Zoom guest lecture by Vesna Mačković in South Africa
Multimedia artist Vesna Mačković was invited to join an online Zoom lecture from Zadar as a guest lecturer with professors Marth Munro, dr. Tarryn-Tanille Prinsloo and Kristina Johnstone of School of the Arts: Drama Department of University of Pretoria, Republic of South Africa, for their Physical Theatre/ Digital Media class exploring the interactions between contemporary media in the context of physical theatre.
During the lecture, Vesna discusses her main focus to make art not just for art’s sake, meaning it’s beautiful and entertaining, creating a feeling of fleeting happiness in the visitor or observer, but her wish to touch on serious and difficult subjects meant to raise awareness about locally and globally important questions. To her, the purpose of art is starting the conversation about the good we need to preserve and nurture on this planet, but also about what is wrong and is yet to be changed.
The art of Vesna Mačković is always created with the intention of pointing out the deeper meaning, regardless of its different forms: those being performance, music, film or visual art.
She talks about her first political artwork, the video performance filmed in a part of the abandoned Ironworks factory in her hometown of Sisak, bringing attention to the difference in the changing political and economic systems, as well as the transition from communism towards capitalism, and the corruption that ensued. The artist spontaneously used discarded and forgotten objects found in situ, unused for over twenty years, transforming them into props used to symbolically bang on the walls, representing the blows to the workers and society.
This video performance was later re-imagined as a live performance in Long Island, New York, where part of the Ironworks factory was replicated to scale solely for the artist’s show, part of her residency in Robert Wilson’s The Watermill Center International Summer Program. The process needed to create the faithful copy of the Ironworks factory space was extremely extensive, but finalized within a two week time frame with the expectancy of around a thousand visitors at the event. In the beginning stages of planning, 3D paper models were used to more accurately understand the space needed. One of the most important elements of the performance was the auditory experience, considering the artist used a hammer and other objects to hit the metal walls of the factory in the original performance, so during the live recreation she had microphones strapped to her feet so the audience outside could even hear her walking.
Vesna Mačković claims every sound can be used for the purpose of art, be it deep breathing, falling leaves, children’s voices during playing – anything that can be prerecorded in everyday life, and she advises young artists to use such sounds, that can be later edited and mixed, to tell their story. She also points out the importance of locations and the artistic potential of an unexpected location or an unexpected situation.
One of her unexpected performances was the political project “Kikiriki” (“Peanuts”), where she explored the subject of the Paralympic Games and used her body to “compete” with healthy, able-bodied people in running, weightlifting and other athletic disciplines, which she later turned into a play with the video of the “competition” projected in the background. For this play she also recorded a song with a band inside a football goalpost, once again playing with the unexpected. It’s also very important for the artist to include the audience in the performance, like an additional actor in a play, considering their contribution can completely change the course of the show, but it’s also especially interesting to ask the audience to do something unexpected.
Vesna reveals that her creative process that leads to a finished artwork is different every time: sometimes it starts with music, other times with sounds, poetry or visual stimulation, and only later the idea develops that until that point only existed in the back of her mind.
The artist advises young artists to always record their processes and rehearsals in video so they could experience their work in the way the audience will later experience it.
The props used for plays and performances don’t always need to be expensive as it’s best to use materials that are readily available and the result of inspiration coming from everyday life, as well as recycled materials being especially desirable with the purpose of lowering the production costs.
The artist also reflects on video artworks filmed on location in front of the White House in Washington DC for the trilingual play “My Speech”, seemingly on an exclusive location, but she points out that a similar type of video can also be filmed on an ordinary meadow.
The sound recording equipment doesn’t need to be expensive, professional equipment either, particularly in the age of smartphones and apps that allow excellent results that can also be used professionally, and even be used for composing music with the effects of different musical instruments.
Silence can be an equally effective background as music or sound, and have a strong influence on the audience.
Vesna also speaks on the visual power of playing with light and darkness, color and absence of color, reflections in the glass, and she advises using a camera as another pair of eyes which sometimes sees what the human eyes miss.
When creating performances of voice and sound, any props could be used, and the unexpected ones, such as a typewriter making different sounds when pressing different keys like a musical instrument, are particularly interesting.
The artist mentions the play “Krleža, stani u red” (Krleža, Stand In Line!”), which was also recorded as a radio play, winning the International Audio Fiction Award at the Sarah Lawrence College in New York. All of the costumes for the play were created out of recycled materials: rubber gloves, cardboard rolls of toilet paper, pillows, and even a noose worn around the main actor’s neck as a foreshadowing of an attempted suicide during the course of the play as a political criticism of the world of today, ignoring artists and cultivating an obsession with the stars.
Vesna’s final project before the quarantine caused by the global pandemic of the Covid-19 virus was the traveling Public Performance Periscope World Project, with a Periscope made out of an upright dog tunnel in which the artist is hidden along with cameras recording the interactions with passers-by that are asked about the meaning of life, happiness and similar questions in different countries and cultures. So far, the Periscope traveled across the Europe, North and South America, and is planned to visit all of the continents. The cameras are hidden, which makes the passers-by more relaxed (even though they know they are being recorded) and more likely to participate in the conversation compared to a typical interview where a camera is pointed in their faces.
One of the students at the online lecture asked the artist about video editing and how editing changed the story told by the video, to which the artist replied that she usually edits her videos herself, but when she asks someone to do it for her, it’s extremely important that it’s a person close to her ethically and philosophically, who understands what she is trying to say and achieve, meaning that only the few people she trusts from her inner circle of associates are considered.
Another student raised the question about filming as a means of archiving material for the future, which Vesna agreed with and again reflected on the importance of reviewing one’s own work and movements through the eyes of the audience before finalizing the work, but also the possibility of reusing the filmed material for a later project of a documentary film about the making of the play or performance.
At the end of the lecture, Vesna shared some of her projects she’s involved with as a part of her arts organization ARKTIK – Institute for the Future, such as “Let Them Eat Cake!”, with the goal of involving the public in participating with their own themed home videos as part of the IF Festival – International Festival of Asking Questions.