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Interview with the artist - Igor Eškinja
Antonija Majača

As the winner of the 2004 Radoslav Putar Award, you had the opportunity to spend two months in New York. In what respect have you gained most by that experience?

Visiting New York, as you said yourself, is a great experience. Considering that New York is a meeting-point of artists from all over the world, I expected to find more art dealing with a certain content, but what I actually had the chance to see was what the market really meant and how it functioned in its extreme form. Also, the opportunity to be able to compare one's own work with what is going on there is very valuable. Apart from numerous exhibitions and galleries I visited, here I'm referring to my residence in ISCP (International Studio and Curatorial Program), where I had a studio. ISCP is an organization with some 20 studios at its disposal, hosting artists and curators from all over the world. I also had the luck to be staying there during the 'open-studio days', which attract both the public and professionals, so I had an opportunity to show my work and also to see myself the work of other artists.

Was there an exhibition or an artist you met that especially impressed you?

I was most impressed by the exhibition of Anri Sale's videos in the Marion Goodman Gallery. The works were created with amazing simplicity, balancing simultaneously between horrible Albanian reality and abstract visual art experience. In your own work you usually start from form, i.e. contour, and it is most often geometrical and minimal, leading even to arabesque?

I try to adjust form to an idea, situation, and context. In most works, form emerges following a certain idea of what I really want to do, and I use geometric forms mostly because of their inherent simplicity. My interest for contour comes from the need to dematerialize the very form, to 'improve' it and to make it, conditionally speaking, more explicit.

To what extent has your studying in Venice influenced you? You mentioned architecture which, together with space in general, is extremely inspirational for you. As a matter of fact, you react quite often to a specific quality of space, as was the case with your work at the Emerging Artists Exhibition at the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Rijeka. There you intervened in a part of non-functional exhibition area with vertical partitions to which you added yellow bands, creating also non-functional 'parking lots'?

In Venice I formed an idea of what contemporary art may be. The Biennale is something unavoidable in the everyday life of Venice, so the events during and regarding the Biennale had a significant impact on me. The fact that I was given a studio to work in by the Fondazione Bevilacqua la Masa, whose main purpose is to promote young artists, was also very important for me. This was the place where I first started to work and exhibit my work. The space, especially the exhibiting space, is a starting point in some works. I made several installations dealing with specific space-related problems, as was also the case at the exhibition at the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Rijeka.

I wanted to react to a site which was frustrating and actually quite unrepresentative for such an institution. I wanted to point to the problem and use the negative characteristics of the space to my advantage.

However, not all my works are related to fixed sites. Some pieces, such as 'Welcome' or 'Java and Borneo' emerge from a site, but are at the same time autonomous and can be presented in a situation different than the original. I try to be flexible in my approach to work and I try not to confine myself to site specific works or to works 'from the studio'. I always start from a concept, according to which I choose the form and strategy of approach to a site or exhibition.

Where does the idea of a carpet made of dust, along with your general inclination to transient and ephemeral forms, stem from?

I made the dust carpet for 'The Most Common Exhibition' in the O.K. Gallery in Rijeka in 2003. All the works presented at the exhibition dealt with the 'common', quotidian, and yet extraordinary. The carpet emerged from my need to connect the actual exhibition space (door - floor) and simulate something expected to be found there. The choice of dust and the fact that by passing over the carpet we destroy the work was part of the inversion that the work contained within itself. By choosing arabesque and decoration I wanted to combine something charming with the contrasts which the material contained in it self and with the fact that visitors could easily destroy something like that. I was amazed with the fact that many people thought it was an ordinary carpet and did not pay any attention to what it was made of.

I have been dealing with transience and ephemeral forms since my stay in Venice, when I started working on the idea of dematerialization of the art object and perceiving an exhibition as a medium and visual experience.

Why and in what way are you interested in the relation between spectator and work, perception, observer and space? Psychologists of perception divide the space, according to its relation to the object it contains, into positive and negative. You, on the other hand, do not work with space, but with surfaces in space, its boundaries.

I am interested in creating a situation in which a spectator balances on that borderline of space and creates a certain mental relation toward the space in which he/she finds himself/herself at the moment.

You often work directly on the gallery wall, 'the borderline of space', a method you chose again here at the Miroslav Kraljević Gallery. The motif of the work called ?Them? are visitors, 'spread out' on the gallery wall surfaces. Why did you choose this motif? We have been talking so far about the gallery system. Is this also, in a way, a meta-work for a specific gallery space?

The work examines relations between an exhibition, gallery (space) and visitors themselves. The gallery, though empty, activates an imaginary world in which we observe other visitors while they enjoy themselves in a non-existent exhibition. The physical space of the gallery is transformed in a sort of observation post, transparent capsule into which the visitor is completely immersed. What I find interesting is the idea that in this case the boundary between the physical and imaginary is strictly determined.

Your works are usually created for a specific site and they remain, i.e. disappear at that same site upon the conclusion of the exhibition. You practically do not have any 'works with yourself'. Your work continues to live on in documentation. Your initial idea was actually to create a piece and destroy it afterwards??

The document of a certain work or exhibition is something that remains and a large part of our experience is based on these documents, i.e. information. Exhibitions, regardless of their type and level of production, are reduced to mere information. I find it interesting to 'do' the exhibition before its actual opening, when it would be presented as emptiness, along with an illustrated catalogue which we would study on the spot, just as we would do after an exhibition which is no longer held. I believe that is one way of questioning the mechanisms of perception and experiencing of an exhibition, i.e. the gallery system in its entirety.

A gallery space is in a sense the ultimate place of presentation, an antiseptic area which presents art and where people come - to see art. How does the audience feel when they see their own possible reflections on the walls? They are images of people in space, in various poses, shown from their back, placed in an abstract wall area which stretches into depth. They are reminiscent of large museum environments, grand exhibitions in the West, where the visitors, a numerous audience, truly pass their time, contemplate, associate with each other... They nest in some sort of unreal, idyllic museum environment which does not enter into (our) real world?Does the work reflect in a way your experience of New York?

The wall figures derive from photographs taken at various New York galleries and museums, but also at the Venice Biennale. The work stems from a difference, and a desire to establish a relation between the visitors in Zagreb or Croatia and the idealized cultural system or even cultural industry of the West. On the one hand, the visitor of the exhibition participates in that world, but his/her pleasure is not complete, as he/she sees only other visitors, but not the artworks. In this respect, I believe that the visitor's attention is directed towards the art system itself, as well as towards a general social position of culture in everyday life, in which viewing exhibitions forms a part of contemporary lifestyles. The idyllic scene in which idle visitors contemplate imaginary art, along with their their dissociation from reality, incite the frequent questions on the role and necessity of culture in society as well as the relations they form. The title of the work 'THEM' describes the boundary which, in this case, is extremely firm, physical.

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