Photograph on the cover: Marina Paulenka
In anticipation of the Exhibition of Croatian Design 19/20, which opens this year in an online version on Tuesday, October 27, we also spoke with Lea Vene, one of the members of the jury. Lea Vene (b. 1987, in Zagreb) is an art historian, cultural anthropologist and fashion theorist. She completed two post-master courses (Critical Images and R-Lab) at the Royal Institute of Art in Stockholm. She worked as a curator in Fotogallery KIC and gallery Miroslav Kraljević and one of the organizers of the ETNOFILm. She currently curates exhibition and conference programs for International Photography Festival Organ Vida and is s researcher at CIMO (Centre for the Research of Fashion and Clothing). She is also a lecturer at the Faculty of Textile Technology, University of Zagreb.
OM: Together with Ana Kovačić and Sanja Sekelj, you started running the Miroslav Kraljević Gallery in 2014 with the aim of creating stronger links between artists and visitors, while re-examining the gallery’s role in your own environment. What methods did you use to connect them?
LV: When we took over the gallery in 2014, we decided to open the gallery space primarily to young artists, students of the Academy of Fine Arts and younger audiences in general. The backbone of the programme were projects that encouraged the production of new works of art and opening of the gallery space as a working space in the format of temporary art studios. In parallel, we worked on programmes focusing on raising awareness about the presence of the gallery in the neighbourhood defined by Martićeva and Šubićeva streets and Eugen Kvaternik Square. It is a big challenge to get neighbours (outside the cultural scene) involved in gallery projects. However, a series of workshop projects (e.g. collaboration with Flaneur magazine in 2019) and small-scale actions in the public space around the gallery have contributed to getting them more actively involved.
OM: Although you are no longer part of the gallery’s curatorial collective, you are still present with new projects. Having in mind that your next project at the Miroslav Kraljević Gallery questions the connection between art and ecology, what do you think they have in common? How can art help draw attention to environmental issues?
LV: This year we are finishing a multi-year project focused on the relationship between art and ecology with a special emphasis on the artistic reflection on the principles of permaculture as a model for creating sustainable, flexible and productive cultures. Over the past five years, the ZMAG Association and the Miroslav Kraljević Gallery have been implementing networking projects for ZMAG members and the domestic art scene (so far Vanja Babić and Bojan Mucko, the Ljubavnice collective and Valentina Butumović have participated in the project). This November together with Italian-Finnish artist Egle Oddo we are planning a series of small performative actions on the green areas in the neighbourhood. Her projects combine visual arts and biodiversity protection, and the artwork is realised as a living sculpture. Egle Oddo cultivates the seeds of wild species and cultivars together and thus creates a work that is positioned somewhere between agricultural environments, pristine soil and urban green spaces. These gardens are becoming safe zones for biodiversity, allowing vulnerable species to thrive. The artist notices new ways in which different life forms come into contact within a community. In times of climate change, it is necessary to establish new production practices that are sustainable and genuinely respect our environment.
OM: The visibility of this year’s edition of Organ Vida – International Festival of Photography in foreign media and the partnership with professional journals (Lensculutre, British Journal of Photography, Yet, Landscape Stories, etc.) has additionally contributed to positioning of the festival on the map of major photographic events. On the other hand, the festival is also an opportunity for local artists to present their work to a much broader audience. How much did the exchange of experiences influence the direction and development of the festival programme and its goals?
LV: We have always curated the festival so to reflect the affinities and interests of our curatorial team on the one hand, and to follow important global events in the field of photography and contemporary art and present artists/practices that may not be so present on the domestic scene on the other. With the new edition of the festival, we want to further intertwine photography with other media; therefore, our focus is on the image. Also, our intention is to establish new foreign partnerships beyond the narrow field of photography, so we started working with Steph Kretowicz, this year’s member of the jury and one of the founders of the independent portal AQNB. The foreign artists invited to the festival also direct the programme and expand the field of interest, i.e. works by Meriem Bennani and Victoria Sin. With the festival programme we also want to capture a broader generational perspective that is reflected in the presented art projects.
OM: You are also involved in the cultural and artistic association siva) (zona operating in Korčula since 2006. Once again, the association focuses on the marginal questioning of the relationship between art and science, tradition and modern technology, all through the perspective of a small community living on a remote island. How important is it to organise cultural programmes and promote contemporary art practices in a specific area such as an island? To which extent do inhabitant of the island get involved in your association’s projects?
