There is a baseball-sized gallbladder stone living inside Vesna Jovanovic’s studio. The stone that once violently grew within an unfortunate party’s body now rests peacefully behind a glass display case on the third floor of the Museum of Surgical Science, where Vesna comes each week to work. As the museum’s artist-in-residence since October 2013, Jovanovic is granted daily access to the abundance of tools and historical objects that reside in the exhibition rooms. While the physicality of the artifacts does in part fuel her study and practice, it is the persons, stories and records behind them that really move her.
Artist, chemist and active member of a mushroom-hunting club, Jovanovic’s practice is rooted in prediction, chance and exploration. Working primarily on Yupo paper, she spills, splatters and drips colorful inks onto luminous sheets, all the while abiding by one rule only: her fingertips do not touch the wet surfaces. She lays the works flat to dry, surveying the spills as they maturate. One pour curls into the shape of a kidney, while elsewhere another twists and elongates into a lengthy spinal cord. Using her surrounding environment at the museum as a guide, she is able to find recognizable forms in the fluids, and her pencil marks become surgical needles as she exposes and pieces the body parts together.
In regards to both ink spills and academia, Jovanovic is an explorer with a thirst for discovery. Her BA in Ceramics, BS in Chemistry, BFA in Studio Art and MFA in Photography form the foundation and fuel the advancement of her practice, as does her active participation in residencies. From Wyoming to Santa Fe, Vesna has used different locations to gather clues about ways exterior objects, environments or ideas relate to the interior of the body.
However, in Vesna’s current residency—obtained in part by way of her consistent interest in and presence at the museum—she found the institution’s collection rendered her previous process of exterior search and interior discovery useless. “Everything either overtly addressed the body or the dismantling of it,” she noted. Immersed in an environment that directly addressed her subject matter like never before, Jovanovic began a more inward process of investigation. “When does something infiltrate one’s life so much that it seeps into the bodily experience of daily existence?” she asked herself. Her answer comes partly from anatomical works that delicately depict abnormal invasions within the body: a moth crawls into an ear canal; a stimulator is inserted along a spinal cord; a pea sprouts in a lung.
Seeking to stray from the objectifying and coldly scientific nature of typical medical drawings, Jovanovic treats her works as portraits of the psyche and as landscapes of the interior. She has mastered a delicate type of flaying, of peeling back the layers on a body—not with the intention to expose or gain knowledge, but instead to better relate to and understand her subjects’ pain. (Maria Girgenti)
Vesna Jovanovic shows at Packer Schopf Gallery, 942 West Lake, through February 14.