GREAT POWER SHOULD COME WITH GREAT RESPONSIBILITIES

Interview with MTO, France/planet Earth, May 2022

French artist MTO is famous for his sharp, black and white realistic style of intense presence – where the reduced use of colors gives you opportunity to focus on expression and psychology of the characters represented in his works, which are delivered with almost chirurgical preciseness of execution. Very wide spectrum of connaissance of popular culture and all its nuances gave this artist ability to boldly underline iconic nature of cult aspects of film culture. However, film references were just a starting point in his work long ago, and over time, he moved to other topics and motives – we will try to discover which ones, in this short interview. Thank you MTO for your precious time and attention taken to answer these questions! /Intro and questions by Dzaizku/

DZ: One important phase of your development as an artist is connected with the years you spent in Berlin. Can you tell us a bit about that period, what did it look like, your daily life? What were the things that were driving and impressing you?

MTO: During my studies I traveled twice to Berlin and really enjoyed it. So when I finished my cursus I went to live there, from 2006 to 2013. This city impressed me a lot. Its overflowing energy. Its techno-hippy side. There are a million things going on in the streets every day. The arts are spread out on all levels and in all possible and imaginable forms. I arrived without money, without knowing any German and without a clear idea of what I was going to do with my life. The first years I did a few bullshit-jobs so I could live a decent life, thanks to the low economy of the city.

I was looking for ways to live from an artistic practice. I was inspired by street-art but I didn’t feel particularly concerned since even if I drew a lot as a teen I had never painted and I’m not a big fan of stencil or collage. Anything else was too expensive for my wallet.

Then in 2008, Arone, a graffiti painter and long time friend of mine (without any relation to graffiti) kinda « forced » me to try spray painting during a trip we made together in Barcelona. There I realized that I could maybe do some decent things with a can of paint. When I came back to Berlin I realized that I was already living in a graffiti mecca and that it could solve almost all my problems at once: Low cost, self production, self exhibition, international language of images… So I started to devote 100% of my time to it. Trying to develop my technique and my style alone with my bike and my backpack full of sprays. And with the hope that one day I might be able to paint giant facades. I dreamed of being on the short list of muralists. There really weren’t many of them in the 2000’s and I was particularly inspired by BLU.

“There’s no such thing as bad publicity” Berlin, Germany – read the full story & artists’ statement here

DZ: How is that period different for you from now?

Everything is different now. Money came to the field and there is ten new guys popping-up every month, muralism has become a global market held by business people with more supply than demand, so the whole movement got replaced by mostly consensual painters whose work could please your kids and your grandmother at the same time, and it is now unfortunately a decorative industry for gentrification facilitation and insta photo-bombing.

Before 2000, what started to be called « Street-art » was beautiful because it was a giant «fuck off» to the hegemony of the gallery world, resulting from a sort of fusion between « contemporary art » and « Graffiti ».  Artists taking control of the streets, showing their art without any middle-man, for the beauty of it. Unfortunately, a few decades later, the system rebuilt itself with new faces and took control as usual. Now, a huge part of the people pulling the major strings of this field ignore the initial purpose of that movement. They came with the money and entirely rewrote the history through hundreds of useless books celebrating useless works, not even paying the artists to use their images. Berlin for example was an avant-garde laboratory from which a great part of the most interesting artists are now forgotten and/or hidden by the constant flow of decorative bullshit. (pardon my french)

Even if there is nothing very surprising with that development, I’m quite sad about it. I’m too young to have known the very beginning of it all but too old to be ok with what it is now. That’s one of the main reasons I’m not really active anymore since Covid. I might do some new stuff here or there sometimes in the future for the fun of it but at the time I’m writing these words, I have no idea if I will ever try to come back seriously.

“The Mediterranean tunnel” – read the full artist’s statement here

DZ: Your work is famous also because a number of references to cult movies and singers… did you ever had any feedback from the authors on that?

MTO: Not really. There were a couple actors that shared images to say « hey look, someone painted my face » but that’s pretty much it. And it never was my goal anyway. But your question should say that my work was famous MAINLY because of those references. And about that: Painting singers and movie portraits in my early years was the top of my three biggest career mistakes.

Believe it or not, when I started, big hand-painted portraits were actually quite new (or let’s say: rare), so I did it as a way to be easily recognizable inside of the gigantic panel of art in the streets of Berlin, as a way to insert a bit of soul / funk flavor in this worldwide techno mecca, and more than anything, it was a 2-year technical training to master the use of a spray can… nothing more than that. Since day one I intended to work afterwards on some more engaged and politically charged works once I would feel more comfortable with the technique (which is not as easy as it looks). The paradox is that I actually became quite known as a sort of Pop artist, which I hated. What was supposed to be a 2-year anecdote in my career became my main public identification for years but it was all my fault.

Then I lost a bit of interest for street graffiti and wanted to do mostly big scale walls for its great political impact potential and I spent the next ten years doing conceptual, site specific and militant works (occasionally funny or surrealistic stuff) but that «pop graffiti» identification stuck with me. The proof: 15 years later I’m still speaking about it.

Also I was always a little lazy and reluctant regarding studio work so I never entered the gallery world and didn’t clarify my identity there either: second mistake. Big scale muralism is a practice you would hardly sponsor by yourself alone over the years unless you reach commercial success.

And third mistake: I never wished to enter the «Instagram game». I used it only as a passive and silent «show-room» like I was doing with Facebook, while the main purpose of Insta is to engage and communicate directly with your audience as much as you can, as often as you can. Today, not being active on Insta or being dead is pretty much the same thing.

DZ: Speaking of movies, can you recommend us some must-see classics/new movies?

MTO: Hell no !

(See previous question)

Or if you’ve got an hour to spare, you can check my film:

https://www.huffpost.com/entry/mto-knock-out_b_2897681

DZ: Where is your art between aesthetical and political? You as a person, your mind, your focus?

MTO: My work is essentially militant and political. That’s how I see art. I have a rather absolute vision of it. Art is about the meaning, the message. Duchamp made it clear enough. Otherwise it is not art. It is « expression plastique » (as we say in French) or decoration. It is not at all a pejorative word in my mouth. I have respect for that and some guys reach amazing technical levels but things need to be called by their right name. There is a mistake in the definition. There are too many people who are defined as artists, when in fact they are craftsmen. They use craft qualities to a subject which does not belong to them, which they do not control…or there’s often no subject at all. Those kinds of works have every right to exist but shouldn’t be affiliated to the term «urban art» as there is nothing related to urban culture in it.

In terms of aesthetics my work is certainly as bad as any others for local inhabitants’ eyes but technique and aesthetic never was my focus point. I even progressively destroyed my own visual identity over the time in order to (try to) erase this «pop artist» thing and to show that I was more a contemporary artist with aerosols than a brand. I used the majority of those walls as a means to question important local or general issues. To show my local implication and respect. Most topics were dividing and not used to gain the most followers. One could call that «the BLU school». To me he is the godfather of it, in direct legacy of the political war-muralism in Belfast, Mexico etc…

I believe this should be a moral responsibility of muralism that very few artists and curators understand. Muralism today holds a unique place in the entire art history and should be used for subjects that matter. Before 1990, large-scale muralism was only ever permitted for corporate high-cost advertising, or for institutional and memorial purposes. Nowadays it is the first time in the whole history of art that single individuals are offered the opportunity to express themselves on such gigantic surfaces which will be seen and photographed, shared millions, even billions of times in the course of their rather long life although ephemeral by nature.

Great power should come with great responsibilities.

“We live on Google Earth”, Gaeta, Italy, 2015 full info here

DZ: All around the world many kids are very intensively attracted to spray paint and wall painting/street art/graffiti…what do you think, why is this happening?

MTO: Banksy!

He proved it is possible to become a billionaire by drawing doodles on walls and still look like a badass with street cred. He pretty much created a market on it’s own. So now everyone wants a piece of the cake.

But don’t get me wrong, despite the sarcasm, he is a genius and I really dig his work.

DZ: Though, not all these countries full of great artists have developed art systems that can support a full time career… in your opinion, what takes for a person to get transformed from this frenzy painter/sprayer into a professional artist without losing himself/herself?

MTO: You should ask someone who actually succeeded in the art « system ».

I tried to develop a strong work integrity, I gained some fame more or less on a misunderstanding and I ended up kinda « retiring » 15 years later with very few bucks in my pocket so I don’t feel in the right position to give any advice.

DZ: I might be wrong, but I have impression that between the contact with his own inspiration/intuition and contact with the market, some artists get recognized in certain niche and somehow get blocked in that niche from further development – at least for me personally it’s hard to find satisfaction in observing always the same works being repeated by some artists over the years with minimal variety from artwork to artwork…what is your opinion on this? Is this something intentional, is it a trap, something normal or not? /Who is the boss here, THE market or the artist himself?/

MTO: In my case, I do something specific in shape and content for each location, I insist on « content » cause my technique has a lot of limits. The result could be good or bad, that’s still what makes these pieces « artworks » by definition and not decoration. But this is definitely the hard way. This is pretty much the opposite of having a recipe for success, it’s a recipe for « relevancy », that which doesn’t go hand to hand with success…at all. I’m no big fan of works that are repeated over and over with few variations either, to me this is no art, however this is a much suitable process to make money. That’s marketing basics.

