The fourth episode of WHW Akademija conversations, conceptualised by participants of WHW Akademija 2022, presents: Adrijana Gvozdenović, Ruoru Mou and Huda Takriti.
This is an interview with a three-headed monster, a text of multiple voices that share the body of what an artist is. Facilitated by Ruoru Mou, Adrijana Gvozdenović and Huda Takriti, they try to answer questions about conditions for creation and artistic production, they share their experiences of different modes of education and end with thoughts about future projects.
Voice 1: Okay. I guess we can just go straight into the question: When and where do you work and create?
Voice 2: I was thinking about this just now before coming to the meeting–How would it be possible to introduce myself with only one sentence?–And then I thought I would say “Okay, I'm an artist” cause you have to say that if you are an artist, curator or whatever. Then I thought I should say “who is interested in…?” because that's how it goes. And then if I should say only one thing, my answer would be“…in other artists.” Just like that, I understood that most of the time, I'm interested in how other artists work, so I can work.
Voice 3: Yes, I was also thinking the same–Okay, what to say? “I'm Huda and I'm 32.” And then, you know, all these things that come after. It seems like a dating thing (laughs). I like what you said, about being interested in other artists and how they work because when I'm working, I sometimes look at other artists and how they work as well…
Voice 1: I often look at other artists' biographies on their websites (pages). It's really interesting how you interpret yourself reading those, it's like the projection you have on yourself. Oftentimes, it changes from like, day to day, you know? They kind of shift in periods.
Voice 3: Also, biographies are mostly written in the third person, there is this format that you should follow for writing your own. I was looking as well at all the biographies that I wrote over the years, for different applications, and how they change all the time. It could be interesting to combine them in a way or use them as a sort of timeline.
Voice 1: Yeah. Mine is getting shorter and shorter.
Voice 2: For me, the length stays kind of similar. I think it’s because of the word limitation you get most of the time. But I noticed that I was so self-confident when I was younger. I would put it just like that one after another “I am dealing with an exhibition as a linguistic medium, conditions for artist-led structure, feminist theory, politics of voice–Yes, here we are! And then also “how artists can approach history and knowledge when they are not used as a method of conquest” I wasn’t lying when I wrote it, but it’s crazy! (laughs)
Voice 3: I was looking through an old hard drive that I had from 2016. I found applications and proposals for projects that I have written…… “Oh, shit! What is this?” Reading it again, I was so happy that some of them were never accepted...
Voice 1: Where do you guys work? And when do you work the best? Like, are you a morning practice person or an evening one, with some wine or not?
Voice 2: It is changing over the years… I used to stay up in the night for super long or sometimes not sleep. Nobody is bothering you in the middle of the night, so it's nice. But now, I like to wake up early.
Voice 1: I know that our third voice is an early bird.
Voice 2: Yeah, we know this (all laugh)... And I didn't prove my early bird moments when we were together in Zagreb.
Voice 1: Yes, and I thought I was an early bird person till I met her.
Voice 3: I am becoming lazy these days… I have nothing to work on at the moment. So I'm just waking up a bit later than usual. Around 8 or so.
Voice 2: Do you have a studio?
Voice 3: Yes, I started to have a studio during the first lockdown because I didn't have any space to work and the university studios were closed. Then I stayed in that space. But now, I am re-thinking it, as I actually only need a table. And I'm mostly working on my laptop so I don't need extra space.
Voice 2: Do you have other people around in the same building?
Voice 3: Yes. It's actually an old school building in which all the classrooms are transformed by the city of Vienna into studios. And there are 140 artists in the building. I share my studio with someone else. It's actually a shared room. It's nice to have these opportunities to meet new people and talk without actually seeking it because you can just meet randomly in the kitchen for example...
Voice 2: I would like to have something like that now in Berlin, as I just moved here. I never had a studio. I never needed it. When I thought I needed it, I couldn't afford it. My work developed to be very much situation based or site-based.
Voice 1: I share a studio with four other people. Time after time we check in with each other. This works for me in a way. I imagine having a solo/self-contained studio can be too private. Having the presence of other beings in the space helps me work. At the moment I’m working a lot with wood and casting found objects. I leave the studio every day in a slightly organized mess, to return to it the next day.
