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THE KING OF DUST


The adherence to figurative and portrait presentations of Ivona Pleskonja (1974) has recently become evident once again in her exhibition The Source at the Belgrade National Gallery. She makes monumental portraits and self-portraits, using acrylic and coal on canvas and paper, to talk about little-big people, the greatness of human beings, emancipation, fears and ways of overcoming them…

The portraits, reduced in colour and representatively framed on canvas, demonstrate urban iconographic artistry of Ivona’s works in much the same manner as the works from her previous exhibition Heroes, held last March in Beograd Gallery in Kosancicev Venac Street, did.

I stick to figuration simply because abstract art isn’t close to my heart. I’ve always wanted to make human portraits and also wanted the observer to interpret my messages in his or her own way. This exhibition shows that the focus my artistic search is on the origins of the man, his nature, his essence, ways of gaining knowledge which also explains the title although at first I didn’t have a very clear idea whether to give the exhibition any name at all. Wanting to be in harmony with my own self, and while figuring out what it was I wanted to do, I came up with this particular name. Originally, I wanted to name the exhibition the Pharaohs, says Ivona because a young Romany boy from Belgrade streets, and one of Ivona’s models who figures prominently on her canvases, such as Earth-Born King, Cleaner and New World King, has reminded her of a pharaoh.

His relaxed manner and calm which he emanates, his life as a street dust- cleaner, produced a very strong motive for this particular piece of work. My idea was to show that all people can be impressive and important and that we all have halos over our heads, and are all blessed and God-given, explains the artist.

Ivona Pleskonja belongs to the generation of young and ambitious artists. She has received acclaim for her works at exhibitions such as the October Salon and the Vršac Youth Biennale (1998). As a student, she won several awards from the FLU (Faculty of Fine Arts) fund for the best study and drawing, and another award for the best photography from the BC processor fund. In her quest for answers regarding identity, Ivona also cultivates self-portrait, the area of work which she compares to a two-blade sword.

The need to make self-portraits seems at times like a hermetic, mesmerized circle but it may also be an egocentric phase that I thing I am gradually leaving now. It is good to find inspiration in one’s intimate, personal life, but art must not be totally hermetic. Intimacy should be used to breed something universal, explain Ivona Pleskonja.

Analysts of Ivona’s art are inclined to compare her works with the contemporary computerized collages although she herself denies having a penchant for the comic strip or computer art. The reduced colouring reflects Ivona’s need to show what the world looks like today. “Should beings from other planets wish to see what the Earthlings are like, I would present them my paintings”, says Ivona.

Ivona Pleskonja studied under Anelka Bojovic, the painter and pedagogue, whose advice, guidance and appraisal she continues to receive and appreciate.

Marija Đorđevic, journalist of Cultural column in journal 'Politika'

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The term New image painting is related to the inauguration of figurative and narrative principles of a particular order into the themes of art made in Serbia in the last quarter of the 20th century. From the present perspective, its is possible to understand the term new image painting as different forms of imaging and communication of the artist’s subjective world that begins with postmodern aesthetics. It is a world that is by rule eccentric, decentered and hedonistically inclined, lacking all interest in the big historical topics of modernism and the emancipation of the universal subject, a world situated in the very center of the artist’s work of the 80s and inaugurated as its exclusive credo.

The representatives of the New image(s) of the 90s developed forms of expression based on the experience of the previous generation of artists, profiled the postmodern aesthetics by a furtherer subjectivization of the artistic statements and some of them developed a form of image that the critics of the time called monumental intimisme. Basically it had to do with a procedure based on transposing very personal, almost intimate motives and narratives into monumental and representative visual wholes. In the monumental portrait and self-portrait conception, whether it is a painting, photograph, sculpture, object or performance – the visible presence of a hypertrophy of the human face and the artist’s self does not, however, any longer speak only in favor of an egocentrically inclined subject, reflecting in a kind of timeless ambientalized space of artistic play. The human figure or the artist’s very body has become the center of a unique vivisection of the social environment and the memento of the genesis of its urban identities. The frequent multiplication of the artist’s face represents an attempt to achieve a sharply contrasted “ambientalization” of fragile existences and introspective inscriptions of the every day in regards to the linear hyperactive agency of historical time and its destructive inertia.

