25.11 – 4.12.2013.
Magacin 8, Belgrade
two-channel video installation with sound, digital
and analogue photographs, audio recording,
Exhibition Danse Macabre consists of a two-channel video and sound installation, photographs and an audio recording. The two-channel video represents unedited documentary materials set side by side. The video on the left channel of the installation shows the burning fields, while the video on the right shows a slaughter of a lamb. This installation with sound makes a distinct narrative in which both footages and audio are played in their own separate loops, thus never creating the same arrangement.
DANCE IN THE DARK
In the period between the 14th and 15th century, due to the religious wars, Great Famine and Black Death, the society was permeated by constant sense of the presence of death. As a result of this comes the allegorical notion of the dance of the Dead (fr. Danse Macabre). The imminent possibility of unexpected and painful death affected the religious need for redemption, but has also simultaneously evoked the hysterical desire for enjoyment. The spirit of the time was determined by the dualistic perception: death and dance as good friends – heady affirmation of life, tottering to the grave. Accordingly, the dance of Dead was not only following the tradition of medieval festivities and ritual dances, but was functioning as a didactic poem reminding or admonishing mankind of the inevitability of death.
Using the homonymous term, the artist Katarina Petrovic is realizing a project which articulates her own reflections on the subject of death in relation to her intimate emotional processes. Namely, by means of documentary approach the artist unfolds personal experience and memory, further linking the religious rituals that are shaping the local tradition with the confessions of her ill grandmother.
Given that the exhibition setting has been physically divided in two sections the entire setup can be viewed as a diptych. Embodied in photographs and an audio recording, the first segment serves as an introduction to the viewer, whereas the second segment, the audio/visual installation represents a framework of the complex narrative. Double projection of the sacrificing ritual of the lamb slaughter and the burning of the fields after the harvest is accompanied by an echo of the artist’s whisper, that is the reenactment of the her grandmother’s monologue (which besides the photographs can be heard in the adjacent room).
Representation of a slaughtered animal that is taking place before our eyes undeniably causes distress and anxiety. Such sight not only warns of the inevitability of death of every living creature, but possesses a distinct symbolic potential, especially if the object that suffers that torture is a lamb. In Christian iconography agnes dei represents a sacrifice for the sake of repentance, which is similar to the pagan rituals of treating the living with dead animals meat for the sake of the soul of the deceased and it’s rest in peace. Following this path, burning of crop remains can be interpreted in the same manner. Although, often legally permitted in purpose of pest control, these rituals are an integral part of the local folklore and therefore inseparable from everyday life.
Although considering one of the art history’s commonplaces, the artist treats the motif of death in an entirely different way. Personal fear of death of a loved one contrasts the poetic notes on rituals (religious or daily ones) thereby achieving wondrous and bizarre atmosphere, bordering phantasmagoric. What further contributes is the absence of any kind of visual representation of the person to whom the work is dedicated, the artist’s grandmother.
It is certain that with this work Katarina Petrovic is ironically trying to define her own version of ars moriendi or the Art of Dying. The question that haunts each of us is whether or not every life experience is minor in comparison to the magnificent act of death. Nevertheless, the artist questions if the socially constructed ways of coping with this act, can be distorted with necrophilia-like approach.
In that sense, her subversive undertaking in public space can cause wariness, confusion and shock, predominantly abjection. Theoretician Julia Kristeva argues that an abject is a term depicting something disgusting and rejected, as something that ‘cuts’ the matter itself and leads to horrifying chaos which comes before language and ordered cosmos. In case of this project, Katarina Petrovic emphasizes the unknown, threatening, something that escapes understanding, something beyond life itself.
Original text in serbian here.