Darija Fotak’s work combines simple shapes and characters, while on the other hand provides motifs from the surreal world. While these days, such approach might not be anything new under the sun – and many do show similar approach in providing collage art, mixing childish illustration, colourful shapes and photo cut-outs, all of which are now generally accepted under the term of “hipsterism”, Darija’s work displays a unique, personal view. In terms of collage and illustration, the characters are sharp, giving the impression of “explosion”, with tiny details captured in their cut-up freeze-frame momentum. In terms of surreal landscape, it might be of matters emotional – longing for free expression within art-context. According to some of her own saying, words like endurance, perseverance and persistence mean nothing particular.
Improvisation is affected by superficiality, neglecting the knowledge and remembrance – all of which serves a purpose in the wake of glorifying the moment. In questioning the bandwidth of limits, as well as the activity of what she calls “asymmetric pairs”, the distortion of meaning and value, the right meaning of what is “the object” and “the subject” – Darija shows no intention of creating a new, imagined or utopian reality, nor she establishes views of existence: she tries delivering a relationship between the idea, the action and the emotion, where various operating models intertwine, all within reality that already reflects through a system of signs and symbols, that serve a purpose of this rather personal questioning.
Influenced by the film work of Kaneto Shindo, Toni Scott and Michelangelo Antonioni, Darija explores various motifs: mysticism, chill, eroticism, voyage and adventure – all this in order to express themes of disappearing, hidden desires, fear of change… She also mentions sado-masochism – pointing out this being one of the most intriguing, and popular subjects in the context of human pleasure: De Sade, Boccaccio, The Kama Sutra, David Lynch and Dita Von Teese all appear in this cocktail of expressing graphic desire.
SD: Someone once said that art has no alternative – in your opinion, how spent are the classical and alternative worlds? Is there an unexplored space between them, where something new can be said, without sounding like something already thought of or seen? DF: I’ll start from the fact that it’s very hard for today’s artists to be original and innovative, but I still believe there are, at least partially, unexplored forms of expression, in the sense of combining the artistic with some other form of human activity, i.e. science, new technology/communication forms, or so-called socially engaged arts. By that, I mean „relational art“, which has been present under this name since the 90s, and is “a set of artistic practices” which take as their theoretical and practical point of departure the whole of human relations and their social context, rather than an independent and private space. Only in this regard we can observe the key problem – what sorts of relations does contemporary art produce, for whom, and what for?
SD: In your opinion, how much can something called “conceptual art” stay free of media-related pomp, to which some art critics and theorists often give a larger-than-life value? DF: I would dare say that what is called “conceptual art” is simply a form of trend, but on the other hand, in these past few years, we are aware of the revival of drawings and paintings which are given their well-deserved credit exactly because of the overabundance of “conceptual art”. Yes, the media today does have a great part in giving importance to an art piece or to an individual artist. It’s interesting to note how shifted the relations are under the art system, where an artist would create, a custodian or a critic would choose, expose, speak of, and the viewer would observe and contemplate. There is an erasing of borders regarding these roles, between two of these three functions – namely, the artist and the custodian. The new media replaced the custodians almost completely, and critics as well – their role (previously carried out by writing about current cultural events) in “representing” an individual artist and his/her work decreased significantly.
SD: Your work is an interesting blend of comics, collage and surrealism. You find your inspiration in movie, literature and media icons. What’s the situation with your role models from the art world? Is there an ultimate leitmotif when it comes to combining these three, seemingly incompatible worlds? DF: I like how you characterised my creative work. Yes, it is somewhat based on comics and surrealism, and I do find my inspiration within the icons of cinema and literature, even though they are merely intermediaries. What stirs my calling is the essence of the story itself, the plot, the narration, sometimes only a part of it, or the direction in which it might develop. As far as my role models from the art world go, I would begin with mentioning painters and illustrators in the field of child art, which surrounds and astounds me, namely Horace Pippin, David Hockney, Andrzej Klimowski, Hannah Hoch, Kiki Smith, Zlatko Keser… there’s more, but I can’t remember them at the moment. I’m not sure that I can point out, as you say, the ultimate leitmotif for all three worlds, but there certainly is one, I’ll leave it to the observer to discover it.
SD: You teach Art at an elementary school. Within the confines of a teacher’s work, are the new generations interested in art? How big is your freedom as a teacher when it comes to making ideas closer to the young ones? DF: I teach and I love my job. Art, as a subject in elementary school, has changed a lot in the last two decades, in order to develop along the increasing growth of new technology, and with emphasis to the importance of understanding visual communication. Of course, there is a set curriculum and guidelines which the teacher should respect – I’ll be honest and admit that the freedom of the teacher is mostly defined by the principal of the school, and I’m happy to say I have a lot. The most important thing is to try and find a way to keep the children interested and introduce them to the world of art, creative work, and culture in general, and in turn, release the best in them. This isn’t an easy job, it takes a lot of responsibility and effort, but it is completely worth it at the end, as there is no greater pleasure than to see how a child progresses, their elation after they complete a task and get deserved praise. The new generation is pretty interested, but still, the teacher/the pedagogue has the leading role here – it’s up to him/her to make this subject even more magical and erase all its boundaries.
