Interviewed in Zagreb, 14 May 2013
Ever since he appeared on the world arts and design scene in 2000, Silvio Vujičić has managed to maintain the ambivalent position of someone whose work is at the same time representative of the present moment in contemporary artistic and designer practice in Croatia, but at the same time completely distanced, autonomous, authentic and difficult to categorize within one of the dominant tendencies, trends or (artistic) ideological systems. If we could name some of the things that clearly define him, those would definitely be Vujičić’s strict professionalism in both major media areas in which he works, and a scientific, laboratory-like methodology of sorts that equally excludes distinctive characteristics and aesthetic self-sufficiency, as well as the overly easy conceptual readability of the works. In both art and design Vujičić experiments with materials, their tactile qualities, biological and chemical properties as well as their symbolism, implementing in all his projects a wide range of knowledge, from art history to botany.
ORIS: You studied at two faculties at the same time: the Faculty of Textile Technology [TTF] and the Academy of Fine Arts. Were you indecisive or did you want to take as much as you could from both these educational and formative contexts.
Vujičić: The programme I studied at TTF, and generally at all faculties, is insufficient. At one moment everything stops and you realize you will probably not get any more until the end. I studied at TTF for two years and then I enrolled in the teacher-training programme at the Academy, which means that I had the option to work at the Academy, attend art history lectures at the Faculty of Philosophy and continue my studies at TTF at the same time. The teacher-training programme offered a selection of classes and I chose the graphics class, with professor Šutej. At TTF we also had the history of clothing and art history, but what I found attractive was something that was not offered there – textile production, machines, anything to bring me to actual products. Actually, we were learning a kind of art solution and flat textile products. It made me look further so I passed the entrance exam at the Academy with a portfolio of bad portraits, nudes and textile-technological flat products.
ORIS: It is interesting that you were accepted by the Academy with your artwork done for another medium, another field.
Vujičić: Those works were close to Šutej, I think they looked like some of his drafts, but I believe Ines Krasić liked them, perhaps some others, too. Nevertheless, I had trouble at the Academy.
ORIS: In the sense of: you came from fashion, what are you doing here?
Vujičić: Yes, exactly – why did you come, why aren’t you making dresses, clothes. I got into an argument with everybody except the three of my professors I could talk to. I got the lowest marks in almost all subjects.
ORIS: Well, if the Academy doesn’t offer education, does it not offer infrastructure, a protective framework to work and research?
Vujičić: Yes, it offers you space. Perhaps, two or three professors would dedicate some time to you. At TTF there was nothing like that.
ORIS: Which professors?
Vujičić: At the Academy it was Šutej, while he was alive. He died two weeks before my graduation exam. Ines Krasić, who was an assistant at the Graphic Department at the time, allowed me to do things outside the usual procedures. Lovro Artuković also taught me, but he left the Academy after a short time.
ORIS: Your later work was based on the characteristics of various materials, chemical processes and such. TTF surely provides at least the basis, the basic knowledge in this sense?
Vujičić: No, in 2000 I won in the Fashion category at the International Talent Support in Italy. I won a global award that meant nothing in Croatia, but I got the chance to meet some professors from Danish universities who invited me two years later to teach them on paper as material and how it can be used. My collection at the time used a combination of paper and textiles. Then I started to spend time abroad and talk to textile technicians, so I finally got some concrete information and recipes that became a good background for my future work in the field of fashion, as well as art.
ORIS: Sanja Cvetnić has been writing forewords for some of your exhibitions for a long time. She is a professor at the Department of Art History at the Faculty of Philosophy, primarily interested in Baroque art and she rarely writes about contemporary art. I remember only one other artist she has written about, Zlatko Kopljar. When did your collaboration begin in the mediation and interpretative sense and do you believe the typical interpretative apparatus of contemporary art critics is actually insufficient to reveal some of the semantic, traditional, historical and symbolical components of your work?
Vujičić: I attended classes on only one subject with Sanja Cvetnić, besides Baroque. I believe it was called Template, Original, Copy. She was the only professor who wore jeans and a leather jacket. Since there were only ten of us, I noticed this detail, and then she announced her lecture on facsimiles and Christ which brought us to the homosexual relationship between Judas and Jesus. She created such an atmosphere of debate that we used to quarrel all the time during lectures. Many years afterwards I met her at the exhibition ‘Genius Loci’, organized By Silva Kalčić in Galerija sc, and she spoke well of my work, and I asked her to meet me so I could ask her for information I would need for my new work. She has fantastic knowledge, she ‘rummages through various libraries’ where extremely interesting things can be found if you are willing to search for them.
ORIS: Yes, she is the erudite type of art historian that is rare, and even fewer of them have a sensibility for the contemporary.
