Post-Corona with artist Katarina Petrović

In this series of interviews with artists we look back at the year 2020. An attempt to reflect and to look ahead on what will come. We continue with Katarina Petrović, born in Serbia but living and working in The Hague. Despite COVID-19, she had an incredibly busy year.

Post-Corona with artist Katarina Petrović
Steam Route Map, [蒸汽船] Steamboat (4 - 25 September 2020 @ Trixie)

Let’s go back to spring 2020. How did Trixie, the artist collective group where you’ve been working since 2018, deal with COVID-19?

We have quite a strong community at Trixie, so it wasn’t that difficult. We have been running a gallery for two years after all. In January 2021 I became the chair of Trixie and that gave me a lot of responsibility during this period.

After the summer in 2020 we did realize a few shows. Most of these shows were already prepared, but had been postponed. There was a group show in September and October. That also went well.

During the lockdown we couldn’t receive public and we also had to shut down the gallery in November. At Trixie we have 15 studios and 17 artists. There is a lot of art happening backstage! So we thought of window exhibitions. We thought it would be cool if the Trixies had a dialogue with each other, to encourage the collaboration and engage with the audience on the street.

The first one happened with Sophia Bulgakova and me in December: Window <3 LAB 1.0. Sophia’s lights were really wonderful! After that we kept going. We created a series of four window labs.

Post-Corona with artist Katarina Petrović
Window <3 LAB 1.0 (18 December 2020 - 01 January 2021 @ Trixie) © Foto Marta Capilla

Last April – against all odds – we reopened the gallery with the exhibition of Alice dos Reis. You could only come by appointment. We were confronted with a new challenge: how to engage the audience through social media and online communication?

Usually people like to walk from gallery to gallery, but you don’t have that spontaneity anymore. However, I am really proud of the exhibition, and of the Trixie members. Everyone put in a lot of effort. And Alice is forever proud that her first solo show happened in Trixie!

COVID-19 also had a big influence on your own exhibition ‘Negative Poetry’ at the Museum of Science and Technology in Belgrade. Can you elaborate on that?

This exhibition was part of the Dimitrije Bašičević Mangelos award (Young Visual Artist Award for Serbia) I won in 2019. In September 2020 I realized that the work I wanted to present that October wasn’t going to happen. There were some setbacks. I didn’t get a grant. And more importantly: I didn’t have any work ready… Presenting the research was not the solution. To present the research is to still make a work. Because you have to shape it somehow.

I thought: let’s do a hybrid! It could be printed and made in Belgrade and I’ll put something online which is shown in the gallery. Unfortunately, at that time, Belgrade wasn’t doing well with the pandemic. A lot of people got sick. I realized: If I get the technicians in the space to do my exhibition, it is a risk. I wasn’t comfortable with that.

I cancelled everything and the solo exhibition was realized online only in December 2020. And it is still ‘open’!

Post-Corona with artist Katarina Petrović

Negative Poetry consists of two parts: a machine algorithm and a human algorithm. A friend of mine, Miloš Grujić, a developer, helped me with this impossible deadline for the machine algorithm. Orion Maxted, a theater maker, and the Interactions group collaborated with me on the human algorithm. We tried something earlier that year and then I brought them all back around to this idea… And that happened!

Do you think it is more difficult to work as an artist in these times?

I should be able to work against the odds, like any artist. Though the circumstances can be difficult sometimes.

I have a new solo show coming up in December in the Podroom Gallery in Belgrade. For this exhibition I want to create an installation of networked vacuum tubes that have audio feedback systems within them. In these chambers you can control the pressure, therefore you can control the tones. It would be, in fact, an instrument to compose or make music using air.

It is very difficult to develop this type of instrument right now! I can’t just go to the university and meet with scientists. It is also hard to get in contact with technicians that work with glass and electronics. They are not very eager to meet. I understand that.

Luckily, I received a lot of help from friends last year. A long time ago I moved away from the practice in which you are the lone artist. This is why I am very much involved in research around arts and science. I’ve co-initiated a small research group (Steamboat) with Nele Brökelmann and June Yu. Drift, a sound walk, was presented in July 2020 at RuimteCEASUR in Middelburg.

And there was still time for another project…

Yes! Together with my colleague Bojana S. Knežević I am a part of an artistic-duo (and podcast): Femkanje. In January of this year we made an 18-channel sound installation in the space of the Podroom gallery and also an online work: the Sound Database.

Post-Corona with artist Katarina Petrović
Femkanje Sound Database:

We created this Sound database to provide a stable basis for sound practice in Serbia. We invited artists to submit sounds from their works, a sound recording from a performance, or from a video work, or a composition, or a field recording. Many of them are on the topic of corona and how people are dealing with it. How were they dealing with not seeing family and friends, anxiety or loneliness. I am happy with what we’ve collected so far, but we also want more contributions!

Aside from these projects, there is also the need to make money I suppose… Even in times of a pandemic.

I also do website design and development to make some money. This past year was also very busy on that front, because many of my clients had urgent need of an online presence. Yes, I work long days… Anyone who knows me, knows I have a tendency to be busy [laughs].

You seem to have a very hands-on mentality during these pandemic times?

I was born in former Yugoslavia. I grew up in a country that was in a state of crisis! Corona as a warstate enemy, I don’t think it’s a good metaphor. It is not a war. What a pandemic and a war have in common is… the immediacy. Whatever you do, it is immediate, right there with you. When you think of buying coffee, you can’t go buy coffee. When you think of meeting a friend, you can’t go meet a friend. When I was twelve, there was bombing, and I just wanted to go out and hang out with friends. And I couldn’t. You kept being met with this, over and over.

I saw people here stricken with fear while I was in action mode. It is in our Balkan mentality but we don’t do well with fear. When we were bombed by NATO, instead of being fearful, we created targets, we walked on the streets with a target T-shirt. I kind of have that mentality as well. Come on, bring it on!

Post-Corona with artist Katarina Petrović
Lexicon Liber Novus v.3.0, exhibition Wat ik je nog wilde zeggen (9 December 2020 - 7 March 2021) TENT Rotterdam © Foto: Bart Lunenburg

I wanted to go to my family in Serbia last year, but I realized that if I did that, I would be a major threat. I did actually travel in 2021 to Vienna, where I had a residency at Q21. A lot of hassle with tests but in the end it was really lovely. Vienna was open, shops were open and I visited a lot of museums I have always wanted to! The Secession building: I was there with Hrvoje Hiršl, a fellow artist and only a guard lady!

You had an incredibly busy year. Usually you undertake big projects that take years, like Lexicon Liber Novus and The Negative Poetry. Don’t you want to do another project like this?

I am notorious in a sense that it takes me a long time to develop a work. Lexicon took me seven years. That gives an idea about how obsessive I am!

I am not discouraged by the amount of time it takes. I am more discouraged that our current structures do not forgive these long periods of developing work. I took this year to reflect on it. And to be critical about it. Why do we even begin with this idea: you need to have physical work, each year something new to show… As if we are in the entertainment business… [laughs] I like to go against that!

Post-Corona with artist Katarina Petrović