New York

Dragana Jurisic, Paris Fog I, 2016, ink-jet print, 14 × 14".

Dragana Jurisic, Paris Fog I, 2016, ink-jet print, 14 × 14".

Dragana Jurisic

Rawson Projects

Dragana Jurisic, Paris Fog I, 2016, ink-jet print, 14 × 14".

In “My Own Unknown,” photographs formed provisionary sketches of elusive subjects. Launching the second iteration of A Process Series, organized by Jessamyn Fiore at Rawson Projects, in which four women artists received two-week solo shows to “reflect on how politics influences their artistic practice,” Dragana Jurisic seemed to play with the exhibition’s abbreviated life-span through material and displays that foregrounded the ephemeral: instant Polaroids, unframed prints tacked to the wall, handwritten scrapbooks with pasted-in photos. But these notes formed a deceptively complex narrative, set against a Parisian backdrop, of three women: the artist’s aunt, Gordana Čavić, who disappeared from Yugoslavia in the 1950s and lived mysteriously until her death in Paris in 1987, perhaps working as a seamstress, perhaps as a spy, perhaps as “whatever she needed to do to survive”; a woman whose body was found in the nineteenth century in the Seine (she remains unknown); and Jurisic herself, a Yugoslav artist now based in Dublin.

Across three clusters in the narrow space, the photograph functioned in at least three different ways: as portrait, as probe, and as proof. L’inconnue de la Seine (The Unknown Woman of the Seine), 2014, a white plaster copy of a death mask made in an effort to identify the nineteenth-century woman, eyes closed, smile pacific, hung next to small, wall-mounted shelves holding an array of Polaroids. Titled 100 Muses, 2015, these pictures show naked women of all shapes standing against a white wall with the plaster head in stark contrast to their soft bodies. As in Francesca Woodman’s photographs, the object is a prop to lift, press against the body, hide behind, hold, or simply pose under. Some women have their back to the camera or hair covering their faces; in one shot, a woman wears a unicorn head and holds the bust like Hamlet’s skull. If the death mask is a kind of primitive photographic print of a face, the only visage we see in this grid of one hundred nudes is in the final image on the bottom right; it appears to be a self-portrait of the artist.

On the back walls, twelve Research Notebooks, 2016, were tacked open, their white pages filled with neat handwriting recounting Jurisic’s search for more information about her aunt and digressions into chance encounters that surfaced, as when she becomes obsessed with Alejandro Jodorowsky and ends up connecting with the filmmaker’s son through Instagram. They meet in Paris and he suggests a form of dream therapy developed by his father to try to connect with Čavić and l’inconnue. I WAS HITTING AGAINST THE WALLS TRYING TO BE A DETECTIVE. WALKING AROUND ENDLESSLY WITH MY BLACK BOOK POMPOUSLY TITLED ‘MY RIVER OF EVIDENCE’—THERE WAS HARDLY ANY EVIDENCE IN THERE—JUST PRETTY PICTURES OF PARIS. A LOT OF ‘?’ TOO.

In the final grouping, we saw some of those pretty pictures: five of Jurisic’s color landscapes, shot in the spirit of Eugène Atget—quiet, full of emptiness. A profusion of dried pink and cream blooms tumble over a gray wall, the tips of the vines just dragging in water, perhaps the Seine. Two figures sit on benches along a dirt path in a park, with the Eiffel Tower rising behind the trees and then fading again into the flat, white blankness of the sky. Interspersed among these were several four-inch black-and-white prints of Čavić in the same city in 1954. In one, she sits in a park on a bench.

Such intersections infused all three “stories” and the space between them with unresolved themes of exile, independence, and half-formed identity that extended to our understanding of the artist herself—as did the question Jurisic wrote fifteen times around one of the notebook’s photographs of Čavić in a suit and no shoes, her six-foot frame elegantly lounging on a bed: WHO TOOK THIS? “My Own Unknown” felt like the beginning of a larger project pursuing the agency buried in the anonymity of women’s lives. We can only hope.

Prudence Peiffer