culture | 20 july 2017
At Killing Time you are walking into a modern church environment. Think of it as an upgraded, clean form of scientology. The room is neutral and secular with more white space on the gallery walls than you’re used to when experiencing art.
words: charlotte doyle
photographs: peter mcleavey gallery
Killing Time is Veronika Djoulai’s debut exhibition at the Peter Mcleavey Gallery and one of her first since graduating from the Whitecliffe College of Arts and Design last year. What's it about? In one word, anxiousness. People are always watching what you wear, listening to how you talk and wondering where you’ve been. At the same time we are always watching what we eat and thinking about what people think of us online. With this exhibition, Veronika Djoulai deliberately compels you to both shut all of this out and confront it head on.
On two of the walls there seem to be mimicked church windows. Three square, one a septagon, each carefully and impeccably crafted out of smooth thin strips of wood. Almost like adult, sophisticated popsicle sticks. Septagon is illuminated from behind by LED lights changing colour between green and blue. Maybe a contemporary interpretation of a stained glass window.
Under the gallery’s window sits a row of chairs with green-velvet cushions and very straight, square arm rests. They could belong to a church or to a doctor’s waiting room. Either way, it’s a reminder of places where you are often forced to sit for a long time, like at the dentist or in a classical concert, and left to your own thoughts…which can occasionally be quite terrifying. The pew is an uncanny harder version of the green velvet chez that has always sat under the McLeavey window, a further push into a new form of reflection
While sitting in these green-velvet chairs, you are denied a sacred text or Women's Weekly. Instead, to aid your escapist perusal, Veronika has provided a magazine packed full of photos of Russian children with a real-life big cat on a lead (it is a status symbol in Russia to be photographed with wild animals, such as a lynx). The kids range from looking highly awkward or outright terrified. More often than not the lynx sits unloved on a stool a couple of feet away, staring blankly. The photos are taken by a professional photographer in Russia (and owner of the lynx) who was discovered by Veronika in a 'rubble of jpeg images' online.
If the photos fail to alleviate/subvert the discomfort of your modern existence, there is plenty more material that may help. The work Exquisite Corpse replicates the childhood game originally invented by surrealists of folding paper into thirds and passing it around with each participant only able to see their blank square. Veronika relies on surrealist games and philosophies to point out the very readily available absurdity in our politics, entertainment, religion, health, and virtual existences today.
Veronika plays a similar hashed game with a Russian anatomy TV program called ‘Live Well!’ from the 1980s. Three tiered screens let you witness thick creamy liquid oozing out of fake skin issuing a warning about fat and cholesterol, then white sleeved hands gesturing over fake lungs, and the busts of Socrates and Aristotle having their heads rubbed.
It wouldn't be an accurate critique of contemporary ridiculousness if the exhibition didn't make a gesture towards the United States' recent selection for a president. Called 'Little Trump Manor' a room-sized black tent overwhelms the gallery's second room. Not quite so sacred and clean, a tall black monolith is illuminated in the middle of the tent. A video of peaceful synchronised swimmers calmly plays behind it. Doing nothing, accepting your modern state of being, can have potentially threatening consequences.
Whether Killing Time fuels or helps to soothe the modern state of anxiety, it is guaranteed to provoke you into thinking about it. Yet as Veronika's plaque engraved with ‘Don't let it upset you' on McLeavey's wall dictates, when scrolling through your Gram remember that in the end it is all simply an absurd reflection of our modern lives.
veronika djoulai: www.veronikadjoulai.com
peter mcleavey gallery: www.petermcleaveygallery.com
veronika djoulai: @veronika_djoulai
peter mcleavey gallery: @petermcleaveygallery
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