Interview with Marija Sevic

Hi Marija, your international experience is substantial. You lived in Paris on a French government scholarship and took part in several group exhibitions. You also exhibited alongside your colleagues from the U10 group at the prestigious Art Basel fair in Switzerland. What have you learnt from these exchanges, and what direction do you believe we should take to bring our art scene closer to the international stage?

As a student, I spent one semester in Montpelier and another in Paris. This priceless experience has significantly influenced my artistic development and the way I work. The Belgrade Art Academy is characterised by a very traditional approach to pedagogy, so moving to a more contemporary system is extremely important for a development of an artist – something that applies to any environment. My colleagues from the art space U10 and I had an opportunity to present our work at the Art Basel fair thanks to Dr Kuckucks Labrador who recognised the quality of our work and invited us to be their guests. The reactions were extraordinary and it was an incredible experience for all of us. The event gave us additional credibility and provided us with support and confirmation for everything that we had done up to that point. Once back, we started putting everything together, created an art space, and started to work jointly.

The Return to Nature I

The themes in your artwork fit the sensibilities of a contemporary individual and their identity that is a constant search for belonging or non-belonging. Where do you see yourself in your artwork?

People are important in my artwork. They are placed in various situations across a number of interior and exterior backgrounds. The identity itself is something that I often deliberately hide, leaving enough room for the observer to recognise and imagine themselves inside it. It is scenes from an ordinary life of a contemporary person that I seek and that constantly lure me back to review them. Currently, I am working on a series of paintings called ‘Party’. The painting ‘Return to Nature’ that will be exhibited in London is part of that series. It represents young people lost in moments of idleness, parties, and endless nightlife. Every image shows an intimate moment, a part taken out of a certain event that sometimes turns the observer into a voyeur pulling them into the image’s space.

Blurred gestures and scenery effects make your art easily recognisable. This contributes to your art’s authenticity and emphasises an effect of intimacy. In your work, do you use any real scenes from photographs that are then transposed into the medium of painting?

Yes, in fact, I always take photos of everyday events using my phone. From photos come paintings, mainly as sketches, an initial form that I am trying to approach in a realistic but individual way and express it through a different medium. My paintings are intimate fragments of my life and lives of people around me.

As a result of the award you received at the Montenegro Art Salon last year you started a cooperation with the DEAC centre in Kotor. You were also an artist-in-residence there last summer. What was your experience?

 It truly was the best award I could get. The ‘Jugooceanija’ building where the residence was based is an important example of the 1960s architecture and is significant from the architectural, historical and social perspectives. My stay there was magical and it brought back memories of my stay in Brasilia. It almost felt like the ‘Jugooceanija’ building was designed by Oscar Niemeyer. This type of seaside isolation, while staying there out of season and then during the season, is at the same time interesting and inspiring. All art studios had a view over the Boka Kotorska bay, and the sights and colours were incredible. They change constantly and are mesmerising. The organisers left the entire space at our disposal and every week there was a new exhibition and ‘open studio’ day where visitors were free to roam from one studio to another and get to know the artists and their work. This residency has brought about an incredible concentration of energy, inspiration and creativity, as well as an opportunity for the most splendid kind of isolation that allows one to dedicate all the time to the work.

A series of paintings entitled ‘Mum and Dad’ cames as a result of this residency. Was the decision to use your parents’ history as an inspiration a result of a nostalgia for better times?

When I think about it, that may well have been the case. In fact, just before my departure, something important happened. My parents divorced a long time ago, and I found their photos and took them without asking. I wanted to do something with them but did not know what, so I took those photos instinctively and later decided to paint them and transpose them to large canvasses. I think that was a sort of return to myself, and the creative process meant a lot to me at the time. This particular series of paintings is very intimate and quite different from the topics that I usually choose. My friends claim that they are inseparable from others, but I do not agree. The photos depict scenes from their youth that they wanted to remember – love, freedom, travel. Some are from the mountain where my mother’s house was located and where we used to spend our holidays as a family. My father also told me that it was at the top of that mountain that I was conceived.

In an interview with Elle magazine, you said that Belgrade was a city of closed museums and that we were witnessing a slow death of culture that pushed young people to self-organise and rebel. Would you say that it is such inability to accept absolute conformism in Serbia that brings self-organisation, originality and freedom? Could it be that a rejection of commercialisation of art allows art to create better ideas?

I am not sure how to answer. What I do know is that I have regular cultural crises that compel me to travel and visit as many museums and galleries as possible. I just returned from the Netherlands and Belgium and I was ecstatic about the exhibition for children at the Boijmans Museum in Rotterdam. All the pieces were placed low so that children could view and perceive them from their own perspective, and rooms were full of children that followed the movements from a Brus Nauman video, walked on Carl Andre’s installation, or looked at Mike Kelly’s photos. It was a magical thing to see, but sad at the same time because children in Serbia typically see very few exhibitions and museums are not part of their life. It is not just about the Modern Art Museum being closed. It is the general lack of cultural instructions and content across Serbia. It is very sad and depressing and there is little doubt that it pushes many people to self-organise and rebel – which is great, but it would be even better and healthier if art was easily available at all levels as is the case in more developed countries.

You acted in a film called ‘A Deck under Terazije’ and several music videos. Does your activity across media distract you from painting or does it provide you with new ideas?

I really like film, so that experience was an interesting one, certainly inspiring, and, up to a point, even liberating. I am pretty sociable and I like being surrounded by people so I really enjoyed the teamwork on a film set. It felt like we were one ‘family’ that created something together. It is completely different from the time when I am on my own with the canvass. I also fulfil this need for teamwork by running art spaces with my colleagues. In any case, I do feel it was an additional inspiration which opened new areas for research and creation. Since then I also acted in another film by Marina Radmilac which is still being shot. There I had the opportunity to work on the set with a wonderful actor and artist Denis Lavant. It was an incredible experience, endlessly inspirational, exciting and beautiful. I also worked on a music video for the song ‘Come Along Wind’ by the band Stray Dogg. It was my favourite song on that particular album and the minute I heard it I had a complete vision of the video. I view that video as a continuation of my series of paintings entitled ‘States of Mind’.

Who buys your artwork?

My artwork is usually purchased for private collections, and occasionally for some state institutions and cultural centres. It is very rare for me to sell my artwork in Serbia.

What is your view on artists’ role in the society? Can their vision be wider than something purely artistic?

It certainly can. An artist is there to move, to inspire, to review and to change the way we perceive the world. I do not think that what artist does has to be radical or political and that it is the only thing that moves us. I think that different approaches to art say something to different people and are there to move us, to inspire us, and to help us transcend and become better people.