Giles Blatta and His Secret Passages is a minimalist diptych consisting of spatial audio installations. It is the latest contribution to the subtle opus of Josip Šurlin, which consistently expresses an intimate yet measured correlation between the visual media and theoretical inspirations, built on a firm conceptual foundation. The visual-conceptual principle – a major feature of Šurlin’s art – is here manifested in a gloomy and purified ambience void of all excess or artistic gesture, which thus directly communicates the power of his artistic ideas.

Without necessarily recalling all the dominant characteristics of hierarchically organized administrative systems that we encounter on a daily basis, one should say, first of all, that Giles Blatta and His Secret Passages primarily speak of the position of socially marginalized individuals forced to live a second-rate life for various reasons. The problems that are commonly communicated to the audience through publicly advertised artistic actions or noisy activist demonstrations have here been subdued to the pianissimo level in order to evoke empathy and a sort of existentialist cramp in the observer. This is because Šurlin’s art inspires a subtle understanding of human beings as powerless individuals caught in the open sea of life circumstances and constellations, where success or failure largely depends on the adequacy one’s social and professional profile, or even sheer luck.

A key for reading the exhibition Giles Blatta and His Secret Passages can be found in the invisible protagonist of the same name, a fictitious person who opts for voluntary exile and disappears behind stylized metal boxes/doors. Disappointed with the violent and intolerant system, he becomes an embodiment of conformity in his escapism: renouncing at the comfort and safety of his home, he leaves in order to live his own version of life and the world by dedicating himself to repetitive actions such as cleaning a derelict building. It is a senseless process, an act of turning one’s back at the world, such as depicted in David Wojnarowicz’s short silent film called A Fire in my Belly (1986/1987).

Even though the choice of the medium and the exhibition mode may seem unusual regarding the nature of the subject matter, it brings out the best qualities of Šurlin’s sensitive artistic expression and makes full use of the fundamental features of “total installation” such as practised by llya Kabakov: immersion and engagement with the presented story. Šurlin has created an environment that forces the spectators into the exhibition space by starting a dialogue between two dimensions, reflected in the physical division between “us” and “them” (since we cannot enter the area of the artwork). It is the opposition between the underground/marginal and the feeling of homely cosiness suggested by a carpet (the tackier, the better), and eventually the distinction between the visible and the imaginary. The artist has intentionally intensified the impression by adding sound as a sort of logos communicating the idea of the artwork. In that sense, one may say that the manifestation and suggestiveness of Šurlin’s visual language has been complemented by a repetitive and occasionally cacophonic sound background contributing to the feeling of disorientation and isolation of the subject, and adding new semantic layers to the existing interpretations, which results in a well rounded whole.

Partly inspired by Kafka’s Metamorphosis, the artistic installation of Josip Šurlin uses simple visual instruments to make a statement on a thin line between surface and underground, comfort and anxiety, familiarity and estrangement.

Božo Kesić

Josip Šurlin (Split, 1993) graduated from the School of Fine Arts in Split in 2012. Currently, he is a postgraduate student at the Arts Academy in Split (Department of Painting), class of prof. Viktor Popović nad docent Neli Ružić. He participated in several group and solo exhibitions and his work was specially acknowledged at the 1st Student Biennial held at the Waldinger Gallery in Osijek. This is his third solo exhibition.

On view till 28 May 2017.