Dunja Jankovic Interviewed by Emily Nilsson
Department of Art seems to be about a lot of frustrations that artists face when working and trying to be productive – are you drawing from any specific moments you’ve had in your career?
I’m drawing from many specific moments in my life. It’s always a mixture of my personal experiences, anxious dreams, surrounding reality, reality anxiety, different layers of reality, multilayered anxiety etc etc.
Department of Art is mostly an exaggerated experience of the art schooling I encountered in my life. It’s about institutions trying to do something ridiculous with your art, like tame you, put you in a mold, push you to an already existing style or make you work too hard on your life drawings so you can learn what art is. Art is work, but when whipped, it tends to go dumb. It’s also about being a part of the Borg society where you have to choose to play a specific role and stick to it. It’s also about smoking bans.
Department of Art is chapter one of a bigger story that has been building itself for years already, it is very elusive and changeable and all the experience I had along the way are kind of sticking to the story making it grow. I would like every chapter to resemble the moment in which it was created, therefore I keep the story very open, otherwise it would feel like boring homework leftovers.
The media you use of the comic really vary – it looks like you use pen and ink on some parts, and collage in others for instance. What techniques did you use to complete it?
I always had this idea of doing completely different pages one after another, using different techniques to change atmosphere and make twists in narration. It’s hard and tricky at the same time, because it’s easy to slip into eclecticism and to use styles without the cause.
I’ve been using collages, drew with pen and ink, charcoal, paint with acrylics, watercolors etc etc. I might even use the photography in the future, I just like how every technique speaks the language of it’s own, or adds an accent if you will. Sometimes I over paint the page 10 times before I feel satisfied or completely destroy it in the end. It’s a more rewarding process for me, but also time exhausting. I haven’t perfected it yet, this is something new, I used to be very conservative in drawing comics.
There’s a soundtrack to go with your comic – is it widely available or was that just for the live reading? Who, if anyone, collaborated with you on the soundtrack?
The soundtrack was made by my friend and collaborator Cody Brant with whom I briefly played drums in his band called Flaspar. It’s his sound collage; he did a great job creating a 3rd dimension for my comic, which is something I always wanted to add to them. The idea actually comes from my Serbian friends Kosmoplovci who have been combining music with comics long before I did. You should check it out: http://www.kosmoplovci.net/studiostrip/indexx.html
Multimedia is something I’m really into. It’s about collaging and layering all these different voices, it almost feels like creating some sort of living entity, it’s very multi-dimensional, juicy.
Doing it is really good for looking at your own work from a different angle because you’re constantly jumping out of the comfort zones and questioning your way of seeing things. It’s a little masochistic game of making things more uncomfortable in order to open your third eye hahaha.
So I hand painted about 50 CDs to put at the back of the comics (Dylan provided the CDs and sleeves), and it was an enjoyable process, I fetishize the idea of making mass production out of original pieces. Like making zines with every cover silk-screened or stenciled, which I did for my Ego’s and the first version of Department of Art.
What comics have you done besides Department of Art?
I did a bunch of short comics (7-10 pgs long) and many of them are self-published in Ego’s. Some of them I did a while ago, but I still wanted to put them out. I still make a shorter comic from time to time, it’s a more poetic form and very flexible in its shortness. It’s easier to experiment with, visually and in narrative.
I’ve been working on abstract haiku comics collages for 2 yrs already. I should put them out soon but they are not ready yet. They are still shy. It’s a completely different work and working process from anything I did before.
Also, I just got into redoing old classic comics (I did a page out of a Fantastic Four comic for an exhibition, 100 pour 100, in Angoulême). Again, it’s all about egoistical needs to layer my work on top of someone else’s art, the more famous artist, the better. It creates interesting blend of feelings: power, acute self-satisfaction, shame, forbidden pleasure – everybody should try it!
What musical projects are you involved in? Have you done any other projects combining music and visual art?
I have done that in the past with my band Invisible Ghost Luigi where we would tour together with the Komikaze exhibitions and would try to create some kind of happening. Again, it’s about multimedia intersecting.
The latest musical project was playing drums with Flaspar last year. Drums affect the work of my comics and vice-versa, it’s all about the rhythm. I didn’t play drums 4 years before that so this was an intense experience. We went on a tour with only 2 booked concerts in L.A. but I managed to see Las Vegas from the perspective of autochthon people. That was precious.
It’s always a collaboration in some sense, for example when I’m listening to music while drawing, I know exactly what I want to listen to when I’m going to be drawing a dark labyrinth hallways with sticky walls, or a fight with gigantic sardine in a bathtub. So it’s kind of like picking up a soundtrack to my drawing process.
Could you talk about Croatia and how you developed as an artist growing up there? What places have you been to since leaving home?
I grew up on an island in a really small town and for 18 yrs everybody knew who I was and what I do. It is irritating to grow up in such an environment. Maybe that’s why I felt the constant need to move around to places where nobody knows who I am so I can rebuild my self, every time a little bit different.
I started drawing comics very early. My grandfather was collecting my work since I was 2 so I have all this comics with vampires, zombies and squirrels. It’s so precious and I always like to look at those because it explains a lot…
When I was 18 I left the island to go to Zagreb to study on the Fine Art Academy – that’s where my antagonism toward institutionalized art started. Fine Art Academy in Croatia is very classical and despises comics like a lower form of art (I was in painting department). After 2 yrs of drawing naked bodies with charcoal I was so lost I even stopped doing comics, I tried to paint, thinking that’s something I have to do, because THAT’S real art. They confused me. It was a common knowledge that Renaissance produced ultimately and universally superior art and teachers were untouchable gods. A student is never right and students’ art is always inferior.
