey the mechanisms of projection on what we perceive as alien and exotic.
Hemma Schmutz

Maja Vukoje was born in Düsseldorf in 1969, grew up in Belgrade and lives and works in Vienna.

Tags: Alberto Burri, Paul Klee, Maja Vukoje