“The challenge of valuing oneself during impending adversity has not lessened during the prior 100 years,” Leonard Everett Fisher noted in his turn of the century evaluation of The Wizard of Oz in The Horn Book Magazine. For the last 20 years it is an idea that has informed the work of conceptual artist Dejan Kaludjerović. As he has written “My work explores the central role of image in Western society, the social obsession with fear and violence and the structure and mechanisms of capitalism; and how the capitalist system is using and manipulating the images of children, violence and sexuality in the media.”
Often using children and/or their literature as his protagonists the Serbian born artist with Austrian citizenship critiques the loss of innocence forced upon them and us in his videos, installations, photography and painting. “My work is mainly concerned with issues of responsibility and manipulation. In other words, the ways through which mass media, educational systems or family contexts, influence society,” he has said.
For his 2012 exhibition The Happy Prince Kaludjerović over painted his 2005 work Blue Girls with the 3740 word text from the Oscar Wilde story over which he painted a playground structure. In a review of the exhibition art critic Bosko Boskovic wrote “The decision to use The Happy Prince is not coincidental; it is used as a metaphor for ideals that are disappearing from our society: friendship for friendship’s sake, kindness with no expectations and non-premeditated affection.”
Kaludjerović’s 2013 installation Tin Man depicts the Frank Baum character with an empty swing hanging from one arm and video screen from the other. The 2004 video projected on the screen, No Fear from Small Animals, shows three kids restaging the scene from a 1980’s advertisement for children's garments, visible behind them, in which a boy feeds a carrot to a seated girl. About which art historian Goran Petrović has written “Initially associated with the carefree childhood (interpreted by way of the swing), this installation, upon secondary reading, evokes the sensation of the lack of self-confidence and instability, typical for all the characters of this novel.”
His current exhibition Conversations – Azerbaijan at Icheri SheherBaku’s Yay Gallery until the 19th of January has the latest edition of his ongoing video project Je suis malade. In this work Kaludjerović has a pre-adolescent girl perform the 1970’s French hit song of the same name. Filmed in a dark room, they look lost and lonely, singing about abandonment, desperation and self-destruction, in a language they do not understand. Their bewilderment and determination is as palpable as it is endearing. As the show’s curator says “Endearing miniature versions of politicians making unrealistic promises, using big, bombastic ideological phrases, media intellectuals giving barely understandable comments on every subject under the sun, socially conscious celebrities, these kids have learned early in life that appearance is everything.