Magazine article Art Monthly

Johanna Billing

Magazine article Art Monthly

Johanna Billing

Article excerpt

Johanna Billing Hollybush Gardens London January 26 to February 25

This is a story of appearances and reappearances. Two years ago at Hollybush Gardens, Johanna Billing exhibited Magical World, 2005, a short video set in an after-school club in a suburb of Zagreb, Croatia, featuring a group of children rehearsing the hopeful harmonies of the song of the same title (from 1968, the crest of hippie optimism, by psychedelic soul band Rotary Connection). In the background of that work appeared a group of musician helpers in their late 20s; they reappear, brought to the foreground, in Another Album, 2007. Its setting, contrasting strongly with the bruised fringes of Zagreb, is Krapanj: a bucolic-looking island on Croatia's Dalmatian coast, where--to judge only from the montage of languid, beach-based activities clustered within the daytime part of this seamlessly looped condensation of one day--time flows like honey. As the sun reddens and falls these eight men and women, sharing a rambling stone building on the coast, casually prepare for an evening in the garden: chairs are carried out, candles lit, wines uncorked, beers and soft drinks uncapped, food prepared. And, gradually, acoustic guitars begin to be strummed, percussion instruments shaken, voices raised in tentative and then more confident harmony.

Most of those seeing Another Album in London will not speak a syllable of Croatian, and no subtitles punctuate the film's 28-minute span. That may not matter much. Again, this is a story of appearances and reappearances. As Billing's invaluable 'liner notes'-style booklet clarifies, most of the songs performed first appeared between the 70s and the 90s. Many of the earlier ones, up to the late 80s, date from the vital and cherished 'Novi Vai'--Yugoslavia's New Wave, atomised by Croatia's war of independence in the early 90s. This charged supplement works, inevitably, to exceed linguistic specificity and retroactively adheres varying degrees of melancholia to relatively boilerplate sentiments, eg the wonder of romantic love in Oliver Dragojevic's Vjeruj Ljubav and the narrative of waiting for a loved one in Vlaho Paljetak's Marijana. There are, nevertheless, examples of songs inextricable from politics, such as the Bo Diddley-style last number, Za Ljubav Treba Imat Dusu (by Croatian pacifists Atoma Skolista, who played in Serbia in 1991 while Serbian separatists were staging attacks within Croatia).

Billing's film is not a documentary. In increasingly classical art-video style, it expresses itself as a construction: glancing shots show furry microphones dangling from booms and high-powered spotlights illuminating the scenario. …

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