Sharmila Nezovic

Loco-levels of consciousness
Cairns Regional Gallery

In this exhibition of paintings and performance/installation, Sharmila Nezovic's canvasses display a painterliness characteristic of mid-twentieth century abstract expressionism, however her concerns go beyond those of paint and surface. In these works, luscious wide marks, buttery fields of sensual colour, incisive scratches and undulating lines push, pull and shift, evoking recollections of dance and body movement as well as forgotten skies, wet roads and spacious landscapes. Opaque layers are built up on the paintings' surfaces, alluding to things partly revealed and partly hidden. Although eclipsed by these flowing marks, the underlying structure seems to have geometric allusions which, once, may have been recognisable. Now, in some works, they dictate the shape of the upper surface—in the same way in which a grid of backyards still emerges no matter how overgrown they become. It seems the artist is urging her viewers away from the familiar, into an arena of more primal dynamics.

It is difficult, in a highly verbal culture such as ours, to communicate in abstract marks which are totally devoid of reference or of relief in the form of recognisable images. Likewise it is difficult to explain the painterly mark with other than descriptive language alluding to sensual experiences or emotions. Unless of course one complements and extends the abstract visual language of the painted works with an even more elemental and abstract language which is universally understood: body-language and sound.

"Loco is madness; Loco is movement; Loco is also levels of consciousness". With these Dadaesque phrases Nezovic introduced her exhibition/performance and led her spectators away from consensual reality to a pre-linguistic space, the domain of the Freudian Id, of unacculturated perception—perhaps 'madness' in a cultural sense. Nezovic's performance-installation, in contrast to the painterly works, was dominated by geometry. A frame/door/window was centred on a floor of black and white squares, interrupted by one theatrically curved chair and, after the performance, by a pile of clothes signalling the untidiness of humans in the rigid rectangularity of the average urban living space.

Both the performance and the paintings aimed to impart experience without cultural luggage; the shock of visual recognition without the illustration, the sharing of emotional utterances without the words. To facilitate this, the artist suggested a procedure which was the reverse to that of life, with its progressive accumulation of cultural responses. In her paintings, Nezovic started from clearly recognisable subject matter—urban, reflecting the constructed environ ment—and covered this with newer intuitive interpretations. In the performance, costumed in a unisex suit, the artist progressively stripped layers of clothing and the cultured quality of voice and gesture, moving away from language towards sound. Her own primal voice was accompanied by a taped text, endlessly repeated, related to Antonin Artaud's Theatre of Cruelty: Starting with pointed, stilted movements, which reflected the geometry of the installation (and also the first layers of the paintings), the artist gradually developed minute marionette-like gestures, flicks of the hand and facial movements, into a full and sensuous body vocabulary of emotional exuberance and vulnerability. With 'pre-linguistic' vocal utterances the artist cooed and clucked, purred and crooned, shrieked and screamed and further striped her socialised persona, culminating in a swirling motion and shrieks of the utmost ecstasy.

In some instances sensual responses can be shared more readily: primal utterances, screams, screeches, or acquiescing sounds (such as mothers make to babies), are perhaps pre-linguistic sounds that all humans share. Visual utterances in the form of smears, slashes, tentative scribbles, empathic lines also convey a non-verbal world of emotional and sensual responses. It is through these multi-sensory raw elements that Nezovic shares her very personal journey towards pure consciousness, away from the familiar which is symbolised by the geometry of gridded cities.

Her explorations produced engaging abstract paintings which kept the viewer on the edge of recognition, and a performance which left none of the audience untouched.