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27.06.2012 INTERVIEW

Maria Finn & Vesna Pavlovic på BKS Garage. Courtesy: BKS Garage.

Hidden Narratives

The exhibition Hidden Narratives is a collaboration between the artists Maria Finn and Vesna Pavlović. In the gallery space of BKS Garage images of architectural and historic icons blend kaleidoscopically with private snapshots captured by unknown tourists. The curious images originate from a unique collection of vintage slides that was donated sometime between the 1960’s and 70’s to the Vanderbilt University by one of the institution’s benefactors.

In the exhibition Pavlović and Finn present an array of different works that all challenge photography and its documentary feature. The original slides are presented on projection screens in an installation by Pavlović, but they overlap, distort and fragment eachother, exploring the photograph as both a physical object, an obsolete medium and a document of lived experience. Finn shows a video and a series of Unfinished Drawings that take the slides as their primary motif. Herein the images slowly vanish or morph into abstractions, underlining how memory changes over time.

Vesna Pavlović (Serbia/US) obtained her MFA degree in visual arts from Columbia University in 2007. She is an Assistant Professor of Art at Vanderbilt University where she teaches photography and digital media. She has exhibited widely, including solo shows at the Frist Center for the Visual Arts in Nashville, Museum of History of Yugoslavia in Belgrade, and the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento.

Maria Finn (SE/DK) obtained her MFA in 1997 at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts. She also earned a practised based PhD at The Royal Academy of Fine Arts and The University of Copenhagen in 2010. Recent solo exhibitions include Overgaden - Institute of Contemporary Art in Copenhagen, The Armory Show in New York and Gallery Axel Mörner in Stockholm. She is furthermore the editor of Plum Velvet - Magazine for Visual Reflections.

AF Anja Lindholm

There are several themes roaming within this exhibition, one of them being the friction between photographic documentation and the destortion of personal memory. Could you elaborate on this?
Vesna: The project evolves around a group of vintage slides that I came across when the collections of Vanderbilt University Art Department was digitalised, and they were about to be discarded. They represent somewhat the documentation of an unknown family that travelled the world between the 1960's and 70's. I was interested in looking into that material both as a physical object - the slide as a first level of representation - but also discussing a political position of a family that was able to travel that extensively at that particular time. And to do so through the medium itself. So we've subjected the documentary material both through photographic representation, video and drawing. And also to some extent through sculptural rendition. Through all of these different ways of representing the material, and throughout our collaborative process, I think we've managed to somewhat bend the reality.

Maria: What I find interesting about the slides is, among other things, that they have this generality to them. Although they stem from a personal archive, they still have this quality of generality. We recognize them as any tourist slide. In that sense it's easy to attach to them. When turning them into drawings with vanishing motifs and abstractions, I've tried to add a layer of memory, a layer that emphasizes the process of something fading away from the mind. The same thing is happening within Vesnas installation where layer upon layer of images are allowed to blend into something fragmented and indifferent. Throughout the exhibition we both rework the material, the slides, creating our own personal renditions of it, creating gaps that generate new meanings. We're both very interested in the friction between documentation and fiction.

All of the works presented in the exhibition are in some way or another, as you mention, fragmented. They all present an array of different images but strangely it seems as if the most significant ones, are those either left out, erased or missing. Is this just my interpretation?
Maria: I don't know, if you could say, they are the most important ones. But what is interesting is the whole process, the method of selection. In my case, working with the drawings and the video, it was important to me that the imagery came out as being eclectic. For instance, in the video I've added some drawings that are not represented elsewhere in the show. They come from another project I'm working on. But they have the effect of creating a perculiar kind of absence, a sense of something not completely captured. What happens in our show, on different levels, is that kind of abstraction. In the sequences of stills, whether it's within my drawings or Vesnas installation, there are slight blank gaps - we don't know what happened in between - and this also intrigues the viewer to start creating their own narratives.

Vesna: You mention the idea of what is left out. In a sense, that's what I mean when I say working through the medium. For me it's also the moment where technology is actually stepping in. A certain friction happens when you work with - in my case - an obsolete medium like the slide, a technology that's dissapearing on its own. Sometimes the photographs go in and out of focus, some are left blank, you have to tweek the projectors all the time, and sometimes the slides themselves are effected by the constant exposure to light.