When I started to paint whole building facades, we were rarely paid to do it, we were mostly «sponsored» (travel, arrangement, material etc…).  And when I was paid, the amount was barely ever worth the amount of work, but I was totally ok with it, because there was some space for free speech. I had the amazing opportunity to place my messages on incredible spots with a potential reach I would have never expected possible. So I didn’t make much money during all these years but I still liked what I was doing and knew why I was doing it. It made sense to me.

Fifteen years later, we’re not paid much more, however it is rarely possible to speak about the topic I want anymore. Multiple sketches got refused, projects got cancelled, and guys like me are replaced by consensual decorators. So I’d say this is really becoming a business of painters exploitation. And if someone is not happy with it, there are thousands of other painters waiting for your place. Most guys/girls++ who last very long in the field are pretty much the ones that were using the previously mentioned «recipe» that which may prove that my way of doing things isn’t the right one…you decide.

Test-city, Salem Massachusetts – full story here

DZ: If you met today a person who wants to jump off a bridge and commit suicide due to global/political situation in the world, what would you say to stop him/her from doing that?

MTO: If you’re looking for a «life is beautiful» type of answer, I’m afraid I’m not the person to ask. I’m still a humanist and a nice guy (I guess) so I’d probably grab him by surprise and force him back on land while I call an ambulance or firefighters (fuck police) but even if I wanted to reason him I clearly don’t have much to say so that he would think the world is not such a shit show after all… To me it clearly is.

DZ: What are you working on at the moment?

MTO: Nothing street-art related.

I’m focusing on some other aspects of my life for the moment But we’ll see what the future brings…

More documentation and stories at MTO FB PAGE.

instagram: @mtograff

The Wynwood Family – Miami (USA)
“Desperate attempt to get noticed” – Milwaukee, USA /info here/
TAGTICAL MEDIA 4 : ” My name is MO “, 2014, Kentucky USA, 23 x 83m – full info & aftermovie here
Music/Movie series

ARTISTS HAVE TO TALK TO EACH OTHER

Conversation between TKV and Aleksandar Zograf, March 2022.

In this episode of Street Art Residencies podcast, our friend Aleksandar Zograf interviewed TKV, one of the most persistent, active and internationally recognized stencil street artist from Belgrade. Two artists from different generations and different fields, that is – comics/graphic storytelling and street art, but with same drive for authentic life choices, result: one interesting conversation. More to follow at:
www.instagram.com/kraljica_vila/?hl=fr
aleksandarzograf.com/

sound edited by Darko Pavlovic/MediaNova, transcript by Dzaizku

TRANSCRIPT:

AZ: Okay, so we are speaking with TKV, street artist from Belgrade. Can you tell us, you started with street art when you were sixteen – what was the initial thrill of living your art in the street?

TKV: When you’re sixteen, everything is a thrill. You are discovering the world around you and you discover what you actually like, what are your interests. And, what I discovered with street art and doing stencils in the street is that you’re free, you’re completely free, you’re exploring the city.. Also with street art and all kinds of graffiti or street art you have this adrenaline rush, of doing something completely new for you, being in public space, adapting, walking around, you have a general sense of freedom. And I always go back to that feeling, even now after, how many years since 2004 until today…I always go back to that feeling how I felt for the first time when I started, and everything was a discovery for me, and I completely didn’t think about other people, whether others are going to see it or recognize it, I was completely free to do whatever I want, I was in my own world of doing stuff that I really really like, and also my motives for the stencils were the things that I was discovering at that time. I love and cherish that period, I even like some of the stencils from that period and it’s like a core of me, I guess.

AZ: Can you tell us about how your work and your style and your attitude developed from start until now, what was your inner dynamism that brought you to where are you now? I know it’s complicated question..

TKV: It is complicated and it isn’t complicated in my case, as I was very lucky not to be burdened with questions is it accurate, is it good or not good, what it is that I do you know, I just did it…and I think that when you start that early figuring out what you like, everything goes kind of organically or intuitively in that sense…i mean I do a lot of stuff intuitively, this is how I work. And I think if you made a retrospective of my work you can see a young person growing up, you can see how my topics change, how I switch to my own stuff…in the beginning I was doing other painters, musicians, films, stuff like that, things that were influencing me, and later on you can see also parallel to that my technique getting better and better and better, and everything went completely naturally for me, I discovered everything slowly. Which today a lot of young people I talk to have this pressure that they have to be the best, you know, or whatever like, and there is no, you can be just playful and make mistakes because from mistakes you get something, from experimenting with what you do, but not thinking about final what it is going to be, is someone going to like it or not, it’s just you and what you do, and that’s the best part. And I had luxury of never doing anything else in my life, I finished the faculty of media and communication and that helped me in sense that I could explain myself and communicate to other people, but I never did anything else but art. I am on this path that you go and you just try to discover, of course when you learn the technique and you feel comfortable with what you do, then you have to forget everything that you did and go completely crazy, be the person you were when you were sixteen, completely free from expectation of what is going to be..

AZ: One of the things that are characteristic for your work are faces, how did you choose to concentrate on faces?

TKV: I think my work is very intimate, I basically explore my own feelings and feelings in general, I am interested in how something feels, to think about it like you’re some kind of therapist of feelings, and feelings create different atmospheres. With portraits it’s a face usually but you can still set some kind of mood to it, so it’s not just a face, it’s what is this person thinking about, who is she, what does she do, why is she doing it…and anybody can have their own interpretation, and that is also very important to me that people who see it or look at it in the street, they have their own version of what it means to them. So it’s somewhere between me and them that you get the real deal, it’s not really a material, you cannot really buy it or sell it, you can just feel it. And that’s also important for me as human, I guess, to feel as much things as possible. So, I guess for me faces are the easiest way to communicate what I want to express in that sense.

AZ: How do you see the street art scene today in Serbia? Is it different now from some years before?

TKV: It is very, very, very different. When I was starting in 2004, you had a graffiti scene in traditional sense, letterings and stuff like that, you had guys who did all kinds of stuff even before, but you had no idea of street art. In 2004 when I was telling to people that I do street art, they were like ‘ok, can you explain that a bit..?’ and it’s different aesthetics to it, I guess, because I do stencils and there is much more street art in that sense, and if you look from 2004 up till now, it’s completely different. On one side you can buy much more different paints now, back then you had only one or two type spray paints that were really good.

AZ: So technically it’s easier now?

TKV: It’s much easier, also with internet…ok there was internet in 2004 as well, but we weren’t this connected, ok on the graffiti scene we were connected as that scene per se is connected, everybody knows everybody and then you call somebody ‘hey, do you wanna paint together’ – no matter where you are, but I think it /internet/ gave us more broad perspective of what people do. And for Serbia, especially had more and more people painting, and also it became a trend. We got caught up with the trend, you can build a career around it more easily if you really want to, you know there is people work/job/business wise/whatever because people like to use that aesthetics for commercials or whatever…so in that sense I think it’s easier and it became more recognized as art than just as something on the street…you can see huge change and also now you have more women on the scene

AZ: You mean, more female artists in general?

TKV: Yes, you have more girls who decide to persist in that way…and what people don’t understand is that the city or whatever environment that are painting in dictates how are you going to paint, and Belgrade is very easy to paint around, and people are very welcoming to it – compared to Germany, Netherlands or so where it’s not so easy to paint, you have to go through lots of hussle to get a permission if you want to paint a big wall and bla bla bla.. I mean I’m not saying like this here is super easy but it’s easier, I think. And for me that’s perfect.

AZ: There is some sense of freedom, in that sense that things are pretty much chaotic here so nobody will run after you if they see that you are painting a wall or something..

TKV: yes, it’s like two-sided blade I guess, because then you have a lot of, Idk, football hooligans or nationalist graffers who recognize that type of art and do their own propaganda through it, which don’t really like. But yes everything is pretty chaotic as you said so if you paint something nobody will really track you down.. Ok maybe we have this other type of censorship, like what if I decided to do political graffiti against current regime, I am pretty sure I would be tracked down in 24h and questioned why I did that. So on that side it’s not very liberal.

AZ: And now a question I wanted to ask you, as TKV stands for ‘The queen of fairies’, I wonder if you were aware of a great tradition of belief in fairies in Serbia. Fairies are part of common European tradition that comes from pre-Christian time, but in Serbia it retained until the modern time. I remember when I was a kid, one of our neighbors went to woman who was supposedly communicating with fairies. Back then I was quite young, I remember that I was shocked to find that such belief was still existing somewhere in the neighborhood, those were just simple people, not new age hipsters or something…

TKV: I really like that, and with whole Balkans actually, we call it pre-Christian, it was existing in these territories for long time and was connected with nature, but I think if you look at certain parts of Serbia you can see that type of folklore very much alive, and I think with pre-Christian religions magic was something that was practiced on daily basis, it had use in some kind of cultural segment, social segment of societies back then. And for me, I had my research on old Slavic religions in this area, and I really was inspired by that. I did couple of works as my own interpretation of it, but as for the fairies I think my father told me like, ‘you choose that name for yourself and that is not a coincidence – you carry certain values or certain sentiment that connects some people to fairies or magical world in that sense’. I really appreciate when people who see my stuff on the street give me their own version of what they feel, because that gives them a little distraction from the society that can be very burdening, and we live that every day. We need to connect even symbolically with something that is not just this. Just different type of sentiment. It’s about how we feel, as I said before.