Vujičić: Sanja is an art historian of the classic type but in touch with the art of today, while many of them lose this connection. It is hard to talk about contemporary art with many people dealing strictly with history, but she was able to see even canonical themes from very contemporary and rather provocative aspects.
ORIS: It is also interesting that behind a large portion of your works, regardless of their appearance and very powerful sensory impression, there is a concrete quantity of knowledge and information. It is possible to read the artwork without this, but awareness of it forces you to try to reach and master them at least within your capacities.
Vujičić: This is completely clear to me. I often see on the faces of some of my colleagues dealing with some narrow field of research, as well as practice, that they do not understand what I am doing. On the other hand, if I could go through the whole process, if there was sufficient literature, we went to the same schools, we work in the same space and deal with the same stuff, then I expect at least a minimum effort to try to understand. Personally, I’ve always found it interesting to see the limits of some research, how much I could learn and how much of what I found out I can distort in a controlled way and apply to my own work.
ORIS: This means that working on certain projects is two-sided in the sense of research? On the one hand, you often research this technological and material aspect, on the other you search for clues within art history.
Vujičić: I am looking for recipes. For instance, in the Alchemical Polyptich I am not interested in the entire Ghent Altarpiece by the van Eyck brothers, but only one recipe, nothing else. With this one recipe I do experiments, obtain samples and this gives me direction, but I always tend to what is closer to the first image I had when I began the project.
ORIS: You find these experiments necessary because you have to test the process before you let it work? Does it mean that you make your artwork somewhere else before it happens in public, in the gallery?
Vujičić: No, it never worked. Some 80% gets tested, but there is always the surprise factor.
ORIS: In the sense of the unknown and the uncontrolled?
Vujičić: When you do a sample, you always do it on a smaller scale, with a kilo, a litre or a metre of something. However, my work then takes tens of tons or litres, and sometimes quite a different direction. With every work, as I come close to completing it, I experience enormous stress. There were some that were not successful, some failed and that is quite ok.
ORIS: Did you exhibit these?
Vujičić: I did. This may bring us to the topic of the barge and the Croatian exhibition at the Venetian Architecture Biennale several years ago. When I saw the reactions, not only in public, but from the authors themselves, this shame and embarrassment, I couldn’t understand it. Just a second, people, this is your work. Fine, the cake turned out bad, but why would you not share it with others? It happens to me every day.
ORIS: Yes, and the fact it failed does not mean you are giving it up.
Vujičić: Exactly, or you will at least say it needs reconstruction for a future presentation to make it what it was supposed to be in the project. But, in my own time and space, it is exactly as it was supposed to be. It is the same with my work. Sometimes the realized project is better, sometimes worse; one learns to live with it.
ORIS: Considering that your work is often a process and includes moments of decomposition, disintegration or organic growth, how do you document it and what is the role of this documentation generally in your practice?
Vujičić: I make photo documentation of everything, which includes photographing the entire process. I archive the completed samples, both the successful and unsuccessful ones, and describe every detail. An archivist has been helping me during the last two years. All this material may be useful to interested parties. Sometimes, the traces of old works produce new works. For example, the work Caput Mortuum, for which I used the fountain near the Student Centre, leaves a mark and such marks become new works and lead to new versions. Some works disappear entirely, but I still have the documented materials.
ORIS: This processuality is the reason I believe that the ‘official’ life time of such works is partially determined by how long they stay in the exhibition space. Once you said that you look at a gallery as if it were a forensic laboratory with various controlled chemical processes, so that the impression of one of your exhibitions is the sense of being ‘in the middle of something’. Still, you mentioned that you always begin with a clear idea before you use it to research various procedures and recipes. As a spectator, I was faced with a process happening in a gallery, and it is hard to read this initial idea, the starting point, from what you see.
Vujičić: What you’re saying is interesting. I have been thinking for years how I do certain projects in a way for them to be self-sufficient, so that the starting point is not visible. I do not know what the conditions are and whether this is a problem at all. I have recently done a series of works ‘based’ on caffeine crystals within the SintArt project as a dialogue with the Vjenceslav Richter Collection that uses this rule to some extent. Before these works I had a series in 2007. One work from that series was a cage with a double grid, completely crystallized in saturated salt solution. The result was crystals growing on the inner side of the grid. In the closed reflecting space like a ‘crystal palace’ with no entrance, the only right way to view the work is from the inside. And you cannot do that. Such a radical principle was applied also to other works in the series.
ORIS: You are developing your research and experimental practice in fashion and in art. Do you regard all this as parts of the same creative process or do you somehow divide these areas into separate entities?
