„My visual poetic is based on urban landscape, cityscape, I am always intrigued by the architectural spaces and geometry.“ INTERVIEW with Nina Todorović

Serbian artist Nina Todorović’s work focuses on the visual exploration of architectural space: not only on the interior and exterior spaces of the surroundings, but also on the abstract metaphysical aspects of loneliness and alienation as a reality of life within the city. As Nina puts it: “I have always been intrigued by the tension created in the construction of certain geometric objects. Particularly when their illusory calmness is in direct opposition to an inherent and disturbing, but indirect presence/existence of human beings.”

Generally abstract, the artist’s work is based on existing spaces and objects found in architecture, which she magnifies and alters, breaking them down and altering them to be redefined with thick layers of color. Nina basically considers herself a painter, as she graduated with a Master’s degree on the Faculty of Fine Arts in Belgrade, on the Department of Painting. When painting, she usually works on large scale canvases (approximately 1,5x2m), or, as a total opposite, very small mixed media works on paper. Yet she is exploring other (new) media as well, expressing herself through digital works and ambiental installations, through photography and digitally manipulated image. Presently the artist is working on her PhD in Art (also called “the practical PhD) on the University of Arts in Belgrade), which will be related to my visual poetics, the urban landscape and architecture.

In a very honest and detailed email interview Nina Todorović told deconarch about her work and her interest in cityscape and architecture, her observations of communication and the lack of it in virtual realities, about her decision to become an artist and what it means to grow up and be an artist in the war-torn Serbia of the 1990s.

 

INTERVIEW

Nina, why art? How and why did you become an artist?

I guess I can say that I would choose the same profession again, if I were able to make my choice once more…

For me there were never any doubts about it, my family was always leaning towards different art disciplines, although only two of us took that professional path. I started with my first art lessons at the age of five, when my parents took me to a visual arts studio, in some sort of cultural center, with many different art programs, especially made for youngsters.

My serious preparations for the Academy started when I was in high school. It took three attempts for me, to finally get in, to enroll on the Faculty of Fine Arts in Belgrade, and that was approximately the average number of attempts for the majority of us, and a very valuable experience, especially back in the nineties, a period of war and political turmoil in which we were growing up, when nothing was certain, and when the whole society in Serbia was in deep crisis. I was studying Sociology and then Art History, while waiting and preparing for the Academy, and was ready to try as long as necessary, until I succeed.

So your family played and plays an important role in your decision-making process?

What meant, and still means a lot to me, is the unconditional support that I get from my family, which, to tell the truth, is a rare thing around here, because practicing art professionally, particularly as a free-lancer as I am, is not what one would call a dream job here, it doesn’t pay off, and it requires a great enthusiasm and a lot of patience and strength, and of course a lot of investments, with awareness that it can’t provide living from it.

You mentioned the unstable political situation in Serbia in the 1990s. How has the situation improved since then? And (where) can the impact of this turmoil still be seen today?

Well, things definitely changed since then, we went through many predicaments, but I can say things are going for better now, here, still not fast enough though, but I don’t want to complain too much… Impact of this turmoil was really obvious until less than a month ago, when the visas for the EU countries were abolished, for the citizens of Serbia…

Actually, I have to admit, I thought a lot about this question, and how to articulate my answer, and still I am not sure….

We weren’t able to travel normally and freely, without having to go through ridiculous procedures, in order to get visas for the countries of European Union. Among many other professions, it especially affected the free-lance artists…

When I say it like this, it doesn’t really explain the situation, or sound so serious. I tried to write it down, all the steps that we had to make, and even to me now it sounds like some kind of crazy fiction… The moment of visa abolishment was an emotional moment for me, and a moment to contemplate all the wasted years, and all the efforts we have made, in a simple and natural urge to live our lives normally, like the rest of the world. No other explanation is needed… Let’s just say it is good at least THAT trouble is behind us, and we can really open to the world now…

Back to arts. You have a very deeply felt connection to arts and your work. What does art mean to you?

I can’t really define it, in some concrete terms… I can only say that I feel alive as long as this motor is running for me, or better yet: IN me. Of course it means everything to me, as long as I feel that need, that urge to create, despite all the difficulties, I think in THAT case, life itself is good for me. I can only hope that I’ll have that unconditional urge for the rest of my life.

Which possibilities does art offer?

We can discuss about the possibilities from different aspects. If we talk about material aspects, then I can’t say I have a material satisfaction. But, if I was contemplating about material satisfaction in the first place, I guess I would have ended up being something completely different, I would have been doing the total opposite of what I am doing now, and frankly, I can’t imagine that situation.

So, the OTHER possibilities are big, and significant for me. First of all, the contacts that I am making, with other artists, curators, and all other art-related people, especially in this age of mass communication. Internet  above all, is something making this profession worth living for. Contacts, exchanging ideas, collaborative projects, workshops, meeting online friends and colleagues in the real life, and making real time/real space exhibitions, possibilities of traveling, well, all that is more than enriching experience which only helps personal improvement and growth, and opens so many doors…

In life I am trying to achieve the opposite of what I am trying to point out in my art…. But, one can’t go without another, actually one stipulates another. In other words, in life I am trying to communicate and to improve the communication with everybody around me, and to bring it to another, higher level, whenever it is possible (addicted to communication, in some way), and in my art I am emphasizing the lack of communication and really serious alienation and solitude we all are facing in these times…

How do you choose your topics in your works?

