English Translation of Interview with Shoshanna Utchenik, by Katarina Rus Krušelj of Galerija Domžala, published in the culture section of the March 2, 2012 issue of SLAMNIK, Domžala’s local newspaper, and the Kulturni Dom France Bernika Domžala website, here.
Foreign artists rarely exhibit in Gallery Domžale, so exhibition in March will be a special event. An American visual artist Shoshanna Utchenik will be presented to the audience in Domzale. She graduated in sculpture (The School of the Art Institute of Chicago) and her master’s degree in art theory and practice (Northwestern University, Evanston). The central area of her artistic activities are interdisciplinary projects, which put creative processes in the center of everyday life – as an alternative to passivity and comfort-seeking offered by consumer culture.
Art Project of American-Slovenian artist Shoshanna Utchenik, Becoming Slovenian, was in its experimental version first performed as a part of her exhibition in KAPSULA in Ljubljana in June 2010. During the execution has opened many new ideas, so the artist in collaboration with curator of Gallery Domžale Mojca Grmek decided that the project must be expanded and continued through the year 2012. In this form the project will be pursued as a separate installation in the Gallery Domzale.
- Who is Shoshanna Utchenik? How you became an artist and what were your first experiences on the art scene?
I am an American Jew who was very aware of the Holocaust from a young age because my mother’s side of the family was destroyed by it. Along with my sensitive nature this made me very attentive to human behavior and relationships, very cautious, and very joyful about celebrating the life and love we have while we have it.
When I was young, making art and writing were always a safe way to create a world more to my liking: more magical and more in my control. Still now, making art is a way I am making peace with the chaos of life. However, now I embrace chaos more than I try to control it. I am trying to conceive of art projects that open rich, messy conversations in positive ways, to celebrate the wealth of differences and chaos in human relationships.
- What is Shoshanna’s art? On which art projects did you work? Could you describe some?
I created the umbrella Interstate Arts for my work that activates art viewers as participants in a creative process. The Interstate Arts projects are conceptual in a playful accessible way, like my Untitled (playdough project) in 2006, in which I cooked colored play dough in public space and left it there without any explanation. Many people were delighted to touch it, and some people were scared and disgusted to see a strange material in the wrong context. It triggered conversations between strangers in public space, which made it a success for me, especially in Chicago where public space was becoming more and more privatized, hostile and unwelcoming.
- What brings you to Slovenia? Tell us about your experiences with the Slovenian art? How is Slovenian art scene compares with the other world art scenes where you were active as an artist?
I lived here with my Slovenian husband for several years but unfortunately we are not together now. We have an amazing bilingual son who is very at home on two continents, so I will have a life long connection to Slovenia. I learned a lot from my neighbors and family while living in Ljubljana and I am also happy to return to my hometown of Detroit to help re-imagine the post-industrial city.
I find Slovenians in general, including artists, to be very connected to a larger world, culturally and politically. My husband’s peers impressed me with the ambition and sensitivity of their work, such as Tadej Pogacar and P74 for embracing the politics of everyday life through art, and I see Slovenian students doing that as well. Miran Zupancic is creating historically important documentaries, and I am a big fan of the the events bringing performance into public space that Goro Osojnik and Gledalisce Ana Munro have been so dedicated to.
I like the grass-roots approach of young groups like Smetumet who are negotiating their interest in aesthetics and design with questions of production and exchange, sustainability, ethics and community. I also met a phenomenal person, architect Vesna Rebernjak who thinks about art in terms of urban planning and peacemaking.
With a strong sense of their own context and identity as Slovenes, these artists are bravely entering very large global conversations.
I think Slovenia is in a very special moment when it has access to all of the consumer choice, luxuries, and material wealth of capitalism, but it has not yet forgotten socialist values that place a collective quality of life above individual comfort. I am hopeful that young Slovenes will not be too entranced with capitalism nor too nostalgic for the socialist past, because they are uniquely situated to create a new way of working, living, and interacting that is more sustainable and humane than either the U.S. or the former Yugoslavia have managed. Art can play an essential part in creating real change.
- Describe us your art project Becoming Slovenian which will be presented in March 2012 in the Gallery Domžale?
The Gallery Domzale will be used as an atelier and meeting space for research about personal and national identity, and perception. I think of the Becoming Slovenian project as a poetic ethnography. I am not trying to compile scientific or scholarly data, but I am taking inspiration from the conventions around such research to explore the personal and interpersonal. This process is happening in the art gallery to frame the act of questioning, the materials of exchange, and the dialogue itself as creative and generative.
- How can visitors participate in the exhibition in Gallery Domžale?
I request that viewers help me answer the question “What must I do to become Slovenian?” by contributing any of the following, during gallery hours throughout the exhibition:
• instructive objects, and
• writing or found text
Additionally, a practical workshop is being offered to the public Tuesday, March 13 5pm-8pm, for all wishing to make traditional Zafu meditation cushions out of used clothing. The cost of the workshop is 5 EUR, but free to anyone who brings used pants (kowbojke ali druge hlace). The materials cost is 25 EUR for natural wool stuffing provided, but people may finish their work at home without buying material.
- What is the main message of the exhibition?
This project is driven by my questions about how culture and language inform and limit our self-awareness, fundamental beliefs, the lives and society we create. These questions are really about human experience and not specifically about Slovenia.
However, for me the possibility of changing affiliation opens exciting and meaningful questions about the nature of identity, and I look forward to hearing more views on this subject from the participants in Domzale.
- What are your plans for the future in the arts? Are you going to continue with similar art projects in Slovenia?
The Becoming Slovenian project will continue on a tour of different Slovenian cities this August. This fall I will begin organizing documentation of these exchanges and my impressions into a book form. The book will combine styles of the travelogue, graphic novel, and exhibition catalogue with documentary photos, all into one form. I hope to fund this project partly through advanced sales of the book, which will be completed in 2013. Information about the tour, and advanced purchase of the book at becomingslovenian.wordpress.com
The Gallery of Domžale organized the following events with Shoshanna Utchenik and her art project “ Becoming Slovenian”:
- Opening of the exhibition will be held on Thursday, 8 March 2012, at 7 pm
- A workshop for adults making traditional zafu cushions for seating, led by the artist, will be on Tuesday, March 13, 2012, from 5 pm to 8pm (participation is free if you bring the material to make cushions - one or more pair of used jeans, otherwise 5 EUR)
- A guided tour through the exhibition with the artist on Thursday, 15 March 2012, at 6 pm
- Workshop for children (with parents) will be on Saturday, 17 March 2012, at 10 am
Katarina Rus Krušelj