Our attention is immediately drawn to the works of Ivona Pleskonja by the images that are a unique echoes of urban narratives told by a monumental elaboration of the portrait concept. The artist borrows the iconic structure of the two-dimensional picture plan from popular culture, more precisely the plastic and composition of the frame from the comic strip, streamlined, with broad planes and the dominant presence of the human figure in the foreground, the imaginary actor calling for action or establishing the unconditional attention of the observer.

The foreground in the cycle Heroes is most frequently defined by a portrait-bust “framed” in radical frontality and intoned hieratic posture, sharply separated from the background marked by the reduced colored emblematic of the imagined milieu of the portrayed face. The faces that parade before us are individuals from the artist’s closest surroundings, her friends, she herself or selected individuals of the “Other”, role models from the alternative urban universe representing the special alter ego of the artist (Frida Kahlo, Bruce Lee, Spiderman...). For the artist they represent “out of the ordinary fighters ... with the highest fighting skills, ability to regenerate themselves, stamina, strength and courage”. The painted surface is organized as an icon where the presence of the holy personage or hero of the newly arbitrated reality of the artist him/herself, is simultaneously mediated by the official (saintly) pre-history and the individual heroic act, which evokes the (the earthly) biography and revels a farsightedness of a supra-human reality.

This conspicuous similarity and at the same time difference with a message that follows the meditative process of constructing an image of a saint (hero), that is, recording the presence of one’s awareness of oneself during the very creative act (artist), is most noticeable in the serial of (self) portraits Heroes and in the works like I’m not a Typical (Vietnamese Girl), Save Me, Sit Up (Bruce Lee) Self-portraits (Nice Day Today), Oxygen (Wearing a Gas Mask). The central face of the newly created “story” appears from the foreground and transcends the communication to the other side of historical time where the past and future are equally virtual categories. The passage of the individual through the casemates of social myths, cultural codes and personal memories is suggested through a pseudo-mythical allegory of a traditional pilgrimage. The Amazons and the End of Planet Earth seem like frozen frames of a once lived dream or a virtual spaces detached from the corruption and tyranny of a dehumanized society.

Jelena Krivokapic, curator of the Gallery "Beograd"

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When I think about my identity, through the dimension of time, I find inspiration in my old family photographs. To me, these photographs are holding the mystery of old times. They become spontaneous stops in time at which it is possible to get the answers to the questions I am asking myself: Who am I? Who are we? Which sequence of events was needed for my existence / for anyone's existence? Is my life similar to the lives of my ancestors? In my search for the answers and for these stops in time, one of the starting points was Belgrade's Block 45, the location of the Blok gallery in which I am exhibiting my new series of drawings. I had lived in Block 45 from the day I was born until the age of six. I also lived there some years later as a young mother.

The drawings from this series are inspired by the original photographs of my family made during the period 1940 – 2001. They present monochromatic portraits of my ancestors as well as that of younger family members.

The work Teresa and Ivona 1975 is directly connected to my earliest memories from Block 45. It presents the scene in which my aunt Theresa is holding me on her shoulders. I was one year old then. We were standing on the outskirts of Block 45 and watching an airplane land at the former airport Surcin. In front of us we could see a never-ending landscape and the rim of Belgrade City, while on the horizon the dry summer grass was touching the sky. I instilled into this work my memories of that situation, awakening the sense of pleasantness, intimacy, and freedom in me, and the feeling that the upcoming future would be exciting and full of various life opportunities. In my journey through time, I stopped several times, most often at the scenes in which a mother holds a baby in her arms. Then I would jump about twenty years in time and use a moment caught by camera as an inspiration for my next drawing. In that drawing, I would again present the scene of mother with child, but the mother who was herself the child in my previous drawing. In my next work I am juxtaposing a portrait of my daughter Tasja when she was five years old with a portrait of myself, in which I am also five years old. In this way I have compared and linked the lived histories with the lives which are, in this series of works, connected in a unique present moment which is transmitting all the lived experience on the viewer.

