Interview with Zolt Kovac

Hi Zolt, you are well known as a socially engaged artist, pushing for change and speaking publicly about problems of Serbian society. Would you say that an artist should play such a role?

There are different ways to using art. For me, its social component is extremely important. Someone else may look for other things in art and that is absolutely fine. I personally am interested in the local community I live in. I seek critical view of the community and explore ways to participate, to contribute constructively, to re/shape the societal relations and promote values I hold dear. But I can only participate in processes I am familiar with (even if I did not like them) and to which I can respond. It seems that being engaged with the local community is the only thing at my avail as an artist from a country on the ‘semi-periphery’ of Europe.

Your most recent set of artworks is called Brilliant Paintings. Considering that, both poetically and in terms of interpretation, this set is treated in the local context, how do you see their ‘readability’ elsewhere? Do you tackle a universal problem and/or phenomenon?

I am not sure that there is such a thing as universal problem (except perhaps the survival of humankind), but I do think that the theme of Brilliant Paintings could be found in other societies. Instead of me talking about it, I would much rather hear about how someone from the so-called core societies understands the slogans on my paintings – ‘The State Will Not Solve Our Problems’, ‘Declaratory State’ or ‘Power without Obligations’. Two of these paintings ended up in Austria and the United States, which leads me to believe that people outside Serbia have views on these topics. I can imagine that in the current crisis of both capitalism and society such slogans make sense, but I am not in a position to talk about it with certainty. What do you think?

The world of art changes alongside all other ‘transitions’ in culture and society. Should artists unreservedly opt for promotional strategies including the use of social media, private initiatives, or the blending of the art and corporate worlds?

As far as social networks are concerned, there are not that many alternative channels available to promote art in Serbia. In societies that do not support art private initiatives become imperative, if one wishes to participate and do things how one feels is necessary. In terms of art collections and sales, blending the art world with the corporate world is a way for artists to support themselves. Unlike in some other societies, art sales are not common in Serbia and it is really difficult for artists to make a living purely off artwork sales. Periodic influx of money cannot be seen as a bad thing. But if I accidently become very rich from selling my art, we can have another chat and I will reconsider my views.

In your view, what is the current mainstream, and what would be the best strategy to promote it internationally?

I do not know what the mainstream is, nor do I know how to define it. It is fairly eclectic and interesting. I suppose that one possible strategy for its internationalization would be to secure a continuous presence at the international scene. Unfortunately the state has neither the money nor interest to support this. The alternatives remaining are private initiatives and social networks.

How could art influence change of a rather stereotypical view of the Balkans? Elsewhere art, culture and museums are all connected to tourism. Is that type of social capital recognized in the Balkans?

That type of social capital is not recognized in Serbia. Most of our top museums are closed. Even if they wanted, the tourists in Belgrade currently cannot visit the National Museum or the Museum of Contemporary Art. But I do believe that the stereotypical view could be changed. In fact, this is happening as we speak. There are periodic bursts onto the international art scene, with various initiatives for holding exhibitions in Paris, London, Berlin, Vienna and Los Angeles. But, there are no public policies and strategies that give a sense of direction and set some kind of national aims. It is all running in circles. There are ideas, but little will among decision-makers to push them through. Initial enthusiasm often wears thin. At the end of the day, I am not the one to lament the current situation. This has become all too common in Serbia and is rather boring. I would prefer returning to your first question. That is, what does matter is the awareness in the local community about the dire situation and the position of art, but also the will to further develop personal capacities. Societal circumstances in Serbia are such that there is always something new for me to explore and do. Being an artist in Serbia is far from easy, but I look forward to the times that will allow me to do something different.

Your oeuvre is characterized by the use of different media. To what extent was your choice of media influenced by changes in today’s art such as entry into new mental dimensions and the use of new materials and technological innovation?

I have worked with different media. I studied painting, but later I realized I had nothing more to say through my paintings. Then I switched to photography and video. But this type of media requires a lot of equipment and production climate both of which are very hard to find in Serbia. Still, it did provide me with new experience. Little by little, I returned to painting and I am currently focusing on static painting. On the one hand, I am interested in a critical attitude towards society and, on the other, in the development of language of painting in the present environment. The rules of the local scene do not perfectly match with those of the international scene. I explore ways to further develop this local imaginarium, this sphere of throughput of paintings that is becoming ever more intense. Then I can start applying atypical materials to my work, like I did in the Brilliant Paintings series for which I had to learn the car-painting techniques to use metallic car paint. These paintings are like a brand new car, polished and shiny. The other artistic direction I have explored involves street art and characteristics of paint as a material. Here I use dripping, stencils and visual materials out of comic books. This is very amusing! My third stream is the reinterpretation of the Serbian painting artwork from the second half of the 20th century. By doing so, I seek to reestablish continuity Serbia is lacking dearly.

Zolt, citanje

Can you tell us more about your artwork to be shown in London on 16 June at the ‘Point of View’ exhibition?

These artworks are from my Empty Time series. They were created when it became clear that most of us require at least two jobs to make a decent living. We started to ‘increase efficiency’ and rush manically to satisfy desires of unknown origins and doubtful necessity. There is no time to hang around. And by that I do not mean time wasting, but instead that positive vacant period which allows us to contemplate – the contemplation about the very desires that are imposed on us. More importantly, this is the time that is seemingly vacant of utility and efficiency, one which allows us to deepen the relationships with people we do care about. Yes, I am referring to love! Love takes time; it does not just happen. If we are not prepared to invest time in love, then I do not know how it would actually happen and endure. Unfortunately, love is an ever-diminishing phenomenon in the world we live in because it is perceived as inefficient and unprofitable. Everybody wants that instant coffee, instant earnings and instant love. Well, it does not work like that. This is why my paintings and prints portray scenes from everyday life, the life in which my dear wife and I spend time together doing simple, small things. When was the last time you spent an afternoon with your loved one, just lying next to each other, reading books?