By Jason Foumberg
Let’s face it; the Happiness Industry just isn’t cutting it. Sure, we’re relaxed and content floating in a soup of our own syrupy blood sugar, teeth lightly humming, eyelids heavy. Artist Alex Jovanovich recognizes the cold efficiency of this happiness model, and he seeks to gently nudge us awake. His method of do-it-yourself emotionalism is a potion for enchantment, a tonic for cynicism. It seems everything Jovanovich does comes with a Valentine’s Day card, and every word begins a love letter. He asks others to join him. “It’s just about being open,” he says of his art, which is also a statement about living, for the two—art and life—can be interchangeable. For Alex, it’s not about going to the studio and spending hours perfecting shapes on a canvas. Rather, for him, art is life’s garnish. It doesn’t have to be the main attraction, but it can stimulate interactions that were otherwise lacking in color.
Jovanovich works toward a goal of loveliness—to spread it, to make more of it, and to revel in it. For about one year he selected random individuals from the phone book, one per state, and mailed each a pink paper heart. No return address or explanation was given—just a little valentine small enough to fit in an envelope but large enough to open the mind to the manifold wonders of the world. Surely Jovanovich isn’t in love with the names he plucked from the phone book (although it’s difficult not to become enamored by names like Stephen Kiss or Bobby Love, two of the fifty names displayed in a slide documentation of the project), and real love doesn’t need a pink paper heart to prove itself. Rather, the randomly mailed hearts were an experiment in mysterious generosity. The pink paper hearts are nicely made, with perfectly symmetrical scalloped edges. They’re not art objects per se, but like art objects, they exist to communicate a message. Stephen Kiss will never know why he received a valentine years ago; it must remain that that is just what happened. Jovanovich seeks to re-energize our willingness to be open to such moments and to allow them to quietly exist.
Where so much contemporary art seeks a yelling-fire!-in-a-crowd type of reaction, Jovanovich would rather plant the seed of sincerity. The result may be a mystery, but he welcomes leaving things to fate, and to faith. Much of his art bears no resemblance to traditional art objects, and so they require the viewers’ willingness to believe—it’s not a willful suspension of disbelief—but a trust that anything is possible. One product of his pursuits is a love letter written one word per day for 365 days. The year-long love letter isn’t addressed to anyone in particular and is simply signed by “Me.” One line reads, “I can see so clearly the magic that exists in everything around me, bit by exquisite bit.” Aside from being in one of the most perfect, if not generic, love letters around, this specific line speaks to Jovanovich’s whole perspective. It’s as if we need not have anything surreal or spectacular around us in order to experience magic. What is magic for Jovanivich? It’s connection and interaction with people. If you’re attuned to it, he says, then you’re enchanted.
Other works on view get more personal, such as a love letter he wrote to his mother. Imitating his mother in a wonderfully charming faux-Serbian accent, Jovanovich explained to me that he and his mother often suffer from miscommunication. He asked his mother to transcribe the letter he sent to her, and on view are his words in her handwriting, all upper-case and slightly shaky. Not even knowing his mother can leave one heartbroken: “I’m amazed that such love can exist,” he writes, that “I feel ashamed and confused.” Reading this letter felt like a gift of entry into the private world of Alex and his mother. It was an astonishingly rare and truthful moment.
On two small pedestals are works on paper, “Pink Scribble” and “Blue Scribble.” Here, Jovanovich quickly marked a piece of paper in a back-and-forth motion. Then, he cut out the continuous line in a delicate way. He remarked that it took him one month to cut out a line that took five minutes to draw. The lace-like papers, one in blue and the other pink, illustrate a more abstract concept than the straightforwardly personal valentines. Often in life we intensely concentrate and obsess over an action that took mere minutes to perform. The tedium and stress of getting it right in our memory so that it sits well within us is a task. These works point out the importance of the pause—something Jovanovich learned from loving poetry. They also speak to a quality of life that privileges slowness and lightness if we allow it.
Alex Jovanovich shows at Old Gold, 2022 North Humboldt, garden entrance, through April 13. A slideshow of the recently completed project “Weekly Anonymous Letters” will be presented on April 13 at 2pm.