Energy, emotions and personal histories are transferred from generation to generation. Through heritage, powerful sense of connection, intimacy and unity is maintained, even between family members who have never met one another.

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Q: What were you inspired by while creating the "Life" mural?

A: I am generally inspired by nature, people, animals. I am inspired by each and every living being. I am inspired by the life's sincerity and truthfulness. I look at the sun every evening as it sets and every morning as it rises, and I, literally, learn from the sun and the sky how to paint. I am captivated by the colors melting across the sky and their many variations. I also learn from the River Sava I happen to reside nearby. The "Life" mural was created spontaneously in unison with nature; however, it was created in some other times, before the ongoing global pandemic. This symbolism is of special significance to me, because it shows that the force of life is almighty!

Q: To what extent is this type of street art recognized and popular in Serbia?

A: Murals in Belgrade are slowly becoming more and more noticeable, and, as, such, increasingly more important for our art scene and our culture. For me, creating art in exterior spaces is a new artistic universe, which I am determined to further delve into, because I can feel the importance of this artistic direction for all of us.

Q: Taken into consideration that you had to work on quite a large wall surface, did this fact pose a challenge for you?

A: The surface area on which the painting "Life" was created is 200 square meters. Surface of that size was a huge challenge for me and a completely new canvas for creating art. I had to tackle the height and the width of walls, which was the biggest challenge of all. Nonetheless, I had everything I needed - scaffolding, height safety equipment, ropes, helmets, including what is most important - the assistance of my great friend Srdjan Rusić and his company "Visinski radovi", who enabled me to tackle wall heights head on, as well as the enormous support of my art team consisting of nine young painters, who all lent a helping hand during the project. In conclusion, the task was so immense that it required harmonious team effort. It was quite a test to work on this painting during the pandemic and many precautionary health measures, as well as to try and adapt to inclement weather. Moreover, it was also challenging to hear many passersby’s and neighbors' comments. However, noticing that my work made someone happy gave me an impetus to continue the creative process with even greater rigor!

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Ivona Pleskonja continues her investigation of the world and the man through her personal experience given that she remains devoted to the genre of portrait. As before, the art for Ivona is a ground for exploring herself and others, for finding a way out of the everyday life chaos. By means of studying different aspects of modern life and people in it and finding out different paths and ways out, like in her earlier paintings of heroes, Ivona goes back, over and over, like an anthropologist into the past, in order to discover some new solutions for the future.

Her great desire to represent people as positive beings, as beings that transcend everyday life problems and as heroes of their time, is culminating now in the presentation of portraits created at the moment of revelation, enlightenment, apogee, thrill as well as equanimity and harmony.

On a 20 meters long frieze with supernatural portraits, she cleared the background, wiped out its temporal and spatial component. She painted the people from the past as well as from his own life, known and unknown, and thus she connected the past and the present in the future in the pursuit of the human being’s eternal desire to reach the Sun, to reach the unreachable. When she designed and painted this frieze, Ivona applied the theory of Pavel Florensky (Iconostasis, translation into Serbian, Belgrade, 2007). According to Florensky, the subject on an icon (usually a saint) represents materialisation of the inner, spiritual world. The icon for him is an object that emanates the metaphysical light of the invisible world. In the similar way, Ivona emphasizes the man’s spirituality through the genre of portrait and accentuates the whiteness of the background which materializes the bright light.

