Ksenija Jovišević

„The threat today is not passivity, but pseudo-activity, the urge to ‘be active’ to ‘participate’, to mask the nothingness of what goes on.” [1] – Slavoj Žižek, Violence

Dear friend,

You want to hear me elaborate my decision to stop making art. I never felt a need to explain it to anyone, because I don’t think I have to. It is hard for me to answer this, as it was hard for you to form questions, so you asked just one. It took a long time to sit on it and to collect thoughts, it didn’t always feel comfortable, but the topics that one is most uncomfortable with are the juiciest ones. As my baby grew older, I grew stronger to put my feelings into words, for you, and for myself. He’ll be a year old soon, that’s how long you have waited for this writing and I’m grateful for your patience. Deadlines are proactive sometimes, even though I overrun them all.

Violence I remember reading shortly after running away from China, at the very start of the pandemic. Once the world stopped, I felt at ease. It was like getting a chance to finally think in silence. Some sort of a retreat I needed for long. The debts I went into for studying abroad were finally cleared thanks to the teaching position in Beijing I was able to keep online. I felt grown up suddenly, for the first time, at 32. A new, clean beginning. Rebirth.

Let’s not fuck it up this time, I thought.

I do not recall when exactly it all started but my studio gradually became the space where I got depressed the most. Slight panic attacks and feelings of time-waste. I lost touch with the sublime and began to dream of some other dream. The open cuts on my palms, as a form of eczema I got long ago when in contact with any art material, started spreading. Maybe my body was trying to tell me something, or it was me, subconsciously, questioning it all from the very beginning.

My artworks are not my babies. I also don’t feel like suffering for art, there’re so many other things one can do.

I often wonder what being successful means, since success is mostly tied to a particular observer or belief system. I often wonder what I believe success is.

I was recently told of an artist, called notable by the narrator, who celebrated her latest artworks vanishing in flame in the gallery storage. At her previous exhibition, nothing got sold and she was broke. God bless the fire. And the insurance.

When my work started getting noticed, prior to the second semester of my guest studies in Frankfurt, a gallery-owner friend told me to quit my day-job because collectors don’t like it when artists they fancy work outside their studios. Should I starve occasionally, or piggyback on people around me like many of my first-world colleagues do? An artist persona in its effortless beauty.

I never wanted my artwork to depend on sales. However, as Seth Price would say, in F*ck Seth Price: “Ultimate freedom would mean having just enough money not to have to think about money, and not to have to work all the time”.

The flow of money in the school I went to is high, when you compare it to other art schools and the artists selling their works while still studying. And it was taboo. It was kind of a public secret we never talked about in class. Or, as my professor might have felt, it was irrelevant to artistic development. As this institution has a renowned status in the art world and the mythos surrounding it, every Rundgang, the school’s annual exhibition, is possibly a life-changing opportunity for its students. That is the time of the year when one can witness a significant change in the atmosphere. The air becomes dense. A friend might betray a friend. А brother might betray a brother, just for spotlight. That’s when my throat got a lump. The lump never went away, it only got bigger.

Shortly after my guest studies, as a Frankfurt-based artist, I was granted a 3-month art residency in Antwerp by the city, but soon after I lost my residency permit because of the same artist status, quite ‘valued’ by the German immigration office. While living in Antwerp as a tourist in the art residency program, probably illegally, I was getting to know the city and its people. I remember some guy I randomly met through a friend, after introducing myself and saying what brought me there: the first thing he asked was if I were rich. For sure, I laughed.

Small talk was never one of my skills. An artist-friend pointed it out to me after I’d spent half of an exhibition opening speaking to one person. One needs to mingle to succeed.
I googled How to Make Small Talk. It says:

1. Make yourself approachable with an open stance.
2. Smile.
3. Offer a small compliment or find common ground with the other person. Reveal something interesting about yourself.
4. Ask something about him or her in return.
5. Show your interest by actively listening and asking more questions.
Embrace the shallowness of it all.

I found it hard to admit Ich habe keine Lust mehr [2] once a gallery invited me to take part in a hot art fair to which no emerging artist says no. Let’s use pregnancy as an excuse, play it safe! No one will put that into question. The flatness of my feelings surprised me the most. And the wind cries, “Crush it” [3] .The decision was obviously made, the art system will take no more of my precious time, at least for a while.

„That was great. You learned that …
you exist online, but your ass still hurts and grinds. Whenever you feel closest to “you,” you’re actually in drag. You practice mindfulness, but you are in deep debt. Amazon knows what you want better than you do. Your politics sometimes feel like a metro ad, sometimes like a mass movement, and sometimes like a sham. You’re a freelancer, but you are starting to like the idea of a 9-to-5. The promotional emails in your inbox contain the emotional language that’s missing in your personal life. Official narratives stopped working for you, so you built your own. You wonder: Can markets emote? Are corporations people? You’re a discerning consumer of culture, but you know that none of this will last.“ 

1 Žižek refers to Badiou’s 15th Thesis on Contemporary Art: „It is better to do nothing than to contribute to the invention of formal ways of rendering visible that which Empire already recognizes as existent.“

2 I don’t feel like it anymore (Ger)

3 This sentence is taken from: WRONG SEEING, ODD THINKING, STRANGE ACTION, written by Seth Price, TEXT ZUR KINSTISSUE, NO. 106 / JUNE 2017 “THE NEW NEW LEFT”, Page 82: I took a year’s hiatus from the art world, trying to figure some things out. I shut down the studio, stopped making saleable works, said no to shows. I didn’t stop working, though. I can only explain it in terms of discomfort with the way artists are conditioned to seek visibility not only for their work but also for their persona. The contemporary mandate is to know everyone and be known by all, and thus become a maximally reproducible component. And the wind cries, “Crush it.”

4 Text from the 9th Berlin Biennale for Contemporary Art: THE PRESENT IN DRAG, curated by the New York collective DIS, 2016

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