Interview with Marta Jovanović

Performance Art has never been so well understood as today. It would be fair to say that we finally live in a time, where more and more artists become a part of the Performance world, weather that is intentionally or not. We were lucky enough to interview one of the Serbian most recognised performance Artists, who is never fully located only in one place, weather it’s spiritually of physically. She rarely links herself to the term “country”, rather than that, she sees her “home” everywhere her inspiration awakens.

Hello Marta. We have been following up with your work for quite some time and it’s a pleasure to have a chance to finally interview you. Be so kind and tell us, when did you found out that the Art itself might become a main form of your communication skill? Thank you for the interest in my work. I don’t think I ever thought that art would become my call and eventually my entire life. Even though it was always essential for me to express myself through drawing, painting, sculpture, photography and dance, I always somehow tried to escape becoming a professional artist but art found me over and over again. Today, I am also married to an art dealer, our dog is named Untitled and most of our friends are somehow connected to art. It is actually kind of funny when I think about it.

You left your home-country very early, how did the variety of culture experience reflect on your personal life and your work, if we were to separate these two things? I am not linked to the idea of a “country,” it is more about cities and places where I live and that I love, where my friends and family are, where my daily routines take place, those are things that shape my work and inspire me. My cities are Rome and New York, between the two I spent one-third of my life, adore them and hate them at the same time and I always go back to them; New Orleans and Florence, where I studied and that shaped me at a very sensitive age and definitely built me into an artist that I am today; and finally Belgrade where I was born and raised and where some of the key life events, best and worst happened to me.image 01What draws you towards the exploration of different media, as a form of your communication tool? Need to throw myself into the unknown, to test my fears, desires, capabilities. I always strive for experience, for something different. I get bored and need to push the limits and push them hard! I need to learn new things and explore unknown territories. 

What is your aim as an artist? My aim is to make people think about themselves, people around them, their environment, political, religious and any other systems they live in, to question all of it and think outside of the box. 

One of the latest pieces you brought to us, bearing the tittle “It’s my body”, is quite personal. Tell us a bit more about the project and what exactly did it mean to you? It Is My Body was a result of a long research on how to document performance. Is it worth it or even necessary at all. I believe that performance only makes sense when it is still “alive”, when you are in the room and it is happening. In many cases it depends on or it is a result of the body that is alive, that occupies space in physical and spiritual terms, so I literally “left my mark” in silicone; at one point in time I imprinted my body, leaving almost every pore of my skin in the plastic material with the idea to capture real traces of it. image02 image03Is Art of Performance accepted and, perhaps better said, understood throughout the World or there are still some countries you visited, that underestimate its existence? What are your experiences so far? Performance is very much on the rise as a discipline. I have a feeling that every year enormous progress is being made in terms of understanding it, showing it, promoting it, teaching/learning about it. New York with the Performa Biennial and numerous other events dedicated to performance art is definitely the leader on the international scene. New York University has a department dedicated to performance and one can get Master of Arts and a PhD in Performance Art, as well learn how to marry performance art and politics at the Hemispheric Art Institute that I attended. Europe now has Venice Performance Festival among others. Performance is usually thought of as fragile as it is ephemeral, hard to capture, materialize and sell but time shows that is not the case at all. Today, performance is widely recognised art form like painting or sculpture.

Do you feel that the image of the ‘Artist’ has changed over the centuries? What does this word mean to you today? Regardless of the image, the essence of being an artist is the same. Real artist is a dedicated professional, like a medical doctor or a construction worker, that creates things that profoundly change people’s lives and builds pillars in the society that last for a really long time. Think of Voina and Pussy Riot for example.   image05image06

In your work, you are questioning the whole idea and meaning behind the Identity, Beauty and Sexuality. In your opinion, what kind of impact these three, yet very complex words, have in today’s society? Those three very complex concepts are eternal questions for me. We live in the world where identity is an issue on so many levels, it is 2015 and we still have civil wars, racial intolerance, sexism. Beauty is very personal. I think that, for example, the photo of the Mexican actress Adela Legarreta Rivas taken by Enrique Metinides just few moments after she was hit by the car and died is one of the most beautiful pictures ever taken. It is the moment of horror but in that horror she looks gorgeous and the composition of the picture is just perfect. Sexuality is one of the essences of human existence and if suppressed can become very dangerous. In today’s society we are getting better in understanding the three concepts but we can do much, much better! We need to open our minds, respect our fellow humans, respect the nature around us, we need to wake up as our planet is going to hell, there is no time to hate the person next to you as we are all going down the drain if we do not stop acting responsibly! 

