I have just come back from a week’s trip with a seminar group to Zagreb and Rijeka, Croatia. Our goal was to explore the current state of contemporary art in Croatia, the challenges and topics driving artists and how the European Capital of Culture hosted in Rijeka in 2020 is influencing the art scene.
We had the chance to talk to museum representatives, art collectives and artists, among them feminist artist Sanja Ivekovic and provocative performance artist Sinisa Labrovic. Before the seminar, I had some knowledge about Croatia’s history as a former Yugoslav country. But, frankly, I had no knowledge about Croatian art.
We prepared interviews with the artists, curators and experts to learn more. I am currently writing on a separate article to share the findings of the trip with you, so stay tuned!
Since I graduated from university, I only attended very few group trips. Most of the time, I travelled in a group to conferences. For me, this trip was a very new experience because our group of about 20 people consisted of curators, researchers and students. Coming from a business background, I really enjoyed observing the dynamics in this diverse group, especially when we had discussions about the private sector influencing art. We had – sometimes very heated – discussions about the influence of companies and their foundations on contemporary art.
Another key takeaway was to be reminded of the importance of active listening. Even though I am now used to carrying out interviews, I know that we all are very tempted to interrupt our conversation partners and share our own opinion. If you are the interviewer, it is crucial to leave the stage to your interview partner; they are in the spotlight. Even if your interview partner takes a break, do not jump right to the next question. They might be finishing a chain of thought they would like to share.
It is easy to go with the flow whether we should like an artist’s work or not and agree with the dominant opinion within the group. However, I really tried not to be influenced too much and build my own opinion. I tried to talk to the artists and understand their reasoning or I merely looked at the aesthetics of the work. (I can already hear hardcore art historians scream when they read this. :D) If you meet a person like Sanja Ivecovic and you are being told “her work is as grand as Joseph Beuys’s or Valie Export’s”, it is easy to be overly enthusiastic and admire the work without knowing too much about it or even questioning it. I think this not only applies to art but to everything: politics, business, personal life. Do not just accept someone’s opinion just because of their hierarchical position or because the majority agrees on that opinion. Try to be curious, learn and form your own opinion and fight for it.
The most inspiring takeaway is how committed all the artists and curators are about fighting for their opinion and their art. Even in times when the political climate is fighting against them. Across Europe and also the US, we see a climate which is becoming more and more hostile towards art, freedom of speech, intellectuals and inclusiveness. But seeing how all the people in Croatia we met are standing up for their rights, really shows that we can and should stand up as well.
I am currently working on separate articles about Croatia and will share it soon with you, stay tuned and have an inspired week ahead!