Hristina Ivanoska: We Will Try to Do Our Best at Venice 2015 Biennial
'We Are All in This Alone' is the title of this year's art project that is to represent Macedonia at the 2015 Venice Biennial, the work of couple Yane Calovski and Hristina Ivanovska, who besides their family obligations, find the time to work on contemporary artistic concepts and investigate the various relations between the individual and social aspects of human life.
In line with the concept of this year's biennial, titled "All the World's Future", designed to examine the social responsibility of the individual in the world today, is a specific project re-examining the idea of faith and the manifestation of it in contemporary context. 'We Are All in This Alone' is described as a multi-disciplinary visual endeavor, a multiple-stage research project, and continuation of the exhibition they had set up in Baden Baden, Germany, at the Staatlichen Kunsthalle.
In an interview for Independent.mk, one of the artists, Hristina Ivanoska, explains the creative process, their topics of interest, and the individual journey of re-examining oneself through the language of art.
Hristina, this is not the first joint project you and Yane worked on together. Why did you decide this one to be another joint project?
We first put this work at display at the Staatlichen Kunsthalle in Baden, Baden, in September 2014, at one experimental stage, part of this institution. We were invited by Ksenija Cockova, a Macedonian who works there as a curator. We felt the need with Yane, having in mind the positive reaction of the audience and what we managed to create, and the realization that we have done something serious and good together, after a longer period of time, to apply at the Ministry of Culture, with the support of the Macedonian National Gallery, for the Venice Biennial.
This year, the title of the Biennial is "All the World's Future", but your work is a 3D representation of the St. George Church of the village of Kurbinovo, rendered with contemporary materials and means of expression. I which manner is the 12th century church related to the concept of the 2015 Venice Biennial?
The work is much more complex than that. The fresco paintings of the church are only one of the segments of the work. The scenes from the frescoes are not literary rendered, but the references to them are made by the use of a gold color, not the entire visual composition. What we are trying to emphasize is the author, the fresco painter, who has remained unknown and who has painted this, I would say, beautiful artifact in Macedonia. There is connection with another church in northern Greece which features similar iconography and style, but this style is so unique, recognizable, and specific that he managed to surpass certain Byzantine canons in terms of religious fresco painting. That's why we found this painter so interesting, because there are no written records on him what so ever. We say that he may even be a woman, although the likeliness for that is slim. But besides this segment of the artwork, Yane and I decided to include part of our individual works.
Why is the work of Simone Weil an important segment of We Are All in This Alone?
I'm inspired by her writings because she is an interesting character as well, who I accidentally discovered in 2013. She had Jewish origin but is considered a Christian mystic, and a feminist. She is well known, among Catholics as well due to her intimate scriptures published after her death. And also the work of Luce Irigaray, titled 'La Mysterique' which also speaks about the relation between the woman and God, and between the woman and the man.
At one moment, even though she grew up in an educated family of Jewish origin, but not a practicing one, where critical thinking was nurtured, she starts to ask herself how the divine can be perceived if one is not endowed with the gift. That idea starts to provoke and inspire her and she starts to re-examine the personal relation towards God. She wonders what kind of sainthood is needed in a contemporary world and what would the modern saint be like. She is very interesting to read and there was even a possibility of her becoming a saint, provided she had accepted the Christian faith. But she said no to that. She says she doesn't need the church on her personal path to knowledge.
Hristina Ivanoska: what would the modern saint be like? Photo: Vlatko Perkovski
Therefore, in terms of the personal quest for the divine and God, is the fresco painter in Kurbinovo somehow related to the work of Simone Weil?
Those are different manners of self-examination. First, a challenge to follow a personal road exists, which is opposite to the established norms and rules of behavior. In that sense, the work of a contemporary author Paul Thek is very interesting, and that is Yane's interest. He has been following this artist for more than 10 years. In the 1970s, Thek lived in Europe and he also ponders upon the personal relation to faith and collaborates with certain churches. He does processions and contemplates on the religious rituals. And in this sense, we are trying to consider faith as one emotional and intellectual condition, and then also, as a social and political anomaly. Where is faith today? In what do we believe in today? Not only as a religious light motif, but in general as faith, faith in the present moment and in the future. And that is how the concept of this year's Nigerian curator of the Venice Biennial, Okwui Enwezor, offers. Enwezor's concept lies on the articles written by modernist philosopher Walter Benjamin, which refers to Paul Kle's "Angelus Novus" that is a starting point for him to write a beautiful essay where he speaks about the relation to history, the past and the presence. The curator suggests for the artists at the Biennial to reread Marx's 'Capital' who he believes is of utmost importance, not only in the sense of the communist or socialist countries, but in the sense of work which has prompted mass-scale social and wealth-wise movements, but even to include other forms of artistic expression, such as film, theater, performance etc. Here, Venice curator is interested not only in the past, but also how we look onto the future, to comprehend the global perspective. Independently from his concept, in this sense, we succeeded to bring our work and his ideas closer.
