The Opening Response: Ivan Šuletić

The Opening Response titles a special series of interviews with artists, curators, writers, composers, mediators, and space-makers around the world. Dialoguing within and around the thematics which have rapidly emerged as a consequence of the Covid-19 pandemic, we offer within this frame a differentiated, honest, and beautiful bid at understanding. Weekly, distinct doors are opened into the lives of the contributors; into their experiences dawning on pleasure, productivity, metaphysics, and paradigmatic shifts. Hopefully, these conversations can act as way-posts and lead to furthered empathy, unison, and co-creation. The Opening Response meets the need for weaving the autonomy of a web of conscious communications in times of extreme perplexity.

Ivan Šuletić (1982), is a visual artist, lives and works in Belgrade.

He earned a Doctor of Fine Arts degree from the Faculty of Fine Arts (FFA) in Belgrade in 2015, where he previously graduated (2007) and completed Specialist studies at the Painting department (2009).

Šuletić has presented his works on solo exhibitions since 2009: in the Art Gallery of the Cultural Center of Belgrade, Belgrade Youth Center, Rima Gallery (Belgrade and Kragujevac), Appleton Square in Lisbon, etc. and a number of group exhibitions in the country and abroad. His works can be found in several public and private collections, such as the Belgrade City Museum, European Patent Office Art Collection, Wiener Art Collection, Niš Art Foundation etc.

Šuletić is the winner of the Vladimir Veličković Foundation Award for Contemporary Drawing (2018), Award “Likovna Jesen” for Painting (2016), and the Second Prize for Painting by Niš Art Foundation (2015).

Currently works at the Faculty of Architecture in Belgrade as an assistant professor.


Josseline Black – Reflecting on this recent period of forced isolation, how are you articulating your response in a public discourse? What is your role in this larger conversation?

Ivan Šuletić – During these recent months, I’ve often been trying to distance myself from my own perspective, mainly because I feel that all which is happening is much larger than any of us individually. And the position we, the people, found ourselves in, is not a position in a conversation, more a submissive position in which we are told what to do. These times demand a proper reaction from the people, both collectively and individually. And I, as an artist, keep trying to find a way to balance the feeling of an individual being confronted with a larger structure. I am aware it is a paradox, not being in a position of a conversation, and constantly trying to speak up about it.

And it turned out we are not near the end, it seems things are only just beginning.

JB – Has your artistic practice changed through isolation?

– I opened a solo exhibition at gallery Rima in Belgrade on June the 3rd. So I had a lot to do during the isolation. As often as I could I went to my studio, and I moved some of the materials to my home, and I used the night hours to do some things on our dining room table.

During the curfew – I imagine many people had a similar experience – do you remember the silence on the streets? I often felt that the work I was doing during those hours was put in front of a gigantic void. And, naturally, the question was always there, what is the meaning of your work, when on the other side is such a huge silence.

In the Cityscapes [series], from the beginning, there were no people. And, originally, it was about creating a sense of a nonlinear temporality, of time as a dimension not marked by events. But when curfew was put to place in cities around the globe, I saw those empty streets in real life and in a completely new light.

JB – How has your practical capacity to produce work been affected by the pandemic?

– You immediately begin to feel the effects, on every level. I wasn’t aware of many of my habits when walking through the city, touching things, entering random spaces, meeting people everywhere, it all suddenly not changed, but stopped altogether. And it was all an organic part of my professional life as well. So, yes, it has been affected (and still is), but the effects I will be able to rationalise only in the future.

JB – What is your approach to collaboration at the moment?

IŠ – One of my previous works, Triumphal Arch, was twice presented through very interesting collaborations. The first time with a curator João Silvério, within a curatorial project Empty Cube in Lisbon, and the next time with an architecture studio Petokraka and curator Ana Bogdanović in Belgrade. And, as with the other works I made or presented in collaboration with other people of different profiles, It was a very fulfilling experience.

For this exhibition at Rima gallery, I produced an object in polyester, which was first 3d printed, all during the pandemic months. It was a process which demanded a close collaboration on every step. The 3D modelling was finished with help from Luka Ilić, a young architect, just a couple of days before the curfew was put in place. And so the 3D print waited for some time, and just when things got a little better, I carried it to a foundry to be cast. So it was a challenge, to put it mildly, to get it all done, but in the end, it turned out really well.

JB – How would you define the present moment, metaphysically/literally/symbolically?

