Interview for Korzo Portal for Urban Culture and Heritage
Natalija Simeonović– From Belgrade, works as a professor at the Belgrade Polytechnic College where she lectures Drawing and Painting courses, has always known that she will be a painter. Behind her are individual and group exhibitions and many more ahead, the nearest solo exhibition in preparation is scheduled for September in Belgrade Bartcelona Concept gallery. Her conquest of art is connected with philosophy, psychology … What is the connection between gender equality with the androgyne …? A special field of her interest represents the work of Milena Pavlović Barili. The last exhibition was at the Požarevac Biennale “In the Light of Milena”, which is also one cause for this Korzo portal interview.
Interview made by: Bojana Karavidic
Photo: Personal archive N.S.
March is the month in which Milena Pavlovic Barili left this world in New York in 1945. You participated at the 16th Biennale “In the Light of Milena”, which was organized by the Gallery with her name in Požarevac. What attracted you to her art, what dialogue did you lead with this outstanding artist?
Natalija Simeonović: I have been a great admirer of her work for a long time, and the invitation to participate in the Biennale arrived at an ideal moment when I was able to dive under the magic of metaphysical plots of her works. I constructed my works using Milena’s favorite symbols, such as clouds, wings, mirrors, ladders, antique sculptures and other, while the dialogue was “led” through the self-portraits. My attention was occupied by Milena’s visions and the atmosphere of ambivalence between the unusual and daily, male and female, here and there, love and loneliness, past and the present … I perceive her paintings as a drama of longing and life ruptures, which takes place within a highly-staged scenery, so I tried to achieve this atmosphere in my work.
By examining the work of Barili, I assume that you have re-examined yourself, the social reality in which you live in, that we all actually live in? What kind of discoveries did you make when it comes to the life of a woman artist today, are there too many sacrifices to be made to achieve ones wishes?
Natalija Simeonović: When creating we inevitably question ourselves and the social reality. While working on the paintings for the Biennial in Požarevac, I thought about the life of the women artists of the first half of the last century and modern times. At that time painting as a call in our community was not “popular”, but it was a privilege of the few. That is why we can appreciate even more our predecessors, who were not only artists, which was a rarity by itself, but also moved the artistic achievements and perceptions at that time. I believe that sacrifice was once an integral part of life, especially for woman artists. Today, it is different and women have the rights and opportunities to strive towards achievements in both professional and private life. This makes our lives, and not just the lives of women, a lot more complex compared to those times. Choices and opportunities have expanded, but not mutual affirmation of different choices and paths, but as we have rather multiplied the number of classification sheets in which we have to permanently “place” ourselves. The painters profession requires dedication and continuity, which is often in conflict with other life roles. This can create great fractures and discontent, but on the other hand that struggle can be a source of strength and will for further creation.
Photo: Sanja Berišić
You say that you use alchemy symbolism. Explain, please.
Natalija Simeonović: I encountered alchemical symbolism by exploring the different visualizations of the archetype of wholeness. Alchemical iconography is a unique coding system for practical experience of experimentation in matter, as well as the complex analytical language of spiritual practice. This iconography that describes the path of the transformation of ordinary metals into gold, or the improvement of man, served many artists as the starting point for various research and artistic experiments. For me it was a platform for the development of my doctoral art project and thesis. The painting and theoretical work were based on Jung’s analytical psychology, which interprets the symbolism of alchemy as a projection of the inner process of self-knowledge, where the images of alchemical operations correspond to the features of the stages of individuation, or the path to wholeness. I considered how the contemporary definition of gender identities correlates with my need for visual reinterpretation and the change in the perception of the archetypal picture of unity. The initial inspiration was an etching that illustrates the unity of oppositions in the form of anthropomorphic figures of the Sun and the Moon (the book “Atalanta Fugiens”, by alchemist Michael Mayer from 1617). By deconstructing the composition of this etching, and then recombining the obtained fragments into new works (A-part-ness exhibition, prim. N. S.), I made a review of the contemporary processes of deconstruction of stereotypical symbolic attributes of the polarity of the “male / female principle”.
In your paintings, you are dealing with the issue of identity and gender. The Androgyne was in the focus of the “Second Two” exhibition, why and in what way?
