View of Zlatko Ćosić's exhibition "Still Adjusting," 2014; at Gallery 210.

 

 

A refugee of the Yugoslav wars, Zlatko Ćosić reflects on his transcultural survival narrative in the seven video works that comprised "Still Adjusting," his recent solo exhibition at Gallery 210 at the University of Missouri, St. Louis. Rather than offering imagery of violence and devastation, Ćosić focuses on his everyday life in St. Louis, where he has been based since he escaped his country's conflicts in the late '90s. In these works, he sets out to chronicle his adoptive home—the modest houses, the leafy streets, the ubiquitous white noise of American news media—with his camera, as though attempting to construct a barrier against memory and loss and to find a stable identity. Variously projected and displayed on flat-screen monitors, the videos provide a tour of spaces that seem at once ordinary and filtered through the artist's difficult history.

The two-channel installation Temporary Graffiti: Banja Luka—St. Louis (2013) presented footage of St. Louis on one wall and that of Ćosić's native Banja Luka, in present-day Bosnia and Herzegovina, on an adjacent wall. In each city, the camera follows the beam of a flashlight as it traces the lines of trees, streets and buildings. Banja Luka appears tattooed with spray-painted scrawls, while St. Louis's surfaces are clean. Both cities, however, are depicted as landscapes of unpopulated public spaces, grand monuments and crumbling building stock, the work blurring geographic and sociopolitical differences.

31 Days (2011) consists of a collection of point-and-shoot still photographs of Ćosić's house and neighborhood in St. Louis over the course of a month. Shot blindly over the artist's shoulder, the images are angular and imprecise and show, for instance, a for-rent sign on his neighbor's house, rain-slicked residential streets, doormats and potted plants; the day's date is stamped on each picture. An audio collage of incidental noise and NPR news reports serves as the primary soundtrack, conveying our national anxieties in snippets noting "a housing crisis we helped create"; a culture "all about expediency, about speed"; and "overseas conflicts." In the image for the 30th day, the for-rent sign is gone from the neighbor's house; the picture for the 31st is pitch black. A male and female voice (the artist's and his wife's) simultaneously intone, at the piece's end, "Let it go . . . It's there. Keep searching for something to see."

Ćosić relates to his camera not unlike a draftsman does to pencil and paper. Though his MFA—from St. Louis's Sam Fox School of Design and Visual Arts, Washington University, where he now teaches—is in video art, his work feels less sympathetic toward the spectacle-driven technological effects of that medium than toward the traditional practice of drawing, with its human element, lyricism and sense of gesture. His ability to render clear and relatable the complexities of his own story and those of his lost homeland speak to this point. He can convey a breadth of emotions and psychological nuances in, say, an offhand shot of running creek water, whose currents read as an elegiac composition being drawn and erased before the viewer's eyes.