After 3-4 years (the average time of studying is much longer then here, and I was flunked also) me and a couple of my friends were taken under the wing of a great professor Zlatko Keser. For most of the people he was a cookoo who doesn’t know how to play social games, but he’s a complete genius and such a channel of creative energy. With a little help from him and after leaving school, I managed to get back on track. Goddamn Art Academy, the killer of creativity.
But in Zagreb I also became a part of Komikaze, an awesome comic collective who has been publishing authors from all around Europe and World, mostly on the web, but on paper as well. It is a very inspiring collective and with them I traveled around Europe, did some crazy workshops and tours (as I mentioned before) and through them I managed to encounter a bunch of excellent artist and people. I heavily recommend checking out: www.komikaze.hr. Also we made the exhibition of Komikaze in Floating World this January so Portlanders can see it.
And then in 2007 I enrolled in the School of Visual Arts in New York. That school and my American experience is a different story all together. On SVA we were taught how to market ourselves, where to place ourselves in the “art industry” and how to network to get recognition. It’s a very pragmatic, US kind of angle on art, totally different from what I’ve been taught before. It’s all about how to succeed and in that message there is a strong underlying tone of potential catastrophe if you fail. That school offered me some great things, especially in the form of professors like Gary Panter, David Sandlin and many others. But art education must not be so goddamn expensive. Art is not some extremely useful craft to know and that’s why they must be all about marketing, I guess. If you become successful, then the school is good. But success is not a measurement of quality.
This may all sound like a bitter talk, but honestly, I’m just observing all the methods and perspectives of art education that have been given to me.
I got sick and tired of N.Y.’s constant competitiveness so I moved to Portland with a help from my friend Lisa Mangum, without whom it would all be much harder. She helped me and my boyfriend Zoran start a new life in some other town in the U.S. And now I’m here, going back to Croatia for a couple of months every year, maintaining 2 parallel lives.
What is your family like, did they support your decision to be an artist?
My family has always been very supportive in my intentions to become “an artist”. Since I knew what I wanted to be from the start, I guess it was easy for my father and mother to let it be. They supported me the whole time and they still do, even though I didn’t become a famous artist like they expected hahaha. Bummer!
My grandfather is probably the most responsible for me becoming an artist. He was supporting my creativity in every way, supplying the drawing materials, collecting and archiving my works, showing me art books… Also he was the one to teach me how to read at an early age and started buying me comics on a regular basis. He spent a lot of time with me and had built some cultural foundations in my personality. He was a professor in school but he loved to draw from nature in his spare time, clouds, sea, marine landscapes, mostly while on his sailing trips. There is some timeless serenity coming out of his drawings. Obviously, he’s a very important person in my art life and life in general. And my grandma is the only person who really likes my abstract works!
What made you decide to study at the School of Visual Art? How long were you in NY?
I wanted to get out of Croatia because, it felt stale at one point and my art stopped progressing. I needed some kind of a shock therapy. I wanted to go to France but I didn’t know French. So I chose to come to U.S., being that this is the cradle of comics.
Spent 2 and a half years in N.Y. and never really grew to like it. Now, I like the fact I lived there and that I can always come back there as if it was my own place, devour as much as I can in a couple of days and then leave again for a better place. The low quality of life really bothered me, millions of choices are not everything you need in life and. especially if you don’t have time, then those millions of choices mean nothing to you.
N.Y. is a funny place, it always has this aura of nostalgia because it’s constantly changing and even yesterday seems like something from the past.
I always wonder what brings artists to Portland – it seems like kind of an obscure place compared to other exciting cities on the West Coast. What is there here that is helping you do what you do, and what if anything does Portland lack for you?
It is totally weird. Even before I came here I had a good feeling about this place. First time I came here to visit was when Lisa organized an exhibit in Floating World Comics. So I had a whole week to digest the city. Then I came back to N.Y. and described everything to my boyfriend and in 2 months we were here.
Portland has a good quality of life. I guess it matters to me cuz I’m 30. When I was 22, I really didn’t care about that. One has a plenty of time here, there is plenty of trees, plenty of bike lanes and plenty of artist that give you a sense of community and scene belonging. You actually collaborate with people out of sheer pleasure, not out of wish to network your way to success.
Sometimes, but very veeeeeery rarely I feel like being in a story where every character has the same identity and interests. That feeling of lack of diversity is probably an after-N.Y. syndrome. I actually love it here.
And I’m not going to say anything about the rain.
How did you meet Lisa Mangum and arrange the group art show at Floating World last year?
Lisa and I met on my island, where she visited me with our mutual friend Aca 3 yrs ago. They stayed only one day but we managed to go swimming together and were trying to revive a dead fish. The next time we saw each other was in N.Y., and the next thing was a show of comics from Croatia and Serbia in Portland that Lisa organized with Jason Leivian in Floating World Comics. I was exhibiting along with a couple of my friends and awesome artists Igor Hofbauer, Aleksandar Opacic, Radovan Popovic. And the next time I saw her was when I moved with my boyfriend to Portland in the house where she lived with other friends. We don’t waste time, you know.
What are your main influences as an artist?
In a random order: 60’s and 70’s hairstyles, outsider art in every form, Constructivism, ceramics (even though I’m not making it, but I’d love to), street art and art in the woods, trashy you tube videos, photos from socialistic era, Yugo-nostalgia, thrift stores and flea markets, Kosmoplovci, Komikaze, indigenous art, masks, ritual dances, rituals in general, smoking cigarettes, quitting smoking and then starting smoking again, afghan war rugs, Indian rugs and art in general, music, green architecture, black olives, diving, diving, dying…
The spinning quartet, most amazing!
Trying to re-vive a dead fish! Kinky!!
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