Natalija Simeonović: The term androgyne (Greek andros – man, gyne – woman, N.S.) denotes a combination of female and male physical characteristics and characteristics in one person, and in alchemy marks the goal of the process and the unification of all opposites. Alchemy, as well as other spiritual traditions, illustrates through the angrogyne figure the notion, or, the idea of the spiritual balance and the final state of immortality. The figure of androgyne was the central motive of “The Other Two” exhibition with the desire to establish a dialogue and challenge reflection on multiple levels. The picture of the androgyne was above all a metaphor for gender equality. The second plane was thinking about the development of consciousness, that is, about individuation as a process that attempts to achieve wholeness, both in personal and social experience. Finally, through the exhibition/ text I considered the current theme of gender as a psychological category, independent of sex identity, which is an important factor in understanding one’s own personality, other people as well as interpersonal relationships. Thus, androgyne as an archetypal image of the self, where the binary of opposite sexes is united and different states of being are sublimated, can be understood as a paradigm of balance and equilibrium in a new social entity.
Which motifs are most common in your images?
Natalija Simeonović: The face has always occupied my artistic attention. Back in my studies, I naturally began with the expression based on psychological portrayal studies, which evolved to a symbolic representation of thought processes and life stages. The hand as a symbol of human presence is an often motive in my paintings. In addition to hands, I also use universal symbols such as: Sun, Moon, clouds, fire, waves or just abstract forms from which I build compositions. The repetition of these motifs in my works has an artistic performance ritualistic character.
In your opus, if I’m not mistaken, are just paintings? If I’m wrong, what media of expression you also find intriguing? What techniques do you use? Multimedia is becoming more common with artists today. New technologies and science entered with major steps within an artwork.
Natalija Simeonović: We live multimedia every day, so I think it’s completely natural that the space of our creative work is not limited to just one medium. Art and science always developed synchronously. The mentioned book “Atalanta Fugiens”, consisting of 50 emblems with accompanying text and scores, is considered one of the first multimedia works, since it has combined visual art, literature and music.
So far, I have mostly exhibited within the framework of classical mediums such as painting and drawing. However, I am working on several multi-media projects that still need to be shown in a formal gallery space. The initial phase of one of these projects “Stencils” – is already visible, so to say, on my site, and the audience will be able to observe there the phases of this long term work, which would include street art (stencils), photography, blog and finally an ambient video work. I hope that I will have the patience and luck to put all this into action. I am extremely pleased to mention that this project, although in an early stage, already has an audience.
Photography attracts me from a very early age. As a child of diplomats, for me many trips were some kind of obligation. First as a note, and then as a connection with memories, the photograph has eventually grown into one of my artistic tools. So far, I made an exhibition of documentary photography at the Museum of African Art in Belgrade, and I’m looking forward to the forthcoming solo exhibition in the gallery dedicated to exhibiting artistic photography.
Many artists with whom I have spoken do not want to impose upon the an observer how to “read” their artt, but prefer to leave him to freely reflect and be an active subject in the gallery. How do you imagine an ideal observer of your art?
Natalija Simeonović: I consider that the explanation of ones work is just another option offered to the observer. Artist or curatorial talks are also an integral part of many exhibitions today, and in my experience they encouraged reactions and more active participation of visitors in the exhibition. The ideal observers of my art are the ones who are touched by it and motivated for interaction. In such encounters, people have contributed more meaning to my exhibitions with their analyzes, observations and impressions. I was particularly pleased when they were not artists, since I was afraid that my exhibitions would be too hermetic for people outside the art profession. On the other hand, the “audience crisis” of fine arts and culture in general is the problem we have been facing for years in our country. The civil art has always been a reflection of the political state and consciousness, so this problem of our “small society” is very complex and it is difficult to express it in several sentences.
How are the creative / artistic preparations proceeding for your new exhibition “Face – Once Mine” that will take place in the Bartcelona concept gallery? What will expect the eye of the observer?
Natalija Simeonović: The base of the work is a longtime intimate photo-diary of self-portraits used for memorizing important days, moments and conditions. The first work of this series was created spontaneously, while organizing some folders, through play and combining forgotten photos and collages with an fire motive. This self-portrait symbolically represented the full stop of one phase of my life and working mode, and at the same time started a new one. Every piece is an interweaving of photography and collage, digital and analogous procedures. The experiments are performed without a predetermined plan, and they have a strong psychological trajectory, they record the times, that is, the states through which I pass through during the transition from one to the next life cycle. Although in the form of the omnipresent selfie that can be taken as a paradigm of weakness and aimlessness expressed in the hyper production of “ourselves”, these portraits follow a different thread, revealing the depths of my own frailty and anxieties, so that we can all reflect in them. Some of the works of the “Face – Once Mine ” series have already been successfully exhibited in the country and abroad, while I’m keeping the rest to be shown for the first time in September at the Bartcelona Concept gallery in Belgrade.