LV: One of the main goals of the project for us from the very beginning was to involve people living on the island. To do so, we often used a bottom-up approach and direct communication with the community. It is a long-term process based on ethnographic methods of recording muted or invisible voices/memories (in our case, predominantly older female population that used to work in industry). The initial research actually implies one-on-one interviews and extensive conversations with interlocutors in their homes. In addition to ethnographic research, we wanted to further involve the community in art projects that build on previous research. We have selected such formats – workshops, interviews, walks – that can bring us closer to the community. There are a number of organised as well as DIY cultural and artistic initiatives on the island. I think it interesting to see what the local community has been creating and what is the relationship with the programme brought in from the outside. I am in the position of an outsider so I am trying to be very careful with rethinking the cultural programme. It is crucial to establish a dialogue with the community and continuously develop and involve the audience, so I prefer a participatory type of work.
OM: Together with Marija Borovičkić you have initiated research of Fabrika from Vela Luka. Through the eyes of female workers of the former fish processing and canning factory and the involvement of the local community with artists and cultural workers, both tangible and intangible industrial heritage of one of the most developed Croatian islands is recognized and valued. What links do you see between industrial heritage and contemporary art practices and how do you present them?
LV: Together with the artist Božena Končić Badurina, we decided to bring the story of intangible industrial heritage closer to the younger generation of islanders so we organised a workshop at the local primary school in Vela Luka. During the workshop, schoolchildren worked directly with ethnographic material, carried out small-scale field research and got acquainted with the local oral history related to industrial heritage. Božena interpreted the result of their work in the form of an art book titled Kad bi fabrika trubila. The book got an excellent response from the island audience. It is a very good material that can further circulate on the island. Together with Dijana Protić, we are currently developing a VR project that will deal with the female perspective at the Greben shipyard. In this project, we test how the context of virtual reality in conjunction with documentary materials and narratives can contribute to new approaches to the interpretation of industrial heritage.
OM: At the Faculty of Textile Technology, you teach the course in Fashion Museology (lecturer Assoc. Prof. Katarina Nina Simončić, PhD.) whose goal is to explain the presentation of fashion artefacts in museums to students. In Croatia, we do not have a single museum dedicated to fashion and clothing design, although there are some collections and exhibitions that present products of the domestic fashion industry of a certain period. How can we give more importance to fashion design? How can an exhibited fashion artefact teach us about the history of design, industry, and society?
LV: Last week, the Faculty of Textile Technology hosted an online symposium organised by Katarina Nina Simončič and titled “Fashion Museology – Beginnings and Challenges in Slovenia, Croatia and Serbia” with the aim of revising local practices and approaches to exhibiting fashion and current challenges and creating networks of experts and institutions. Once again, we discussed the need to curate fashion and to fight for the visibility of the so-called fashion museology on the broader cultural scene.
Fashion museology implies much more than the presentation of fashion, i.e. clothing items in a museum context. In a broader sense, it is focused on the culture of clothing, presence and role of clothing in everyday life, products and history of the textile industry and ethnographic collections of clothing items. An encounter with a clothing artefact in a museum or a gallery can open up space for a broader understanding of the cultural biography of clothing items on display.
OM: Given the existing problems of fashion and clothing design, which largely coincide with the already recognized obstacles faced by industrial and product design, how do you see the future of Croatian fashion design? What do you recognise as good fashion design?
LV: I think it is important not to follow the global fashion industry but to build on the so-called slow fashion practices that are in line with our environment anyway. We need to insist on collective models of work and revaluation of the local culture of clothing. Also, it is necessary to work on additional education in the field of visual culture. In addition, I think there is a lot of space available online that can be conquered, and the digital context should offer some new visions of clothing items.
“We lack more independent initiatives, collectives and new forms of association and networking on the wider fashion scene. There is also a lot of room for online experimentation, and this context is currently weakly or superficially present in the domain of local fashion design.”
OM: Nowadays fashion designers have to be ready to start and run their own business and to collaborate with companies in the textile industry, i.e. they have to know how to market their products. How important is to know the theory and have the ability to present one’s own work?
