re:future Lab featuring
Jovana Popić was born in Zadar, Croatia. She presently lives in Berlin. She began her formal art studies at the Faculty of Fine Arts in Belgrade under the Serbian State Scholarship for Science and Art Talents. In 2006 she received the Friedrich Naumann Foundation Scholarship and later the President’s Prize toward her master’s degree under Rebecca Horn at the Universität der Künste-Berlin. Other awards include the Sennheiser’s Future Audio Artist Award, Codice MIA 2016 Award, Award of Ulrich and Burga Knispel Foundation, grants of the Trust for Mutual Understanding, Karl Hofer Gesellschaft, the United Kingdom of Norway, and other various artist grants and residencies. Popić has exhibited work in Europe, United States and Asia. Since 2019 she has been pursuing her doctorate in art and anthropology at the Faculty of Philosophy of the University of Zagreb.
a new roadmap
Dear Jovana, we live in a time that is marked not only by the economy, but also and especially by science. You come from a family of scientists and have yourself experienced major upheavals and systemic changes early on, which have had a direct influence on your personal life. So it may be surprising that you chose art as a medium for expression, but it is certainly no coincidence that your artistic approach is very similar to that of a researcher. And even less so, that you are strongly committed to interdisciplinary dialogue and founding-member of the initiative 'STADTMASCHINE KUNST', a platform that aims to generate a visual interface between science and society in order to make research processes and results accessible to the non-scientific public by means of visual art. So, as we share kind of a mission here, I may say that I am very happy that you followed the invitation to answer my questonaire and took part in the opening exhibition of the re:future Lab...
In your opinion, what is the mission of contemporary art and what is the role of artists in society? What influence can art have on social change? Do you think that artists can stimulate personal and social change?
Art does have the power to transform societies. For example, I strongly believe that art can polarize societies by its own code of thinking about the world. Today, the impact of the art within a society is perhaps most visible in repressive non-democratic societies such as Brazil, Russia or some of the former Yugoslav countries. In those countries, due to the lack of the freedom of speech, artists use their art as a necessary tool for asking the disputed, ignored or painful questions that those societies are incapable of asking through a democratic social or political dialogue.
The phase that our global societies enter right now has put many of the values that we believed in and relied upon into question. I hope that this “ground zero” situation will produce necessary momentum to bring some transformative developments to entire societies. And that it will also impact the contemporary art scene of the so called first world. That scene has lost much of its existential, spiritual aura by turning the major part of its production into a mere lifestyle commodity industry for the “upper class”. That development inhibited the inventive powers of art and has put the impact of art to the margins of society. Luckily, due to our own disorientation and the failure of many of the contemporary political and social discourses and values, we came to a point where artistic discourse and its procedures can be legitimately used as one of the essential tools for the transformation of our rapidly shifting and changing world. There are already some great examples for it throughout history, such as the works of Dada movement artists, the Fluxus or the Situationist International groups, or more recent, the works by artistic duo Allora & Calzadilla or by the polish artist Artur Żmijewski. A contemporary, striking example of how much social and political impact a single artwork can have is the work of a Bosnian-American artist Aida Šehovic. In her work, titled “Što te nema”, she created an inclusive space to confront the universal issues surrounding the painful question of genocide by a performative act, inducing the processes remembering, mourning and healing, within the community in which social dialogue and institutional confrontation with this issue have failed. All those art works, together with the ones to be made, could serve as some of the essential guidelines for a new roadmap which our society urgently needs. But, one single artwork is not able to make this essential change. Only through the collective effort of artists and institutions this change can be achieved. We should feel responsible for the future and not miss this opportunity!
What role does storytelling play in times of great crises and upheavals?
Given the disasters and crises that characterise our world today, is it even possible that we dare to hope for and imagine a better future?
Storytelling is crucial for human development. It is one of the most critical processes through which we define our identity and our existence in the world. Max Frisch wrote that sooner or later everyone invents a story which he considers to be his own life. Humans interact with complex reality and think about the reality through stories. Storytelling has a tight relationship to writing: by putting our thoughts, concepts and projections into narratives and into words, we tell a lot about ourselves and how we perceive the world around us. Tireless agents and their proxies within the world today are inventing catastrophic future scenarios for us right now, leading humankind towards a dystopic disaster and ultimate self-destruction. Therefore, we must urgently draw up utopian narratives in order to create our own future scenarios. If we are not able to imagine our future positively and work on it, our future will be out of our control. Moreover, I find it crucial that people share the same dreams and stories of a new better world, built on teachings from the mistakes of this old one, get together and unite their efforts in creating a better future. After all, humans are “social animals” which form their narratives in groups, and they often only learn a new narrative if a crisis deconstructs the old narratives.
