Conjuring the interior of a deeply flamboyant birdcage, Slovenian artist Jaša’s immersive installation “Apnea’s Rhapsody” was an ebullient rumination on avian flight. The Ljubljana-based artist’s first U.S. show began with a large room wallpapered in undulating stripes of bright mauve and pink, titled Mother Image (all works mentioned 2012). Hanging from the ceiling, two white swings, Swing 1 and 2 (Apnea’s Rhapsody) allowed viewers to experience the show’s wall pieces, sculpture and performances in pendular motion, nearly airborne.
Now in his early 30s, Jaša began his career in painting before switching to multidisciplinary, installation-based work. He has stated that his environments, shown in Slovenia and Italy and included in the Venice Biennale in 2011, are intended to be “spaces which provoke the real.” This installation is more grounds for the impossible, or the improbably romantic. Suspended from the ceiling, DIY wings fashioned from black umbrellas-a prop from an earlier performance Apnea’s Rhapsody (action 1), documented in a photograph on view showing the artist appearing to jump off a cliff-evoke handmade magic. A large carpet on the floor features an image of a man and a bird, their faces transposed. The image, derived from an Italian comic book called Dylan Dog, doesn’t hold up to the carpet’s eminent formal presence.
Wafting up through the door to the basement was a sound piece, which included compositions by the Slovenian musician Kula (a collaborator on the piece), ambient noise recorded at the opening and a poem spoken by Jaša. In the dimly lit basement were shelves lined with small sculptures as well as wall pieces, most more otherworldly than flight-focused. The artworks displayed in one corner upstairs could be swapped at the whim of viewers, who were presented with a checklist from which they could select a piece to be fetched from the lower level.
The sculptures transform everyday objects into charming totems. An ersatz wishing well, My Baby’s Feet dangles the bottom half of a bisected inflatable duck from a plastic coat hanger. A foam cast of Jaša’s hand, titled My Hand (still caressing your hair), was wielded by a gallery attendant, who stroked the viewer’s head and repeated the incantation “As you shine I dance to your heartbeat” with each stroke. Jaša shares a sensibility with 1970s Czech Conceptualist Jirï¿½?í Kovanda, whose actions, such as inviting strangers to make eye contact and kiss, are imbued with similar sweetness and assumed intimacy.
Evening performances held during the exhibition further plumbed the artist’s quixotic optimism. At one event, Jaša employed several elegant avatars of himself-all dressed in black suits and brilliant socks-to sing a cappella, drop handfuls of marbles and kick around an inflatable globe. Jaša’s stance is so unrelentingly romantic-a near-unicorn in the context of contemporary art-that his performances seem to contain a critical function beyond their surface pleasure. They dare one to believe in the relevance of a practice steeped in what seems to be nothing but good vibrations and intentions. Like a bird in first flight, they would function with nothing less.
Photo: View of Jaï¿½?sa’s exhibition “Apnea’s Rhapsody,” 2012; at On Stellar Rays.