• Balkan Art Scene

Matei Osenk - Neoplatonic Beliefs and Existential Contemplations Are Legitimate and Justified

Matei Osenk-Saller (b. 1995) is a visual artist and an illustrator currently residing in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. He graduated at the Academy of Fine Arts in Sarajevo, earning his BA degree in 2018 and currently studies MA degree in 2021 at the Department for Printmaking.

As a starting point of our chat, please share some information on your educational process, and your choices within them.

Education on the Academy of Fine Arts was important as it was the first time I was introduced to the printmaking techniques. My affinity towards the pen and ink drawings, etchings and woodcuts was always present, I just was not sure how to actually create in that manner before starting my studies. Wanting to be an illustrator, my intial idea was to study graphic design, but I applied for printmaking because I thought there is more traditional drawing involved. The great thing that came out of my education is finding myself drawing daily, the act became very natural to me. I developed discipline and patience I never had before. My interest in aesthetic theory and methods of interpreting art occured in the final year of pregraduate studies and that was the main aspect of my work for a long time. After graduating, I enroll for my MA degree at the deparment of graphic design which helped me think from outside perspectiv. There was one specific subject dealing with design as a cultural and sociological phenomenon, which was of great importance for my later contemplations on art. Last year I enrolled at the deparment of printmaking to finalize my research regarding the print series I have been working on for the past two years.

Harm Me Not

By the end of 2021, you had an exhibition, and performed as a speaker. Could you tell us more about these experience, and your next plans? Last month I had my first solo exhibition, and the audience had the opportunity for the first time to face much of my work. This is a cycle I am currently working on, entitled Body for the Revelation Day, and one of its phases, created in 2021, was presented at the exhibition. My original intention was to share my knowledge, and for me every exhibition has the purpose of encouraging conversation and contemplation, more than just presenting an aesthetic object. Regarding the lecture I gave, it is a short lecture in PechaKucha format, where my intention was to present the ideas of the belief system that sustains my work, rather than talk about the content of my work. The ideas I tried to present are about language and ritual, a kind of allegorical or sympathetic action in which the genesis of any creative discipline. I do not like to limit my work in the technical domain, to emphasize my identity on what I do, in the form of vocation; and for that reason I spoke about abstract ideas, with the intention that a person who thinks about them can more easily connect them with their work and experience. Humans communicate through well-developed system of sounds which we call ‘words’.

Body for the Revelation Day XV, paper 30x30 cm, plate 25x17 cm 2021.

Body for the Revelation Day XIII, paper 30x30 cm, plate 25x17 cm 2021.

Body for the Revelation Day VI, paper 30x30 cm, plate 25x17 cm 2021.

As a part of your work, you develop visual systems to explain the oddness of word systems which we as humans use. How did you come to this idea?

