Ivana Bašić (@ivana_basic) is an artist originally from Serbia, currently living and working in New York. She recently had a solo exhibition,Through the hum of black velvet sheep, at Marlborough Contemporary that portrayed dust as an absolute reduction particle and reflection of organic decomposition. We met her at her studio in Greenpoint where we talked about her interests in connecting experiences with the body to material, her transition into art, and the Serbian art community.
What are you working on now?
I have been recovering for the past few months from the show I did at Marlborough, which left both my soul and my body completely and fully drained. Just now I am starting to gather my strength again to plan my next steps.
How was your show at Marlborough? Can you tell us what it was about?
My last show at Marlborough Contemporary titled “Through the hum of black velvet sleep” was based around dust as an absolute reduction of the world since everything in the world including body can be reduced to dust, which renders dust the main composite of the body. So the show was articulating the transformation of the matter under pressure, expelling the breath out of body turning it into a pure density - stone, and consequently dust. The hypothesis of the show takes into account analyses of the material properties of the stone and material properties of the post mortem body articulating uncanny similarities between the two, as well as considering the process called Marbling, in which during the fourth stage of death (Livor Mortis), the skin becomes adorned with arborescent venous patterning due to the breakdown of hemoglobin within the blood vessels, making the surface of the body resemble the stone. In the show I had two figurative pieces, whose heads were engulfed in glass vessels externalizing their lungs while their breath was turning to dust. In addition to these pieces I had two kinetic pieces which were serving as hourglasses to the figures measuring the time before their disappearance. The kinetic pieces were rigs pounding at the pieces of marble with extreme force and slowly turning them to dust throughout the show, while echoing the sounds of the hits throughout the space.
When did you start to get interested in this subject?
This show as well as previous shows I have done are just one step further on my path of understanding the nature of the body, its materiality, its boundaries as well as its malleability. From when I was a child, I was acutely aware of my body, and it has always felt like a space of confinement which is where this lifelong quest for me comes from.
What materials are you using?
Through my work I address the material and immaterial elements I work with equally.
I am using wax as material body is made out of, blown glass as a material that contains breath, surface of the skin is painted in oil paint, pain is inflicted through stainless steel elements, marble and marble dust is the core matter of the world. In addition to these most of my material lists contain: pressure, weight, breath, force, torque, time. These elements even though non tangible are just as important and present in each of my pieces.
Was sculpture always your medium of choice?
No not at all, first time I came in contact with sculpture was three years ago. I don't have any formal art education and it was not my conscious choice to pursue it. I just followed the path of my quest around the body and it has found its place to be in art. Having studied graphic design and technology I was mostly exposed to digital context, yet at some point the body I was addressing needed to become tangible which is when I started working with materials. All the knowledge I have of the sculpture has been self acquired, and it has been the most incredible journey. My materials like wax, glass and oil paint can all be remelted - diluted back into its formless matter regardless of the time passed, so the the form is just temporal, therefore there is no “death” of the material. Further looking into wax and glass, for both of them the state in which they can take a solid form is the most fragile state of them, which is what my whole work is really about. Fragility of the body and consequently fragility of life. Therefore my approach to sculpture is in very holistic terms. What is on the surface and perceived is fully synchronous with what its matter is. Otherwise one is just building a 3 dimensional image, a simulation – a representation. In that sense my work is non representational - since materials testify the truth of the object itself, therefore the work is true from inside and out regardless of the gaze. It " is."
Do you do video still?
I feel very far away from video as a medium right now. Image as a space feels quite claustrophobic to me, everything I am feeling now needs volume and weight and materiality.
What is your background? Where did you go to school?
I went to school in Belgrade for Graphic Design, and I got my Masters in New York at Tisch ITP which is a technology based program. I have fully missed on the notions of classical art education, which I think has actually benefited me a lot. There was no learned path of thinking about art to fall into, all I had and will have is just my experience of living in the world and I believe that is the most authentic place to make the work from.
What is the art community in Serbia like?
When I was growing up it was pretty much non existent since art is a privilege of the rich societies, and people in Serbia were struggling to survive day to day, so art seemed almost like vanity. Culture together with most of the other aspects of society have suffered so much and have been so impoverished with all the political and economical disasters which have been brought upon the country both from the world as well as from the government itself against its own people, so a lot of people are forced to just deal with the most basic needs. In last couple of years there has been a big brave push from a group of young artists there to change that. An example such as Gallery U10 founded by couple of my good friends helped bring light back to art and culture starved city and earned itself a solid place among European galleries, and I see that couple of more places started opening up which makes me really happy.
Your work is so site-specific. Is there a specific venue that you are excited about.
The space I am quite excited about is one in Signal where I am doing a show early next year. In addition to this another space I absolutely love is Ramiken Crucible’s former space in TD Bank on LES, which is now unfortunately closed. Thinking of my work as site specific is sort of interesting since I don’t necessarily think of in those terms. The idea of addressing the space in which the work is shown seems inevitable for any good show and for me it would be strange not to do that since space is probably the most important element you are working with. I try to create a world around my pieces, and therefore It is very important that the space and its dynamic are addressed and utilized to reinforce that world.
Are there any other artists you are interested in right now?
I don't really tend to be “interested” in artists, I appreciate the work some people are doing yet I actually consume very little art. I prefer writers.
What have you read? What writers are you interested in?
Kafka and his Blue Octavo Notebooks I know by heart, the romanian philosopher Emil Cioran, Vladimir Nabokov and his book The Eye I have been obsessed with for past few months, George Ivanovich Gurdjieff the mystic, Reza Negarestani and his Cyclonopedia. I tend to read, study and reread books until I internalize them.
You've done writing too?
I have and I still do. It is important to me to materialize the “voice” of my pieces – to allow them to speak, which reinforces them as real. So there is a written piece that follows each of my shows, where my sculptures allow the readers to experience being within them.