by Zumral Gokcen Demirci
Contemporary Art @ Boğaziçi – Interview Project, 2011
Tomislav Brajnović lives and creates in Croatia; he has also done some works in London during his MA degree studies. He defines his work as: “Recognition and reaction to the context, location of the neuralgic points, the use of the local visual, symbolic and other ‘language’, exploration of the art scene and it’s critical frame are the main determinants of my artistic activity. In the same time it’s a search for a human dimension and ‘spiritual gravity’, natural speed of life and balance between the human, the nature and God.”
His works include slide-projections, video-projections, installations, etc.
You should check his website to see his amazing works: https://brajnovic.com/
Z.G.D: First of all, I want to ask about your family. Since they were all artists, how did they affect you? Was that situation a pressure on you? Did you feel like you “must” be an artist just like them?
T.B: I was born in a family where my father, mother, grandfather and his brother were artists. In my mother’s family, it was a tradition but my father made a great effort in order to leave a small, rural environment in Istria and become an artist.
In the late sixties and early seventies we moved to Italy and later France searching for a better living. It was a tough task to survive as artists having three children at that time (two sisters, me and later a brother that was born in 1972).
Although we were often on the edge of survival, without money, all of us (2 brothers and 2 sisters) became artists. There was no pressure that we become artists, but for us it was a logical and the only possible choice. We were immersed in that environment; we were breathing that air…
Z.G.D: You say “Buddhas of Bamiyan, Pregate per la pace and Wooden Angel form a video trilogy (2003 – 2005) that is most characteristic for my work and my position as an artist.” Why do you consider them as a trilogy? ‘In Allah/God We Trust’ is an interesting work. If it was formed as a video, would you think it as the fourth? And religion(s) has/have an important spot in your works. Why is it so?
T.B: I consider them a trilogy because they were made with the same strategy and almost in the same period of time (although they were made in a two year span). The idea is that the spiritual value is the most important aspect of things and that all other values such as historical, archeological, material, artistic or any other value, depend on it. That means: if something is wrong and in collision with universal (God’s) laws, it has no value and the destruction of it is not a loss, but a gain and new value. It is a fight for truth and redefinition of notions that changed their meaning during the history. All these three works have a destructive appearance – the destruction of images from an old Bible in Buddhas of Bamiyan, burning of an old wooden angel’s head in Wooden Angel and the destruction of a plate in Pregate per la pace. In that sense they form a trilogy, but each of them could stand by itself.
The work In Allah/God We Trust is a parody on the American motto In God We Trust, because they are forced to understand that they cannot appropriate God and that another notion-name penetrated into their system (Allah).
My works are not defined by media. Video is used only as documentation of certain processes or performances. The media is subordinated to the content.
Most of my works derive from a religious position or to be more precise and avoid the word ‘religion’, from a belief that there is a Creator of all things and that there is a ‘spiritual gravity’, an optimal way of behaving according to Creator’s perfect laws. I am not a member of any religious group, although I was born as a Catholic and was Jehovah Witness for 15 years. My father is widely known as very specific in that ‘religious’ sense and I certainly share some of his views. We do not believe that we become believers or part of a religion by birth, but by choice and understanding. It is a tough fight because it is very difficult to express pure ideas in a world that has contaminated all notions during the history.
Love, God, Truth, Good, Human, Nature, all these notions carry a huge quantity of connotations, misunderstandings, misuses, interpretations, etc. How to express, for example, the knowledge that the church has nothing to do at all with God?
Z.G.D: ‘Gold’ put a smile on my face. It’s so simple and the text or poem -whichever you want to call- under it means a lot… Where did you get the idea for it?
T.B: Gold and In Allah/God We Trust were made during my MA study in London. I perceived England as the last world power described in the Bible (Anglo-America) and as such very important to deal with and to deconstruct some of its ideas. I made a small research and found mottos where the word God was used. Of course, it was used in order to accentuate the power of the King (Queen), the Empire and give it the Divine importance. By adding one letter to God, I made subversion in those mottos and exposed the real nature of the Empire, his interest in Gold not God.
Z.G.D: Some artists want to give a hidden message to the viewers and some just don’t. How do you feel about the audience? Do you think or worry about the audience when you create your artwork?