What form could a dialogue between art and other disciplines take in order to promote social change and shape the future? What other disciplines would you like to interact with?
Science and art are often trying to explain and understand the same phenomena by exposing and exploring different facettes of their complex nature. In natural sciences, those phenomena cannot be discovered only positivistically. In order to better understand them and to grasp them as a total entity, they also need the explanations of disciplines like philiospohy and those of the arts, using their metaphyiscs and their hypotheses, and for example, describing the potential results of a development through sounds and images. Due to the mainstream discourse of the contemporary societies, we became afraid to rely on the free expression, on our intuition and on the intelligence of our more subtle perceptions.
My current artistic language is formed from a dialogue between my artistic strategies and my scientific anthropological research. After many years of using art as a tool in exploring phenomena such as identity and its relation to place, destruction, the purpose of human knowledge, and especially focusing on the phenomena of remembering and forgetting, I came to a point where I understood that the world is even more complex than I previously thought. In order to be able to improve my tools for its understanding and to deepen my insights, I realized that I also need to employ even more rigid scientific tools & models. My current extensive project, developed at the intersection of science and arts, explores how contemporary, so called cognitive systems, popularly labeled as AI-based personal assistants - have started to forever transform our memory and with it also our identity. Just imagine a world, where technologies like Alexa and Siri have matured and are combined with a brain-chip like “Neuralink” directly connecting your brain to power and capacity of the cloud. My formal PhD research in anthropology provides me an access to data on this topic and opens me doors for collaborations, e.g. with neural scientists, software engineers, psychologists, contemporary anthroposophical thinkers and philosophers. My goal is to produce a series of artworks which capture the research process as well as to produce a scientific publication based on experiments involving my artistic strategies of exploration.
Assuming that a better world could be built on the ruins of the old world - what would it look like in your opinion? What do you personally wish for a better future?
I wish, humans will develop more awareness, compassion and empathy with other fellow humans, with animals and with overall nature. Compassion enables us to feel for the living nature and empathy enables us to see the world from the perspectives of our other fellow humans. But it also helps us to better navigate the world. In the long run, lack of empathy is self-destructive for humankind as a species. The world we inhabit almost came to its end by the means of the self-destruction. Compassion and empathy will be some of the essential transformative powers towards a sustainable and aware society.
It is often said that the special power of art lies in the courageous and fearless pursuit of the new and always starting from scratch on a blank piece of paper. What strategies, rituals or techniques do you personally use to find your way into a new work and start from scratch with a new project?
In the beginning of my projects, there is always a question or a thought induced by an experience, by a situation or event, which sets my projects on their journey. The nature of this thoughts and questions dictates the choice of my artistic methods. Those methods are than based on my personal research tools deployed to discover different and new aspects of the phenomena and their processes around me. The goal is to gain insights which help me to better understand them. Therefore, my artistic strategies are heterogeneous, different in every new project: in some of them it is a drawing, in another one it is a sound recording and then in another one it is a large-scale installation connecting those media with the three-dimensional objects. The universal language of art enables me to share my questions and my insights with other fellow humans.
And one last question at the end: Who do you think should also be a part of the re:future Lab interview series? Who among your contacts do you think you could link to?
Visual artist Barbara Phillipp and anthropologist and artist Josip Zanki.
For Barbara Philipp, the human body in transition in our times and its abstractions are key to her work. Often, focusing on the female body which undergoes complex transformations, she explores its relationship to different formal and contextual languages but also to its social framework. In unmasking hidden codes and proceedings in society she (re)positions tactile memory, hospitality and care as essential ingredients for her vision for a better future. Josip Zanki is a cultural anthropologist and visual artist whose work is based on the research of the concepts of space within the contemporary artistic practice and of the heritage of Tibetan Buddhistic art. In his fieldworks, he explores the questions of cultural memory, experiences with psychedelic substances, phenomenology of shamanistic trance und autoethnographic recordings.
Text and interview: Madeleine Schwinge
The interview was conducted in September 2020