IŠ – This is the first time in history that such a big crisis is happening and is simultaneously being uploaded and commented upon on social media. It produces a hum, which is very confusing. We have all noticed this pandemic is very political. Also, it is not just the pandemic. The Black Lives Matter movement in the US is a very very important thing, which will bring positive change, I hope.

We will eventually see this all coming to an end, but as somebody said, just as none of the science fiction movies before internet predicted the internet, the future we are going towards will be totally new to the most of us.

JB – Do you see the potential for renewed support for cultural production in spite of macro and micro-economies which are currently rapidly restructuring?

– This is a time when all of us, willingly or not, are put in a place where we need to rethink our positions. A lot of events got cancelled, a lot of projects put to halt, or delayed, and it, personally, gave me time to think, which I couldn’t afford for some time. So, I hope a potential is there, and new possibilities will arise.

But I have to add something to this. I feel that art (and culture, seen more widely) needs to be in a permanent friction with the society. Simply, if it is not, it is not very interesting. So, yes, support is a necessity, but let’s be curious about what happens now, and let’s work together to create things which will be larger than this moment.

JB – How is this time influencing your perception of alterity in general?

– I live in a place which has been “the other” for most of the western world for a long time now. And for most of my life, I and people around me have had a very clear idea what alterity means. I remember my first trips to Paris (before smartphones as we know them) and me going to those tourist offices to get a map, and being asked to fill some tourist info table which didn’t have “Serbia” as an answer to a “where do you come from” question.

We, as I saw it, received two messages from the power structures – the virus is a global issue, and there is no “other” in this narrative, we are all in this together, but at the same time, we have seen examples of contemporary piracy when it came to medical equipment for example.

JB – How is your utilization of technology and virtuality evolving the paradigm within which you produce work?

– From the beginning, I have been working with digital media, even though my work would eventually become a drawing or a painting. Since I started the Cityscape series, the idea was to make painting or drawing a performative action which channels my energy into a work which begins as a digital image. I begin by browsing the internet and manipulating a sample in Photoshop. And I end up painting or drawing for weeks after. In a way, I am trying to find a balance between technology and labour.

The Cityscape series in time evolved to a wider concept called Cities for Rich People, in which I started to combine and put together different “samples”, playing with the idea of virtuality of today’s world. A big motivation comes from electronic music. The idea of sampling I took from there.   So I took the samples from jpegs of a sea, a desert, a sky, and created the Beach polyptych. Like a rebus.

JB – What is your position on the relationship between catastrophe and solidarity?

– There certainly is a close relationship between the two. Most clearly, I remember it from the 1999 NATO bombing. Then, the people here were really, honestly, trying their best to save each other and keep the spirits up.

But, that situation was completely different from the current one, because we are now made to be afraid of closeness, afraid of each other, sometimes, even more than the virus itself.

JB – What is your utopia now?

– Drinking a careless Aperol in a random Venice caffe during the next preopening.


Josseline Black-Barnett is a contemporary curator, writer, and researcher. She holds an M.A. in time-based media from the Kunst Universität Linz and a B.A. in Anthropology (specialization Cotsen Institute of Archaeology) from the University of California Los Angeles. She operated for five years as in-house curator of the international artistic residency program at the Atelierhaus Salzamt (Austria) wherein she had the privilege of working closely with a number of brilliant artists. Included in her duties within the institution she allocated and directed the Salzamt hosting of the E.U. CreArt mobility for artists program. As a writer, she has reviewed exhibitions and co-edited texts for Museu Nacional de Arte Contemporânea do Chiado, Portugal, Madre Museum Naples, the Museums Quartier Vienna, MUMOK, Guimarães Gallery, Gallery Michaela Stock. She is regular theoretical contributor to the Contemporary Art Magazine Droste Effect. In addition, she has published with Interartive Malta, OnMaps Tirana, Albania, and L.A.C.E (Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions). In tandem to her curatorial practice and writing, she has for the past decade used choreography as a research tool inquiring into the ontology of the performing body with a focus on embodied cartographies of public memory and space. She has held research residencies at the East Ugandan Arts Trust, the Centrum Kultury w Lublinie, the University of Arts Tirana Albania, and the Upper Austrian Architectural Forum. It is her privilege to continue developing her approach to curatorship which derives from an anthropological reading of art production and an ethnological dialectic in working with cultural content generated by art makers. Currently, she is developing the methodology which supports the foundation of a performance-based trans-disciplinary platform for a spectral critique on art production.

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