SD: To what extent does your work reflect sensitivity, and how much is it based on provocation? DF: When reading various reviews of artworks, I often come across a certain role of today’s artist as an agent provocateur. This dose of provocation is as old as art itself, they go hand in hand. I think it’s omnipresent today, although sometimes latent. I don’t know whether it’s because of the times we live in and the complete decadence taking hold, or because of the contemporary fashion of irony towards everything. You noticed well, in my work there is sensibility along with provocation, but not because I might want to twist their values, but because I like to explore where these two elements can meet or part, when we, through interpersonal relationships, stray from established and conventional norms in order to prove that there is always an alternative to everything.
SD: What is your greatest frustration regarding artistic activity? DF: I am a person who doesn’t like a single aspect of laws, boundaries and norms. And in order to make your way through the art world, one has to submit to certain established ways. Even though all this is a challenge, at the same time, for me it’s a sort of barrier – because, at the end of the day, what is the artist of today? What is their role? Are they really needed in modern society? I am frustrated by my own self-criticism; I am incredibly harsh to myself, so I am never completely pleased with whatever art I make. Discrepancy as well, I start a lot of stuff which never gets finished.
SD: You’ve mentioned the topic of sadomasochism among your interests – when you explore it, does it create curiosity or aversion within you, and why? DF: Sadomasochism – curiosity or aversion? Both. It’s an attractive subject which has always been interesting throughout history. It’s in human nature. As long as a form of sadism or masochism is being used within the boundaries of private space, or in literary or cinematic art, it can be beautiful, but when it turns into a subject or topic of public “forcing”, i.e. in the domain of performance art, then it often crosses the line of beauty and becomes a thing of what I would call aversion.
SD: It appears that many seek inspiration in some darker side of life… Does the negative and the dark offer a more concrete insight into something positive, or is this popular “darkness” often a thing of pretence? Why does it turn out that lighter subjects are often associated with pathos or kitsch? DF: This, what you call a darker side of life or the subconscious is always an infinite and unexplored area, interesting enough to dig through. Just look at today’s tabloids, so-called temples where the people feed. It’s as if everybody craves sensational topics, they read about the dark side and celebrity scandals, in order to comfort themselves and say “Serves them right, see, they’re not much of a role model, are they?” It’s so sad. I don’t know, this dark side is always interesting, I suppose it’s because we always wear masks, hiding or repressing this side of ourselves. The positive and the negative can hardly exist without each other. I don’t know if the “dark” style is a thing of pretence or not, but I could agree that some use it as one. I don’t agree with the statement that lighter subjects are necessarily related to or identify with sentimentality, pathos and kitsch. It’s just that the latter get related with sensationalism quite easily.
SD: Where do you think is the line between pretentiousness and honesty in artistic expression? DF: Tough question. It’s individual, although I think that for good art one needs a bit of both. Not necessarily, but an artwork should be honest. Andrej Tarkovski once said “Whenever an artist somehow dissolves himself in a work of art, and after it disappears without a trace, then this is incredible poetry.” One must have courage, and act honestly in artistic expression, and this is where we reach this flowing through into pretentiousness, and I think that, sadly, today there are very few pieces which radiate honesty and a sort of purity, if you know what I mean. It’s the other ones which there are too much of! When an art piece is good, this honesty immediately rushes forth from it, it touches us.
SD: We keep sinking deeper in the age where mass-consumerism has almost completely erased the social perception of the artistic and the commercial. Can an individual artist offer an idea of social change in this day and age? DF: I agree. I think the artist still has the role of an initiator of social changes, but in a slightly different form, I’d say a little more passive, he/she is there to point out, inspire, awake critical thinking in the observer, instead of acting in revolt.
SD: When someone says their work speaks for itself, to what extent is it an empty phrase of excuse, and how much an encouragement for the observer to think? DF: It depends on what type of artwork it is. Sometimes, artworks are able to exist and speak for themselves – let us not forget the famous saying “a picture says a thousand words”. This call of the author is at the same time a provocation directed towards the observer not to be passive, but to become an active participant in discovering different sets of visual cognition. In the end, it is important that an artwork acts retroactively and carries an idea, otherwise it has no meaning.
Interview conducted: 0.5
Proofreading/translation: Goran Gregor