Art that removes humans from the top of the “food chain”: interview with Silvio Vujičić
Published 16 November 2020 by Dare Pejić
The Rencontres Internationales Monde-s Multiple-s, formerly Rencontres Bandits-Mages, was to be held in Bourges from November 13 to December 6, 2020. But the lockdown has decided otherwise and the festival switches online. Makery presents the different projects that were to be exhibited in the European Media Art Platform show. Here the interview with Silvio Vujičić, a highly intriguing Zagreb based artist who passionately explores materiality and temporality in his year-long art practice.
Art as a living matter and artwork as a disappearing object. Yet it exists, or, it has existed, as one might add. Vujičić, born in 1978, graduated at Faculty of Textile Technology and Academy of Fine Arts in Croatia. In his work, many aspects of art and design drive his immense curiosity for new discoveries. We caught up with Vujičić after returning from his beloved Madrid. His work that was produced by Kontejner from Zagreb was supposed to be presented at the Rencontres Internationales Monde-s Multiple-s in Bourges, France, but was suspended for Covid reasons. Ironically, Vujičić’s interest also involves ephemeral and temporal status of artworks. Even when artwork present a toxic threat to human position in the artwork’s “food chain”.
Makery: You have many vocations and you work in many fields: from design, fashion to art and to textile technology. After so many years of art practice would you say that any of your interests prevailed over another or you did manage to find a sort of equilibrium?
Silvio Vujičić: I can’t say something prevailed but I guess if today I had to choose just one medium to continue to work in it would be art, probably because it’s the purest and most independent form of expression, while the design is dependent on many human factors.
Would you then say that design is less open to experiments and ideas than art?
A lot changes from the moment something is designed until it hits the market. Unfortunately, the design is subject not only to functionality but also to human taste, which is sometimes not at a certain standard in order to be accepted by the market, so as such it is declared unsuccessful. So, if you look at the textile and fashion industry, the best and most progressive designers are often not the ones who are the most successful. These are all elements that art is not interested in so my answer is yes. Design is generally less experimental than art, not necessarily in the idea but certainly in the realized form that we find “exhibited” on the market.
How would you describe your work Curtain that was supposed to be presented at this year’s Rencontres Internationales Monde-s Mutliple-s in Bourges, France?
The artwork Curtain is a large-scale installation in a form of a white textile curtain. The appearance of the artwork is almost like a technical object, a space partition, or a curtain on the window. When the spraying mechanism is activated, in contact with water, polyvinyl alcohol fabric from which the curtain is made of slowly „melts“ and causing the fabric to disappear and reveal the background. The newly made view, the one behind the curtain, reveals nothing spectacular, usually a wall that offers no excitement or an uninteresting scene. Curtain is there for its own sake.
The Curtain’s omnipresence in space is very discreet and opaque at the same time, like it was not meant to interact with at all. What were the first reactions you gathered from visitors at previous exhibitions?
The work carries the potential of surprise and I use it to trigger emotions. When people notice the process of disintegration of the fabric, the first response I observe in them is fear. Fear that some chemicals will drip on them and melt their skin as it did the fabric. Then after a few minutes comes curiosity and the assumption that it is water that is dripping. Then they usually tend to come closer to the artwork.
The materials you work with tend to be unstable (techno textiles, polyvinylalcohol, scents, pigments, etc.). How do you combine them with site-specific settings?
I rethink the work whenever it is planned to be exhibited, and adapt it for every space. Some spaces are also not supportive of some of my works if, for instance, they have high humidity levels, draft, a strong ventilation system that goes against my devices, etc. So, I develop new possibilities for some of the artworks in these situations. Some works are in a form of pigment clouds, some are pigments painted on walls, on some occasions crystals are sublimated in an exhibition space so the visitors exhibit higher heart rates, etc. All these installations demand a “controlled climate”.
Temporality is an important element in your work. How do you consider time as one of the constituent elements of your work?
Time is something I try to program as much as possible in my works. Most of the installations are not meant to last for a longer period and the artwork has to be reconstructed for each show. There are some segments of my work that are more long-lasting, as smaller objects and prints but large scale installations have different “settings”.
Another predominant theme in your work is colour. Historian Simon Schama wrote about colours as containers of memory and archival knowledge. In your previous work that relates to Curtain, namely Roșu / as Curtain, for which the title also signifies your family name that originates from Romania, you have produced your own type of red. The colour red carries a lot of political significance. Did you also play with that in your work?
I can’t look at colour just as a physical phenomenon, colour for me carries all the available historical true and false information, mythologies and fairy tales. This kind of information was used when I made a Roșu Series in 2012. It was a series of artworks that were made from various red dyes I extracted from the insects Dactylopius Coccus. I also heavily used various kinds of acids to achieve and stabilize certain tones of red colour onto textiles. My mother’s last name is Roșu, meaning red in Romanian. This triggered a series of possible self-portraits as Red Silvio, which manifested through curtain installation, body patterns, and changes in insect’s exoskeleton colour. Red is interesting because its symbolical span is very broad and tends to drastically change in history, oscillating from bad to good, from lust to divinity. Red allows me to play with different possibilities of myself.
Can you tell us more about the themes you develop lately in your work?
Toxicity is a theme that occupies me a lot. Possible toxicity of artworks themselves. Toxicity of works of art to humans especially. For the last couple of years, I also tend to develop my pigments and dyes by using flowers as vessels for my experiments. Flowers are infused with various organic and mineral solutions, pigments used by renaissance and baroque painters especially. I process these infused flowers into “new pigments”, which are hybrids between organic dyes and mineral particles that have oxidized inside these plants (that also carry their symbolic significance). These are materials whose “data” I use later in works.
You mentioned the toxicity of artworks. Would you extend this thought also further, to human spectators? Can humans be toxic in relation to artworks?
I regard humans as transient individuals in time. Their thinking and their possible toxicity are important for some metaphorical “15 minutes” in an artwork’s lifetime. The artwork or information about it outlives generations, so some new ones come along that change the attitude towards it. History has shown us that some of the best works of art were not recognized at the time of their creation. Personally, I find it interesting to change that view in which man is the one who is positioned above the work of art. It’s interesting to observe the reactions of gallery visitors when they realize that the work is dangerous and can injure them. They stop being at the top of the “food chain”.
In times of pandemic many parts of the world are faced with lockdowns. Would you say the physical immobility affected your artistic methodologies and the relational and interactive characteristics of many of your works?
The whole sensory segment of my work is impossible to experience through digital media so I must say pandemic did affect the way I worked, but then the whole year has given me enough time to write about these concepts and has opened new forms of work.
Can you tell us what these new work forms would look like?
I try not to talk about the work before it’s done because people create images in their heads that are different from the ones that follow.
Silvio Vujičić, Curtain (2010), installation view:
More on Silvio Vujičić.
Find more projects on the website of the European Media Art Platform.
Mondes Multiples, Bandits Mages, Bourges (FR). November 19th – December 6th.