by Ljupco Jolevski
Link to Original (in Macedonian): Верица Ковачевска: Знам точно каде ме води овој пат, но потребно ми е скршнување од стандардниот пат на уметникот (mkd.mk)
Translation from English: Verica Kovacevska
One element is space, physical space. Another element, for Verica Kovacevska, is her relationship with the audience and the role of the audience in the works; the third element is use of different media – video, sound, internet, mobile phones, audio guides, etc. It is interesting that in this exhibition, all three elements come together, perhaps for the first time. This was stated by Verica Kovacevska on the eve of her exhibition "Two and a Half Rooms", held in the National Gallery, in December 2011. For just over 12 years, the artist has been in Switzerland, where she lives and works.
What have you been focusing on lately? Have you managed to round off your artistic language, your aspirations in art... or is this a process of continual surprises?
I think I have managed to round off my artistic language somewhat. After all, 18 years on the art scene is not insignificant.
Elements like space, participation and (new) media still prevail, with a few new ones, like speech or narration. Thematically, I focus increasingly on public space, addressing issues such as urbanism and local history, architectural heritage and preservation, cultural identity and gentrification, inclusion and participation through digital media, etc.
Something that has perhaps changed a bit more in recent years is the form or transition from immaterial and ephemeral to more permanent art. A good example of this is The House We Grew Up In (2017), an audio-visual installation that refers to the prefabricated houses in Skopje built after the earthquake. The work is made to be contrary to the ephemerality of the prefab, to leave a mark, to become a memory and proof for the next generation. It took me a long time to finish because it is not easy to intertwine family and national history while remaining true to the artistic medium; but it was worth it because the audience accepted it very well, not only in North Macedonia but also outside of it. This was followed by works such as the artist book Across the Atlantic (2020), the video installation The Last Flight (2020) and the audio guide Dual Reality (2019), which tried in some ways to answer the question: How can I contribute to society as an artist, concretely, not only by opening a discussion?
So, yes, to go back to your question. Although I have generally managed to round off my artistic language, it is a process that is constantly evolving.
Do you still cling to the phrase from a decade ago that "the longer you work, the clearer you are about what you want to create"? What is your creative process essentially like? How much time does it take for you to go deeper into your creative self? What do such steps depend on?
I think that in art, as in everything else, the longer you work, the more it becomes clear to you how much you still have to learn, improve, try.
As for the creative process itself, I work quite thoroughly and not always very quickly. So, I can work on a project for one, two, or more years (with some breaks of course and in parallel with other things). I know this way of working is not very practical and is contrary to the fast world we live in today, but I think it takes time to create and interweave multiple layers in a work. To produce something that seems simple but is very complex.
I always get new ideas in a new context, for example, during a trip or residency, but also in dreams or when I'm half-asleep. At other times, ideas come after an exhibition, film, concert or in conversation with people. My daughter always has interesting questions and ideas. Three years ago, I did a project with visually disabled people because she wanted to know how they perceive the world. Such questions inspire me a lot.
A few years ago, I started keeping a diary, where I document the whole process of building ideas and concepts through text, sketches, drawings, photos. I think the process is as interesting as the product.
Recently, during a conversation about an exhibition of the work of the great Macedonian conceptual artist Simon Uzunovski, an art connoisseur perceptively noted that he sees Verica Kovacevska as an artist who is steadily moving along those paths. He believes in you as an author whose works and concepts will be visible to the wider art world. What do you think about this and what direction might your creative aspirations head in?
Thank you for the kind words.
I have great respect for Simon Uzunovski, both as an author and as a person. After all, Sime was one of the first to support my work. At an exhibition at MoCA Skopje, he handed me an application for a residency in Italy, which I applied for and went to immediately after graduation. It was a great experience and an extraordinary opportunity to work alongside great artists like Jimmy Durham. I will never forget that. I think he has helped other artists in this way, too, and that is something that we should mention more often about Sime.
I find defining success as an artist an interesting but hugely challenging question. After almost two decades in the art world, my perspective has also moved along, and currently, I have a desire for something more or something else. I don't mean another exhibition or prize or residency, I mean a different context of work, an interdisciplinary way of working and thinking, concrete steps for action. So, I don't know exactly where this path is leading me, but right now, I need a detour from the standard artist path.
In your native Macedonia, with your work, you were present at the "Panic Room" group exhibition, which took place in October 2020 at MoCA Skopje. You took part in the "Perceptions Engendered" exhibition a year earlier at MoCA Skopje, together with selected British and Macedonian artists. You were also part of the jury for the DENES Award for Young Visual Artists, as well as part of the team of artists from the Macedonian independent cultural scene, selected by "Centar Jadro" from Skopje, which, last May, presented itself at Zagreb's POGON. Do you manage to keep up with the happenings of the cultural and artistic scene in our country?
