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.

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