Vesna Pavlović Artist Essay
Written by Peyton Fulford
Photographs by Vesna Pavlović
For the month of March, Vesna Pavlović took part as the 2015 Visiting Artist in Residence for the Course Artist Program at Columbus State University. Pavlović is an Assistant Professor of Art at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. She graduated from Columbia University in New York with a Master of Fine Arts degree in Visual Arts, along with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Cinematography from the University of Belgrade in Serbia. She is highly regarded for her photography and film work, which is held in many public and private art collections, such as the Phillips Collection, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, in Washington, D.C., and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Belgrade, Serbia, among others. Pavlović has been honored to exhibit her work through solo and group exhibitions, publications, and presentations in multiple locations across the world.
While Vesna Pavlović has resided at Columbus State University, she presented a lecture named “Photographic Moment” at the Illges Gallery in the Corn Center for the Visual Arts in which she explained her own creative process, major influences, and research. Her current project, “Fabrics of Socialism” (Figure 1), is based on archives at the Museum of Yugoslav History and Filmske Novosti in Belgrade, Serbia. She works with analog photographic technology, which is transformed into prints or into installations consisting of projected images onto various materials, such as curtains, which are symbolic or representative of the two major themes in the photographs: war and power. Pavlović challenges the conventional notions of photography by expanding the perception of these photographic images in space and creating an experience between the piece of art and the viewer. Her approach to the mixture of two dimensional photography with three dimensional installations becomes the medium of mixed media, and it initiates a new way for the viewers to interact with the work as it is displayed. Through photographic archives and related artifacts, she creates a narrative beyond the photographic frame. Her photographic project examines visual representations of social groups and collective memory of post World War II in Yugoslavia. When viewing her work for this project, it is like stepping back into the time period of the 1950s and seeing a recollection of the tragic and celebratory events that occurred. That being said, Pavlović studies the impermanence and preservation of these rare segments of fragmented history. She stated in her lecture, “nothing ages more quickly than yesterday’s vision of tomorrow.” The accumulation of photographic images shows a historical diary into past events and lives of strangers she never encountered.
In Vesna Pavlović’s lecture, she also showed her recent project “Search for Landscapes” (Figure 2), which has been shown at a wide range of events, such as 12th Istanbul Biennial in 2011, her own solo exhibition at Zeitgeist Gallery in 2012, and many more locations. I found the “Search for Landscapes” project to be visually captivating. The work is developed around a group of found vintage slides, which were taken in the 1960s and depict the photographic moments of one family as they traveled around the world. Through vibrant colors, scenic landscapes, and the reoccurring theme of American freedom of mobility, the recorded moments in time become a visual narrative that tells a story of beautiful experiences. The photographic material that was once seen through the eyes of one family is now shared back to the world and viewed by other spectators. With an abundance of vintage slides, the photographic frames are either projected onto a series of blank screens using vintage projectors, made into prints, or placed in a light box to exhibit the tangibility of the slides. The tangible quality of photographs are gradually disintegrating as time passes on due to the digital age.
Throughout Vesna Pavlović’s work, she addresses that loss of past technology while incorporating the new media and digital technology into her creative process. In “Fabrics of Socialism”, she takes these archives from Belgrade, Serbia that were left to diminish into dust and shows them in a new light by incorporating old and new media. This vast historical representation of her homeland may have never been accessible to the public. However, with today’s technological world, it is witnessed by many different people through social media platforms, such as Tumblr, Instagram, and Facebook, and other websites on the internet. Not only does digital technology play in role in the accessibility of her artwork, it also is an important step in her creative process. Vesna Pavlović changes the context of the archives by taking digital photographic copies of the material and digitally importing the work into photo editing software, such as Adobe Photoshop, in order to retouch certain areas and sharpen the resolutions of the worn photographs. With old media showing deterioration or vulnerability, use of new media becomes a way to digitally preserve the remainders of historical evidence; for this particular case, it is the image and film preservation of post World War II in Yugoslavia.
Vesna Pavlović’s conversion of analog into digital form begins to integrate a relationship between old and new media. The incorporation of new technology, such as digital software, projectors, and other installation products, in with the old media begins to change the context of the archives. Pavlović adapts the tangible material of the 20th century into the intangibility of the 21st century. This connection of old and new media is known as appropriation art in which preexisting work consisting of images or objects is borrowed and then recontextualized into new, reinterpreted work. Unlike some artists, Vesna Pavlović makes the original source known in her work, which is factored into the meaning behind the images and the reexamining of the photographic material. Ultimately, Vesna Pavlović’s work reflects on what once was and appropriates into what is now.