I was talking to my boyfriend who is a musician and his studio is in his bedroom. And I feel like for musicians, or I guess also for video artists, that works in a way because you're not waking up and seeing the work straight away, you have to actually turn on the laptop and the software acts as a portal into the work.
Voice 2: I find it very difficult that now most of my work is on a computer. And everything else is on the computer too. Before it would be that I start my working day when I turn on a computer. Now I turn on a computer and after two hours, I'm still answering emails and checking random websites. So, you really have to take care not to be distracted by so many things that you do on your computer.
Voice 3: That's true. I feel the same. Even when I say to myself while editing my videos “Okay, now I'm not gonna reply to emails anymore” that little notification pops up and I catch myself reading emails. It's so distracting, I can’t resist the need to check it out…
Voice 1: I feel like the pandemic emphasized that ambiguity between work and leisure, but there is also admin–it's these three things that are ambiguously interplaying. Switch from admin to your own work and then… yeah.
Voice 2: So, we work all the time and everywhere. And at the same time, we are lacking time to do what we would actually like to do.
Voice 3: Also posting on social media became something you have to do, especially, when the lockdown started. You keep posting to prove that you still exist and you are still producing.
Voice 2: It's just so fast, almost like it’s made to be forgotten. Basically, nothing matters.
Voice 3: For me, there was this feeling of guilt… Suddenly, the events that one would normally not reach, because one cannot travel or doesn't have time to go to that place, all became available. After a while, it became so overwhelming and I realized that it’s okay to allow myself to miss something that's happening. It could be a screening of a film that I know will take many years to get another chance to watch.
Voice 1: A lot of the institutions are trying to do this collective healing through talks, screenings and online workshops. The amount of scattered knowledge we get from ‘scrolling culture’ is often less of a healing process but extremely anxiety-inducing.
Voice 2: It was quite amazing that suddenly these big institutions were open to sharing their events, archives and whatever. And they became accessible to people who cannot travel and see these things. It was important to see how easily they opened it up and how many years they kept these things exclusive and inaccessible to different parts of the world. Paradoxically, it became more clear to me how different it is when you are in the physical space of the event from the online participation and also how they condition one another.
Voice 3: Is it important for you how the viewer experiences your work physically in relation to the space it is being shown/exhibited?
Voice 2: Well, I think I always resisted the idea of self-contained artwork. I work with cheap materials and leftovers, resulting in spoken performance, a book or something that you can hold in your hands. And eventually, this led me to think about how I can share different parts of my research and practice, where the artwork and making became more of a tool for exchange.
Voice 3: For me, this is something I have on my mind while working, as most of my videos are not only video works, they are installations as well. Often, they include a second part, which is either a collection of photos, texts, or both. It’s about what you see first when you enter the room, what is hidden from you, and how what you encounter first might affect the work itself.
Voice 1: How do you plan your films, is it through script writing? And how much do you follow the script?
Voice 3: Not really, I struggle to follow something. Sometimes I plan ahead, but normally I just go film and then try to make sense of the material I have. Mostly it comes together when I'm editing. For example, the last work I did was the one that I thought that I really needed a script for. It was the first time I worked with 3D rendered imagery and you have to know what you want to create as it is time-consuming. But while I was editing I decided not to use most of the imagery I made because I found it to be too didactic.
These are things you only see as you are editing, so the script changed completely during the editing process.
Voice 1: This new film that you’ve made, was it a combination of 3D rendered images and shot footage?
Voice 3: No, it was mixed with found footage.
Voice 1: And what are the sources?
Voice 3: A lot of archive images, most of them are listed as open source. Or sometimes images that are downloaded from Facebook.
How about you? Do you also plan ahead while working with ceramics?
Voice 1: I do. I am not very good at just picking up materials and working with them straight away. I always have a blueprint. The blueprint takes different forms. Sometimes a blueprint is an object that I want to replicate. And sometimes it's a sketch or an image I find from family archives. Oftentimes, the videos I made previously are then translated into a sculpture form. And vice versa.