I do not feel that I have ever left the Macedonian art scene. I may live abroad, but I still come back to Skopje regularly and stay involved with the Macedonian art scene and the people in it. I look forward to every collaboration and invitation to an exhibition, and I hope that this will continue in the following years.
We currently have a very interesting generation of young artists who have strong artistic expression and new energy and who need to be supported.
This summer, in Switzerland, you curated the "Hybrid Forms – Hybrid Practices in Performance Art" programme. Our young artists Ana Lazarevska and Natasha Nedelkova were selected within this. What did this participation mean for them and what is it that you offered the audience in general through this programme?
It is important to lend a hand to younger artists because they do not have many opportunities for exchange and experience abroad, especially in the field of performance art. In addition to having the opportunity to present their work, they became familiar with the main themes and issues in performance art in Switzerland and met some of the main players on the scene here.
Apart from Lazarevska and Nedelkova, together with the co-curator Maricruz Peñaloza, we also invited Jon Blackwood to curate and present a video programme, which he titled Late to the Party: Macedonian Performance on Video Since 1991. This included works by artists Darko Aleksovski, Iskra Dimitrova, Marko Gutic Mizhimakov, Gjorge Jovanovik, Maja Kirovska, me, Ivana Mirchevska and Elena Chemerska, Natasha Nedelkova, OPA, Nora Stojanovik, and Igor Tosevski.
In recent years, Jon has dealt more intensely with Macedonian video art and its possible archiving, which we consider to be a very important issue and wanted to connect with performance art: What is the role of video in performance art? How are the two media related? Should we even talk about performance or performative art?
At the end, a selection of catalogues and books from several Macedonian organizations working close to the field of performance art was presented, where the audience could get to know the works of even more artists, such as Hristina Ivanoska or Filip Jovanovski. Of course, we did not provide a complete cross-section of the Macedonian performance scene because that would require a longer period of research and more funding, but we took an important first step.
Where is the Macedonian performance art positioned in a wider framework? What are its specifics and how different is it from what happens in European and world frameworks?
Macedonian performance art, at least so far, is often not perceived as an independent discipline. Many times, it is integrated into other media and disciplines, partly because it lacks adequate support and infrastructure. If we compare it to Switzerland, for example, performance art is studied here at the art academy. There are numerous festivals, awards and grants dedicated solely to this. The Performance Art Network and the Association of Visual Artists provide guidelines not only for archiving performance but also for adequate fees for artists, who normally do not sell their immaterial works. A research project is currently underway at the art academy in Lucerne, focused on increasing the number of performances in the collection of Swiss museums; the Bang Bang exhibition, of which our programme was a part, explored how a national performance archive could be built.
Although the standards may be higher in Switzerland, this should only be an incentive to strengthen institutional support for performance art in North Macedonia. This is especially important because we have an interesting and specific scene, confirmed by our programme in Basel, which caused a lot of interest.
For me personally, it was great to present Macedonian artists in one of the most prestigious museums in Switzerland, as well as to lay the foundations for further cooperation between the two countries.
In March of this year, you had a residency in Split's PROSTOR as part of the Culture Hub Croatia platform and the Voids project. What kind of project did you undertake there and what were the reactions like? Is there a chance that we might see you here at home with a similar work?
The aim of the Voids project (2020 – 2022) of Culture Hub Croatia was to highlight the problems of mass tourism, enrich the cultural programme in the city of Split outside the tourist season, and enable an exchange of ideas and experiences between artists and curators from the Balkans.
Each artist was invited to do preliminary research and then create a public artwork somewhere in the city. I focused on the modernist building Kineski Zid (Great Wall of China), where PROSTOR is located, as well as surrounding buildings designed by the same architect, Frano Gotovac. For this purpose, I created an audio guide, Filling the Void, which explored the buildings' history and meaning, and at the same time invited the audience to discover, imagine and activate urban space. The guide is intended for both locals and tourists and can be accessed by anyone with a mobile device. It put a new landmark on the tourist map of Split.
The audio guide was launched in June, at the start of the summer season, and is now part of the permanent collection of PROSTOR and the local community. I also recently documented it using video, with beautiful cinematography by the very talented Duje Kundić. The documentation will not only bring the work closer to those who do not live or travel to Split, but also further addresses the role of film in preserving ephemeral art, showing how documentation itself can become (part of) an original artwork.
This is my third audio guide so far, and I was very happy that the people of Split liked it, especially considering how much they love the Kineski Zid and the neighbourhood in which it is located, Spinut. I could do a similar project in North Macedonia, but so far, there has been no such opportunity.
What's your next creative stop? Where can we expect the new artistic search? Will you commit to the current creative language and aesthetics, or is some new restlessness already taking hold in you, which deserves separate attention?
If everything goes well, 2023 will be an interesting year. The plan is to officially start my doctoral studies in Hamburg, finish a work that got lost in the pandemic, and do a residency outside of Europe. Of course, plans can always change, but the focus will be on a new environment, a new change and a new way of working.
I am restless, of course, but in a positive sense.