She highlights thus the juxtaposition of the spiritual and material worlds. In her earlier works, Ivona had pointed to the character and distinctive features of the portrayed thanks to some additional symbols. Now she erased completely any additional features and insisted only on that pure spiritual state of recognition. She emphasized difference in the acceptance of that sublime moment in the very physical posture of the portrayed. Some of the portrayed look the observer directly into the eyes; some look away and hide their faces because they are completely preoccupied with their introspection or they are completely absent and overwhelmed by here and now. While Ivona was exploring how the human image was being represented at the moment of revelation, she used two media - painting and printmaking. In both media she repeated almost an identical scene and changed the faces because she wished to achieve different effects with them. During the process of research, she exploited to maximum the very nature of the medium she uses.

The art of painting allowed her to get the air of the monumental. The painted faces look frightening, which causes a sort of awe in the observer. In this way, the observer will be awoken from the lull of everyday life and forced to ponder and reconsider her/his attitudes towards the world around her/him. On the other hand, the art of printmaking allowed her to have a far more subtle and intimate approach, where the artist added new faces and her self-portrait among others in order to put them in the observer’s shoes, and vice versa, and she emphasized her personal and emotional attitude towards the portrayed.

By means of merging the monumental and the intimate, Ivona ensured that each of us could see her/himself both in the position of a supreme being and an ordinary person. In both cases, the human need to step outside the world of material things, to overcome everyday life, to reach something intangible and different, to step into a spiritual world where there is no dilemma is represented on the frieze. Resolving various issues related to the nature of the world and the man within the world of science has not brought an order into the tangible world, from the human being’s point of view (in the human being’s psyche). It has merely made the basic mechanisms, as constituents of that order up to that point, disappear.

The world of science has replaced the world of myth, but it has not brought any harmony and hierarchy in the human perception of the material world; its ways have led rather to a complete imbalance in human being. Mircea Eliade explained it as follows: "[....] Revelation of a sacred space makes it possible to obtain a fixed point and hence to acquire orientation in the chaos of homogeneity, to “found world” and to live in a real sense. The profane experience, on the contrary, maintains the homogeneity and hence the relativity of space. No true orientation is now possible, for the fixed point no longer enjoys a unique ontological status; it appears and disappears in accordance with the needs of the day. Properly speaking, there is no longer any world, there are only fragments of a shattered universe, an amorphous mass consisting of an infinite number of more or less neutral places in which man moves, governed and driven by the obligations of an existence incorporated into an industrial society "(The Sacred And The Profane: The Nature of Religion, translated from the French language by William R. Trask, New York, Harcourt, Brace and World Inc., 1987, p. 23 -24) These "fixed points" have moved now from the former public sphere of religious expression to the sphere of private and personal. The need for rite strongholds in the human psyche is now left to the ingenuity of an individual; this has led to a complete chaos and disorientation in modern human being.

Ivona finds her fixed points in her paintings, in her art. Her friezes are her "holy place", and she is sharing them with us now and reminding us that we need to find structure of the world around us. That very human need to attain the impossible, to experience the extraordinary, eventually turns into a victory over oneself, in dealing with one’s own flaws and instincts, in winning a victory over everyday life. By means of fusing the sacred and the profane, the state of enlightenment with winning a victory over everyday problems, the author actually represents every human being and her/his own journey through life. Although she set her characters in a timeless landscape, in a potential future, she alluded to a possible state of revelation any of us can experience. Ivona’s very humanistic view of human being is expressed in her choice of the characters represented in her work. Insisting on the characters from those old and "primitive" civilizations, she underlines the primordial in human nature, harmony of human being with her/his environment. On the other hand, technological progress has enabled human being to overcome her/his limitations in the physical world and literally to reach, like an astronaut, the Sun. These two extremes are focused on imbalance and modern human being’s sense of being torn apart because she/ he has neither a fixed point in religion nor a possibility to reach the intangible with the help of high technology. Characters from the artistic life populate this space. Ivona criticizes modern society in her work, not via actual problems, but by emphasizing what is missing and what would bring some order into this world: true spiritual values embodied in the love of life. By means of her emphasis on a human and positivistic attitude towards human being, she underlines those true values which should become again fixed points for today’s lost human being. If her frieze with supernatural portraits from the past and the present has some apocalyptic overtones, and its imposing size seems frightening to the observer, it is for the purpose of point to a possible "course" that we can take.