AZ: You are also very active in exhibiting your art in galleries. How do you feel about this transfer from street environment to gallery spaces?

TKV:  I think that became very common. It’s not street art if it’s not on the street, that’s the main argument, but still aesthetics belong to the street. Or you can make your own different concepts of exhibition if it’s in gallery spaces, for example I did one exhibition where I collected stuff from the street like garbage, objects etc., I repainted them and I put them in the gallery so that you have the sense of the street inside the gallery. I loved doing that because I find it’s important to recycle and give back new life to something that was discarded, in that sense. But I think it’s more about creativity of individual artist and what they want from the gallery space.

AZ: What do you think is the advantage of life of an artist, compared to walking down the office or working at the factory every day?

TKV: Well it’s the best, the worst and the best job ever. You have always these mixed feelings, you are free in this sense or way that you can choose your own work hours, it’s a job but it’s not a job, it’s a part of you so it’s a mixture of what defines you as a person, it’s also that you have to learn how to be more professional, if you have a deadline to do, but at the same time you can have so much fun while you do it and it gives you a lot of stuff in return, even sometimes when I do a commercial job that I am not really interested in and inspired with, I try to learn something from it so maybe I can use it in what I do for myself. To be an artist is a privileged place and position.

AZ: Yes you can just think about your place in the world, something, actually you can get philosophical…

TKV: I think in one moment I realized artists are allowed to go through different classes of society, to blend with people who have nothing or people who have everything, and everything in between, so I am kind of witnessing..

AZ: you see many different sides..

TKV: Yes you see many different sides, you are not stuck in one position, because people tend to stay in their place and for artist it’s like I am an artist and everyone is like, ok then – so you have this maneouvre space which is bigger compared to work in office…or whatever.

AZ: As an artist you are free to be a little bit crazy, it’s like part of what you do.

TKV: Before I was very upset before when somebody calls me an artist, am I an artist or an author…it was like ok, you had to go through all these phases within you, but then I realized – no, you have to be crazy artist, that’s good thing. You can just like, do whatever you want, or say whatever you want, wear whatever you want, and everyone was like ‘you’re very artistic’. And nobody can rush you, nobody can pressure art…

AZ: You are also very active on international scene, can you tell us a little bit about that and is it possible to travel during the Covid times? If yes, where are you planning to travel next?

TKV: If we don’t count Balkans, I didn’t move anywhere since 3 years, but now in January 2022 I went to Paris, because I had a lot of connections with Paris, I had exhibition there and got awarded the medal decoration for achievements in art in literature in rank of chevalier/knight, but that doesn’t really change anything until you go there and try to work and to connect with people. So I think my next trip will be in May also to France, I will do this project with an amazing theater group there, so I am painting their tour buses. I had chance to see them how they work in the theater and to realize how hard it is to do other type of art. They are completely in training, how you eat, how you sleep, when you perform, it’s like you’re in the army. And I really appreciate that experience because then you see how when you’re in this very specific level of making your own art you have to be completely submitted to what you do, to your art. And I really like that, long story short that’s the masterpiece.

AZ: Where will you go in France in May?

TKV: I go to Paris, then I go to Rennes, and maybe I will go to Arles, in 2020 I was supposed to have an exhibition in Amsterdam so maybe this year I have to reconnect with them to see if there is any available dates for that gallery, so maybe Amsterdam will happen as well.. Before I went to Paris I was a bit worried how is this going to look like with Covid and everything, but in the end of the day you just hope that you’re not going to get sick and everything else is just a routine.

AZ: How do you see yourself in the future, let’s say twenty years from now?

TKV: Ouuuh, twenty years from now… I will be 53-54..wow, I don’t know. I always wanted to, like, if you make enough money you can be able to support other artists who need a scholarship or something like that. That’s like a super big dream, it would be great if I could support somebody else with what I make. And in Serbia I think it’s very important to support other artists because this is very difficult environment for art..

AZ: You mean you would like to help other artists, maybe some younger artists?

TKV: Yes, younger artists, because people helped me. They helped me. Because I think like, forget the scolarships or whatever, artists need to do that, we need to inspire each other and talk to each other and brainstorm with each other, so it’s just like one big mix of what we do, because only then you can have something new from it. And I think all this society in general has this like competition between artists, who is better, or have more likes or whatever, which is bullshit. Because that means nothing, If you’re overburdened with that type of thing and if people don’t want to open to each other.

AZ: Will you do street art when you’re in your 50’s?

TKV: I will always love street art. Now I have a broken arm, it puts you in this position that your body cannot do what you usually do. And I discovered this limit, of course it’s just temporary, but still I guess when I’m 50 or 60 my body will not be able to do what I do now. So I guess I will always do it but in this moderate way. That’s why I try to be fit now, so that in 20 years’ time I am not completely run down. But it is a very demanding physical job if you want to paint a mural, it requires a lot of strength and body work. I hope that in 20 years from now, I have this feeling that it will develop differently and I think that’s the journey, you discover what else you can do and mix, so we will see.

AZ: Okay, thank you.

TKV: Thank you.

THE SCENE IS GROWING IN THE WAYS AND PLACES ONE CANNOT ANTICIPATE

Conversation with Jana Danilovic, Serbia

TRANSCRIPT :

Vladimir Palibrk:
Hello everyone. Welcome to the, believe it or not, the first episode of Street Art Residencies Podcast. Our small project has been active since some five, six years, and it’s just now that we’re are starting actually a series of interviews and talks with different artists from different scenes, or different artists from one scene, which is kind of a global planetary scene of street art, let’s call it that way. So for the first time, we are speaking with Jana Danilovic from Serbia. She’s our friend, very active both as a painter and as a promoter of street art. But maybe I should not say everything right now and let the suspense grow. Yes. Hello, Yana. Can you tell us how are you feeling these days? What are your activities? We are speaking about middle of May 2021.
Jana Danilovic

It sounds weird when you hear the middle of May 2021 because it seems as if the past year hasn’t even existed. So it’s kind of bridging the gap between normal life and what seems to be becoming regular life nowadays. I would like to mention that I’m really honored to be the first person to be interviewed for this podcast because it means a lot.

Vladimir Palibrk

Yeah, it’s very symbolic.

Jana Danilovic

The local solidarity among people who are street art promoters and artists is really something to be proud of.

Jana & TKV at Silo Belgrade
Vladimir Palibrk

Yeah, that’s an amazing amount of energy actually circulating through this scene. Since I started doing this, I just got addicted and I migrated from comics into this world. Speaking of first times, what are your other first things ever you did? Maybe this year?

Jana Danilovic

Well, let’s count 2020 as well. Well, first time I did, I painted mural in the winter time. Outdoor mural in the winter time. It was kind of scary experience because of all the wind and height, when you’re out there you start reassessing your priorities. Once you’re at 30 meters height with the wind hitting your basket and you’re like, okay, I need to tell my parents more often than I love them because I’ll maybe never do this again, I promise..but the adrenaline and I don’t know, the boost you get from overcoming not only a big wall, big height, but also the elements around you, is something that’s really ego flattering, if I may say honestly.

Vladimir Palibrk

This sounds really great, as if somehow, your art both in symbolic and the physical way approaches you closer to your life.

Jana Danilovic

What I really like about street art, especially about murals, is that they’re really physical thing, and not just that, you have to come up with an idea that has to conquer the surface and you have that type of satisfaction after painting one. It’s called a honest day of work. You do something with your hands and now you need to sleep. So I don’t know, there’s something archaic about it, but I like it.

Vladimir Palibrk

Can you tell us maybe where was this wall based? What kind of project it was?

Jana Danilovic

Maybe I kind of sneaked it into 2021 because it was at the end of 2020 actually. It was in Brussels as a part of Balkan Traffic Festival, and it was pretty exotic experience given the fact that following all the instructions, technically I couldn’t even be in Belgium. But somehow I ended up there against all odds and against all the rules that foreign citizens weren’t allowed to enter the country. But somehow, I’m still not pretty clear on how, I ended up there, painting biggest mural so far and had so far the best time of my life.

UP! Mural in Brussels made by Jana at the Balkan Trafik Festival
Vladimir Palibrk
That sounds really amazing in a way, as it happens at the moment when the world is going into downward curve in many ways…
Jana Danilovic

Yes, something like that happens, but I gave it a lot of thought about. I was asked to compare the experience of participating in a street art festival or big production in Balkans, and that one I had in Belgium. But it’s beyond comparison, not only because, to have a big, easy going production of monumental wall is kind of easy when you have all kinds of support from the institutions. But the making a festival in Balkans is a constant suicide mission. They have no kind of support. They’re really Sysiphian types of characters because nothing gets easier as the time gets along.

Vladimir Palibrk

Can you maybe tell me a little bit more about your festival Rekonstrukcija?