T.B: The audience is a very important factor in the understanding of the work. The artist takes into account the ‘presumed’ knowledge of the public. It is not good to underestimate the public. Metaphors, parabolas, symbols, rebuses are legitimate methods of achieving a deep understanding of the work by the public. Of course there are some hidden messages; the public has to make an effort to understand. I think that an artist must have the most demanding public in his/her mind, even if such a public doesn’t exist. The artist is often in front of the public, he/she gives form to ideas that are in the air but not yet expressed.
Z.G.D: How did the people in the street react when they see you dressed up like in the old British movies in ‘Walk Through London’?
T.B: First of all, I must admit that I needed quite a lot of courage to get dressed as a gentleman and get out in the center of London, but I was aware that it was an opportunity to realize that idea. Now or never.
The funny thing is that many people reacted very normally; almost not noticing me, as if my way of dressing was a common one. I think that many people are excluded from reality, they are in their own thoughts or they are used to see such eccentric way of dressing every day. Young people noticed me and few of them reacted with laugh and teasing. I was thrown out from Burlington Arcade because of the camera that was behind me documenting the performance. I even think that I was followed by an undercover police agent…
Z.G.D: What about Mladen Stilinovic? Did he comment on your gesture?
T.B: There is a very-well known sentence by Stilinovic that says “An Artist who does not speak English is not an Artist”. After the Walk I did in London, I published an article on a Croatian website that I named “An Artist who doesn’t pretend to be Englishmen is not an Artist”. Of course, it was a paraphrase of his known idea. I know Stilinovic, he is a great artist, but we never talked about those works.
Z.G.D: ‘Srpsko-Hrvatski’ is another work that affected me a lot. I know a little Serbian and I took some help from my friends from Serbia and Croatia and I also heard that The Croatian Government is trying to change the common words and the language. What do you think about this?
T.B: The video was based on an old school gramophone record (78 rpm) for learning of the Serbo-Croatian language. Serbo-Croatian is a coined term, an attempt to define a “common” language of the two people’s intended to overcome their linguistic as well as ethnic differences and conflicts. We used to learn the language and its grammar under that blanket term, it formed our particularity and it marked an entire historical period. In today’s context, after the most recent turmoil in the region, the term and the “sound” of those old records acquire an entirely different connotation, and the mental images they produce are pregnant with emotions and memories.
The difference between Croatian and Serbian language is in the writing (when the Serbs use Cyrillic letter), pronunciation and writing of some words. There were also words imported into Croatian from Serbian and the government tried to “purify” the language by excluding those words and by searching for “authentic” Croatian words. That praxis was much stronger in the nineties. I think that it is impossible to force nations to live together by imposing language, laws, habits, ideas…The only solution for Croatia, Serbia and the whole world is to exclude nations and nationalisms, religions, political fight for power, greed, selfishness, etc. The rule of the Kingdom of God is the only solution.
Z.G.D: Some artists – for example Warhol or Koons – say that there is no hidden meaning behind the surface. What is hidden behind the structure and line of your art?
T.B: Nowadays, if you mention God and you openly deal with spirituality as an artist, you are perceived as someone who is old fashioned, narrow-minded and who doesn’t understand the transgressive contemporarity. I agree that works that deal with spirituality may be banal, one-sided and kitsch (although that can happen with all other subjects). That’s why my works tend to be more hermetical, to deal with some subjects laterally. It is often subversion in the system, a slight change of meaning(s), a dislocation or a change of material. I prefer to implicate than to explicate, such a strategy has more impact on the public because it requires their active intellectual effort.
Z.G.D: Can we say that your works have political aspects? What do you think about the relationship between art & politics?
T.B: I think that all is connected: art, religion, politics, science, nature… We cannot talk about separate fields. Art is not a non-responsible game without rules. It is not an escape area, separated from reality. Art is immersed in this time and space and it is not art if it doesn’t reflect it somehow. In that sense my works have a very strong political aspect but it is not a fight for power or fight in the name of some political ideology. It is not activism, because I do not believe in partial solutions. It is an expression of the awareness that there is no political solution for problems that require a radical change of mind.
Z.G.D: And here is my last question which will sound classic a bit but what is the role of the artist in society? Do you think that your work is easily understandable by an average person?
T.B: First of all, the artist is responsible to himself, his conscience and God. One of his missions is to seek for the truth and to speak about it.
The artist as a person should be an ethical vertical, because I believe in ethics before aesthetics.
I think that my work is understandable to all that follow the development of art and are ready to explore more deeply its meanings.
Z.G.D: Thanks a lot for your time Tomislav =)
Pozdrav iz Istambula!
T.B: Thanks for the interview.