Vojislav Radovanović’s ORNITHOMANCY
Diana Berger Art Gallery, Walnut
Through September 29, 2022
Without human awareness, the world is a chip off a star, mechanically wheeling in a silent darkness.Ellen Dissanayake
The world is full of magic things- patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.W.B. Yeats
Written by Nancy Kay Turner
Vojislav Radovanović is a shaman who transforms the ordinary into the extraordinary, turning the white walls of the gallery into a reverential and sacred space in which to probe man’s tenuous relationship to the heavens, the earth and to divinity. Entitled “Ornithomancy,” which is defined as “the practice of reading omens from the actions of birds… and is equivalent to augury employed by the ancient Romans…” Radovanović’s compelling, beautifully installed immersive exhibit, expertly curated by Jason Jenn, contains mixed media works on paper, site specific murals, free standing installations, a video and mixed media dioramas. These are composed of elements — stars, birds, sticks, map trails, broken mirrors, feathers, and tires –some found, most hand-constructed, that Radovanović wields like an alphabet to construct potent meaning in all the works.
The first piece the viewer sees, “Rising from the Ashes III,” 2022, is a mixed media installation affixed directly to the wall that sets the tone, the color palette, and the mystical nature of the entire exhibition. This is an incandescent image of the legendary Phoenix who lived 500 years before his nest of cinnamon sticks and resin is burned by the sun. The Phoenix perishes in the flames only to be reborn over again, thereby becoming a symbol of resurrection for many cultures, religions, and mythologies. Radovanović’s clever use and transformation of abandoned detritus and objects only amplifies this message of reincarnation. He reuses bits of former installations in new works presented here; thereby granting the materials a sort of immortality.
Around the corner is “Migrations” 2022 (mixed media on canvas), a serenely exquisite triptych whose shape references medieval Christian altar pieces. Childlike white origami birds follow their pre-ordained path along the lush landscape while steadily ascending into the inky speckled sky of deep space. The dotted, meditative milky way, composed of concentric stamped circles, is reminiscent of Australian Aboriginal Dream paintings and paradoxically ancient Roman mosaic tile floors. This repetitive circular pattern is a favorite leitmotif of Radovanović and appears in many sumptuous two-dimensional works.
Echoes of past and present catastrophes, whether caused by climate change or war, are the explicit themes of several works, most notably “Wasteland,” 2022, a large mixed media installation that is 9 x 10 x 10 feet. It’s a terse poetic depiction of destruction, abandoned detritus and brokenness sitting like an abject island in the center of the gallery. The shattered mirror seen here is thought to bring seven years bad luck, and here it has. The glass shards on the ground reminds one of riots, wars and especially Kristallnacht, literally the Night of Broken Glass. Denuded trees topped by remnants of bird feathers instead of green leaves speaks to severe drought and imminent destruction. An elegant glass swan sits on the damaged surface reminding us of the beauty that can be lost.
Radovanović continues this theme in the intimate projection room which shows “Parable (the Wanderers), a video done in 2021/2022, accompanied by a hauntingly melancholy score by Joseph Carrillo. The use of bells in the music is evocative and poetic referencing Church bells and the expression “the bell tolls for thee,” (reminding us that we are all connected and mortal.)
Mimicking children’s puppetry, the artist – only visible with his hand — guides handmade painted birds through a scorched landscape. Birds in children’s literature are thought to contain secret knowledge, while doves represent peace, love, and freedom in the three Abrahamic religions as well as pagan religions. Here Radovanović uses birds as spirit messengers, whose warnings about climate change we ignore at our own peril. When paired with “Prophecy, 2022,” a mixed media installation in which ceramic figurines of children and birds are submerged in aquariums, it seems as though, to quote Heidegger, “the dreadful has already happened.” The murky water which apparently continues to darken as time passes, makes it nearly impossible to see the figures inside creating a chilling prophecy indeed.
It’s instructive to think about Radovanović’s inventive use of stars in so many of the works as stars are the most recognizable astrological objects. They exist in science and popular culture. All living things are made of star dust. Children wish upon a star for their dreams to come true if you believe Jiminy Cricket. Radovanović liberally sprinkles silvery stars throughout the exhibit – many created out of old maps. In the glittering and monochromatic work “Ornithomancy Apparatus,”2022, mixed media on canvas, there is a shooting star, leaving a crackled trail behind it and with a feather quill intertwined with it. The feather quill pen, in use from the sixth to mid-nineteenth century, is a reminder that the pen is mightier than the sword.
Radovanović’s whimsical use of Soviet era children’s toys, like his hand painted cheery cosmonaut in deep space or the mechanical Godzilla monster streaking through the night, soften his bleak message (though it does make one think of all the space detritus swirling around us). Through his varied use of maps, he suggests both Man’s sense of place and forced displacement. He explores, with great wit, humor and compassion man’s fragile existence and the desire to discover our destinies through divination, religion, and superstition. His sophisticated blend of Christian iconography sprinkled with pagan spirit totems, his shamanistic bundles of sticks and feathers remind me of Voltaire’s famous quote, “If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent Him.” This must-see lush, thoroughly original work has hidden depths compelling the viewer to examine the remarkably complex surfaces while pondering the many questions posed, although the handwriting is already on the wall.