whitehot | February 2009, Interview with Nikola Uzunovski
Few weeks ago I was surfing on Exibart.com, the easiest and most immediate Italian online source for contemporary art, and I realized that one of my schoolmate was chosen as the representative artist for Macedonia at the 53rd Venice Biennale. Below the result of an interview, made possible and put together through different Skype sessions.
Eleonora Charans: Nikola, Let's start from the very beginning: your background as an artist, your references and why did you choose this career?
Nikola Uzunovski: First my family background… my parents were involved in the field, but I was interested both in art and science, maybe I chose art cause I thought I’ll have more freedom of choice? The process was interesting… First I studied in Macedonia in an Art and Design high school, which was a nice social realism school, a lot of drawing and just copying what you see. Here I had a little problem, I could not see very well, so had to go to the model, analyze the image, learn it by heart, and go to the drawing and draw it. It was hard to deal with such an amount of information, but later I got used to it, and I could draw anything by heart, and I kind of remembered how things were made.
Then I went to study at the Fine Arts Academy in Naples, there they told me that what I did in Macedonia was not art I had to forget it…Later it was the same situation about the things I studied in the academy…
Out of the academy, living in Naples was the real art school: what you see there on the street, you cannot find even in Hollywood movies. No law is applied there and everything is possible… everyone is just doing whatever falls on his/her mind… It gave me a lot of courage, but it showed me that every freedom has its side effects.
Then I started exhibiting and one thing really amused me: I received a lot of contradictory critiques. Someone liked the work it a lot, someone really disliked it.
I got curious and started studying this phenomenon through the aid of psychology, social sciences…Then I started doing projects in which this subjective and unique way of seeing things, which we all have, is the real artwork. Once I locked the exhibition entrance door and left a post with the message: "What are you waiting for?". So you can do something you like instead watching a show. Or put a cake with a candle so you can imagine the most beautiful thing that you can imagine, wish for it and blow the candle…
EC: Artists you admire most...
NU: Once I was chatting with a friend curator, and for every artist he mentioned I said that I liked it a lot. He asked me if there is an artist which I don’t like, and I told him: yes the ones I haven’t seen yet, and as soon as I see them I’ll like them.I admire everyone and think that everyone has equal importance.
EC: We met in Venice since we were both attending the same University IUAV... that program was amazing adressing both to artists and to crutators: the most important figures of our time teached there. Can you share with us you memories about that?
NU: Yes, it was, amazing!...For me it was a little weird… all the artists I admired, whose exhibitions I had just visited recently or read a book about, were sitting in front of me and I could have long discussion, or even arrive to heavy argue. A year earlier I only thought that I will read about them in books.
But the main difference with other art schools, where you basically have one tutor that kid of guides you, at IUAV you have the full pallet of the contemporary art scene. You can have a very good overview of what is going on in the world, you can be more critical by developing a work which contains all that experience, and you can try to go a step further…
One other interesting aspect for me was that, for example, one of the best representative of the contemporary art scene is criticizing strongly another one, who in the same moment is giving a lecture in the next room.
I did not want to take a position. I just wanted to get a general conclusion of all the different aspects. In the end I had a interesting conclusion…I made my master’s thesis against the school. I wrote a text about the paradox of the art education, that is to say no one can teach you what art is, about the contradiction between the academic and artistic values, that the more critical you are the worse you will pass in the academic system. That was just the intro, I just wanted to piss of the commission who had to judge my work and start judging them in a very subjective way. That was an act; I wanted to piss them off to see how much they will defend their point of view. The angrier they were in defending it, the more value they gave to it. It finished with slamming doors!
EC: And now you are coming back to Venice, involved with a national pavilion. In a way this is the most triumphalist return for an artist, the most important recognizability. Can you describe the project you will present for this occasion? Is it a new or an already developed project?
NU: Yes, being able to represent a whole nation on a cultural level is a very big responsibility. And you try to do it in the best way you can. The project which will be presented in Venice is a part of a longer project which is in development in the last four years and will continue few more years. The project is a research process which aim is to produce a flying objects that reflects sunlight to a specific area and which appear to the viewer which is in that area as the copy of the Sun. It mostly intended for the areas which have a lack of sun like Lapland, where it may work even in the places where is the arctic night and the real sun doesn’t come out. If these are multiplied they can give a image of multiple suns in the sky.
It’s a process that involves participation from the public, moving from the scientific community, astrophysicists, engineers, architects, to embrace whoever wishes to join in the realization of a edge-of-utopian idea called My Sunshine. I started the research on a conceptual level few years ago but in practice it initiated in Trieste, where it received the European Emerging Artist Award, and a research in collaboration with the International Center for Theoretical Physics was made on the feasibility of the project. Later in the residency Pollinaria in Abruzzi, Italy, My Sunshine developed in a further phase, where the first prototype model was realized. This winter a workshop and test session was realized in Rovaniemi in collaboration with the University of Lapland.
In Venice the project will be presented in a mobile laboratory made from modified shipping container and a aerostat with a reflective heliostat incorporated inside which will fly above the lab. The lab will be used in cases like the Venice Biennale or later in other exhibitions for presentation of the process of the project, but in other periods serve as a base for research or tests which have to be done in Lapland or in other places with similar environment.
The aerostat will sometime fly and reflect sunlight near the lab, thus appearing to the viewers who find them self in that area like a copy of the sun, but most of the time it will be on ground to be visible to the public. The lab interior will be divided in two sections, a part as a work in progress research office, and a part as a presentation space where the visualizations of the tests and the renderings of the project will be presented.
Until now the project was produced by the contemporary art institutions and we will try to continue like that using the Biennale contexts to promote the project, looking for institutions that want to support the project in terms of inclusion of different specialists or financing for further research. It will be a work in progress… the pavilion will change… and it will leave you in suspense, to wait to see what will happen next.
EC: It seems that Italy played an important role in My sunshine, both in terms of production and of presentation, from Pollinaria, Trieste and finally back to Venice....
NU: Yes Italy played a big role, the first funding for the project were Italian tax payers money. First the scholarship I got from IUAV University, I used it more for doing the research on this project than study for school. Then the price 'Young European Artist' I received in Trieste which I used to start working with the scientists. Then private money from people who just liked the project, which was the case it the Pollinaria residency.
It is funny that I was knocking on many doors in the Nordic countries but always got the same answer: "It’s nice but expensive, we don’t have that money". People are very rational there. In the southern European countries, like Italy or Macedonia, people are very irrational. They will rather give their money more for utopia, like for making a sun for someone else, than for something rational. And, for example Macedonia is one of the poorest countries in Europe, where salary is 10 times lower than the salary in the Nordic countries, and Macedonians pay for this. But this represents our culture.
Noah Becker: Editor-in-Chief