The first ever solo exhibition by Kosovar artist Sislej Xhafa opens in London in mid December. The show merges painting, sculpture and installation, Xhafa explores the effects of contemporary consumerism, examining the social, economic and political imbalances inherent in all capitalist societies. Using an ironic and subversive black humour that is intrinsic to his practice, the artist works to expose the limitations of material possessions, highlighting the futility of commercial desire when considered within a broader context of metaphysical and existential questions.
In Mother (2013), we are confronted by a tombstone, on top of which is attached a telephone receiver – an object that normally grants instant gratification to our need for connection. Yet by attempting to give the tombstone an interactive function, Xhafa exposes a type of connection that is unfulfillable: contact with the dead. In doing so, the work alludes to the perceived futility of religious ceremony, ironically subverting notions of afterlife and spiritual communication with those we have lost.
Woman with Red Skirt (2012) invokes the idea of artworks transforming into mere ‘objects’ in their own right, which can be continually recycled within a marketplace. Indeed, the colour red that is indicated by the title is physically absent. Instead, pastel greys and greens make up the hazy form of a woman, whose sensuality is undermined by the muted colours of mould and decay. This incongruity between title and product is a play upon expectation and pre-conceived ideas on painting itself. It is left up to the viewer to decide whether the absence of red is part of the artist’s subjective representation, or whether both the canvas and painted fabric are deliberately presented in a state of gradual decomposition, implying the process whereby a precious object is eroded by the effects of consumerist exchange.
Merry-Go-Round (2013) similarly presents the idea of cyclic demise, through an installation which is stationary despite the title’s implication of a rotating structure. A strange amalgam of seemingly disparate objects including a fridge, a taxidermy cat, a pack of cigarettes and a radio hang from a rusting football goal, denoting differing forms of desire and consumption. One object is harmful to our health, while another is essential for survival; some function as status symbols, while others illustrate a desire for human connection and the consumption of information. The taxidermy cat, in particular, indicates the absurdity of recycling an animal’s body, in the hope of capturing the animal’s essence even after its death. This network of juxtaposed signifiers is suspended in front of the football goal, a potent symbol of aspiration and success that is now in a state of decline and neglect – indicative of an eventual collapse. The installation thus illustrates the jarring difference between the dream and the reality of contemporary socio- political aspirations, invoking the ‘merry-go-round’ concept in order to convey a perpetual cycle of consumption and decay.
Xhafa once described how ‘reality is stronger than art. As an artist I do not want to reflect a reality, but I do want to question it.’ asymmetric désir represents the artist’s continued ambition to lay bare the realities of psychological and political exploitations that are rife throughout contemporary society.
Sislej Xhafa (b.1970) was born in Peja, Kosovo. He is known for creating works that address economic, social and political complexities, using a minimal language that is simultaneously ironic and subversive. Xhafa’s practice typically incorporates a wide range of media, from sculpture and installation to drawing, performance and photography. He famously confronted the legal status of his country of origin, Kosovo, in 1997, presenting himself as the one-man Clandestine Albanian Pavilion at the Venice Biennale. Xhafa currently lives and works in New York.