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Cream and Sugar With That?

Last Friday evening, simultaneous openings at the District of Columbia Arts Center and Signal 66 galleries saw art enthusiasts racking up miles on exhausted odometers during a cross-town art relay. The aesthetic calisthenics were occasioned by the Tandem Project, a residency program for artists from the former Yugoslavia, and ensured that everyone got to see what the five Tandem artists produced over the past month. The brainchild of DCAC Development Director Jayme McLellan and New York-based curator Katherine Carl, Tandem was funded by grants and aided by generous artists and patrons who rustled up plane tickets to the U.S., studio space to work in, and floors to crash on.

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Twenty-four-year-old Sejla Kameric got a particularly good deal. She lived it up, American style, in snazzy digs that became the subject of her artwork. The Sarajevo resident screened a video at Signal 66 riffing on the Yugoslavian habit of sending films that are anything but verite to the folks back home. In those videos, Kameric says, immigrants put their collagen-enhanced faces forward: “They never show true life,” the artist explains. “Nobody says, ‘I’m washing dishes in a restaurant.’” So the artist pretended her host family’s house in upper Northwest was her own and directed her camera toward the family’s dog, cat, and car. Kameric calls her piece “a home video about my perfect fake life here” in which she trots from home to car with pride. “The video is one big lie,” she says.

Earlier in the day, over at Signal 66, Kameric’s video postcard screened on a monitor while gallerists balancing on ladders adjusted track lighting for the evening’s reception. Another Tandem artist, photographer Vesna Pavlovic, stood watching the loop and chuckling.

Pavlovic and her partner, Zoran Naskovski, were showing photographs of local street basketball games in the first installment of a piece called Crossover. Yugoslavians, Pavlovic says, are the best basketball players in Europe.

For Pavlovic, the Tandem Project coincides quite nicely with the NBA playoffs. She watched the finals with local artists Colby Caldwell and Bill McKenna. “It was the perfect time for me to be here,” she says. Pavlovic and her fellow artists also partook of regular klatches at the Adams Morgan coffee shop Tryst, just across the street from DCAC. “The [staff] asked us, Do we live there?” Pavlovic said.

Kameric’s video kept playing. The words “This is my dog” floated on screen. Close-up of the family dog, yipping and wagging on a plush green lawn. Then another panel came up: “This is my favorite hangout.” Camera pan from sofa to sofa, where folks lounge sipping chamomile tea and lattes—the velvet bowels of Tryst. “Of course,” Pavlovic laughed, “[we were there] every day, two times a day.”—Jessica Dawson

“Tandem: Passages” runs through July 14th at DCAC, 2438 18th St. NW, and Signal 66, 926 N St., Rear, NW.