With ceramics, it's really difficult to execute an idea straight away, so at the moment I’m slightly moving away from the medium and avoiding the work to rely solely on its materiality.
Voice 2: I wanted to ask you about your film “No Longer Intact”.
Voice 1: Ah, yes, it’s something I've made a while ago. I think I was 22. I had this obsession with material that disintegrates and is used as self-cleanse and self-purification. Also on the mutation of an object and how that manifests the understanding of time passing. It was around when my grandma had a stroke, and she fell in the toilet while still holding a soap bar. Days following the incident she lay in bed feeling the pain in her fingertips. I wanted to work with the idea of limitation of mobility or a limitation of touch. I initially cast soaps in the shape of the stone and later on carved into them to transform them into ‘soap shoes’. They slowly start to disintegrate as I awkwardly attempt to walk in them, creating the intermediary between the foot and the ground. I wanted to portray this act of falling and an attempt of trying to get up again.
Voice 2: I was drawing and making prints of sad, burned landscapes when I was 22.
Voice 3: I was painting self-portraits back then because mostly I wouldn't have anyone who would agree to sit for me, so I was painting myself.
Voice 2: But that was a task we had in my art school. For a whole year, we would have to make self-portraits, to learn to look and see ourselves, and the idea was that it will help us find our own way of expression, discover our sensibility and so on… Perhaps, we can now discuss the question about the mode of education.
Voice 3: For me, the most interesting conversations that affected how I work were the ones I had with other students. It mostly took place when we just came together and talked. Like, not in a lecture or a classroom or a seminar, but mostly just us sitting and talking.
Voice 2: Yes, it is about this surrounding, whether you are immersed in it, or working against it or with provocation. I think that’s what shapes the practice the most.
When I moved to Belgium, I just went everywhere, followed events, and exhibition programs–just consumed a lot and didn't have any need to make. We were so isolated in Montenegro, and I really missed the theory and the discursive part of art-making.
Voice 1: What is your relationship with theory? Does theory drive the work? Do you go back to theory for references? Or is theory not really a motivational tool?
Voice 2: I love to talk about this. I don't see the difference anymore, let's say when I read and write, make notes, or when I am making the work. But also, I don't approach theory in a ‘proper’ way through some kind of historical line of the development of thought. It is about starting from the middle. I didn’t have that kind of education and I got into it through small reading groups. The heaviness of complete comprehension of the text transformed into a desire for reading together. And then when you let it get to you, some concepts crystalize for you as if they are yours, and for me, this experience is really material as your reality changes.
Voice 3: Mostly it goes hand in hand, writing, reading and working at the same time. I don't differentiate or set a plan for the process. Often when I'm working and someone mentions a text that could relate to the work I'll go, read it, and I’ll keep working. So, I don’t have a linear way of working, so to say, research, reading, writing and producing happen all at once.
Voice 2: There is something similar with watching movies, very similar feeling, sometimes you have to push yourself to watch some movies that don't seem easy to. And then there is this moment of, I don't know,... when things come to you.
Voice 1: For my last year of BA, I had to write my dissertation. I had a lot of time. I had taken a year off and had the pandemic in between, so I kind of started thinking about it quite early on, and read a lot of texts – on memory studies, in a postcolonial and diaspora context. I didn't read a single book for leisure, it was mostly for academic writing. I found these dense theoretical texts harder and harder to relate to my work. I'm only currently returning back to reading theory and have been delving into Roland Barthes volume part, and finding it quite useful.
I agree with you on what you said about film. I love old Japanese films so much. Or from fictions in general. They are a bit more nourishing for me than old white men explaining theory.
Voice 3: I never had to write a theoretical text or even write a thesis, all the programs in which I studied were practice-based ones.
Voice 2: Now I remember when I was writing my thesis, I read texts in relation to the subject of ‘everyday in art’ as I thought that my work can be approached and read through a certain subject overarching it. It was like I had a topic that I have to research. I don't do this anymore. Now it is about the thinking that moves and it can happen when reading the text or having a conversation or doing a performance.