LV: Knowing the theory enables designers to create a critical detachment from the fashion we all consume through the media and also calls designers to re-examine and articulate their own attitudes and positions. Critical theories further expand the space outside the mainstream perception of fashion and raise awareness of approaches and practices that are not only focused on seductive fashion images, but also reflect the conditions of production, circulation and consumption of fashion products.
OM: In October, the CDA Gallery hosted the exhibition named Matija Čop: Idea – Language – Body curated by Tamara Lukina Christ. Since the exhibition focused on the process of creating Čop’s fashion designs, I am interested in your view of the current situation of Croatian fashion design in general. How willing are designers to experiment and research seemingly incompatible materials and production techniques?
LV: Experiments with materials, techniques and cuts are directly inscribed in the very practice of fashion design and research processes that precede realization. Such experiments often depend on designers’ individual engagement and their efforts to provide conditions for themselves because they cannot necessarily rely on a well-developed institutional or industrial context. The domestic fashion scene is small and perhaps relies too much on local fashion weeks as an essential model of legitimacy. We lack more independent initiatives, collectives and new forms of association and networking on the wider fashion scene. There is also a lot of room for online experimentation, and this context is currently weakly or superficially present in the domain of local fashion design (except for examples such as Price on Request).
OM: As a researcher at the Centre for Research of Fashion and Clothing (CIMO), you research, collect and present fashion and clothing items. The Centre is the key organization conducting research and theoretical work in this area. So far, a number of projects have been realized in which you question the relationship between men’s and women’s fashion or hand-woven and traditionally woven garments in relation to factory-produced items. How do you approach a research project? Do we have the theoretical basis for such research?
LV: The Centre is designed as a platform that includes theoretical, scientific, creative and activist engagement in design, visual arts, fashion design, fashion theory, and other scientific and creative disciplines relevant to the culture of clothing (history and theory of art and design, museology, ethnology, history, anthropology, sociology, feminist theories, queer theories, etc.). Some parts of the research we conduct have a strong scientific approach, e.g. the project named Women in Struggle/Women in Fashion: Clothing Practices in the Post-war Period of Socialist Yugoslavia on the Example of the magazines “Žena u borbi” and “Naša moda” (co-authored with Ivana Čuljak) or Tonči Vladislavić‘s project named Men’s Manifesto: Construction of Stereotypes and Representation of “Male Fantasies”- Clothing, Appearance, Typology and Forms of Social Functioning of Male Power During the Era of Yugoslav Socialism. Such research is based on archival work, analysis of periodicals and a series of interviews with living narrators. On the other hand, many researches are set up as workshop or dialogue processes, e.g. the project named Towards a Personal Archive – Biographies of Clothing Items or Inventory of Fashion and Clothing: Economy and Culture of Clothing of Senior Citizens. Part of the research is closer to the curatorial and artistic way of working and thinking, as is the case in the Locus Artis project or the recent Briefing on Soft Arts – Towards Questioning of Soft Arts. In all these projects, we actually strive to translate the theoretical background into a local context and apply it to a domestic case study, for example through the analysis of stereotypes, research of local models of sustainable fashion or fashion phenomena in the times of transition.
OM: What is the role of designers in designing curatorial and research concepts? How does a good design solution facilitate the whole process of research, data networking and their subsequent presentation?
LV: I don’t think it is important to facilitate the process but to make it relevant, to actually layer the meanings and interpretations that emerge from the research. Designing curatorial and research concepts often results from teamwork, and a fashion designer is just one of the participants involved in the process. There are graphic designers, curators, photographers, and artists who collaborate in order to realize the final presentation.
OM: This year you are one of the members of the jury of the Croatian Design Exhibition 19/20. Have the submitted works met your expectations? What else needs to be done to attract young fashion designers to submit their works and to get a larger number of projects in the category of concepts and initiatives?
LV: The response is great considering the size of the Croatian fashion scene and I think the overall quality is high, which is ultimately evident in a large number of selected works. In the context of fashion design, I find student works more interesting than the professional category. The category of concepts and initiatives is actually the most interesting category because it encourages networking in different fields of design; it results in more hybrid teams and provides a lot of room for experimentation and testing of various speculative approaches. It seems to me that no special strategies are needed to attract future applicants because this has already been happening organically.