Artist: Vuk Ćuk
Title: We have L.A. at home
Venue: Eugster || Belgrade
Photo: Ivan Zupanc
We have L.A. at home
Everyone’s first thought of Los Angeles must be that of sunlit boulevards laced with palm trees. However, the trees did not originate in Los Angeles. Even though the weather conditions allowed for it to happen naturally, most of the city’s vegetation was moved from other places – corresponding, in a way, with America’s colonial history. But why palm trees? Palms, having rarely grown anywhere in Western territories, became a symbol of something exciting, tropical, oriental, and therefore something a wealthy person could afford, something a white man could enjoy (take Gaugin’s paintings, for example). The idea of an endless holiday is a type of luxury. On the other hand, luxury comes in so many other shapes, Los Angeles offering itself as a picturesque representation of it. City villas, pools, cars, designer objects, organic food, private parties, private planes, a view over Mount Lee. Yet the idea of a plant as a status symbol bears some sort of decadence, perversion even, especially when seen from the 2020 perspective. In regard to the alarming updates on climate change, continuous destruction of natural habitats, new viruses that emerge, literally, with wild animal consumption, nature truly is something precious.
Vuk Ćuk has been dealing with luxury from the beginning of his career. Things he wanted to have, things he liked, things that made him happy were a thing of its own; this was money (literally, painted banknotes on paper), Heron Preston socks, Kenzo hats, Kawasaki Ninja. His line of work, however, makes an arc, starting with an exploration into boyish understanding of value and ending at the sedimentation of human activity that created its own geological era, the so-called anthropocene. Thinking about what luxury really is, Los Angeles is both symbolic and real (you may or may not read Lacan into these terms). For Ćuk, L.A. is still, however, imaginary, which started a series of new works made after his travel plans were cancelled, a situation many of us experienced this year. Rather than lamenting over postponed vacations, Vuk Ćuk is looking at the phenomenon of displaced values. Technological achievements, embodied by an interpretation of Tesla Cybertruck, automatically refer to matters of status. Ironically, and yet aptly, Elon Musk’s initiatives to conquer Mars open up the question of luxury once again: to create an artificial air-facilitating surrounding, available only to a single part of the population; in other words, air truly does have a price.
What makes this subject even more relevant is the stunning disproportion in the distribution of wealth, and then as well the distribution of information, rights, possibilities as such. The exhibition title refers to an Internet meme (Me: Mom, can we have L.A.? Mom: We have L.A. at home). In a way, this is a mini auto-parody of status that is wearable, that is Instagrammable, bought and sold, but somehow, rarely lived. The Los Angeles that Ćuk made ’at home’ speaks of many things that the original speaks of, too. The glitches found in the Hollywodd sign, the deconstructed animals and scattered objects are all residue of hyper-production, but they present the discrepancies between two cities as well, for example, Los Angeles / Belgrade. In pictures and in reality, in concept and in experience, things seem to have very different qualities. Whereas the L.A. from our imagination is still a place for dreams and prosperity, most Americans living in California dread civil war on a daily basis now. Belgrade is, unfortunately, familiar with the latter, both as a thing of imagination and of reality.
In the beginning, I mentioned that the new coronavirus is spreading because of wild animal consumption, even though there are many theories suggesting that it was man-made, in a lab. This debate on authenticity is becoming very intense and general nowadays. Let’s bear in mind, then, that the matter of origin, in everything, starting with the food we eat through the air we breathe, the clothes we wear, the people we meet, leads to a dangerous place that insists on cleanliness. Here, we have two important takeaways. One is that humans really have changed the ecosystem irreversibly, which renders us all as zombie predators barely aware of our own aggressive behaviour. The other is that there is no way back from the place we are in now, so we can only go forward and take time to reconsider everything with more care and mindfulness. With that being said, next time we feel anxious about technology or progress, we should consider if we’re looking at the right enemy, or if the enemy is looking at us, hiding behind Heron Preston socks, Kenzo hats, Kawasaki Ninja and other objects that travel back and forth with no problem at all, whereas lockdowns and movement restrictions are now imposed on people.