Jana Danilovic

Rekonstrukcija is basically example of what I described as a thing that grew out of nothing, pretty much because it came to be from our friendly chats and from our mutual notion that no structured, curated and thought-through street art festival exists in Serbia. So once we got tired of waiting for someone else to create one such thing, we tried to make it on our own. So, Rekonstrukcija is technically a pet project of ours that we decided to put efforts into, due to lack of the type of festival and the type of manifestation that we needed to see as the audience. I had a double-agent role in all that. As someone who is commonly participant of street art festivals, now I had to be the person who is behind the scenes, who organizes things, who takes care of and anticipates the needs of the participants. So it was an eye-opening experience for me because I anticipated to one point what my role would be. But I really could not even guess in my wildest dream the amount and the type of obstacles that we will be facing. So yeah, it’s an eye opener, really.

Vladimir Palibrk

Yeah, that’s quite often happening in Serbia. I see that on the various scenes. Like, you want to be a curator and have your Gallery, but then you end up doing so many administrative things and all the other things, and you’re facing it for the first time. Me personally, I was running one space in Serbia and I just wanted to be the guy curating exhibitions. But in the end I became a cultural manager and everything else. Can you just give us briefly some information, numbers, names, like how long the festival was lasting, what were the results? Who was there? Just to give us some illustration…

Jana Danilovic

Rekonstrukcija festival has been on for three editions so far. The first one happened in the abandoned skyscraper in Zeleni Venac area in Belgrade, which is technically one of the central city areas but the most polluted one. It was really interesting to see 20 or so street artists painting in the abandoned building that has no outside walls, so it could be visible from the street. The audience could also enter the skyscraper which is planned to be boarded down. The second edition was the biggest one so far. Over 40 participants came to Belgrade, including local artists and local artist groups. One of the interesting things about that festival in 2020 was the fact that it was a 20-year anniversary since the first ever legal graffiti jam in Belgrade. So we teamed up with the Paint Cartel crew and decided to go to the very same place where the first jam took place, and re-create it as much as possible, inviting the original participants but also adding new young graffiti writers and street artists. So it was really touching and sentimental for those who are into graffiti scene. What was really important about that first jam 20 years ago was that it was the first occasion that graffiti writers from Croatia came organized together to paint in Belgrade.

So 20 years later it has also been very sentimental, very theatrical setting at the very same place, same people only 20 years older and still friends, and still painting. So it was really beautiful, nice.

Vladimir Palibrk

And it was actually happening in the primary school Kralj Petar Prvi in Belgrade.

Jana Danilovic

Yeah. And it also took place at several more locations in Dorcol neighborhood, where the chosen artists painted murals in more conventional sense. So on standalone walls, that were dedicated to artists or groups of artists, and with neighbors waking up in their communal solidarity, wanting to participate. In my opinion, that should be, I don’t know, the main goal of street art as such, to actually gather the community. And it really seems that they established the connection among themselves over these murals, that is going to last. Now they know each other, now they communicate, the born has been established

Vladimir Palibrk

Thank you for this. I’m thinking of it actually, it is something that was not planned in the project, the activation of the community, but it happened spontaneously and came out as quite central result of the project /apart from murals of course/. Maybe it’s worth thinking how to repeat it, or if someone was planning how to do it as a project maybe it would not turn out that way..it’s really interesting to see how things emerged this way..

Jana Danilovic

The idea of including the community in some real and very material sense was one of our goals, which we tried to achieve by asking residents to candidate their walls, not choosing the walls and then asking for permission… So this way we were talking to people who are already willing to participate in some sense. I think that street art should belong to the community, and I honestly think that it mustn’t be something that belongs and is only an issue for the production, it must be everyone’s. Now we come to 2020, after that wonderful and exhausting as well experience of 2020, when all the major events had to be cancelled, so we did it in a really small scale with only three walls, but we also changed the concept – because we found that the street artists and muralists weren’t in as bad position as the artists who depend on galleries, so we decided to find three experienced street artists /turned out to be three girls/, to actually mentor the artists from other disciplines of visual arts, who haven’t painted in the public space before, and to team them up, to get collaborations among the people who didn’t work before together, some of whom have never painted walls, but who got the chance to actually display their work in the situation where their regular display spots were closed and unreachable. So it was really fun, because as it turns out all of the participants of this small mentorship program were girls who produced an eye-popping amount of energy and quality.

Vladimir Palibrk

I find it so great that you don’t hesitate to conceptualize the work in street art, so that it’s not only just painting some walls /as it should be of course/, I see that you discover also many ways to travel through collaborations and experiences and establish certain concepts or principles of working on different aspects..

Jana Danilovic

Why we actually deal with street art and art in public space? It’s because it gives you space for such big flexibility. Because if we treated street art or festival concept as something that’s not flexible, we would be creating just another traditional type of manifestation, traditional type of festival. And we started this festival exactly because we were sick of seeing always the same things that are so predictable and so out of touch with everyone’s reality and everyday life. I think that flexibility in the concept and in thinking about the festival has to be the basis for creating one.

Vladimir Palibrk

Thank you. Maybe let’s shift the focus now a bit, I have more questions for you – how do you see the situation on the local and international scene at this moment?

Jana Danilovic

They aren’t really comparable in every aspect of their existence, but the local scene is growing, in the places and in the ways that one cannot anticipate and I think that’s good. Global scene is facing of course commercialization but at the same time I think that street art will be always resilient to becoming mainstream as such, because it always leaves you the space to swim upstream and to decide to which degree you will agree to collaborate with the formal institutions. So I don’t think that street art as such is in danger, globally viewed. While on the other hand, in our local area we are just seeing the beginnings of commercialization and it combines with really bad economic situation of the area, but the street art and muralism in our part of the world have always been in a way underground, self-sufficient in a very humble way. So at the same time I think that authentic kind of street art isn’t in danger of becoming something that is shallow mainstream. But what I lack when I look at the local scene is some truly socially engaged street art. It appears, but given the situation generally I would have expected to see more of rebellion on the city walls. The type of restrictions and repression people here are feeling is at the same time the type of the thing that kind of stops the socially engaged street art from really blooming.

Vladimir Palibrk

Do you think that, I mean, in my humble opinion, there are different types of changing reality, one is probably what we know as frontal confrontation with values and things that we don’t accept, the other one is just simply building a new world next to it that is better I think..

Jana Danilovic

Also in the situation when the real world is getting so unbearable, I really think that attempt to build your own world, even if it’s not based on full frontal confrontation, really is an act of resistance itself. I really value local street art because of it’s resilience, because it exists, and goes on, and grows, and gets better against all odds and everything that surrounds it.

Vladimir Palibrk

What would be your top five-six artists/inspirations/influences in any field?

Jana Danilovic

Given that I never grown out of punk/rock music and aesthetics, there will be some music influences for sure. Let’s start from more conventional ones, painters and muralists, since walls and streets have been in my focus for long time now that I really draw the most of inspiration from other people’s way of thinking, so I would mention Escif from Valencia as one of my absolutely favorite artists, I would mention Parisian Kashink, recently passed Hyuro, Pussy Riot, Kud Idijoti as punk band and activists, and probably would remember more people and groups that influenced me but for now I would underline these five influences as some of the most important.

Vladimir Palibrk

How do you see the gender relations on the scene?

Jana Danilovic

That’s really common question, what’s the position of female artist in street art, and I think it really differs from the area, from the local space. At the same time it is apparent that there are fewer women in this world than men, but situation is changing and I’m feeling it on my own skin. When I became mildly visible and mildly recognizable in my own local space, aside from two or three women out of which I would like to mention TKV, who is the constant when we speak about these things – there were not many women and they were subdued to very specific type of comments and valorizations that wasn’t the same one that applied to boys. I’m getting the feeling that the local people and local scene is getting more used to having women as important players in this game. Situation is changing very slowly but it is changing, and that’s not result of some natural process, but result of really hard work of not only individuals, the girls who are painting in the streets but also a number of activists and organizations that are fighting against prejudices against women and fighting for equal rights and that are anarchists fighting against traditional myzoginy here..

 
Collab Jana Danilovic/Ojomagico
Vladimir Palibrk

For sure your festival is a big victory in this field. Can you tell us something about the future? How is your feeling about it, how do you see the world in 5-10 years?

Jana Danilovic

Last period made me kind of quit thinking about future because I thought it was cancelled. It’s really hard as I always have to separate the global future from the local future. The local future is really unpredictable and surreal as local present time too.. It’s really hard to anticipate anything in any field. At some points in the past you could notice certain regularities in development of some things in culture, arts, in i-don’t-know.. and then there are such huge twists from progressive towards very traditional, very..let’s use word traditional, not to use any harder words to name it. You see some things you considered progressive and generally accepted ten years ago are being attacked now as too radical and too confrontational, for example this exhibition of comics group Momci that was torn down last year by right-wing extremists.. The comics book authors Momci exhibited their works from early 1990’s and group of very young right-wing activists came into the gallery, torn down the exhibition and threw in the tear gas.

