Vera Zulumovski

The embellished image
School of Fine Art Gallery, University of Newcastle

'Curatorial chauvinism' was the jibe made in relation to The Embellished Image, an exhibition curated by Nick Mitzevich. Artists, academics and other visitors to the exhibition were concerned that the work of the artist, Vera Zulumovski, was trivialised and subordinated to the stronger directives of a curatorial purpose. Many were horrified that the exhibition required the systematic destruction of original work. In short the exhibition polarised the community. But this was an interesting exercise in which a curator, in collaboration with an artist, agreed to focus on one aspect of a body of work, then proceeded to select an effective and dynamic method for presentation. Both curator and artist worked in partnership for this extraordinary undertaking.

Zulumovski is an established printmaker whose black and white linocut images are large, compelling, detailed and complex. The images connect the richness of her Macedonian heritage with her daily experience of the Novocastrian suburban environment. The influence of the ornate characteristics of the Eastern orthodox churches can be seen in works like The Godmother and Favoured Saints Feast. In other works such as Two Vessels – Different Yet The Same, Veiled Woman on a Balance Beam and The Fitting there are self-portraits and studies of family members. All these are interwoven with landscapes, domestic interiors, and/or religious stories and practices. The result is embellished images.

Fourteen images representing the last ten years of Zulumovski's printmaking practice were selected for the exhibition. The process involved the artist printing each image, drawing a regular rectangular grid over the top, then cutting along each line. The curator enlarged each freshly cut rectangle on a photocopier until it fitted an A4 page snugly. Each photocopy was then relocated onto a gallery wall until the original representation returned.

The overall purpose of the process was to distract viewers from the printmaking process and to focus attention directly onto the image. It was intended that the method of presenting the work would provide a new kind of opportunity to look and to think about the stories and multiple meanings in the work without interference by factors such as the linocut process. The images as presented within The Embellished Image were approximately six times their normal dimensions so that figures, furniture and other props approached life-size. A visitor was able to look comfortably from a distance or could see the intriguing patternmaking close up in detail.

Films such as Michelangelo Antonioni's 1966 classic, Blow-up influenced Mitzevich. His work as the manager of the exhibition program for the Newcastle Region Art Gallery, and his experience with guiding discovery tours of works of art were catalysts for this exhibition. By presenting Zulumovski's work wall -sized, the exhibition was very much 'in-your-face' and as such the narratives were inescapable. If a visitor might once have avoided walking to a more remote part of a gallery space, now the demanding presence of the images magnetised their attention and energized their discussions. The exhibition was successful in that the curator's interpretive goal was achieved and the artist's work was looked at with new interest.