Text by Boshko Boskovic

 

Free time in labor and art

The artistic practice of Maja Bekan takes the form of diverse projects and enterprises that draw on performance, consumer aesthetics and popular concerns. Her installations and performative work are often participatory in nature, promoting and providing a particular environment for the audience. The gallery, museum or cityscape become a platform for the artist and protagonists who engage with her constellations.

 

Honoring the connection with ancestors and direct family lineage is a central feature of life in many civilazations and cultures. Nowadays our busy lives often prevent us to find time to engage with our kin even though it is regarded as a positive, constructive and creative presence. One of the continuous sources of inspiration for Bekan is her own mother Divna. She is part of her newest installationGolden Party consisting of a video shot in real time, two water coolers and indoor plants. The video revolves around a social gathering in a private apartment where Bekan’s mother and five of her female friends are presenting to each other products they sell in their spare time, which range from creams for the body to sliming merchandise. Bekan becomes the silent observer behind the camera, capturing 119 minutes of this happening and we realize that the members are aware of the presence of the artist only when one of them at one point in time directs a question to the artist.

 

Since the economic crisis affected Serbia, Divna Bekan became an expert in buying and selling precious metals. A significant part of the video concentrates in the observation of the golden artifacts that each member of the group brought. The gold specialist carefully weighs each item, giving her expertise about the nature of the metal, the age and value. As each woman recounts the history of their jewelry piece it is apparent that these relics are a connection and remembrance of time that has past. Whether it be the first ring they received from their father or a bracelet that was given as a present for graduating high school each piece is a vessel and keepsake of recollections from a lifetime. Video is inherently a time based art, so the audience needs to make a point to engage with it in order to comprehend the medium.  As these narratives unfold over the course of time and the video progresses we get to know more and more about intimate moments in the life of these women, what they aspire to, their desires and dislikes. The Golden Party captures the artistic tradition of “social practice” which refers to works of art in which the artist,  the audience, and their interactions with one another create the work itself. Another term to describe this type of engagement is participatory art, an approach of making art in which the audience is engaged directly in the creative process, allowing them to become co-authors, editors, and observers of the work. Not only does Bekan’s camera capture therelationships between these women but also shows the social/political outcomes of a certain generation of women and their preferences. In this piece, as in many of her other work, Bekan brings together two separate contexts – that of art and the one of business and blurs the lines where one starts and the other ends. There is an air of spare time since the context is a house party, where drinking and eating is involved yet at the same time gold is being evaluated and beauty products sold. Concurrently an artist is leisurely sitting behind a camera lens actively creating a work of art.

 

Bekan brings together closer and switches around the  contexts of art and business, she states that her aim is to offer the public an experience which overlaps the two spheres  and enhances the ambiguity and interplay between them thus problematising the notion of participatory art.The oeuvre of Maja Bekan always becomes a site of investigation encompasing various aspects of interaction, and an ongoing endavour to better understand the social construction of human needs. As art institutions worldwide are more under pressure than ever to quantify the social benefits  they bring to their audiences  and the value of the arts is under scrutiny we should be thinking is it possible at all to measure what kind of labor goes into a work of art. Sometimes you could just be sitting at a party where snacks are passed around and gold measured, yet an artwork is born out these interactions.