Can we observe your work as sort of continuation of the tradition started by the fresco painter in Kurbinovo? Namely, he was following the Byzantine canon but also introduced his own novelties in terms of reaching a visual solution to the scenes painted on the frescoes. Is the act of putting Kurbinovo paintings in a contemporary context, a play with the Macedonian national art, the historiography of the Macedonian painting and the contemporary living we face today?
Naturally, we wanted to make a historical liaison because Macedonia has no continuity in visual arts. This notion was very present before the 20th century in the churches, and the only way painters could have expressed themselves through their visual language. That is precisely why we were so drawn to Kurbinovo, because of this provocation, having in mind that the building is located in an unpopular area, and there are many hypothesis evolving around the artist. What is interesting about him is the way he chose to represent the drapery that looks like wind is blowing into it, his exaggerated representation of the human figure, which proves there is some kind of motion, of dynamics in his painting. There is a certain mannerism in his style too. The conclusion of the art historians is that he has created a style that was at the peak of the art of the 12th century, so after him, a new style of painting would prevail. That church was accidentally discovered in the 1930s and we are lucky to have preserved even this, because it has been used for different purposes in different periods. It is a small building that looks like a family house but it contains real treasure. And then, what happened to this painter? Why there isn't any other works left of him? It is even assumed that he had direct contacts with Constantinople, and that he was well educated, and well connected, probably through the church, with the Byzantine capital.
We Are All in This Alone is the continuation of the project "Chapel (We Are All in This Alone)", set up in Baden Baden, Germany in September, 2015. Photo: Private archive
Why did you decide to use the gold color in your work? Is it again, a continuation of the Byzantine tradition or it has different meaning?
Gold is the color of all religions. It is related to the sun, and in general, to the periods of harvest and abundance, to the divine world and the unknown, to the skies and to God or what we call God.
Is there an aspect of Macedonian contemporary life that has inspired you to concentrate your work on the faith, and why the necessity to re-actualize the idea of faith through artwork?
Last year, apart from the work that Yane and I did together, I started to read the works of Simone Weil, and lately, both of us have been looking for inspiration in works of literature. Thus, we use the literary support of the Irigaray and Weil, and the work that will go to Venice includes that support. I think the issue of faith arrives in a person's personal life in different periods. In our case, faith is thought of as the highest stadium of personal quest, and if a person wants to follow that path, and doesn't need the church as an institution to do that, then it is a great challenge. As well, as the position of the artist; if he wants to act outside the institutions and what is mainstream, official art, because the artistic process is also a process of search, of personal re-examination, it is also a very delicate and difficult road that he needs to have faith in.
The artistic creative process is a delicate and challenging path to walk. Photo: Vlatko Perkovski
What are your expectations from the Venice Biennial? Macedonia does not have its own pavilion so how it is expected, given it is a small country, to achieve a major success there? Do you think your work is 'edgy' enough to prompt different reactions?
Obviously, what we have created can reach wider audience. A person does not need to be familiar with the works of the people I mentioned earlier. In Baden Baden, the space was well adapted to our work, and its initial title was Chapel. People felt like our work was the place to contemplate, and felt it as private space for communication with God. Chapels were private places, and people built them in rich houses, or in hospitals or army premises. So, even this experimental small space within the frames of Staatlichen Kunsthalle was perceived as a chapel. The question is now whether we will be able to recreate that feeling with the space we will get in Venice.
You know, in Venice you want to be seen. So many people are represented. Every visitor wants to see the Giardini and the Arsenale exhibition rooms. Everything else is not so important. It is so difficult to find the other exhibition spaces on the map, and Venice is a complicated city, with small narrow streets. So our goal is to find better space which will be easily accessible and then think about how to set up the artwork. Yane and I a pretty flexible, we are not that rigid about presenting the same thing we did before. We are ready to think outside the box and we'll see what happens, but we will try and present ourselves in the best possible way. Many of the countries prepare themselves for their Venice shows much earlier than Macedonia. But, we are working intensively along with the National Gallery and the Culture Ministry in order to obtain suitable space.
Yane Calovski and Hristina Ivanovska (center), with their fellow artists and curators. Photo: Facebook
This year Macedonia is represented for the first time by a foreign curator. Basak Senova from Turkey is the curator the artistic couple chose, while Maja Cangulovska - Mihajlovska from the National Gallery is the assistant curator. Maja Nedelkovska Brzanova, director of the National Gallery of Macedonia will be the exhibition's commissioner.
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