My visual poetic is based on urban landscape, cityscape, I am always intrigued by the architectural spaces and geometry. What interests me is the atmosphere that we face in the city, besides the geometrical structures that are visually appealing, or brutally imposing to us – either way I am attracted to it, I am also dealing with the questions of alienation in the city, the questions of communication or lack of communication, the questions of our needs for the real human touch or the lack of that need, the questions of solitude…
Primarily I am asking myself those questions, and then the observers of my works… Are we building unnecessary walls between us, are we self-sufficient between those walls, in our contemporary fortresses… Are we existing now more in virtual than in real space?
The digital era, that we are deep in, already, is adding to that feeling of altered communication and altered human touch….

And why the focus on architecture?

I am deeply impressed by the phenomenon of contemporary architecture, and all its aspects, but most of all the visual one, that is also creating some specific tension, and ambiguous feelings in us…
In the past few years my work is developing in two different directions… Besides this basic and main focus on architecture, I’ve started developing a series of works dedicated to the water, the water as a theme, respecting it as an universal power in nature, and I guess I took this direction also as an escape or an alternative to what I am deeply in, the cityscape. One of my shows was dedicated to that personal research, and probably just proved how deeply entwined those two subjects are becoming, in my case…

Could you introduce one or two works to us?

Sometimes it is difficult to choose the works to present…   Maybe few of the latest cycles that are interconnected. I’ve exhibited the series of Alpha Nests digital prints twice in 2009, in two different set ups, first on the solo show IPERTÒPIA that I’ve had in the Museum of Experimental Contemporary Art, in L’Aquila, Italy, curated by Dr. Arch. Paola Ardizzola (her texts were published in both exhibition catalogs), and for the second time as an ambiental installation, here in Belgrade. The works were printed on transparent plexiglass, and I set them in gallery space, so they can form an ambience trough which people can go, observing each one of them separately, but also perceiving them all together, allowing the viewers  to see them as a composition, formed out of transparent layers, in combination with lights and shadows that were also essential part of the installation. The whole idea was to create an ambience saturated with architectural structures and endless walls, variety of materials (concrete, steel, glass…) in endless repetition, but always different in their similarity, monstrous contemporary fortresses built for the “alpha people”, focused on the consumerism and material values, and the “promised” land of shopping malls, where “fun” never stops… It was my reaction to the new architecture, and everything it represents, here, in Serbia, now…

The series of Defensive Structures and the Defensive Structures Underground followed the Alpha Nests, and are still developing…

Who are your role models and what influences your work in particular?

There is a variety of different influences on my work, but not in such a direct way, I can’t say I have some concrete role models…
I call it „following traces/signs”. I just stumble upon certain things, in some random research (research of the themes that are interesting to me, of course), and it gives me directions, and opens up the doors that I never expected to find, but the doors that are leading to something really, tightly related to my work… I am sure most of the artists are having the same or very similar paths and methods.
I can write a number of names that somehow influenced my way of thinking, which don’t necessarily show up in my artworks, always, but in some indirect way defined certain points…
To begin with classical media: The paintings of Richard Diebenkorn (especially the Ocean Park series, and some of his works from the The Bay Area Figurative Movement phase) , Edward Hopper, Charles Sheeler… Some segments in the theoretical definition of La Pittura Metafisica were also directing the start of it all…
I was very inspired by the films of Michelangelo Antonioni, and especially his visual language, and I based my Master’s exhibition and thesis on the comparison between film and painting, with special accent on Antonioni’s visual expression.
Some segments of Cyberpunk movement, books by William Gibson, then also other contemporary writers like Paul Auster, Don DeLillo…
I can name a number of artists, besides the ones I’ve already mentioned, that are interesting and inspiring to me in different ways… Some of them are: Stefan Hoenerloh, Tilmann Zahn, Agnes Martin, Olafur Eliasson, Tatsuo Miyajima, Sarah Morris, Georg Kuettinger, Vera Lutter…

What – in your opinion – is characteristic of your work and your working method?

My working method includes taking a lot of photographs, making a lot of sketches, real and digital ones. I never go anywhere without my camera… I make notes, of everything that intrigues me, and different kinds of quick, small drawings, …
What is characteristic of my work is that the ending of each cycle is somehow announcing the next one, the next series of works, usually some of the last pieces in one series is a preview to a new series, so they are all connected… Like making a sequel… I never plan it, but it happens regularly, now… So these last works in a series always belong to the next one too, they represent a link between two cycles…The trigger doesn’t have to be visual, it can be a word, a sentence, any kind of sensation, really…

Where can we see your works? Exhibitions coming up?

I’ve just finished a very busy period, the whole 2009 was dedicated to several solo exhibitions (one in L’Aquila, Italy, and three of them here in Serbia), and numerous group ones (Italy, Serbia, UK, Australia, …). Most of them, as I already wrote, were projects in different ways related to Italy, and with Italian artists and curators, some of them still ongoing, so, for the ending of 2009, my works were exhibited on the Art Fair Immagina 2009 in Reggio Emilia, Italy. The gallery FM6366ART from Naples presented my digital prints there.
Since I am working on my PHD thesis in art now, 2010 will be dedicated to writing, and making a solo show. I am also preparing a group exhibition, with several colleagues, in the Museum of Modern Art, in Eskilstuna, Sweden, as well as a workshop and an exhibition in the artist-run space Formverk ArtZone (run by the artist couple, my colleagues and friends – Niclas Hallberg and Stina Pehrsdotter), in the same city.

Nina, thank you so much for sharing!

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