THE SLOVAKIAN-BORN ARTIST JANA ZATVARNICKA STUDIED PAINTING AT KUNSTAKADEMIE DÜSSELDORF IN THE CLASS OF KATHARINA GROSSE AND SIEGFRIED ANZINGER AND NOW WORKS IN HER STUDIO IN NEUSS. HER ARTWORKS –MOSTLY PAINTINGS AND DRAWINGS- ARE THE REPRODUCTION AND PRODUCTION OF PROCESSES THAT UNFOLD IN SPACE AND TIME THROUGH THEIR EXTERNAL FORM. WHAT IS SHOWN IN ZATVARNICKA`S WORKS IS PRIMARILY ESTABLISHED TO CREATE A SPACE OF PERCEPTION THAT EXPANDS THE POSSIBILITIES OF IMAGINING SPACE. THE MOST IMPORTANT REFERENCE FOR ZATVARNICKA IS THE ART OF PREHISTORIC CULTURES. BY EXAMINING, USING AND BREAKING THE HISTORY AND DEVELOPMENT OF THEIR VISUAL CODES, SHE IS SIMULTANEOUSLY PLACING THEM IN RELATION TO THE PREVAILING VISUAL CONVENTIONS. IN THIS WAY, THE VIEWERS ARE CONFRONTED WITH THE EXAMINATION OF THEIR OWN PERCEPTUAL POTENTIAL. EVERYTHING THAT ENDURES IS DISSOLVED BY HER TO BECOME SOMETHING NEW, WHILE THE ONLY PERMANENT THING IST HE ARTISTIC MATERIAL THAT ZATNARVICKA USES. TO DO THIS, SHE EXPERIMENTS WITH VARIOUS MATERIALS AND EXPLORES THEIR EFFECTS ANEW. HER PIECES ARE SOMETIMES CREATED IN NATURE, SOMETIMES IN CLOSED SPACES; SOMETIMES THE ARTIST USES A BRUSH, SOMETIMES HER WHOLE BODY IS USED DIRECTLY ON THE CANVAS. THE RIGOUR RESULTS FROM THE SUM OF OPPOSITES OF COLOR AND FORM, WHICH VARIES FROM THIN, ALMOST TRANSPARENT, DELICATE PAPER TO LARGE-FORMAT CANVAS. WITH HER WORK, ZATVARNICKA IS ALWAYS IN PROCESS, ALWAYS IN MOTION. SHE REMAINS FLEXIBLE AND RELIES ON HER INTUITION, WHICH THEN HAS THE POWER TO EMPHASIZE THE IMPORTANCE OF EMPIRICAL EXPERIENCE IN ORDER TO RECOGNIZE AND CHALLENGE REALITY.
Dear Jana, please tell us something about how you got into art. Do you remember your first contact with art and what were your most important stages?
I remember when I was a child, raised in socialist Czechoslovakia, my parents signed me up to a dancing class. After the first lesson, I felt unhappy because I wanted to go to drawing class with my friends:). Since I was young, drawing and painting have been a very natural way to convey my ideas, visions and wishes (for example, when I wished for something I couldn’t have, I just drew the thing precisely, which provided me with enough satisfaction). I have always fancied creating art, and the idea of studying the subject fascinated me. However, going to an art school was not very easy, because no one in my family was a professional artist, so they were worried, even though my mother and grandfather are wonderful painters. Fortunately for me, there was a brilliant art teacher in my hometown who shared his skills with me. When I was 17, I was quite rebellious, so one day, my friend and I sat on a train and went to the Academy of Arts in Prague to take drawing courses. One professor, who lectured the classes, was very kind and made us, crazy teenagers, participate in the course alongside his students. However, a very crucial moment happened when I visited the National Gallery in London. It was J. M. W. Turner’s Train painting that bewitched me so much I had to sit down and cry (bit cliché but truth: ) This intense experience made me realise that this is what I want to do, and there was no doubt about it. Ever. Hence, I proceeded to study at the Academy of Arts and Design in Bratislava, Slovakia, where I did my bachelor’s degree. After I finished, I continued my studies in Kunstakademie in Düsseldorf, Germany, where I graduated in February 2019. A lot of influence for my artistic practice came also from my family. My grandfather, who was the administrator of an agricultural company, taught me how to respect nature. My mother, a doctor, taught me a lot about the human body, healing and medicine (I remember looking at her old anatomy books, which had beautiful drawings of a human body). And, most significantly, travelling. One of the most influential journeys I ever had was when I participated as a volunteer in archaeological project UAXACTUN in Guatemala for the first time in 2015. That experience completely changed my view of the world. My knowledge and interests became more profound and extended beyond the general level. And after that, I have continued to explore and experience the world.