Well, why did you choose to use vintage carousels and projection screens? Why the fascination with analogue apparatus?
Vesna: Because I'm intrigued by its material and its mode of representation. The fact that we become faster travellers and upload images fairly quickly has left the images without a chance of ever becoming objects, and yet here are these slides that are real objects of travel, real physical evidence of travel. From the first time that I worked with slides, I was interested in taking the image, the photograph, and creating with that a sculptural three-dimensional object. Pushing what photograph can do and be.

Your work Search for Landscapes does have a strong sculptural expression, also in comparison to your drawings Maria, that appear more fragile...
Vesna: Yeah, they are very subtle.

Maria: Very subtle. But they also express my interest in the relationship between drawing and photography. What has happened during the century is that while photography has become a very important tool for representation, drawing has taken on a completely new position. It's been happening simultaneously with digitalization. An urge and need for directness in the drawing has come to be. Drawing therefore becomes a process of remembering, of looking at things in a new means. When I add layers of abstraction within these drawings, it's also an attempt to underline the gap between these different kinds of representation. And that's also of course the fragility of the drawing. It's a very intense presence that I emphasize.

It's very interesting how you use these snapshots, this quick registration of something, and transform it into something that is almost meditative. Something with a very different pace.
Maria: Yeah. It becomes richer, more complex maybe, the whole process of remembering.

Vesna: It's almost like the drawings are mapping the photograph and translating it into something else. You sort of take the geography of everywhere and turn it into something very specific. But there is at the same time an obstruction of viewing. Everywhere you go in the exhibition, you don't get the complete image. You get a partial drawing or a blank white slide. You are told a story that's not real but adjusted or appropriated and you see these slides that are overlapping all the time. The images are disappearing here and you have to fill in the spaces in between, within the narrative and within the show.

Lastly, what would you like your audience to take with them from their encounter with your exhibition?
Maria: What I'm trying to do while subtracting something from the work, is to create a space for the viewers where they can put their own experience or their own narrative. Instead of going to contemporary cinama with its very loaded narrations and fast pace, I'd like to create a space where you can get a visual experience simular to when you read a book. You can go back and forth, you can slow down. I'd like to leave a space for somebody to interact with, get into.

Vesna: For me, because this space (BKS Garage, red.) is so specific - a old garage turned into a beautiful and interesting gallery - I'd really like the audience to actually think about how the works relate to the surroundings. Because the architecture of the space effected some of our decisions a great deal. Maybe try and consider each position of where you are in the gallery, each view you take.

Thank you very much.

Maria Finn & Vesna Pavlovic: Hidden Narratives, 2012. Installation view. Foto: BKS Garage. Courtesy: BKS Garage.

Maria Finn & Vesna Pavlovic: Hidden Narratives, 2012. Installation view. Foto: BKS Garage. Courtesy: BKS Garage.

Maria Finn & Vesna Pavlovic: Hidden Narratives, 2012. Installation view. Foto: BKS Garage. Courtesy: BKS Garage.

Maria Finn & Vesna Pavlovic: Hidden Narratives, 2012. Installation view. Foto: BKS Garage. Courtesy: BKS Garage.

Maria Finn & Vesna Pavlovic: Hidden Narratives, 2012. Installation view. Foto: BKS Garage. Courtesy: BKS Garage.

Vesna Pavlovic: Six Color Polaroid Tests, 2007. Foto: BKS Garage. Courtesy: BKS Garage.

Maria Finn: Unfinished #5 - #6, 2012. Foto: BKS Garage. Courtesy: BKS Garage.

Maria Finn: Boxes, 2012. Foto: BKS Garage. Courtesy: BKS Garage.

Vesna Pavlovic: Search for Landscapes, 2011. Foto: BKS Garage. Courtesy: BKS Garage.

Vesna Pavlovic: Search for Landscapes, 2011. Foto: BKS Garage. Courtesy: BKS Garage.

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