Vladimir Palibrk

Just to contextualize it for the audience who do not know the background story – those were the works made during the Milosevic era and were quite free-expression oriented with lots of nudity and lots of high-quality social criticism towards the system, and absolutely high level of execution when it comes to drawing, so to say. And in the end, was it discovered who did this?

Jana Danilovic

I think that some kids got caught, but the irony of it all is that the artworks on display were even older than the kids who tore them down. I don’t know, it’s like a swing, we are having some really good things and then we sink back into middle ages, some really good things and then middle ages again… So it is in a way really fun and interesting experience to live as an artist here and now, while on the other hand we kind of all wish to live in some more steady environment where we could also fully dedicate ourselves to our own work of art, not into fixing what has been broken. I hope that in a number of years this will be a period that we will talk about and no one would believe us how crazy it was.


While globally things are getting interesting as well in a number of ways, there are some really interesting productions speaking of street art and stuff, really progressive ways of rethinking public space, including less visible groups of people into something that’s very visible by definition, as street art is. Also the thing that has been very ill-spoken of for a reason – those collaborations between marketing and street art, are getting more sensible and more society-oriented. So I think that street art globally is really evolving and it’s evolving in so many different branches and directions so that it’s going to be really interesting to see what we are living now from a ten years distance.

 Vladimir Palibrk

It’s a nice moment to let these words echo as an open ending of this talk, I hope we will meet soon in Serbia this summer

Jana Danilovic

Me too!

 Vladimir Palibrk

I am happy to see you are doing bigger and bigger walls lately and that it looks so good, I wish you new accomplishments in this field – do you have any message for the end, maybe some message to young street artists?

Jana Danilovic

Couple of days ago I was walking through Dorcol neighborhood in Belgrade on my way to regular veterinarian visit with my dog, and I noticed a graffiti that says “Please write on the walls” – so that would be my message: Please write on the walls.

I REALLY TRY TO ANSWER TO THE CALL OF GALLERIES, BUT THE STREET IS WHAT DRIVES ME

Interview with Polar Bear, France

Since 2018, we had the opportunity to collaborate with Polar Bear, stencil paste up artist from Paris. More dedicated to highly elaborated, multilayered and nuanced artworks in mid-sized format, his visual style was very thankful and communicative as a basis for cross-over with other disciplines, such as traditional crafts and contemporary art practices. So we had a great walk with Polar Bear through the wider spectrum of realities than usual in our program, including age, gender and audience groups that we usually didn’t reach before, and that is, among other things, what you will see in this recapitulation. Besides his work for the streets and galleries, Polar Bear himself is a professional gaffer in the film industry – that is, the guy whose job is to work on all kinds of aspects of light in the moviemaking process, and that is definitely echoing in the use of nuances in his art too. We took a moment to steal this very busy guy from his day job and ask him few questions, backed up with visual report from his participation in our residency programs. Enjoy!

Q: How did the visit to Serbia affect the way you approach your creative process and your career? Did anything change for you after this journey?

PB: Visiting Serbia was awesome. It was the first time ever for me to be invited to an artist residency in fact, so that was a big deal for me for sure. Meeting other artists there was a nice experience. All these talks and exchanges about technics, paint, tattoos, creation… It was also my first international exhibition, the one in Museum of Contemporary Art in Novi Sad . My stay in Serbia will remain etched in my mind for a long time.

Speaking of the methodologies, to create my pieces for the exhibition, I changed a bit my process. Usually I print my visuals, but this time, as pieces were bigger than usual and the time was very short, I used a video projector to project the visual on huge piece on paper, draw the lines and then cut. Since then, it’s a technique I now use a lot for big formats.

Space Chimp by Polar Bear, Museum of contemporary art Novi Sad, Serbia

Q: What was the highlight of your stay, something you will remember forever, or at least a significant detail worth remembering?

PB: I’ll definitely remember the kindness of the people I met there. And that moment when I was painting my Judy piece will stay in my mind forever I think. I painted it at the Voïvodine Museum nextto a military tank that was all-covered with art. Seeing this killing machine transformed into a piece of art was gripping!

Q: Soon after your visit to Serbia, the Covid era has started…how has this affected your worldviews and your art practice, now when we look behind us at these two dynamic years? What has changed on the street art scene specifically after this rupture in regularity of reality? 

PB: Covid era...well, it was challenging for sure. At the beginning at least. The fact that we couldn’t go outside to make art wasn’t easy to deal with. As days passed, my willingness to paint and paste on walls grew bigger. I wanted so bad to give people art to see so they can have a moment to take  bit of breath from this pandemic. I definitely don’t do street art enough. But as I put only originals in the street, I must say it’s really time consuming – to create a visual, cut it, paint it and then paste it outside. Between the first idea and the moment when the piece is out there for everyone to see, it can be a long process.

TKV & Polar Bear @ Museum of contemporary art Novi Sad

Q: Between the galleries and the street – where do you spend more time, in which context?

PB: I really try to answer to the call of galleries and their wishes, but the street is what drives me.

Q: What would be your message to aspiring young artist that is just starting, how to get noticed by the art galleries?

PB: My message…? I guess it would be – if you want to get noticed by art galleries, just do street, just express yourself. If what you do resonates with people, galleries will follow. For me, this is what art is. Expressing yourself. If you do it in order just to be contacted by the galleries, you’re more of a salesman than an artist…

Tapistry accomplished in colaboration with Atelje 61 craft studio, Novi Sad
Stencil art workshop for the teenage girls, backyard of the Institut Francais Novi Sad

Q: What are you working on at the moment?

PB: New visuals, and I really think about making a “Don’t make us History” exhibition, dedicated to the species that are on the way of extinction.

More images and informations at www.instagram.com/polarbearstencilz

Judy the rescue dog by Polar Bear, MSUV Novi Sad
Hannibal’s elephants by Polar Bear, MSUV Novi Sad

“I DON’T GO TO THE HALL OF FAME ANYMORE”

A conversation with SKIRL, December 2021

SKIRL has visited us in September 2019 as participant in our artist in residence program and Rekonstrukcija street art festival. During his short stay he was literally painting minimum one wall per day – while doing our best to follow up on this rhythm, everyone in our team got blasted by the creative drive, life philosophy and gentle energy of this nice guy. His paintings of organic curves, resembling something halfway between letters of an ancient civilization manuscripts, mutated shapes of yet unknown print-animals and medieval print graphics, easily get engraved in imagination and perception of a spectator to stay there forever. Unmistakably authentic, somehow familiar but yet very fresh and progressive style of this artist has been spreading over the walls worldwide with amazing speed lately. We took a moment to ask SKIRL few questions about his work, his worldviews  and methodologies at the end of 2021. From his favorite sea animal, to the reflections on development of graffiti/street art scene in Austria, SKIRL was generous and kind to give us lots of insights into his personal and professional universes.

Intro, questions and transcript by Vladimir Palibrk

VP: Can you describe one day in the life of SKIRL?

SKIRL: I wake up in the morning, I go to shower and to toilet and brush my teeth, then I go out to the bakery, I take chai tea latte, and then I take a walk in the park for one hour, sometimes max two hours in the Schlosspark Schönbrunn here in Vienna. Then I go back home and then I start working: I have different stuff to do every day, whether it is indoor works, household, painting canvases, paper work, meeting up with the graphic designer to make designs, whatever it is on the list to do, meeting up with clients..i do not work every day but I work a lot in this period and very hard. I eat really good lunch, and in afternoon I resume working or meet with friends. In the evening most active time happens, I go to sleep early again, this is a normal day. I work all day and actually to be honest I enjoy it.

VP: That’s a quite disciplined routine. In your personal perception, time spent painting walls vs time spent doing other things – what would be the proportion, what do you do more?

SKIRL: Other things, of course. Because I paint very fast. It’s everything around, preparations, etc. that takes time. I make also different stuff now at the moment, I work with fashion companies etc, but when it’s just about working on walls or paper i would say its 20% painting and 80% everything around it…

VP: Did you count and write down number of murals you painted so far?

SKIRL: No.

VP: When did you stop counting? 

SKIRL: I never counted. Because I started with classic graffiti and I did many pieces, I never took pictures of all of them, it went from the graffiti pieces to the murals in some cross-fading, so even if I wanted to count it’s actually impossible to determine when I actually started to do murals, you know.

VP: I suppose that’s going to be a big headache for art historians one day, it will be very blurry and hard to discover/reconstruct all these things and details they are usually interested in – like who went where/met who/painted what/when/what they did together, how the influence was passed…

SKIRL: Yeah maybe. I guess the digital documentation that artists are doing these days is really going to help art historians in the future.

VP: Yes, or some digital forensic methodologies.

SKIRL: Yes that’s going to be used for sure..

VP: Do you watch movies?

SKIRL: No.

VP: You don’t have a favorite movie since ever?

SKIRL: I like this movie Apocalypto, from George Clooney..

VP: That’s George Clooney? Or.. I thought it was Mel Gibson?

SKIRL: Ah yes man you’re right, Mel Gibson.

VP: Wait maybe that IS George Clooney, but he did some kind of plastic operation and took face of MG for this film..?

SKIRL: As you can tell already I have no idea about movies because I don’t watch any…the only movies I have watched I watched in a plane.