I think it`s an exciting point, as you describe, that in the past it was often enough for you to draw things you wanted but couldn`t have. I see a connection in how you deal with the material in your work today. Above all, your „Gebetsbilder“ ask for what material is. Isn`t materiality simply a form of memory that is dynamic and flexible itself? Materiality as a unit of measure that shows that everything that can be seen at the moment is just a deception of immediacy? Would you see it that way? For me, your „Gebetsbilder“ represent the desire that what is seen remains. The moment you see your „Gebetsbilder“, the observation creates a memory space that is a myth. Like when you look at sacred pictures, for example the „Turiner Grabtuch“. A prayer is a reflection and formulation of one or more wishes. It is therefore interesting that the installation of your pictures follows a concentric circle and creates a visible space. Even Turner`s picture, which you describe, has something to do with it: It shows a moving train that is lost in the blur of the landscape. A symbol of the absence that is always present, wich makes every landscape a trace of memory at speed.
I think my work "Gebetsbilder" is very much about, as we can say, what could be beyond the visible. The question I ask myself every time (and I bet a lot of artists do as well), is the same: how can I grasp something that is not visible and turn it into a visible form? From the title, we can read that the work is connected to the word "praying". I also perceive praying as a performative act. The whole process of developing my work is a performance, where I mostly try to let "it" (the "higher us", the creative principle or call it as you wish), speak through me. Therefore, I try to put myself into the process of creating with a clear mindset as much as it goes. It is not only about praying but also about transcending myself through my own work. Using different tools and materials and embedding the "canvas" into the chosen space and with that creating "individual mythology" for me is a way to express not only figurative aspects but transcend myself through the work. With doing so I am leaving Traces. I never really thought much about using this or that material. It develops itself mostly in the process of creating (learning by doing). I work mainly on canvas. The materiality of this fragile paper fascinated me very much, but I didn't know what to do with it. To me, it was beautiful enough just as an object itself. When I had my exhibition in the Crypt of the Jesuit Church in Bratislava in 2015, I used this material for the first time. I was working in the Crypt for two months while tombs of people from the 14th century were keeping me company. For this exhibition, I wanted to create some specific atmosphere of something you cannot grasp, but you know it is present. In some form. That's why I chose this fragile paper. Also because it was easy to manipulate with it. I wanted to transfer an idea of the essence of the body, which is dispersed in the environment. So I started with my body prints as a trace after the body, after the touch, a trace after the essence. In the end, it was only the trace that remained. In some of those works, I also contrastingly ruthlessly work with a paper. I like this contrast between fragile and brutal. It is also about finding a balance (which I am trying to find all the time in both the work and life:). Before the exhibition in Museum K21, I decided to work with the paper again, but I experimented more with many new and different materials which I combined. It gave my craft another meaning nouveau. The works were installed in a circle, repeated like a mantra because I wanted to evoke a sense of an altar. Because the installation was exhibited in a white-cube space, I wanted to create some coherent space which unites all the paperwork, which would evoke the viewer to catch the essence of my art. My work "Gebetsbilder" can also resemble some cloth or curtain. I remember that my grandmother had a lot of embroideries of hers hanging on the walls in the kitchen, and I loved those tapestries and embroideries. Thus, the aesthetic of something hanging in a space or the wall has truly fascinated me. It almost seems as if it is hiding something behind and letting only the traces of it coming through. Like the voice projects through us while we are praying. Like the presence of something or someone that is not here anymore. In this case, you shot in black with the "Turiner Grabtuch". I love this work, and it inspired very much, in both philosophical and artistic way, as well as a means of displaying an undefined fundamental substance.
"WHAT I FORMALY WANTED TO ACHIEVE WAS THE ,,WATERCOLOUR EFFECT“ ON THE CANVAS, I WANTED MY PAINTINGS TO BE LIGHTER IN COMPARISON TO TOPICS WHICH I PORTRAY."