Fashion is expanding and probably it can no longer be separated from any form of Art today. Does it take on any specific role in your work? Fashion has always been a very serious form of art and I don’t take it as something frivolous. If you think of Paul Poiret for example, his collections were so well researched, his wife was his muse and model, it was a family affair and lifestyle. They would tour with the models as if they were a rock band or a theatre company and created elaborate sets to show the collections. I don’t care about trends, I like researched garments that express concepts, ideas, moods, historical or other facts and those I use in my work, sometimes they are integral parts of my work and I focus on them with great care and detail. My project Fuck Art Let’s Dance, for example, revolved around one single but extremely powerful garment: ballet tutu. That is what I am interested in, the psychology of it.

What does the term ‘Space’ mean to you and your art? Space means a lot of things, it can be physical, spiritual, emotional. Having space to think and create, to read and write is essential. Those ideas and concepts are then brought into the physical space where the performance actually takes place. Physical space shapes the performance, it becomes integral part of it many times in my case as I do a lot of site specific works like 25. Maj in front of the Museum of Yugoslav History in Belgrade, Principe di Montenevoso in the streets of Rijeka in Croatia and Requiem which took place in an improvised Pazzi chapel of the Santa Croce church in Florence, Italy. 

Relationships are essential in terms of space, people can invade your space or occupy it as audience. People can also provide you with the space to grow and thrive. image07What/Who inspires your work and when it comes to you, how is the idea born? Vast spectrum of things are my inspiration: books that I read, people that surround me, encounters and dialogues, joys and tragedies that happen to me, long years of psychoanalysis, travels, fellow artists, my students. Ideas are born gradually and they acquire shape with time and they are linked to space as well. Sometimes space sparks the idea. I write down my thoughts and sometimes it takes years for them to take shape of a performance or a video or a photograph. 

It would be very nice of you to share with us some of your plans for this year…what can we expect? 2014 was an insane year for me. Each minute was scheduled and I was flying around the world from one event to the other: the book “Performing the Self” written by Dr. Kathy Battista about my work was published and launched at Bosi Contemporary in New York, G12HUB in Belgrade and Atelier in Rome; I performed at Helac Fine Art in New York’s Chelsea for a full month, spent two weeks in Beirut in Artist Residence Aley etc. In 2015, I tend to do less public things as I need to regain inner strength and refresh my creative energy. 

There are three important projects for me this year, one in New York and two in Serbia. The first one is another month-long performance, this time at Bosi Contemporary in New York within a group show “Come To Bed!” curated by the young and talented Roya Sachs. In my performance “Pillow Talk”, members of the audience will be invited to my bed and on the pillow next to mine for a conversation. 

The other project is Performance HUB, series of performance workshops for young artists and students that will take place at G12HUB gallery in Belgrade. Working with young artists is very important for me. I never had a mentor and it was really hard for me to find my own language, my own path, to gather information and to elaborate everything I saw and learned on my own. Also, performance art education is almost non-existent even today worldwide. When I can provide the information, give advice or even just listen to ideas and dilemmas young artists have, it makes me incredibly happy. In my workshops I encourage artists to make the new work, to throw out ideas and concepts bravely, to express themselves urgently. 

The third project is called Art Startup Camp and it will take place in August in central Serbia. The project is initiated by fellow artist Biljana Cincarevic and  a producer Mirjana Tomic as a platform for exchange of ideas on all levels and in all spheres: artists, curators, scientists and locals will come together united with nature as camping is taking place for a full month in the picturesque setting by the small river embedded in the most amazing greenery, think Lord of the Rings nature meets Silicone Valley entrepreneurial ideas and Burning Man festival. This festival of art, startups and cultural entrepreneurship is happening for the first time this summer  and it will become a yearly event. 

If you could give one piece of advice to someone entering the world of Performance Arts, what would it be? Talk to your peers, go and see their work, exchange ideas, collaborate, experiment, document, be fearless, give it all. Treat each performance as your unique, maybe your last one. Use internet to watch the works that you cannot see in person and use it as a tool to make your work seen. If you can, come to the Performance HUB workshops at G12HUB in Belgrade and spend time with us at the Art Startup Camp this summer. 

Thank you for your time Marta. Is there, perhaps, something you would like to add?  Thank you very much.


Interview | Sanja Čežek
Cover MartaJovanovic
_| Adriana Echavarria

Clairvoyant | Helac Fine Art, New York_ by Srdjan Kalinic.
It Is My Body |G12HUB Belgrade
Secret | Art Residence Aley, Beirut

Sanja Čežek

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