You Can’t Make a Cake out of Crumbs – Jelena Pantelić


You Can’t Make a Cake out of Crumbs


There is a time and place for cake

Society has deemed it so

We are not the rulers of our own lives

– Josh Vork, Cake


The poetry of Jelena Pantelić – which she opted for in her career exile for, on the one hand, economic and practical reasons (writing is one of the rare activities whose value is courage, and investment a safe business), and on the other, due to an existential and therapeutic necessity (the artist forced to make a living by playing the role of cog in the decomposing machinery of third-world capitalism striving to create at all costs and in spite of assisted self-destruction) – is her new means of communication and an opportunity for journeying across the exciting and bizarre inner world of herself as an artist. Keeping pace with the collapse of the world economy after another medieval renaissance that the world owes to plague and war, the collection entitled Fishy Poetry was published online in April 2023, on the website created by the artist, stored in and occupying a domain financed by her, and presented against a background that, you guessed it, she herself designed. Formally speaking, the collection is a digital Gesamtkunstwerk of sorts, and its meaning embodies that which might be characterized as DIY primal scream therapy. Nevertheless, the tone used by Pantelić to address her reader is an ode to the confessional poetry tradition.

By choosing this expressive approach, she advances towards Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, Ingeborg Bachmann, as well as contemporary poets around the world whose choice without the possibility of choosing is samizdat, and lingua franca is their default keyboard.

Although the artistic practice of Jelena Pantelić can be said to be anything but predictable, her focus and the themes she deals with remain threads that unite the diverse media she chooses in her attempts to express herself. At the center of her creativity is an autobiography in constant process of revision, magnified a thousand times through psychotherapy, self-knowledge, and work on oneself, the analysis of mental processes and evaluation of outcomes. Peeling back layer upon layer of defense mechanisms, evolving and being faced with losses, the narrative structure grows and mutates at the expense of illusions and stories we tell ourselves in order not to die from the truth.


I feel like a little child

Most of the time

Even though I am completely independent

and almost 30



The central theme of the exhibition is the relationship between cause and effect, the death of the father and self-actualization. The first was seen as a brutal and inevitable demonstration of the force of nature, the ultimate necessity, the conclusion of all will and action. Nevertheless, the performance of dying – that last act in the theater of existence – is drama without catharsis. Creators from Sophocles and Shakespeare to Georgia O’Keefe, Tracey Emin and Kiki Smith have tackled this theme. It is omnipresent, insurmountable and forever relevant because at the epicenter of all fears is the fact that we only live once and that we will never get used to death. The Father is the creator, the first flawed god with a limited lifespan whom we cognize.


I don’t know if I miss him

or I miss the idea of him

And I don’t know if I cry because he’s gone

or because I feel sorry for myself

I am left with a hole inside of me that nothing can fill

But I really try with burgers.



The artist builds an altar for her own grief on all of the planes she inhabits: at the level of verse, in the space of the gallery, in digital voids. This sanctification of pain owes nothing to the egocentrism and sense of uniqueness of the man-island. It is a way to neutralize suffering by facing it, and to make a breakthrough into something new, far from one’s comfort zone. Its expression is polyphonic improvisation, an unusual Tower of Babel defended with humor, laughter at a funeral. Her honesty is authentically uncomfortable because it resonates with what is kept buried inside, away from the judgment of others. While we inertly occupy a series of roles pretending that we are something authentic, Jelena Pantelić creates out of extreme necessity and thereby gives birth to a new non-biological self that does not need an absent father or a deaf god.


As a child I was religious

I had a little altar on my window


Now, I am not religious

But I do ask God for favors sometimes



Taking responsibility for one’s own history has been one of Pantelić’s key motivators in the past few years. Acting in the public sphere, the artist is exposed to views, which, unable to take into account all viewing angles, often inadvertently create distorted interpretations of both intentions and ultimate solutions. The motif of insecurity about one’s own reality is offered in its entirety in the poem ARTIST STATEMENT. The fear of being absurd, irrelevant, absent, and forgotten, mixes with the expectations of various actors in the art world who turn artists into theorists, sellers, marketing experts and apologists. The challenge is to stay true to oneself, and being true to oneself often means surrendering to the absurd. This is the case with the diptych YOLO. It reflects the dichotomy between the imposed need of not living and getting by, and the fear that, by not living completely, we will be disqualified in the race for fulfillment and meaning. Contemporary identity presupposes a distorted definition of the term homo universalis, which implies a digestible, presentable, hyper-agile persona, a walking avatar, rendering our ambitions in the marketplace whose final metastasis has encompassed every aspect of human life. How to make a cake out of the crumbs of a broken identity?


Maybe I should tell them tomorrow I have cancer?


Who gives a fuck about what YOU have to say?



Is one exhibition enough to create an artist? Are all the media she uses the crust on the delicious cake served at openings? Is it proper to remove the layers we don’t like? What if essence is not contained in the cake’s leftovers? Is the poetry of Jelena Pantelić the icing on the cake that she has been baking for the past ten years? Can feelings be eaten? Tinder or Glovo?

The answer to these and other questions that Pantelić poses first to herself and then to observers, is that there is no answer, at least no ultimate one. Life is a process, change, trial and error. You grow through losses, joy is born from pain. Faced with ourselves, we are not impressed. The world expects a lot from us, offering cold indifference in return. You only live once, but fear makes you die in installments, every day. It is important not to give up. Creation is an act of resistance.


…let each carve this name that I bore among men, a funeral epigraph, on the brow of that image in which I appeared to him, and then leave it in peace, and let there be no more talk about it. It is fitting for the dead. For those who have concluded. I am alive and I do not conclude.

– Luigi Pirandello, One, No One and One Hundred Thousand


Curator: Ana Simona Zelenović

Author of the text: Milica Grujić