Đenita Kuštrić —Social Activism in „Artistic Practices“ Is Often the 21st Century L’Art Pour L’Art
Having a rich portfolio in visual arts must've meant a long journey. When was the starting point?
I was born on the hottest day of the year 1986, with burning 43 degrees in Mostar, and I've been trying to feel alive ever since, against all odds.
Did everything go as planned at the beginning?
I never really planned any of this. Initially, I just followed my daily need for doing specific things, so naturally some accomplishments came along. Retrospectively, I always see some intentive logic in my actions. To give you an example - as a child, I used to make copies of paintings, I still have one of a Paul Klee's painting. I had no rational reason to do that, I didn't know who these painters were was back then, I just copied their works from some random book – I believe you are simply drawn to it. I've actually remembered this only recently. And in present I teach copistics at the Academy of Fine Arts in Sarajevo as a part of learning about the history of painting. Of course, I didn't invent this method, but isn't it strange?
Would you mark any art collaborations which made an influence in your career choices?
Sure. It was highly formative for me to had met artist and my professor Mirsad Begović before I was consciously sure of my career choice. He has been enlighting me all the way, at least his lectures and his work ethics have always felt very assuring to me. He has succeded to prove me that there IS a light that never goes out. That has always kept me going, something very spiritual about it. I still believe that in our post-knowledge era, where you can find any fact online in a second, the most important thing is to electrify students. I appreciate my education very much, I am probably the last generation who had the older artists and theorists from Bosnia and Herzegovina as my professors - people who had dedicated their lives to art. They had no mercy for excuses but they were full of spirit and creative support. Painting technologist late Metka Kraigher-Hozo and her late husband artist Dževad Hozo were somehow interested in me from day one, so this relationship also guided me. I did a research and wrote a book called Synthetic Technologicality in Contemporary Art (published in a second edition by the Academy just this December) and the book is kind of a sequel of Metka's book Painting Methods and Materials from 2006. She believed in the importance of this research very much and wrote only one review in her life – for this book.
Are your creations aiming for social activism, or does your preference go more towards l'art pour l'art?
I should clarify that besides my writings and projects about technology, I make my own works of art. I believe it's coming to one, eventually. My work is not about social activism directly, but giving the fact that my book changed the Academy's curriculum and that I formed two new subjects about contemporary art in three departments based on this book, I think this is what social activism really is in practise. Anyway, I think that social activism in so-called „artistic practices“ often is the 21st century l'art pour l'art. I mean, it has become an artistic subject like any other and it a priori doesn't mean it goes further than aiming certain shows and some narrow circle of art-related people, hardly having any of the true activist components. Ai Weiwei said something beautiful about the oppressive government in China in his dialogue with Anish Kapoor the other day for Al Jazeera's Studio B - „When the ceiling is too low, you can not stand up. If you really want to act, you have to crawl. If you wanna jump, if you wanna fly, that might sacrifice your life.“ Personally, I highly respect that. But if you keep showing the ways people crawl in your practices, or any hypothetical outcomes, it's also l'art pour l'art of our time. I just think there are many categories of social activism in art and activism in 2021 and it's very important to think critically about it. I think there is a bunch of pitiful hypocrisy there. Everybody seems super-concerned and call their expression art, there's so much false saving the world for self-promotion with very poor artistic credo! So personally, I may be a whistler from time to time, but I always hope my work is subtle, open and profound and that it will have long-term followers rather than it should function as a wake-up alarm.
Currently you're holding a position as an Assistant Professor at the Academy of Fine Arts in Sarajevo. Did the position of a teacher change your personal perception on gaining knowledge?
It actually didn't. But the thing is that young people have less and less patience for their personal background development, for investing in certain silent strength of knowledge, skills etc that eventually structure the work. They are very driven on hype, on instant results, on the wow-effect, and that is extremely bad for an artist. This is new because we didn't have Instagram when I studied, hardly Facebook. I hope that our Academy curriculum will organize professional subjects about this in the future - basically about coping with media culture. The fear of missing out is very dangerous, very imposing! I see it gets in the way of being on the ground and hard working.
Academic work is often focused on research and papers. Is there a subject you most gladly work on?
My work is mostly based on a trans-historical method; I enjoy putting things together, scroll through timelines and find some strange connections between points. I think that is the beauty of life - some kind of magical integrity of realities. See, we have so many „on this day“ personal memories just on our social media profiles that in 20 years of activity you might understand that we live in, what I call, a flashback culture. My joke about it is that it's history finding its way to repeat itself, but it actually isn't naive.
Follow Đenita's work on her Instagram account.
Author: Hana Tiro