VP: To go back to Apocalypto, can you tell us what exactly in this movie attracts/fascinates you?

SKIRL: The authenticity, and the irony. Because you see this guy from this ancient civilization, and you see him going through really the hardest times of his life, he is very brave and going through really hardcore life lesson, and in the end, when he is achieving all his goals and he is rescuing his wife and his kid and they seem to be “happy ever after”, you see the Spanish conquistadors ship appearing in the background on the horizon. And if you have some historical knowledge then you know these are the last happy days for these people anyway. It’s really crazy, I was crying, laughing, screaming and going crazy on this movie and this is what makes it a really good movie.

VP: How important for you is the environment in which you are living?

SKIRL: Very important. I love to feel safe in the space where i live, where everything is arranged the way I want it to be. I like stuff being organized, I have looots of pot plants, so I sit in my little paradise with my furniture and all my stuff… I’m really into things somehow…i got rid of many things on the way though while preparing to move to Germany, which didn’t happen in the end.

VP: How did that happen?

I am not any more with my long-time partner with whom I was supposed to move there.

VP: Sorry to hear that. How does that affect your work, the things happening on your personal plane?

SKIRL: To be honest, I had some two months period in last year when I didn’t feel like doing anything. I did have lots of archive material so I was still present on the scene and in the galleries with fresh stuff though. Then at some point the work started again because I had some jobs, really big jobs for some hotel where i made thousands of square meters wall space, and it was really strange because I had to really force myself to do it. Customer is very happy but I can totally tell that I did not like this during I did it, that I didn’t enjoy it. It really goes along with my mental health and my feeling about myself, because as soon as I start painting, these thoughts that you normally try to block away or try to overlay with something else like keeping yourself busy and shit, it’s not working any more when you draw, when you suffer the drawing is really suffering, for me.

VP:  Recently with my flatmate I watched all Rocky movies, from 1 to 7  – it’s more or less same film, just being repeated scene by scene and shot again in different epoques – but usually you see Rocky at the end of the movie totally in blood, deformed from hits and punches, but he is winning, while hardly standing on his legs – so I said to myself, maybe this is the real face of the victory – you get punched, wasted, mutilated and partially destroyed on the way, it’s not pleasant experience, but the price you pay for being brave pays back sooner or later…you somehow remind me of this Rocky after I hear what you’ve been through recently. Huh, this conversation is going in many directions at the same time. Let’s go back to questions list: who was your childhood hero? Did it change over time?

SKIRL: I really liked Power Rangers and Ninja Turtles…what age in childhood we talk about?

VP: Idk, any time from which you remember strong impression of a hero/idol/fascination with some figure?

SKIRL: I think Michael Jackson.

VP: For what reason?

SKIRL: You know the “Smooth Criminal” video, which is shot in billiard bar, with all these gangsters and hot chicks all dressed up in 1930’s style, I saw this video when I was very young because my mom had it on the video cassette, and I really liked it a lot.

VP: The Al Capone era influence sort of..?

SKIRL: it’s exactly this, I think even came in the same years like Scarface and other big gangster movies of 90’s, I think it’s the same vibes..

VP: That’s a great remark, as none of these movies were a musical/dance film, and this is kind of a queering the genre..

SKIRL: Yes, just using the parameters of the same aesthetics..

VP: do you still appreciate Michael Jackson nowadays?

SKIRL: No, not really. Or maybe a little bit, I am more into early Michael Jackson stuff, when it was still disco and funk…this young Michael Jackson I prefer much more, not the white one.

VP: I guess we could wonder how would it look like if he stayed the same Michael Jackson from that early period.

SKIRL: I think we would only know that if he didn’t have that much money and didn’t become famous, but then we would know it because he would not be famous. /laughter/

VP: Few more trick-questions: if you were an animal, which one would you be and why?

SKIRL: /long breath, pause../  Hm. that’s really a good one.

VP: Or in a broader sense, which animals you appreciate?

SKIRL: I like most animals to be honest, most of them…i just don’t like mosquitos and ticks. I really like seahorses, the swimming cow, the really slow, fat dolphin things, I think the name is MANATEE, they’re cool.

VP: Going back to painting and art – you’ve been on the scene since a while, when you look behind yourself, what can you tell us about the difference between then and now, on any level this could relate to?

SKIRL: You mean for me or what changed in general?

VP: Would be great if you could answer both, thank you 🙂

SKIRL: I think In Vienna the scene really changed. When I started graffiti, hip hop was playing much bigger role in all German-speaking areas, but in Austria the whole hip hop vibes really went down in the last years…we have much more friendly interaction, people from the whole scene know each others, they write more or less friendly messages on Instagram, talk to each other, being in contact, meeting each others on the exhibitions and so on.. That was not the case when I was starting graffiti. People were not very friendly and not really welcoming new people to the scene, and they were not really happy if somebody new would start to paint the walls or go to the legal painting places or stuff like that. Also, with the train graffiti scene, it was really unfriendly and everybody was suspicious and everybody hated each others.. But as the people I started with grew older, and got more influential on the scene, the scene really changed. Also the new generations that came after us were more oriented towards this new way of treating this and seeing the whole thing… Starting graffiti now and being a new graffiti/street artist/or being interested in painting walls nowadays you have much more possibilities and many more friendly people who will answer your questions, personally or online, and would introduce you into this scene. It all moved more towards arts and figurative message stuff, still there is lots of graffiti writers who will do classical graffiti and write the same name with different colors on the wall, but the average of people who do something else on the walls raised, or is much higher than back in the days..

For me personally, it’s completely different from when I started. Now I have position where I can ask people for stuff which would be unheard of ten years ago, and I have lots of possibilities. My friends grew older, things are now maybe more easy to achieve but I am also interested in something else, I do not do the same stuff anymore.. I do not go to the hall of fame anymore.

VP: In your opinion, what influenced this change of mood? Was it the street art that got more recognized, or people changed..?

SKIRL: Yes it’s always same thing with subcultures, with different scenes and hobbies or interests that get young people together – that they have to make a new subculture, that they form out the rules. Because humans want to judge each other, when you do something you want to know if you are the best or the second best, and who is what and who does how much of what, you want to give points for shit… After one generation has set up the rules and played the game by the rules and everybody knows who is the best, who are the kings and who are the losers, then more or less the next generation has to make up new rules, because a new generation always has to find a new identity and they cannot just play the game after the rules of first generation, they have to bring it to a new level. And that’s why it’s just normal that in ten years also graffiti and street art scene is changing. The only consistant in the fucking universe is the change, so I think that plays the biggest role in why everything changed../laughter from both sides/

 VP: What would be your recipe for adapting to change?

SKIRL: I don’t know, I am also getting older you know, adapting to change is much more easy when you are young, but when you find your ways to do the stuff and your partial solutions to your problems then it’s getting harder and harder to adapt to change. I just observe the world, and I am really into people, and I also observe what is happening between people and how the world is changing, because it is not changing a lot you know, it is just getting more and more digital. The functions and parameters of things are staying the same, it’s just taking over new roles from new things.. My recipe in adapting to change is I guess don’t stay still and never think you reached the point when you don’t have to change anything any more…You have to stay constantly busy and focused if you want to survive.

VP: Which music plays in your ears while you paint?

SKIRL: I listen to melodic death metal and black metal when I paint, mostly, Scandinavian bands from 1990’s and early 2000’s.

VP: That’s very interesting, I guess nobody would imagine that there is some connection between your work and that context, or you think it is connected, as something obvious?

SKIRL: Most of my titles especially from the walls I did between 2017 and late 2020 are the song titles from death metal tracks. You can google them and find some really really hard and angry death metal music.

VP: Do they know about this, the musicians?

SKIRL:  No, they all are not active anymore and some of them are in prison…

VP: For what? Killing their band members?

SKIRL: Yeah stuff like that, killing or raping their band members…those are really serious people, I don’t even want to know if I want to have anything with them, but the music they do is really beautiful.

VP: Following up on this, what would be your top 5 artists to recommend to our audience, in any field?

SKIRL: I have one guy to recommend, he is drawing very very very detailed things, it’s the artist Ben Tolman from USA, then I would recommend music of, Metronomy, Mr Oizo, /as I said I don’t like movies but I did check some of his movies too/, then the Spanish artist I follow on instagram called Ampparito, and Nelio Riga. I also have this guy in instagram.

VP: What would be your advice to a young artist who is at the start of the career at the moment?

SKIRL: Try always to follow your heart, not the working concept that has proven to already work. Don’t do too many different things and wonder why it didn’t work, because if you just put three hours a month into something it’s never going to work. When you really get focused into something, you want to be sure with something when you will spend a lot of time in it, choose it always from the heart and not from the brain. If you choose it from your brain, as a concept that is already proven and working, and then you copy it, you should never wonder why it didn’t work, because it is already old when you start doing it. When you do something from the heart, and something that hasn’t been done or is not just a pure copy of something that you think is potentially successful, you will enjoy it much more and you have a chance to be a pioneer in something. Maybe you will not be successful with that then, but at least you did something that you really loved all the time…and when you are successful with it, it’s the greatest feeling ever.

VP: Did you ever imagine yourself in a role of professor or a coach?

