The exhibition Home Paradigm: A New Place of Belonging is a thematic survey of the past fifteen years in the career of Serbian-Canadian artist Vessna Perunovich. After completing her undergraduate and master’s studies in Belgrade and moving to Canada in the late 1980s, Vessna’s artistic practice first developed around the medium of classical painting, with her subject matter mainly based on representations of exotic and imaginary landscapes. The 1990s were, for the artist, a period of unlocking new themes that she started exploring, which concern issues of intimacy, the fragility of gender relations, the interpersonal relations, including reflections on her own immigrant experience.
A temporary departure from the painting medium introduced Vessna to working with other methods of visual expression, especially investigating the associative and meaningful potential of materials consisting of recycled household items and various types of textiles. Consequently, her first sculptures and assemblages suggested that the artist’s primary focus in experimenting with materials and techniques was to employ and combine their opposite purposes and qualitative properties., i.e., to explore their possibilities to communicate and convey a particular emotional state or process to the observer in new constellations and compositions. After the 2000s, continuous working with materials and further testing of their symbolic expressiveness and transformative power resulted in more complex formal solutions in the form of installations, ambient-sculptural works and site-specific interventions, which would become the hallmark of her artistic practice.
For the artist, the mentioned period was also when she began to expand her artistic expression to include video and performance art. At the same time, in terms of thematic-problematic research, it steered her toward reflecting on and re-examining the concept of identity in migratory movements, the notion of barriers and borders, the phenomenon of displacement in the context of transnational and transcultural realities of today’s world. Vessna’s oeuvre, summed up in the last decade and a half, remains recognized, first of all, for its highly concise visual language and a strategy of minimalism in the choice of color scheme, objects and materials she uses, performative gestures she employs, and her central subjects with archetypal content, which ultimately provoke a more universal interaction with the observer, regardless of whether they originate in personal experiences and narratives.
Installed on all three levels of the Milica Zorić and Rodoljub Čolaković Legacy Gallery, Home Paradigm: A New Place of Belonging presents works created after the 2000s, among which are installations with readymade objects, drawings, photographs, videos and site-specific interventions. Along with several key earlier pieces from the mentioned period of the artist’s career (House of Exile, Cradle), the exhibition features the most recent works, including large-format installations (Shifting Shelter, Archive of Insignificant Losses). In re-examining the concept of home from today’s perspective of the constantly changing character of the local and global context, increased mobility and frequent dislocations, Vesna Perunović raises a series of questions concerned with how we perceive the dwelling space, leading us to confront the values traditionally attributed to it, such as security, privacy, a fixed living environment, and geographical and ethnic background. Her own immigrant experience and broader musings on migration and displacement (by force and choice) become thematic starting points for the artist. Her works attempt to understand the positions of individuals and communities in continuous negotiations with new environments and identities, in the emotional relationships they establish towards spaces they have either temporarily or permanently settled or abandoned, and hence the constant wondering about belonging. As the artist points out, the exhibition explores the paradigm of home in modern contexts, from the concept of a physically defined, immediate formative and protective environment to the understanding of home and domicile as a place and state constituted of processes, connections we realize with others and with the world through relationships, encounters and movements.
Vessna Perunovich (1960) graduated from Belgrade’s Faculty of Fine Arts in 1987. Since 1988, she has lived and worked in Toronto. She exhibited in hundreds of art shows in Canada, the United States, Europe, Asia and South America. She recently participated in the Havana Biennial, Cuba (2019), as part of the Ad Infinitum exhibition and the Risk Change, a four-year project of the European Union (2016–2020), which dealt with the phenomenon of migration. She has completed numerous international art residencies worldwide: the ISCP in New York, Red Gate in Beijing China, Glogauar in Berlin, Risk Change in Malta, Miz Istanbul Gallery, and Banff Residency in Alberta, Canada. Her exhibition projects Emblems of Enigma (2007–2009) and Borderless (2009–2011) have been presented in museums and galleries in Canada and Eastern Europe. Vessna Perunovich is the winner of the TFVA (2005) and numerous other grants from the Canada Council for the Arts, including the prestigious OAC Chalmers Fellowship Grant (2019) for her project The Politics of Exile and Compassion.
Exhibition curator: Miroslav Karić
Photo: Bojana Janjić, MSUB
The exhibition was supported by: the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Serbia, the Canada Council for the Arts, the Ontario Arts Council, the Toronto Arts Council, and the Canadian Embassy in Belgrade.