This year’s Venice Biennial features an entire pavilion dedicated to the notion of Artists as “Shamans”. Works by Ernesto Neto, Rina Banerjee and Naufus Ramirez-Figueroa among others are exhibited exemplifying this very idea. Similarly, Serbian artist Gordana Zikic’s art practice is guided by the principle that artists are mediators endowed with the ability to heal society.
Gordana Zikic. Red Deer Installation.
Tell me about your journey as an artist. What made you want to become an artist?
For me art is part of life. My art is driven by my perceptions and feelings towards the reality we find ourselves in. I like new and unfamiliar situations; fresh experiences and perspectives. Finding these is often a difficult task. We are all trapped in our routines with rigid thought patterns and unnecessary concerns. We stick to this thinking this is our only reality. The way we perceive the world around us is partly conditioned by our social models, predispositions and inclinations to behave certain ways. The way we think influences the way we feel. This idea comes from cognitive psychology and I find it very appealing. It is important for me to connect my art with the idea of personal development; that is why I choose different mediums and experiment in the process.
Every decision I make is guided by my creative instinct. It is a matter of priorities and that is the most important thing for me.
I truly believe that staying in touch with my creative instinct has allowed me to feel happier and fulfilled in my life.
What is your creative process like? What inspired you to incorporate elements of shamanism in your art practice?
I have been always drawn to the exploration of cultural traditions and their spirituality by investigating the ancient and symbolic traces of human activities and infusing them into a modern context. I create pictures of existing images of myths and legends, shamanic symbols and archetypal images through a direct intuitive approach and interpretation of visual patterns. Eclectic mixes and visual hybrids of ancient and modern images define a subjective view of the world, which expresses a personal symbolic language, values, and frame of reference in my drawings and installations. The world, and what is meaningful in it, is used as landmarks of moral and practical guidance for coping. It becomes not just a rational and a conscious message, but a set of contents encoded in images that resemble mythological scenes.
With intuitive inspiration I bring impulsivity to expression, allowing ancient imagery to resurface and to become new through the shamanistic experience of the contemporary artist.
My goal is for the visitor to experience part of the excitement that I feel when in contact with this world. I want to introduce observers to the world of magic symbols.
The questions that interest me revolve around identity, life and death, relation towards the beyond, existence and personal and public boundaries.
Have you thought about spending time with a specific tribe and their shaman? Which one would you choose?
I would love to travel around the world to discover different tribes whose life is still guided by their customs. Each culture is unique, which makes it hard to choose. But if you ask me, I would probably want to live with tribes in Amazon, Alaska, or Mongolia.
Have you ever met a shaman/shaman artist?
I have met Sevko Bajic who is shamanist from Bosnia and who comes to Serbia a few times a year to hold workshops that I had the opportunity to attend. He is under the supervision of a shaman from Canada.
Are there such “ native tribes” (using shamanism) in Serbia?
There are pre-Christian beliefs in Slavic traditions that are intertwined with Christianity. There are also people called Vlasi or Vlachs living in Romania and Serbia, who, although they are Orthodox Christians, their beliefs involves a lot of magic.
How do you think art and shamanism are related? Do you think artists are “shamans”? Do you think they could “heal” society?
There is, definitely, a connection between artists and shamans: artists interpret different worlds to others; shamans do the same in different contexts. Shamans are considered mediators in their culture, so are artists.
It all depends on the angle you want to look at it. Artists can contribute so much to society by addressing an array of questions. For example, in modern society, alienation is one of the feelings, people feel they do not belong to this world. This is opposite from how most children feel and also in animistic hunter-gatherer societies, where the animistic way of thinking is still considered that all significant entities have minds or that they are alive. Through art, we can bring a spontaneous and animistic way of thinking and by putting aside for a moment rationalistic objectivity, we can make different relations with the world, social relations and bringing back the feeling of belonging. This way, our consciousness can be altered. To me, it could be a cure for modern societies problems.
Eliade’s classic, Shamanism, Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy, … mentioned that shamans who fail to practice their calling fall constantly sick because they lose their meaning-giving connection with that greater purpose. I believe something similar happens to the artists who do not respond to their calling.
Tell me about your latest installation “Red Deer” and what motivated you to collect different items.
Red deer is an installation made of assembled objects, drawings, sculptures, and paintings. Visitors can walk around small jars, line drawings, and assemblage sculptures. This installation depicts the many aspects of shamanism, its structure, and its intuitive nature.
Using traditional drawing tools and combining them with a variety of materials, often recycled, as well as ready-made objects from personal archive, I attempt to create a new context for these objects.
The Installation includes wall drawings and assemblage on the walls made using “magical” ritual objects. Objects used for wall installation are from personal archives. Some are ready-made and were combined with small sculptures made from different materials, like papier mâché, copper wire, human hair, feathers, cat’s hair …
The goal is to see and experience the works in this unique environment. The space becomes a temple, which is a portal to a magical world. When spending time in this installation, visitors can reflect and gain a visual and contemplative experience.
What other artists inspire you?
Serbian artist Marina Abramovic, Joseph Beuys and Marcus Coates are inspirational figures to me.