SKIRL: No. I can do talks and that stuff, I give interviews, though.

VP: Can you describe one dream that you remember from minimum 2-5 years ago?

SKIRL: Many of them are nightmares. Most of the time when can I remember my dreams I dream more or less the same thing. I stand somewhere, and to understand the whole dream and the fascination behind it you have to know that I am really into maps and into birdview, so I dream I am standing somewhere and I realize that I can fly. I really cramp my muscles and I start to levitate and I fly away. So I am flying a little bit, and it’s really fun and games and all that, but at some point I realize that I can’t really control it, and I want to land again, but landing always happens too fast and I crash into some shit, and at the moment when I impact, I wake up.

VP: What is your favorite era or ancient civilization/historical period?

SKIRL: That’s really hard one man. Egyptians I guess man. I have extremely big knowledge on ancient civilizations in fact, I like Egyptians. Babilonians too, Maya, Inka, but I think Egyptians are the most badass from their whole visual style and to the whole structure around it. Their graphic and architectural solutions, everything looks fucking cool in ancient Egypt and still looks cool and impressive.

VP: I guess they definitely had very well made interventions on walls, that survived thousands of years /laughter/. So if you had teleport machine you would go to ancient Egypt?

SKIRL: No no surely no, that’s way too dangerous. I would teleport myself to Studio 54 and have a dance with some really good disco music.

VP: The closing question – what can you tell us about the future, what do you see in future?

SKIRL: Nothing, really. I don’t care. I try to have good time and I don’t think about future too much. I go out, I eat good food, I meet nice people, I make few euros, that’s all that counts.

VP: If you could choose, in which country would you like to be the president?

SKIRL: No, I don’t want to be a president. I don’t want to have so many people with different opinions in front of me and me being responsible for everything. I am already overwhelmed by being responsible for myself.

more photos and infos: www.instagram.com/sskirl

STREET ART JAM WORKSHOP IN ZRENJANIN, SERBIA

Natasa Zivkov Stojkov

October 2021

In the late October 2021, we hosted another street art jam, this time at the primary school Jovan Jovanovic Zmaj in beautiful town of Zrenjanin, north Serbia. The workshop was led by Jovan Shpira Obradovic and Aleksandar Buncic , and resulted in total of 14 new murals at the walls of the school yard!

Shpira Obradovic

Conceptually, the variety of styles and topics treated in these 14 wall paintings was united by choosing the same selection of colors for all the artworks. We had very wide selection of participants between 6 and 76 years of age, starting with 6 years old school kids followed by the teenagers, their professors, even the retired parents of the older participants…for the local scene, quite notable and important was participation of Daniel Pengrapher, young multidisciplinary artist from Nigeria, and Aleksandra Vrebalov, New York-based music composer of Serbian origin, famous for her works with Kronos Quartet – at our workshop, she made her first mural ever!

Daniel Pengrapher, Nigeria
A. Vrebalov USA/Serbia

Another mural debut was done by our curator Dzaizku, with a generous help of his kid. The whole two-days process was documented by Darko Pavlovic /Medianova/ and Veronika Spalajkovic-Vegas. Big thanks to NKSS network, to the teachers from the Jovan Jovanovic Zmaj school for their support, and to Rastko Stefanovic from association ALUZ, our local coordination partner.

Dzaizku
Aleksandar Buncic, Serbia
Ana Stanar
Nina Stanar
Milica Stanar
Una Sevaljevic
Milica Ognjenovic
Filip Popov

INTERSECTION OF COMICS AND PUBLIC ART

Interview with Michaela Konrad, Austria

Michaela Konrad is coming from the illustration background, and we met through some contacts in our comics art network long ago, at the comics jam of Ligatura festival in Poznan, Poland. However, the way she treats the topics in her work and comics as a medium itself, is trespassing the borders of expectations we usually have from comics as intimate, one-on-one encounter with someone’s narrative approach and sensibility. Michaela is involved in big format exhibitions, electronic arts festivals, and is internationally present in contemporary art galleries, apart from being active member of wider European alternative comics art family. In this short interview, we will try to walk a curious magnifying glass closer over her work, processes and worldviews, in attempt to identify common points of inspiration between these various disciplines. Her painting style is very recognizable and communicative, once seen it becomes engraved in the spectator’s brain, and can illustrate the potential of comics art to become a form public art just like mural painting. We took this intersection as a starting point for this interview.
Questions and intro: Vladimir Palibrk

VP: One of the focal points that are quite common in your artworks, whether longer narratives or paintings/big format installations, is combination of gender-related and space-related topics..where does this come from? Can you tell us a bit about your creative process?

MC: The first artistic project I created was a small, self-published comic book I called Spacelove. It was an ironic soap opera about a love triangle in space. The name of the female protagonist was Olga. Within the following years, I created many different episodes of Spacelove – different in style, format etc. but the scenery was always in Space and there was always Olga, the blonde cosmonaut. Spacelove was inspired by the aesthetics of golden Age Comics like Flash Gordon by Alex Raymond and had been developing into something I could call my alter ego.

Q: Something echoes in your paintings a visual mixture of 1960-s futuristic space era aesthetics in USA, while it is still not very clear is it really past, or future, that is represented in your work..i did notice similar sensibility and atmosphere in few other Austrian artist’s work, such as Dorit Chrysler or Tonto Comics crew..would it be possible to contextualize this somehow? Did you all watch the same cartoons/read same books as kids during the cold war era?

MC: Yes maybe, I am not sure. Maybe we have the same influences. As a child and adolescent I was a very big fan of different television series like Space 2000, Star Trek or Die Mädchen aus dem Weltall, later I read novels of Phillip K. Dick, Aldous Huxley and so on. And I try to understand what the Quantum Theory, the String theory and the Theory of Relativity mean– I have read a lot of books and have been watching obsessively documentaries on these topics. I simply like the idea that time is just another spatial dimension, and that therefore, at least theoretically, everything exists simultaneously.

VP: Can you name your top 4 Austrian artists of today, in any field?

MC: Gottfried Helnwein – he is a star
Tommi Kuehberger (a great comic artist, who rejects to make exhibitions)
Deborah Sengl – great art and great content
Liddy Scheffknecht – I admire her work about time

VP: Your life is of an international/cosmopolitan artist, you spend your time between Tenerife and Vienna..how important or influential is that for your work and inspiration? Where do you find yourself at home on this planet?

MC: I feel at home in Vienna, because I spend a big part of my life there, many of my friends live here and it is the center of my professional life. I have been living in Vienna about 24 years.
My second home is in Tenerife, there is my printmaking studio, my husband, my dog and more friends. And finally there is Graz, where I was born, I grew up there and I have strong bonds there due to family and friends.
So Vienna – Tenerife and Graz are my home bases – this is inspiring because there are always changes. But sometimes it is exhausting, because even in Tenerife we are moving between two places. My aunt told me once that a great grandmother of mine was a Sinti, I don’t know whether this is true or not – but I definitely like to be on the road;-)

VP: If You were never had to do anything with illustration in your life, what would you be? Please describe Michaela Konrad from the parallel universe, if you want of course – what is she doing, where is she living, how does she look like?

MC: I have recently found out that I like interior design and real estates – strange enough. It probably has to do with the fact that I walk a lot with my dog and love to watch buildings – all different types of architecture. And I like to imagine how it is to live in a certain place. But whatever I would do in this Parallel Universe, it would not be from 9 to 5 and with only 5 weeks of vacation.

VP: If you were a planet or a celestial body, which one would you be?
MC: A Sun would be nice.
VP: Imagine you just woke up, and learned that the world ends in 24 hours. Which song is playing in the background?
MC: Always look on the bright side of life …and the Galaxy Song by Monty Python.

VP: Can you tell us about something you are working on at the moment?
MC: I am preparing two projects for the next year. Both have to do with past and present-day prognosis of the future. One project will be a book called Tomorrow and will be published at the Luftschacht Verlag in Austria in May 2022. It is something in between an art catalog and an experimental comic book with augmented reality interventions.
The other project is called Future Retro Ads – I design imaginary future advertising posters. The advertised products are inspired by my research on future trends in society, the new technologies and their socioeconomic effects. The presentation of Future Retro Ads will be on billboards in public spaces.