Also the footnotes! I love to find my further readings through the footnotes.
Voice 1: Yeah, yeah, it's like a portal to many portals.
Should we move on to this third question–on collaboration and productivity? I’ve been thinking a lot about this. The making process is quite solitary for me, although now it's coming to a point where I feel quite exhausted. I am collaborating with my best friend at the moment. She's a textile designer who creates these amazing sculptural textiles, with natural fibers. And most of the natural fibers come from dehydrated oriental plants.
At the moment, I'm also writing a script for a film that I might be shooting when I'm back in Italy. It’s a collaboration between the female figures in my family, to further the understanding of the migratory experience. My whole family is moving back to Italy this summer, after 15 years of moving back and living in Shanghai, China. I'm interested in this idea of re-integration, negotiating in the contexts that the society one is re-integrating in expects and assumes you already the social and systemic norm. The reintegration process exists in a very liminal, peripheral world where I think a lot of migrants are finding it difficult.
Voice 2: How are you preparing? How is the collaboration working? What do you give to them? You said you are writing a script?
Voice 1: I think at the moment I need to observe before the camera sees, and you know, I have no idea what's going to happen. The collaboration is very likely going to initiate in a dialogic form and I will work with the idea of adapting conversations and memory in a fictionalized form.
Voice 2: So, are you taking your camera?
Voice 1: Yeah, but just to test ideas. I love this idea of architecture as organs and I am working with the idea of trauma stored in parts of the body. And I was thinking because my grandma, my mom and I, we all have terrible gut-related issues. I had this idea to document stories/memories of stressed guts as a collective experience. When I was four I had a gastroscopy. I became interested in the idea that a machine that exists externally to the body can pass through the food pipe into the stomach and sees what the eyes can’t see. Looking at this Chinese restaurant as a distressed stomach, I’d like to work with this sense of migratory anxieties and generational trauma stored in the organs.
Voice 3: Sounds really cool. I did a lot of collaborative projects as well. And when I am working on a video, I don't see that it's only my video because there's someone helping with the sound or creating a soundtrack. So it is a collaboration in a way. A new experience for me is working in a collective that I have formed with two of my friends, whom we studied together in Syria. have formed. We don't live in the same city, one of them lives in Berlin and the other in Abu Dhabi. For almost six months now, we have been thinking about ways of working together. We found ourselves sharing a lot of texts together. So we are reading and writing at the same time. As one person writes something and shares it with the group the others are free to continue writing the text and so on. We don't know how it will end or how this collective will exist as we are always meeting via Zoom. And we cannot come and meet all together in the same space or city other than being online due to travel restrictions for Syrians. We have to pay a lot of money to apply for visas but there are constant rejections…
Voice 1: That's really crazy xenophobia happening with just visa rejections or ridiculous fees tied around these countries.
Voice 3: Yes. But I think it's interesting that these restrictions, for us, are also a form to create something.
Voice 2: What I like about collaboration is that you start from somewhere and then you have to be open and reconsider whatever is brought into the situation.
Recently, I had a coffee reading by a friend of a friend who was staying at our place. And he told me “You should never be alone. And it’s not good for you to be alone, you get very melancholic.” Yes, I cannot think by myself, but through being in check with someone else.
I think that when you are interested more in the collaboration than in the result, the excitement comes at a different moment of making.
Voice 3: Have you ever had failed collaborations?
Voice 2: Yes, It’s really difficult to collaborate when you don’t discuss the structure of the collaboration. Not only why do you gather but also how do you gather. People usually think collectivity means we all just get together and then we work because we care about the thing we want to work on. But when you set up a loose structure, thinking that means equality, it usually means reproducing already established structures, which we were shaped by. And then you hear only the loud and confident voices. And I find that boring.
Maybe we can finish with the question about what you wish to see more in the art world.
Voice3: We have 4 minutes left (laughs) let’s try it…
Voice1: Does anyone have a quick answer to it?
Voice 2: Love.
Voices 1&3: YEEES!
At that moment, the monster split in three and they all went on a vacation.