Appendix: L.A. who am I to love you (Lana del Rey, 2020)
I left my city for San Francisco
Took a free ride off a billionaire’s jet
L.A, I’m from nowhere, who am I to love you?
L.A, I’ve got nothing, who am I to love you when I’m feeling this way and I’ve got nothing to offer?
L.A, not quite the city that never sleeps
Not quite the city that wakes, but the city that dreams, for sure
If by dreams you mean in nightmares
L.A, I’m a dreamer, but I’m from nowhere, who am I to dream?
L.A, I’m upset, I have complaints, listen to me
They say I came from money and I didn’t, and I didn’t even have love, and it’s unfair
L.A, I sold my life rights for a big check and I’m upset
And now I can’t sleep at night and I don’t know why
Plus, I love Zac, so why did I do that when I know it won’t last?
L.A, I picked San Francisco because the man who doesn’t love me lives there
L.A, I’m pathetic, but so are you, can I come home now?
Daughter to no one, table for one
Party of thousands of people I don’t know at Delilah where my ex-husband works
I’m sick of this, but can I come home now?
Mother to no one, private jet for one
Back home to the Tudor house that borned a thousand murder plots
Hancock Park, it’s treated me very badly and resentful
The witch on the corner, the neighbor nobody wanted
The reason for Garcetti’s extra security
L.A, I know I’m bad, but I have nowhere else to go, can I come home now?
I never had a mother, will you let me make the sun my own for now, and the ocean my son?
I’m quite good at tending to things despite my upbringing, can I raise your mountains?
I promise to keep them greener, make them my daughters, teach them about fire, warn them about water
I’m lonely, L.A, can I come home now?
I left my city for San Francisco
And I’m writing from the Golden Gate Bridge
But it’s not going as I planned
I took a free ride off a billionaire and brought my typewriter and promised myself that I would stay but
It’s just not going the way that I thought
It’s not that I feel different, and I don’t mind that it’s not hot
It’s just that I belong to no one, which means there’s only one place for me
The city not quite awake, the city not quite asleep
The city that’s still deciding how good it can be
I can’t sleep without you
No one’s ever really held me like you
Not quite tightly, but certainly I feel your body next to me
Smoking next to me
Vaping lightly next to me
And I love that you love the neon lights like me
Orange in the distance
We both love that
And I love that we have that in common
Also, neither one of us can go back to New York
For you are unmoving
As for me, it won’t be my city again until I’m dead
Fuck the New York Post
L.A, who am I to need you when I’ve needed so much, asked for so much?
But what I’ve been given, I’m not sure yet
I may never know that either until I’m dead
For now though, what I do know
Is although I don’t deserve you
Not you at your best and your splendor
With towering eucalyptus trees that sway in my dominion
Not you at your worst
Totally on fire, unlivable, unbreathable, I need you
You see, I have no mother
And you do
A continental shelf
A larger piece of land from where you came
I’m an orphan
A little seashell that rests upon your native shores
One of many, for sure
But because of that, I surely must love you closely to the most of anyone
For that reason, let me love you
Don’t mind my desperation
Let me hold you, not just for vacation
But for real and for forever
Make it real life
Let me be a real wife to you
Girlfriend, lover, mother, friend
I adore you
Don’t be put off by my quick-wordedness
I’m generally quite quiet
Quite a meditator, actually
I’ll do very well down by Paramhansa Yogananda’s realization center, I’m sure
I promise you’ll barely even notice me
Unless you want to notice me
Unless you prefer a rambunctious child
In which case, I can turn it on, too
I’m quite good on the stage as you may know
You might have heard of me
So either way, I’ll fit in just fine
So just love me by doing nothing
And perhaps, by not shaking the county line
I’m yours if you’ll have me
But regardless, you’re mine