Vujičić: Some information jumps from one glass to the other, you cannot control it. On the other hand, I often work with various samples, if some do not manage to get implemented in one medium, I try to use them in some other. The ideas jump from one context to another, but the general principles are drastically different, especially in clothes. Fashion designers work in a very limited space, but since I no longer deal only in experimental fashion, but also everyday clothing programmes, I have numerous limitations. Art is different. Here you always start from zero.
ORIS: Yes, there is no body.
Vujičić: There’s nothing. And everything you gave to the work is removable. Perhaps I may sound vain, but the things I do with textiles, nobody else here does, it is hard to place them on the market, and there are not many people who could write competently about them. For instance, how to make clothes without cuts, or several sizes by enlarging or reducing them with certain chemicals. These are the new systems. They have always been present and can be found in the history of clothing, but they were not used in this way, except in details. I am trying to apply them to the whole form. I have absolutely no fashion and clothing designers to talk to on the local scene. This is a limited medium, limited knowledge and limited education. By now, I have somehow accepted this outsider’s position.
ORIS: How realistic is it to develop methodologies you are interested in together with local craftsmen or industries?
Vujičić: It is realistic, especially in the context of crafts and manufacturing.
ORIS: Because they already have some of this knowledge?
Vujičić: No. This is universal knowledge you only need to manage a little. The clothes and fashion industry, however, is not interested in innovations but only money. Fashion is ‘easy money’. You send a cut to India and they return a million T-shirts. That is why design here looks as it does. It is all about textiles with a conventional cut and an additional application, but even this conventional cut no longer corresponds with the actual physiognomy. This principle I work with now used to be Miyake’s. He managed to develop a complete methodology in his time, then an entire industry, based on only one recipe.
ORIS: Did the recipes you use arise from careful monitoring of innovations and new technologies or by adapting technologies from the past?
Vujičić: Primarily through researching medieval, Chinese and Japanese culture, but also Croatian ethnography. When you compare them, you see how all those cultures used the same recipes at some point, but always to solve only small, particular problems. For example, in order to solve a certain problem you have to collect 500 litres of urine and boil it for two weeks. Today, you get a substitute for urine, and the same formula is available with some other means, so you can solve a much larger problem on a much larger surface with much less resources.
ORIS: You do not use the recipes you take from the past in their original form but adjust them to the times. Can we say then that they are simultaneously historical and contemporary, old and new?
Vujičić: Generally, I do samples to enliven the original recipe, but only to see what is good and what is not, what can be done. I make it contemporary to become more efficient, this is how a brand new area for change opens up to me. I treat contemporary matter with a certain historical recipe, for example, and this may lead me to art or a design.
ORIS: The project Exposure to a Virus and Fashion was about the algorithm of weaving the fabric. This is not chemistry, but digital technology.
Vujičić: Yes, that was pure technology. I send the rapport of repeating motifs to the computer that manages the weaving, but the program has an additional code, a virus, that will destroy the contour line and some of the drawing. Instead of some pixels there are squares in various shades of grey. The programme recognizes each of these lighter spots as another weaving pattern, not always compatible, so at some points the threads open and pinch, sometimes break. Therefore, I give the machine a certain task, but also a virus, and the result is an ‘accidental error’, a materialized variant of the digitally destroyed drawing. But, I have to admit some six or seven years passed and digital technology did not satisfy me. If we had a larger industry and better working conditions, I would probably continue with it. It is an expensive game and not very attractive to factories which would rather the machine produced easy fashion 24 hours a day.
ORIS: You have to have an interested and patient conversation partner.
Vujičić: Yes, it is a serious investment. Somebody needs to be brave enough to say: ‘Here, let this author experiment with us for two or three months, and then we will extract some product from all of that.’ Naturally, there was no interest in such a thing.
ORIS: Are errors and deviations, mutations and entropy processes something you generally look for through such projects or are you searching for the perfect control of these processes that have always been delicate by nature?
Vujičić: I am not satisfied with ‘accidental’ works and I really try to control the processes as much as possible, but the more ambitious the project gets, the more unpredictable things start to happen. This is an interesting question, it is not that I am not interested in errors, but I try to analyse them in full, be aware of them and find a way to make further use of what I find out.
ORIS: What does your studio working day look like?
Vujičić: I am just moving to a new studio in Mesnička Street. It is important to have space that is divided and well-equipped so I can use it for various actions and, naturally, the archives. These are the basic working requirements – I have machines I use all the time, printing machines, drying tunnels and so on. I go there in the morning, have my coffee, begin work, then I finish and go home.
ORIS: It is a real working day. Like when Andy Warhol went to work in the Factory and returned home to his mother in the evening.
