Jelena, in times of social distancing we can use our imagination to put ourselves in an authentic situation, as if we were in an on-site interview. Please describe: where would we speak together? In the studio, which is situated in the industrial port of Belgrade. The studio occupies a part of a big concrete warehouse, quite tidy, with about five large scale paintings currently in the process of making, and several smaller works. Maybe we are sitting at your favorite place. At my large working desk, which I designed with painting and drawing purposes in mind.
Jelena Bulajic, Studio March 2019, Courtesy the artist and Carlier | Gebauer
Where do you come from, where were you born when? I was born in Vrbas in Serbia (at the time of my birth it was Yugoslavia), in 1990. How and where do you currently live and work? I live and work in Belgrade, Serbia. Which stations and people have shaped you? I was lucky to have been raised by wonderful grandparents, and also lucky to have had a couple of great teachers throughout my life, from my drawing teacher when I was still a child, to my mentor, sculptor Tony Carter, when I did my MA in London. Which authors and books can be found on your bookshelf? Which books have influenced or shaped you? On my bookshelves there are a lot of architecture related books, some of my favourites referencing the work of Peter Zumthor. There is also plenty of philosophy, fiction, art history, artist’s monographs.. What are you currently reading? Currently I am reading “On Obliteration” by Emmanuel Levinas, and a couple of books on the Eiheiji monastery in Japan and the Soto school of Buddhism. Also, there is always one of Murakami’s books ready at hand.. What music do you listen to and when? Lately J.S.Bach’s cello suites, mostly when I am driving, while when painting, I sometimes listen to collaborations of Alva Noto and Ryuichi Sakamoto. If you would cook something for us, what would it be? What do you like to eat most and what do you think about breakfast? I couldn’t cook to save my life! I am the worst cook I know unfortunately, so I wouldn’t risk cooking something for us. I love eating “pure” ingredients, by which I mean simple food that is not processed too much, but just so that it is edible and the flavour of the ingredient is brought to a greater presence. Breakfast I consider the most important meal of the day, but I sometimes combine it with lunch – I am one of those weird people who do not mind eating cooked food as their first meal of the day. What kind of sport or counterbalance do you practice? Hopefully I will not sound too pretentious – I am a triathlete in the making, so swimming, running and cycling. Do you have special passions (hobbies) for which you are burning, and if so, which ones? Gardening. Do you have a concern that you would like to share with us, or a personality trait that defines you, special thoughts, a fetish, typical idiosyncrasies? Nothing really..
Portrait Jelena Bulajic
To begin, please tell us your artistic vita in a few sentences. I received my BA from the Academy of Arts at the University of Novi Sad, Serbia, and my MA from City and Guilds of London Art School in London, UK. The work I have been making for the past ten years has been done mainly in the media of painting and drawing, and has had a photograph as its source material.
Two sentences about your current project / the upcoming exhibition at Gallery Weekend. The exhibition will comprise of the works in which I am referencing other artist’s works, from historic (Zurbaran and Bernini), to contemporary (Wolfgang Tillmans). The works vary greatly in scale, and I am very excited to see them together in a single space.
What are you most concerned about at the moment; what is on your mind? This virus has brought about plenty of different concerns, but a few weeks before Berlin show, I am very curious to see how will a painting of almost 4x7m accommodate itself in an environment that is not my studio..
How did you come to art? Why art? I must say that going to an art school was not an option in the household where I grew up. But when I was 17 years old, a teacher asked me why am I thinking of going into science, why not art when I like to draw so much, and I remember it was a kind of flame that erupted inside of me, just considering the possibility seemed to have brought it about. So I made my declaration at home, and after the initial shock, my parents were very supportive of my decision, so that is how it all started for me.
Studio shot, August 2020. Courtesy of the artist and carlier | gebauer
What makes you happy at the moment? What is currently scaring you? Thinking of an art-related source of happiness, when a layer within a painting “works”, I feel quite elated. As for fears, nothing comes to mind at this moment.
Do you believe that art has a social responsibility? And what do you think it can do? I think it can have a social impact through heightening our collective awareness.
What makes your art special? What are the central themes of your work? I am powerfully drawn to certain surfaces, whether those of skin or liquid or other works of art, and perhaps there is a thread that brings these intuitive pulls together.
How do you protect yourself from too much inspiration these days? I think I prioritise, focusing only on that about which I strongly feel that I must address.
How much in your works is planned in advance – how much is created intuitively? Intuition is definitely a very strong guiding force when I am working, but as I work in layers and as the works are sometimes quite large, there is definitely a sequence I must envision and follow.
What should your art effect on the viewer? That I could not answer.
What are your (next) goals? To create more paintings 🙂
Untitled (work in progress), 2020, mixed media on linen, 397 x 660 cm. Courtesy of the artist and carlier | gebauer
What is your opinion about faith? Do you have principles of faith or is there a motto? I have no opinion on that topic.
Which project would you still like to realize, if lack of time, courage or financial resources would not play a role? I tend to think in large scale, and my thoughts do meander to these really huge artworks, up to 20m in length, so hopefully one day..
What do you consider to be attributes of good art? That is something I determine by feeling, so I am not sure any words could do it justice.
Is one born as an artist? Or is studying art compulsory in your view? I suppose one is born as an artist, regardless of the studies one takes up.
To whom do you show a new work first? I like to hear the thoughts of the gallery owner I work with, Ulrich Gebauer, I consider him my best critic.
What does the first hour of your day look like? I am either off to my favourite running route, or doing laps in the swimming pool.
In Times of the internet of things, are galleries (from your point of view) still necessary? If so, why and what for? Yes, the physical presence of the work and the experience it brings about is in my opinion essential.
Social media – in your view a blessing or a curse? I am not sure, not being involved in social media very much..
The exhibition with new works by Jelena Bulajic can be seen from 12 September to 7 November 2020 at carlier | gebauer, Markgrafenstraße 67, 10969 Berlin-Kreuzberg. Opening Days take place during Gallery Weekend Berlin, 11-13 September, 2020. It is the second solo exhibition of the artist with the gallery.
In times of Corona, when travel, studio visits and personal contacts are inappropriate or even impossible, the written interview remains an important medium to introduce artist personalities, to spread their messages and to stay in touch with art enthusiasts.
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