The artist invites us not to leave our lives to a chance. She encourages us to find in our souls the most humane values that make us all equal and that give us the most important pillar of support in our lives. Ivona’s world of art gives us hope that we all are, at the end of the day, Children of the Sun.

By Aleksandra Mircic

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Meet the powers


1. Chiron IDENTITY

Chiron is the main character in the Barry Jenkins’ movie Moonlight. He is a boy who, with all his strength, became bigger than the greatest problems he had lived in. He became the happiest man! I presented him in a special and sensitive moment in which he examines his identity. Chiron represents the strengths of all the identities we carry in ourselves and those most sensitive parts of beings who are so vulnerable, and from which our greatest strength is actually derived. Chiron came to tell us that.


2. Gabriel CREATION

Gabriel’s joy brings us to the game. Joy and play are announcements that something new will be created, something the world has not seen yet. Novelties arouse new joy, which again moves us on new creations.
Thank you, Gabriel!


3. Ivona COMPASSION

I look at you with your eyes. I feel you with your heart. You are me. I am you. You look at me with my eyes. You feel me with my heart. We are all one.


4. Lazar CHANGE

Lazar is a boxer who dances in the rhythm of the whole world, he dances lithely through time. At every new moment, there is a newmovement and the new Lazar. He changes himself in the changing world. He dances with the changes.
That’s why he feels good.


5. Srki PERSISTENCE

“My greatest strength is persistence,” says Srki. Srki is my Aikido teacher. Srki is a child of the Sava river. Tugboats sailing on the Sava river carry his name, Persistence I and Persistence II. I’m also a child of the Sava river. That’s why Srki is my brother. The Sava teaches us to be persistent as the flowing water.

A one-way stream allows enormous numbers of particles to inform while moving, i.e. informing and transmitting information where they are needed. In the process of moving and informing the particles they gain great power which they use for their further movement. That’s how it works. Persistence is needed in life missions and long-term goals. Persistence leads us to fulfill our mission. Thank you, Persistence! Thank you, Srki, my teacher!


6. Pal WORK

Pal built the half of Senta. Pal also built his own house. He learned to build himself. He also taught others how to build. Pal created everything with his work!


7. Tasja JOY

Happiness is beautiful, gentle, wise, well organized. Happiness is a friend. Happiness is pleasant and smiling. Happiness is my greatest joy in life. Happiness listens to music, loves cheerful music from the radio. Happiness loves love. Happiness loves home. Happiness works for itself. Happiness does not leave itself to coincidence. Happiness is very well organized, organized by Happiness.


8. Verona GENTLENESS

Gentleness says, “I did not even know how to wear a hat.” Gentleness, tenderness, kindness, understanding ... originate from the innocence and purity of the soul, originate and they are transmitted on with a smile to the whole world.


9. Ranko MIND

The mind is clear. Ranko’s mind is the Universe. Ranko’s mind works with lights that radiate an endless number of colors. The colors in the light combine each other and create new spectra. Ranko opens photon packages and with his hans spreads his spectrum across our celestial sphere and over intelligence of the planet Earth. Ranko showed me how to do it. He is now showing everyone how their mind functions.


10. Orlando REALIZATION

Orlando is the main character in a movie called Orlando, directed by Sally Potter, based on Virginia Woolf’s novel, starring Tilda Swinton as Orlando, who I painted as the tenth power. Orlando is a prince. Orlando is a princess. Orlando realizes himself as a prince. Orlando realizes himself as a princess. Orlando does it bravely and easily.


11. Ksenija Lea LOVE

LOVE

Love smells a rose. Love gently walks over the petals. Love is alive. Her name is Love.

LOVE IS FAITH.

Ksenija Lea says: “Love for everybody in all directions.” Love is Faith. Love is Peace. Love means being present here now forever and everywhere. Love created us. Long live Love!