When I look at your oil paintings, especially the series of 2018 „We“, „Leafe“, „God“ or „Sacred sex“, I notice that you also work very delicately with this material. It almost looks like watercolor. The color is very gentle, alsmost translucent on the canvas. The color seems to dissolve on the canvas as if by itself. I somehow get the impression that your motifs disappear the moment I look at them on the canvas. To what extent does temporality play a role in your work?
These are the series of paintings I have made before my graduation show in Kunstakademie in Düsseldorf in February 2020. I do a lot of watercolour paintings all the time, I also travel a lot so it is very convenient. Those paintings you describe are made with pigments mixed with diferent kinds of glues. I experimented a lot with it, and so far it has brought me a lot of joy . What I formaly wanted to achieve was the ,,watercolour effect“ on the canvas, I wanted my paintings to be lighter in comparison to topics which I portray. They are mostly pretty heavy, and I am always trying to find a proper balance between its content and its form. The temporality, I would say, makes sence to me directly in the process of creation. I like to experience the process very much, so I do, I redo and so on; I could quote the title of Louise Bourgeois work: ,,I do, I redo, I undo“. So this is pretty much it. Of course, there is always an idea or story behind which I wish to transfer visually onto the canvas or paper or other material. But the process itself is the most important, where a lot of questions are being answered and where sometimes my work takes such a sharp turn I could not even imagine. It is like being in a trance and present only in that particular moment which seems to last forever. It allows me to find myself in some different state of mind, like when you are practising meditation, for example. So yes, I can say, my works are products of a live performance 😃
What does the term „performative“ mean to you? And how do you define your relationship with your viewers? What expectations do you have of them that you may also formulate – eventually subconsciously – in your artworks?
Good question! 😃 For myself, performative is what happens before the painting is done. Or what is happening during the process of painting, drawing etc. So basically, what the viewer perceives is the result or trace of that. I really try not to expect anything from the audience, but of course I really wish they would find themselves in the same state of mind I was, when I was creating the artwork. This could be also be me trying to give a further message or a feeling and critical opinion.
"BUT I NEVER TELL THE STORY TO THE END SO THAT THE AUDIENCE CAN FINISH IT THEMSELVES."
Well, but do you think of the viewer during the process? Are you trying to give them codes? For example by color or shape?
I try to provoke the viewer to participate of course. For example, in my installation “Gebetsbilder“, the works were installed in a half circle form which was a symbol of an altar. The viewer was invited to come inside, to enter the altar surrounded by my body prints. Though, many of visitors didn’t trust themselves to enter. The viewer then could experience the essence of a dispersed body in a space (like dispersed souls), the ritualistic atmosphere or the archaic feeling of the whole installation. Thus, this experience can prompt the audience to ask questions which have something to do not only with the questions about spirituality, but also the role of metaphysical in our society. The title itself, “Gebetsbilder“, conveyed that my installation could symbolise some “sacred“ place or the essence of some genius loci. Therefore, there is an intention to evoke or transfer this experience. This is mostly based on the way my works are installed, where they are placed, the materiality (I often use body prints, prints, pure pigments mixed with different organic materials or just organic materials) and simple symbols I use at my paintings and paper works. But I never tell the story to the end so that the audience can finish it themselves. In 2015 I made a performance at one festival in Bordesholm, where I lied almost naked, dirty covered in clay and packed in the plastic bag on the way where people were walking. I was lying like this for three hours without any movement and some of the visitors thought I was dead, beaten or on drugs. A few of them even threw some stones on me. It was my little research of how people will perceive a lying body in a public space or how they interact and react to it. I do not give the audience any margins how they should feel or think, it’s totally up to them. Hence, just like in “Gebetsbilder”, where only the installation has a title, not singular works, so I prompt the viewer to make his own experience of each piece.
- Installation "Gebetsbilder", view from exhibition "In order of appearance", Museum K21, Düsseldorf, DE, 2020
- Kontinent of Panzer, acrylic and oil on unstretched canvas, 160 x 210 cm, 2019
- Homeland, oil on canvas, 145 x 190 cm, 2019
- Traces, oil on unstretched canvas, each 160 x 180 cm, 2016–2018
- Sacred sex, oil on canvas, 140 x 170 cm, 2018
- We, oil on canvas, 60 x 70 cm, 2018
- God, pigments on canvas, 30 x 40 cm, 2018