What's in a name?: Moving pictures by two artists from former Yugoslavia

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Displacement, exile, nostalgia, alienation, life's continuity, the power of tradition and the quest for identity - these are the weighty themes that lie at the heart of Breda Beban's and Hrvoje Horvatic's haunting videotapes. The problem they raise, in a nutshell, is how you place yourself in the world. But instead of looking at the practical and political issues involved, the artists focus on feelings, and what surfaces in their work is the confusing sensation of belonging yet not belonging, an awareness of suffering and an aura of intrigue.

The Beban and Horvatic retrospective at the Whitechapel Art Gallery consists of 10 single-screen tapes made between 1986 and 1994, ranging from one to 43 minutes in duration. The entire programme goes under the banner 'Taking on a Name', a title given piquancy by the fact that the artists' homeland, the former Yugoslavia, is currently nameless. Yugoslavia looms large in the videos; its landscapes, its Byzantine heritage and its iconic richness are a stark counterpoint to the self-conscious modernity of their English and Canadian locations.

In the opening sequence of The Left Hand Should Know (still, right), the well-known contours of a man's head are presented as a terra nova, a landscape that the travelling camera explores and makes strange. In Geography a vision of the enigmatic, almost lunar Lake Ohrid dissolves into images of its constituent element - water, in its everyday guise - rain.

Water and fire make regular appearances in Beban and Horvatic's work, anchoring it in a language of fundamentals and essences, but also suggesting that the unexpected transformations in life are governed by forces greater than ourselves - forces of nature. If there is a philosphy underlying this work, it is perhaps summed up by the statement uttered by a woman at the beginning of The Left Hand Should Know: 'Everything is connected'.

Breda Beban and Hrvoje Horvatic, 'Taking on a Name', at the Whitechapel Art Gallery 12-19 Jul (071-377 0107)

(Photograph omitted)

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