Vujičić: Yes, I have always liked that radical principle of Warhol’s. Several times in my life I found myself in the situation when I sat in the studio at eight in the morning wondering what I was doing there, but I always find something to be busy with. That is why it is important to have a good quality working environment.
ORIS: Did you use the residential programmes for artists?
Vujičić: Yes, last year I took the residency at FRAC.
ORIS: What was the experience like?
Vujičić: Fantastic, both for me and for them. They bought all the works, gave me a technician who used to work in a Ferrari plant so I could talk to him about the production. Everything on a high level. I was very interested in the way they exhibit and conserve various biological works including faeces, plants, live matter. But, otherwise I don’t like residences, this was the first one I accepted.
ORIS: Because you are addicted to your own permanent working space?
Vujičić: Yes, I set myself much higher, much harder conditions than anybody could set for me. Except FRAC. The director was in Zagreb to interview me, but when I decided to come, she said that she was surprised because she had thought they could not provide me with the best of conditions. This was a very interesting turn for me. As a student at the Academy, they used to forbid a lot – you can’t do graphics in this way, that press over there is just for the Mother of God, not for T-shirts! And then I bought my own press and took jobs in costume making to finance what I needed. When they forbade me to do screen printing, I bought the machine and put it in the class, and thus my life was filling up with these machines. Naturally, it was stupid to go to a residency somewhere where they would give me a room with a desk and a chair, so I could only do drafts and drawings.
ORIS: You realized a series of collaborations with artists, designers and architects – with Ruta on the Invisible Work, with Damir Očko and Ivana Franke a common ambiental exhibition in the old premises of the Museum of Contemporary Art, but also with architects, such as Studio up and 3lhd. What did you learn from these various collaborations and how much of your experience poured into your independent artistic and design work and way of thinking?
Vujičić: There were not so many of those collaborations, although people wrote a lot about them. I worked on the Spectator Group building project with Studio up and Ivana Franke, on their Hotel Lone project with 3lhd, the rest you already mentioned. I learnt a lot through those collaborations, especially in the sense of production. Otherwise, such collaborations are not uncommon in the world, architects work with artists, but many artists also employ architects in their studios. Studio up was mostly interested in my sense of matter and atypical materials, as well as their application in exteriors and interiors. On the other hand, 3lhd were more interested in a kind of art experience applied to the part of the space. So, in Lone, I got the format, the exact dimensions to work with, while during the collaboration with Studio up, Ivana and I developed the entire project, from the basis, so that the level of collaboration and intertwining with architecture was much larger.
ORIS: Yes, you are more integrated in the space than in the Lone case?
Vujičić: In the Spectator Group the artistic intervention was not an addition or an application to the existing architectural project, but an integral part of the total vision. There is something more. The architectural working principle means the need for security, it does not exclude experimentation, but contains the risk of the responsibility for this experiment later. I experienced something similar with the Spectator, where at one spot we had the floor made of iron boards that are rusting, so when you walk over them in wet sneakers, visible traces are left, later resulting in rusting. This means that when workers come in the prestigious presentation hall to repair the blinds, they leave behind rusty foot traces. I think this is a fantastic process and I fought for it. As I fought for the moisture around the work In the Hanging Garden No One Speaks.
ORIS: Yes, you gave them a living being that needs to be taken care of.
Vujičić: Well, naturally. This is not just about contemporary art. Many people forget that the same attention is necessary for paintings, too. It is enough for a fly to come and leaves a spot of faeces, or a sun ray, and you have a problem with maintenance. All art is alive in this sense.
ORIS: What are your experiences with curators and institutions? Do you find them useful to talk to and what are your expectations regarding them?
Vujičić: It depends on the interlocutor, because I sometimes really do not find what you mention. It is lucky that there are people like the Kontejner curator team, Jasna Jakšić or Sanja Cvetnić, just to mention some people I like to work with. They are all ready to exit their comfort zones to collaborate with me and to seriously work on something that requires more research, more mental and interpretative efforts. This is what I require from a curator, simply because I am convinced that the curators require the same level of trust from the artist. I feel somewhat insulted by the fact that, after I review everything published about my work in the last five years, I see that ninety per cent of it is done lazily with the level of knowledge you acquire after three lectures at the Faculty of Philosophy. For me, a curator should be a sensible person, extremely interested in what you want to present, art should be the curator’s primary life and professional interest and not just a side activity. It seems to me that people have neither the interests nor the discipline to view art themselves. Many curators require a written report on my work, or even a detailed description.
ORIS: Don’t you think you are a bit rigid?
Vujičić: My rigidity is the result of the fact that I experience a lot when I do a project. Until it is fully materialized, I feel a hundred-year weariness, and if, after all that, somebody comes with a superficial and uninterested attitude, I take it as an insult.