Marija Bozinovska Jones was born in Skopje and, having lived in various corners of the world, is currently based in London where she studies Computational Arts at Goldsmiths. The Macedonian artist works across live performance, installation and internet art. Her work draws attention to our consumption of information and technology, though Bozinovska Jones admits that she began her career studying media at London’s Central Saint Martins as a technophobe. Compelled to respond to technological advancements and demand for perpetual online presence, she’s dedicated herself to exploring identity formation in our era of technocapitalism.
For a 2013 exhibition, she presented her own bust of Alexander the Great, only with the historic figure shooting lasers out of his eyes
Bozinovska Jones’s Macedonian background and the experience of moving across the world is a constant influence on her work. The Republic of Macedonia, a successor state of former Yugoslavia, first gained independence in 1991. Talking about her native country, she says: “I’m removed from that environment so every occasion I have, I go back, contributing to this counter movement for hopefully improving things against the aesthetic indoctrination that is happening there.”
Skopje, Macedonia’s capital is undergoing a major facelift in a government-funded campaign to Europeanise the city. Branded “Skopje 2014”, the idea has been to decorate the capital with neo-classical facades and derivative monuments heavily drawing on buildings in other cities. These include a controversial statue of Alexander the Great — king of Macedonia from 336-323 BC and a figure that Greece has also claimed as its own. “This yearning to be different, and to separate itself from what Yugoslavian nationality was. To have Macedonian localism but also be taken as very separate from the neighbours — it’s an identity complex,” Bozinovska Jones reflects.
In the lead-up to Skopje 2014 the artist collaborated with Singing Skopjans, a choir and activist group which peacefully protested in public spaces around the city that had been slated for renovation. The monuments appear in NEObrq14, a visual series that borrows its aesthetic from the adverts for Nike’s limited edition self-lacing trainers, which were released last year and inspired by shoes from time-travel classic, Back to the Future.
Skopje 2014 is an example of what the artist refers to as a “cultural glitch”, a term borrowed from her overlapping interest in technology. “I was looking at technology and how I could use this vocabulary in a socio-cultural and political context. So that’s when I started searching for cultural glitches.” Put simply, cultural glitches are “amalgamations of the local with the global” — a desire to maintain national identity while trying to imitate and fit with global trends.
Two decades before Skopje 2014, when politics were dominated by the Europe/Balkans rhetoric, the turbofolk genre emerged out of a desire to maintain a pan-Balkan sound (though it still borrowed its electronic element from western music). Though popular, it was criticised for promoting conspicuous consumption, an oversexualised depiction of femininity and a masculinity associated only with violence, but mostly for its ties to the criminal milieu surrounding Slobodan Milošević, the Serbian President. In Folkoteka 2.0 Bozinovka Jones introduces the femme fatales of turbofolk: stars Ceca, Seka And Jelena Karleusa. She also considers the genre through fan YouTube videos. The 2.0 to the title refers to second-generation technology as well as second-generation immigrants from the Balkans who posted the material online, yearning to connect to each other and rediscover their national identity and sense of belonging.
“The history I was taught in school when I was growing up there is very different to what is being taught now”
Cultural glitch also suggests error or malfunction. In Folkoteka 2.0, the lyrics translated by turbofolk fans include mistakes or make little sense to an English speaker, reinforcing the cultural exclusions at the heart of the genre in a comedic way. For a 2013 exhibition at Berlin’s Fischer und Fischer, she presented her own bust of Alexander the Great, only with the historic figure shooting lasers out of his eyes — a threat in sci-fi universes that’s also a popular internet trope. Alexander the Great was also gifted his own Facebook page, which the artist listed as “government official”. The idea behind this was to draw attention to Macedonia’s nation-curation by relating it to social media. With nationalists mistaking it for a real page, the Facebook profile has been and continues to be trolled, revealing a flaw in the language of nationalism.
Perhaps the most provoking of Bozinovka Jones’s responses to Skopje’s urban redevelopment is an image of a barren desert with the words “Greetings from Skopje 4021”. What happens to a city that’s constantly revised and mythologised? What history will be passed down to future generations? “The history I was taught in school when I was growing up there is very different to what is being taught now. There is a new narrative being invented for the last couple of generations by this new government. History is being rewritten and reinvented. The narrative has changed. Who can say what Macedonia was or who Alexander the Great was or why?”
Bozinovka Jones’s recent works continue the theme of speculative spaces. “I like working with speculation,” she admits. “Dreamholidaysunlimited.com is an online project I did with another programmer, Vag Makr, who is Greek. We wanted to play around with the idea of a proxy, that once someone tried to use it would give the impression of this illusory holiday experience.” From highly politicised landscapes, the artist is moving more into exploring heterotopias, or non-places, as Bozinovka Jones says, “creating more neutral landscapes”. But these are not entirely apolitical. “Dreamholidaysunlimited.com goes back to this promise of the early internet for freedom. It has a lot to do with this control of freedom online. We wanted to package it as a company, as a travel agent that sells holidays to non-existent destinations. Such as Hyperborea, Atlantis. Mythical lands and islands we just read about which may have never existed.” Her latest collaboration with Lithuanian producer J.G. Biberkopf, a sound work called GAD Technologies, created under her avatar MBJ Wetware, investigates the repercussions, the “murky waters”, of a totally “liquid state”. “We find ourselves in transit, floating in ambivalent waters between the two currents of freedom and control”, she writes in an introduction to the project. “Can we embrace liquidity without drowning?”