Saturday, September 27, 2014

Q&A: Elena Veljanovska

This months cover by K.K.W,
with layout by Aleksandar Ares.
Original photo by Ivan Durgutovski.
Q&A with Elena Veljanovska: a curator fighting the good fight. By K.K.W 
Elena Veljanovska - (Middle). 
Photo courtesy of miss Veljanovska. 
K.K.W: I think with everyone in the "art-world", there's always a point they can remember deciding to work in the arts. When was this for you?

E.V: Interesting question - it takes me back to the beginning. But in fact for me there was never only one point of making a decision. My path was a bit all the way round, and I can't think of only one moment. It is rather a series of moments and events that were helping me to fortify my decision to remain in the art world. Maybe the most crucial moment was starting to work in a cultural center in Skopje, and feeling; what does it mean in reality, since at the University it was all about gaining some theoretical knowledge and there is no hands-on knowledge involved for the students.

K.K.W: Why be involved in the in art, and curator of it? Why not study archaeology being as you studied it at university?

E.V: I wanted to study Art-history, but back then these two fields were still studied under one 'umbrella' Institute for Art history and Archaeology. So there was not much of a choice. But during these studies I had a chance to work on archaeological excavations a couple of times I really appreciate that experience because it helped me to value artifacts from the past even more - by giving me a perspective in which I imagine how someone might perceive the things we do today in the future. 

I have been flirting with art ever since I was a kid, always drawing on the walls at home, for the doctors in the hospital, etc. In elementary school I was making up for math and physics low grades by being good in art subjects. Since there was some talent in me, normally I signed up at high school for applied arts, only to realize in the 4-year educational process that I am not able to articulate my ideas through creating artworks. But of course, I didn't feel like leaving the art world. This is how I decided to study art history, so I would be able to still work with art and contribute from another perspective. Back then I didn't know what exactly curating is, since one could not study that in the 1990's anywhere in the Balkan region, and I had no one from my family or closer surroundings to guide me. The role of the curator is known mostly in the art circles. I just knew I am interested in something live and active - not so much in the past, as much in the future - not really knowing what exactly that is. 

I was really lucky to start working very early in a cultural center in Skopje (Tocka), while studying. Also I was lucky to be part of art circles, attend workshops, read contemporary literature, up-to-date discussions, meetings with curators and curatorial initiatives from Macedonia and abroad. Finally being able to realize and articulate what I could most comfortably express by combining all my interests via curating. I am   part of one generation that was brought up by that art scene, a direct result of how a strong professional circle could shape someone professionally. As a curator I could combine my desire for working in a live and exciting environment; working directly with artists, discussing and exchanging ideas, developing concepts and enabling them an environment where they could be shown. Lately I am also getting more interested in passing my knowledge to younger artists or colleagues.        
Elena Veljanovska - photo courtesy of miss
K.K.W: As much as we can be open-minded, most play favorites based on tastes, what's popular & friendships, etc. Do you try to be open-minded, or just go with what strikes a cord when its comes to art? 

E.V: I guess its a combination of all these things for me. Collaboration with an artist(s) always means creating a specific and intense relationship. It is very common that friendships arise during these intense collaborations and exchanges, and one also has a greater insight of what are the capabilities and capacities of a certain artist. I usually have several artists with whom I am collaborating on longer terms. Be it because we share our views or develop our ideas simultaneously - or also very important - we are used to working together and there is a flow of communication and ideas when we are collaborating. As far as the content and personal development goes, all the things I am surrounded with on a daily basis, each exhibition that I visit and the articles and books I read, can be reflected in one way or another in the curatorial practice. I can se a slow but clear development in my interests since I started working as a curator until now. My taste, but also my judging of which artwork interests me has changed rapidly. This has a lot to do with our quite traditional education, not going further that the 1980's in art, and later on my practice being influenced by different types of art and personal involvements; new media, socially engaged art as well as art history. 

K.K.W: What do you love about art? 

E.V: That it can create a new space that is sometimes lacking, that it can speak in many different languages, that it can still experiment and try out new things. 

K.K.W: You once spoke of being considered [by some] outside the standard institutions and administrations - have you ever felt this gives you a unique outlook on art as a curator & organizer? 

E.V: It certainly gives you another perspective. I have built my experience outside of institutions and I have been part of a scene that was vital, creative, new and fresh, opposed to the local art institutions. I have always worked with small teams, and this gives you speed, mobility, flexibility and creativity. I see this only as an advantage because I had a chance to freely decide on the content of my work and also to have a chance to try out working with different styles, genres and methods and build up a lot of working experience. 

K.K.W: The Ministry of culture [in The Republic of Macedonia], does support the arts, but clearly thats only a small portion. What do you think can be done to increase its support of more creative people? 

E.V: The Ministry of culture spends most of their money on institutional support and on Skopje 2014 quasi-art projects. It is not a small portion, since in the last 4 years they spent more than 500.000 Euros of public money exclusively on the 'public art' project, let alone the regular institutional support. One easily comes to the conclusion that solely through restructuring of the budget, there could already be some change. But the problem is that the Ministry of culture is deaf to these requests. Some of the solutions that we were proposing with the association for independent cultural scene - Jadro for example, were: more frequent and flexible public calls, small production grants, transparent and fair decision making with clear criteria for the applicants, travel funds, support for participation on international art events and exhibitions abroad for artists and curators, as well as bigger support for the event costs and production within the country. In general, a bigger support for the unrecognized group of artists, organizations and cultural workers outside of the institutions that receive very little support and recognition for their work from the Ministry of culture. The artists almost always cover the production costs and lately I can se a decline in the artistic production, and often a very low quality of the works execution or downsizing of the ideas because of a lack of production funds.

K.K.W: Do you ever think that your country's political & economic situation [starting with its name], is keeping its cultural achievements in the arts from being fully recognized? 

E.V: Our country in the past years is living in a dream-like state, by creating its desired 'image' of what culture and art should be and represent. In this constructed reality, where everything is a facade of an imagined past, there is simply no space, let alone support for contemporary artists to work and develop professionally. The artists are left on there own without anyone really taking care of their professional development. Theirs is a world where there is neither support for their work from the public funds, non-existing private sponsorship, and of course non-existent commercial sector. The arts and culture are directly dependent on the Ministry of Culture and its directly funded institutions, which in the past years are interested only in funding the creation of "a past" for the country. This also results in a very low quality of works, shrinking of the art scene, very few young artists going further than few exhibitions and very few being able to exhibit outside of the country. So I guess the answer would be yes, the current political situation is keeping most people with talent from realizing their potential.           
Elena Veljanovska (far left) @ The Kanal 103
radio-station anniversary event May 2014.
Photo by K.K.W.
In every place, now more then ever, there seems to be obstacles and problems that require complex solutions. And yet history has shown its these situations that will give rise to change, and create an historic point where people will look back an wish they were apart of. "...people need dramatic examples to shake them out of apathy..." (David S Goyer & Christopher Nolan - "Batman Begins"). 

If you would like to know more, go to:, 'Art is the reason, art is the way'

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