Recently I got together with Snezana Petrovic in her studio at the Beacon Arts Building. Snezana is originally from Yugoslavia, but as she says, “Yugoslavia does not exist any anymore, so I’m kind of from nowhere.” She has been living and working in California for almost 22 years, and her studio is filled with paintings, meandering rope constructions, and barely-there paper-like sculptures floating from the ceiling and walls.
Virginia Broersma: It looks like you use a lot of different channels in your work – performance, sculpture, costume, video- could you talk about how you see those things working together? Or do you keep them separate; compartmentalize them and think of them as independent of each other?
Snezana Petrovic: I think they all work together. I have always had a continuous practice, literally non-stop, working in different disciplines, so to speak. Basically I would have an internal dialogue during these processes and summarize it to a few issues that are permeating. One is gender, and the other is displacement. I am constantly in conflict with my training and myself, and trying to break through the experience of a being trained artist through the use of European-dominant white male point of view and literally breaking out of the structure that I was taught is appealing: “this is how you’re supposed to create a painting.” I’m not saying that is bad necessarily, but it’s not reflective of who I am.
I was trained as a traditional painter and at one point when I graduated from the school I was able to replicate any artist and masterpiece. This was my first job actually: to do the paintings of Picasso and Van Gogh – I was a specialist of Van Gogh – in forging their work!
But then I felt I had to break out of it. My exit was to go in the video direction, doing more videos and then installations.
VB: I’m interested in what you were saying about how you had to break free from the things you internalized from your education – are there methods you use? Or certain things that you find help you to do that?
SP: Well, my methodology is basically this: I do it the way I think it needs to be done. Then I move back from it and analyze it. If I recognize that there is a pattern that I was taught of how things need to be done and how they’re appealing, then I say, “OK, I’m going to create disorder” and deconstruct it.
I question myself, “where does this come from?” because it is so ingrained that you don’t even see.
VB: You start to question your authenticity…
SP: Exactly. So I started to go away from it and really try to break through and be brave to do the complete opposite of what I believed was the right way, (if there is a right or wrong way, I don’t know, but I don’t think that there is). And especially at the time when I went there were not that many women recognized as artists and you were not really able to see their work. It’s still hard because its male dominated, somehow, still. Unfortunately. So that’s why my interest for design in theater or movies was part of this exploration – challenging the gender role.
VB: This may or not be related, but one of the things that I find interesting about your work is that you seem so interested in sharing your process in inviting people to participate, or collaborating with other artists, which maybe this is a wrong assessment, but it seems very feminine. It’s sort of masculine to take on the role of everything, and to say, “This is mine”, and there’s something more community based or sharing based in your work which is very feminine. So that seems like another way to me that you are breaking that cycle – you bring people in….
SP: That is exactly it – thank you for bringing that up – because I really get upset when…for example, I was at this panel when there was a discussion about feminism, and there were artists that are feminists that were saying that collaboration is not OK, that they would not work collaboratively. I mean, since the 60’s and into the 70’s this is what women artists were doing: they were creating collaborative projects, because it is so ingrained into who we are and then being supportive of each other as a family, or as sister to sister. So to me that was like, seriously? This is where feminism is now heading? To hate another artist? Male or female? This is a very masculine approach, that kind of competitiveness.
Working in collaboration brings the aspects of who we are in the most exciting and unexpected ways. At the times it might be challenging, but it is always worth an effort.
VB: What are you working on right now?
SP: I’ve been working on trying to reconcile my past and the sense of dislocation. The way that I figure out how to reconcile it is to be in the present, and this is why the whole project is called “YOU ARE HERE”. It started 3 years ago as an exercise for me to not think about the future and not think about the past but to learn how to live in the moment and recognize this is where I’m at. I did this by taking video of the places where I felt like I was present in the moment – I would stand in one spot with my camera phone and take video of a full circle, 360 degrees around me– just the length of one inhale and exhale.
So, it started simultaneously with this video and an exploration of the Enso, or doing the calligraphy with circles – as an exercise in Zen Buddhism and doing it with the breath – the inhale, exhale – and in the same way editing the videos – I’m doing them the same way, the videos are 8 seconds, for inhale and exhale, which is just the bare minimum of time that a person can actually perceive what is going on and have an idea of what is happening. It’s sort of like a blink of the eye, a moment in life, a moment in my life, but also the moment I am sharing with the people around me.
VB: So is that connected to the circle on the stickers you’ve been passing out that say “YOU ARE HERE?”
SP: The sticker happened also as a way of acknowledging the moment and also because I’ve been traveling a lot – you know the sign on the maps that says “you are here”? I think about it like a little joke, I think Oh REALLY?! What does this mean? You’re telling me this?
I actually printed the stickers as a way of connecting the idea of the circle as a breath at a moment, and acknowledging that yes, you are here, but you can have a different interpretation of it. This was a trial at the open studios to see how the work would resonate with the viewer. The people at the studios were placing the stickers everywhere – on their foreheads, on their butts – it was kind of a joke, and I was wondering if it was taking away from something that is a very deep idea, but actually I realized that the playfulness does bring us all in the present moment. There’s a sense of playing and joking, really being in the moment–
VB: Yes, an awareness…
SP: …Yes…awareness and joy.
There are lots of things I have to do, but this is just the first snapshot of where I’m heading. In the meantime I’m painting, because that’s the way that I process ideas.
VB: I’ve been thinking about these pieces in your space that sort of disappear: they’re not really here and they go along with your idea of displacement. I think it’s interesting how you’re trying to affirm your presence with your self and your body in the present moment, but the objects are more ephemeral and….
SP: Everything that I do is floating….because I still feel that I’m floating – I’m not connected to the ground. I feel like I’m this ghost, coming in and out into the present. Art is a healing process for all of us.
Snezana Petrovic’s work can be seen at http://www.snezanapetrovic.com.