Personal research and analysis of this phenomenon is based on various topics and I have tendency to complicate things more than neccesary. I will try to give the concise answer and cover what I think is the most important, therefore, describing my experience chronologically would be the best way to somehow explain this idea. My interest in mythology, religion and history dates from an early childhood. The fascination was not coming from the historical fact, even though, for some time I thought it did. It came from an affinity towards the images of mythical thinking - I felt some primordial part of me awaken while contemplating a mythological story or a greek deity as a six-year-old. It was a starting point which led me to more complex questions regarding my later faith and things hidden inbetween the lines. For what I know could be described with the term occult, was the main logic of my childish perception of the world. I had a weird imagination and weird logic, which I came to eagerly embrace in the past few years. I was interested in thaumaturgy, magic in general, mysticism and wisdom which follows it. I was always making up preparation rituals inside my mind and invoking some kind of imaginary entities all while trying to justify it with some common sense. It was a relief when I found out many people actually do this in their own specific ways and it is a sign of strong imagination which relates to the intellect. While growing up, being immersed into the different kind of conventions, I suppressed these thoughts and dismissed my transcedental “abilities” as something absurd. The interest still persisted, hidden in the shape of music and poetry, which I was actively into for a few years, now more or less. What I was seeking in the music and poetry was more of a technical form that could relate to me, the perfect mirror, the song of my soul - I have always liked that phrase. Since I was not much of a musician and disliked the practice aspect of it, I tried to complete my experience with visuals to accompany the song. That was my first step into the field of visual arts, which later I decided to dedicate most of my time to. As I was mostly interested in illustration, as in editorial illustration, making pictures describing something and making a living from it - I tried to perfect my technical and thinking skills towards the field of applied arts. The reason I studied at the deparment for printmaking and not at the department for graphic design (which is more related to the applied arts, obviously) was because back then I thought printmaking had more drawing in traditional sense involved and I wanted to draw good for the sake of it. Reason why I am mentioning this is regarding the initial question is because I made a full circle of rethinking my purpose as a visual artist and then found it in something kind of unrelated. All of my experience made a perfect sense when I discovered C.G. Jung’s writings on psychology and alchemy, J. Baudrillard’s theory on simulacra and simulation and E. Cassirer’s philosophy of symbolic forms – all of my somehow neoplatonic beliefs, childish imagery and existential contemplations were now legitimate and justified. So the idea of using words as images and images as words - giving phenomena names and naming the shapes has purpose of controling or changing these phenomena in the sphere of our inner experience. The great example can be found in archaic societies such as native tribes, where major deity, the idol which protects the tribe, has a secret name – name is kept a secret to not be used by an enemy tribe, as they could preform a ritual to grant loss of power of the guardian deity, losing that protection would mean certain defeat in a war of the tribes. This may sound absurd, but there is certain kind of aura in words and images, especially images representing people and identities. It can be best described through the principles of sympathetic magic and the logic behind some superstitious beliefs. I just happen to use visual arts to learn and understand more about those ideas, create s certain distance between dimensions of my thought and evaluate my experience, my body of knowledge and memory of it, maybe manipulate it in some way.

Waxing Moon

When artist creates its art, there are multiple levels to the inner processes, versus the final outcome. How do these processes come to you, and do they change your nature while transforming? I do consider that every person has some kind of artistic output, but that is according to my definition of what art is and will try not to get all philosophical about it right now, as it is not really related to the question. This inner process you mention is very natural to every human, regardless of their vocation and work they do – things we do and interact with will shape us in some way, my choice was to be shaped by this specific manner of making images and will use it as an example to explain some ideas. Similar to the principles of ritual and magic I have talked about in the previous question, the wholeness of our psyche is always projected onto our enviroment, we can not disconnect from it no matter how mindful we become. While transforming some hypothetical object through artistic process, let’s consider it a projection of some part our psyche. We do not only intervene with surrounding nature, but with our psychological state. I like allegories and the idea of making images as a means of controlling psychological processess, or at least understanding them better. Image-maker is as omnipotent as he is experienced in the realm of images. This concept of projections is very characteristic for rituals – they are designed sequences of actions with intention of simulating the transformative experience. Rituals are mimetic, the genesis of artistic disciplines may actually be in archaic rituals and early practice of magic. This assumption indicates early artistic tendency to invoke or change the laws of nature. I find this process of thought very relatable to my work, as I am trying something similar in a more sophisticated and complex sense of today’s worldview.

Hunters Shall be Hunted

How do you choose what the symbol in your work suggests, if the human unconscious choosing and variable of symbolism is the focus of your work? The choice is made through free associations, precisely - intuition. There is no specific method to follow in defining meaning of my narrative, I don’t even believe it has to be defined by me to have meaning for someone else and that is why I avoid explaining my images. Being aware of my own tendencies is what gives the actual meaning to an artwork at the time, but these change over time. Every creative process consists of very different intentions, some are known to me, some are not - in the end everything I create has implications of my experience and the way I want to interpret it is probably the right way at that given moment. More of Matei's work, check out here.

Author: Hana Tiro