VP: There is quite challenging year and a half behind us. How do you see the future of the world, having that on mind?
MC: The future of our organized society has been in danger, long before covid appeared. We are overpopulated, uneducated, short term thinking, we use Earth’s resources as if there is no tomorrow…And those, who are designing the future in Silicon Valley and other High-Tech centers in the world must make profit out of their inventions. Regulatory forces are slow and mainly nation-bound, meanwhile transnational companies can act and react quickly. We seem to be stuck in a system which requires limitless growth. In the end we are apes, we have not made a lot of evolutionary progress in the last 70.000 years – but we have an advanced, potentially dangerous technology. And the technological progress is accelerating more and more. This is an explosive combination…You see: I am very
optimistic;-)

More info at: http://michaelakonrad.com

THINGS ARE DEFINITELY GOING TO KEEP CHANGING

interview with NDZW, questions by Vladimir Palibrk, August 2021

NDZW, the artist with almost unpronounceable and quite cryptic name is very active lately at the walls and galleries in Vienna and Austria in general, influencing and being the part of local street art milieu. His iconic visual style, resembling something halfway between newspaper superhero comics of 1950’s and soc-realistic poster stylization from some unknown third world planet, captures your eye at a glance and puts you in intriguing and dynamic mind-quest for meaning within minimalist kinesthetic narratives that are usually told in his artworks. Elliptic combination of symbolic and realistic motives on his paintings bears many layers of potentially allegoric messages, carrying dynamism and tension of torn-apart key pages, turning points of that comics story we all were reading in adolescence, but we just can’t remember at the moment which one exactly…after giving myself blatant permission to follow this free flow of associations after observing his artworks, I will try to pose few questions to NDZW, hoping to introduce us all to his views and, hopefully, generate even more confusion? – VP-

VP: When observing your work, one instantly asks himself, “oh where does this come from?” so I also found myself looped into the naive attempts to decipher your narratives, and the ultimate joy I found actually In giving up and just letting myself being gently triggered to ask/wait for more, next scene, episode…a clue. Can you tell us, what were your first visual experiences as a kid? Where did the first pictures you remember come from? Who were your childhood heroes?

NDZW: The very first visual experiences most likely come from illustrated children’s books. Can’t name any particular titles from the top of my head, but these were most likely Polish and translated Russian fairy tales and rhyme books, as there was no immediate access to western culture in the 80’s. Then there were also comic books – two titles that I still remember pretty vividly are “Kapitan Zbik” and “Kapitan Kloss”. The first one is focused on the adventures and investigations lead by a police captain in socialist Poland. In the second one the main character is a Polish secret agent assuming the identity of a German Abwehr captain during World War 2. It’s actually based on the classic TV series from the 60’s titled “More Than Life At Stake”, the intro music to which is literally engraved in the memory of anyone growing up in Poland between late 60’s and 90’s😉 .  Around mid 90’s I was also able to get ahold of some classic comic books like Conan The Barbarian, Batman, Spiderman, etc. and these were definitely a big influence on me later on. In general when I think about the things I used to draw from an early age, it would mostly be knights, warriors and in general characters with these “heroic” qualities somehow attached to them.

VP: Nowadays, where do you see the center of inspiration and activity, between walls, galleries, market? Which part feels most comfortable for you?

NDZW: Ever since I started painting walls, it has become my main focus and all my artistic activity pretty much revolves around that. Most of my “studio” time I dedicate to working on ideas and concepts for wall paintings. I’m not the fastest as far as coming up with new ideas that I find interesting enough to paint outside and I try not to repeat myself, so it can take a couple of weeks before I have something solid enough. My approach doesn’t leave a whole lot of room for freestyling once I’m already in front of the wall, so my sketches are usually pretty close to how I want the final effect to look like.

I release some of my works as prints and sell a small amount of original works through galleries, but I’m not particularly focused on bigger solo exhibitions right now. I feel like painting in public spaces can be much more impactful and get more eyes on what I do than any exhibition, especially given the current pandemic situation.

VP: Everyone has an anecdote from the street life and painting experiences…do you have one to share? Did you ever end up in jail for painting the walls, for example?

NDZW: My first attempt at painting in Vienna actually ended up in getting “caught”. It happened in broad daylight and at a spot where it never seemed to bother anybody, so it was a bit unexpected. Me and some other friends had to spend an afternoon at the police precinct and due to some weird bureaucratic neglect I was the only one who in the end never got a court summon or had to pay a fine or anything. Fast forward 5 years later, when I was about to fly for a festival to Morocco I got held up at the airport, where during passport control it turned out that my case is somehow pending and it seemed like the police were kind of looking for me, but not very hard I guess😉. Luckily I was allowed to leave in the end, but still had to go to court after I came back.

VP: Your top 4 female artists of today and why?

NDZW: Cristina Daura (@cdaura) for her color choices, composition and simplicity. Colleen Barry (@colleenbarryart), because I think she’s one of the best fine art painters currently alive. Eliza Ivanova (@eleeza) for her linework and general mood. Alexandra Fastovets (@hanukafast) for shapes, anatomy and rendering skills.

VP: International aspect of the street art scene – how important for you /or anyone else/, in your opinion, is the ability to travel and see different places, cultures, landscapes?

NDZW: Travelling is crucial for me. It gave me a whole new perspective on my life and a level of appreciation for the possibilities that I have. When in other countries, the seemingly most basic things are the most interesting for me – the music people listen to, their food, clothes or even mundane everyday little activities they engage in. I generally try not to dive deep into grand political narratives, as that makes it easy to lose sight of people as individuals then, yet still in certain places it’s unavoidable and sometimes also pretty sad. 

VP: I think Dalai Lama once advised that everyone should at least once a year travel to a place he/she has never been to. If you were to follow this advice, where would you go?

NDZW: This year that would be Brazil and I hope it will still happen😉

VP: If you were to make a movie in future, which topics would you focus on? What would be the title of the movie? Or if the future was to be a movie, how would it be titled?

NDZW: That’s a hard question for me to answer. I imagine that if I ever attempt to make a movie, my process would be somewhat similar to how I work on my paintings and that means a particular topic or theme usually isn’t the starting point. In the beginning I tend to work in a bit of a creative fog, trying to piece things together and see how they work. Even if it starts with one strong idea, it’s usually a visual thing that somehow popped up in my head. So I guess it would probably be one of those artsy silent movies, not a typical plot-driven one. Similarly with the title, it would be something that comes to mind after seeing the finished work, so it’s impossible to say beforehand.

VP: Who are in your opinion, the true heroes of today? If you had three medals in your hands, and could give them to anyone/anywhere, who would that be, and why? What would be written on the medals?

NDZW: As mentioned earlier I’m not too much into grand narratives and giving people medals makes me think of formal pompous ceremonies and things like that. I appreciate anybody who lives their own truth without intentionally hurting other people along the way. Plus, nobody in their right mind should care about getting a medal from me. So, if I had three medals I would pawn them and get myself a plane ticket somewhere nice😉.

VP: What are the biggest fears of today’s people, in your opinion?

NDZW: Job stability, global market collapse, accelerating development of artificial intelligence and what it potentially is capable of.

VP: Hard to avoid this question and topic – How about future? When you close your eyes and ask yourself sincerely, how do you feel about future, what do you think the future will look like?

NDZW: To be honest with you I don’t think about the future too much. More philosophically speaking, the older I get, the less I believe in absolute free will and that also largely influences the way I think about the general direction the world is heading in. But let’s try.

If we’re talking about the near future, I’m still rather calm. Things are definitely going to keep changing and not necessarily in a direction that I’ll be able to fully comprehend. I’m already starting to feel out of touch with some of the technological developments & social media, but I’m also OK with that. I’ll be keeping up as long as I feel like it contributes something positive to my life.

As far as the bigger picture and further time horizon goes, I definitely see a direction where everything is becoming increasingly dumbed down, automated and low-effort-based. There’s also a significant problem with how people get their news and information about the world in general, in effect becoming more and more polarized in particular aspects of life. All of these things combined at least hint at a possibility where things can go rather bad on a global scale. Then again, I still keep meeting smart, kind and generally well-rounded people which might indicate that there’s still hope for this world.

VP: If you could make a phone call to God and say only ONE word in that call, which word would that be?

NDZW: Nice.

IMAGES TAKEN FROM @NDZWDZ INSTAGRAM PROFILE

CO-TRAVELLERS EXHIBITION

Now, this one is a real gem. Believe it or not, we had the opportunity to organize and curate first ever street art exhibition in such contemporary art institution as Museum of Contemporary art of Vojvodina, in Novi Sad, Serbia. Exhibition entitled Saputnici/Co-Travellers/Co-Voyageurs was a result of a short-term residency program organized in Novi Sad with 4 international artists – TKV /Serbia/, Sanja Stojkov /Serbia/, Aleksandar Bunčić /Serbia/ and Polar Bear /France/, and was curated by Vladimir Palibrk. The basic concept was formal focus on stencil techniques and the artworks depicting the portraits of animals that played important roles in the course of human history. Very rich catalog in trilingual SRB/FR/ENG version with lots of texts and artworks can be still accessed at the following link on Museum’s website: http://old.msuv.org/assets/media/publikacije/2018/saputnici.pdf

This program was made possible thanks to generous support of Institut Francais Serbie-Antenne Novi Sad, Ministry of Culture of Republic of Serbia, and EPK Novi Sad 2021.

Jeff Ross action timelapse

Our friend from USA Jeff Ross, printmaker and collage artist, after silkscreen printing tons of t-shirts and posters for Nirvana and other Sub Pop bands in 1990’s, made his first wall paintings when he arrived to Serbia. During Street Art Residencies program in summer 2019 we documented his action on a wall in Pancevo. Filmed by Marko Segedincev and Vladimir Palibrk, accidentally saved only as low res file from our hard discs. Curated by Vladimir Palibrk.

More info about Jeff: https://www.thestar.com.my/lifestyle/travel/2019/08/16/american-artist-jeff-ross-nirvana-posters-street-art

https://www.facebook.com/JeffRossArt-268062693312372