Serbian artist Irena Knezevic’s installation at the MCA brims with elegance and manic energy. The work brings together different systems of thought and belief around the notion of the Devil. The seemingly free association between subject matter and presentation strategies slowly comes to light as a thoughtful study of literary and historical allusions. Various groups, or systems, are presented: Prouns, a type of abstraction invented by El Lissitzky; an index of Sun Ra’s notes from a book by famed theosophist Helena Blavatsky, silk-screened onto a gorgeous slab of Plexiglass; a weather system comprised of an overhead projector and transparency; a changing slide show of images referring to the Devil, timed to change every six days, corresponding to histories of bombings in Serbia; a bowl of milk and “cake-landscape” referencing The Master and Margarita, Mikhail Bulgakov’ s novel in which the Devil visits the godless Soviet Union; batons engraved with the names of composers who have conjured the Devil. Knezevic takes these multiple references and weaves them together via a highly idiosyncratic esthetic. The ideas and associations may be difficult to grasp but the installation itself bathes in clarity and light. Four slide projectors and an overhead projector reduce the materiality of the photographic image to pure energy. There is much to delight in her sensuous handling of materials and fastidious attention to detail in the objects and vitrines. The work is unapologetically hermetic and viewers must work hard to decode the installation. Such lack of explicitness can easily irritate. However, rather than weakening this work, its cryptic quality feels necessary and a novel means to approach difficult truths. (Sze Lin Pang)
Through April 27 at the Museum of Contemporary Art, 220 E. Chicago.