In Conversation With... Artist and Textile Designer Dunja Jankovic

Graduating in a BFA Fine Arts in Zagreb in 2003 and then a MFA Visual Arts in New York City in 2008, Dunja Jankovic’s work has been published and exhibited internationally. In 2010, Jankovic founded Skver!, an international experimental and fringe art residence in  Croatia, which she has been curating successfully for the last two years.  She is also a co-founder of a PDX comics festival —The Projects.

She has since returned to her home island of Losinj, Croatia, where she runs an atelier/gallery under the name of Pola Pola and a screenprint studio in an abandoned sardine factory.

Her experimental body of work ranges from film, Gifs and animation to illustration and comics. Visually, she explores her on-going interest in geometric, hypnotic and bold patterns. She has recently started experimenting with textiles and translating her visual work onto fabrics.

         Photo courtesy of Dunja Jankovic

         Photo courtesy of Dunja Jankovic

Why did you decide to start experimenting with textiles?

I was trying to figure out how I could start creating applied art/products for my newly opened gallery and the most natural way was to take out the patterns out of my diverse body of work and apply them on various objects, mostly textile products, like T-shirts, tote bags, leggings and pillows. Rhythm is very important part in my work, and patterns, that are a visual rhythm are super apply-able to anything. So I slowly started to explore this whole new world of textile and print and sewing. I was a total rookie just a year ago.

It’s interesting to me to push my work through different incarnations. It will start as a drawing, then a screen print, then it will become a t-shirt, maybe next it will be a rug, etc. I also like the idea of taking away the mysticism of the medium. Using an art piece to warm your feet or wrap it around your butt. And then have the same piece on your wall, nicely framed.

             Photo courtesy of Dunja Jankovic

             Photo courtesy of Dunja Jankovic

You have been working as an arts practitioner for the last 7 years producing a diverse range of work. What has been a career highlight for you?

I have always been working in fringe art areas, experimenting, going through a lot of changes and mutations. First, I’ve been working as a comic artist all my life, but moving recently in a more graphic and abstract direction. The area of my interest is narration through abstraction of forms to their most basic incarnations, where the possibility of interpretation becomes endless.

Then, starting to translate my visual world into objects, spaces and different mediums has been most fun for me so far. It’s like waking up from a life that was more heady and starting to play with what’s out there.

Each format determines some sort of change, in the context or form of the media we are working with. I’m interested in those moments of translation from one format or form to another; moments that are as unstable as the ones happening during chemistry experiments where the situation is on the verge of collapse or explosion.

Throughout your career you have been teaching, freelancing, organising festivals and residencies. Is this something you are still practicing?

My personality was predominantly shaped by being a comic artist. By making comics you develop versatility, strong work ethic and persistence. On the other hand there is obsessiveness and being a hermit too... Anyway, you have to juggle between being an art director, artist, camera, story-teller etc. It’s an incredible self-disciplinary process that can then be applied to any other segment of life and work.

I believe this was the reason why I was able to create a festival-residency on my island, Skver!, in extremely hard conditions: no basic infrastructure or comfort of having galleries and venues at your disposal and doing all the tasks on my own for years. It’s some bloody hard work.

Simultaneously, I have been organising a big festival of narrative arts The Projects, and co-teaching an interesting class about experimental comics in Portland. Living a double life, both of which were extremely busy, for years.

Now, after 6 years of doing festivals in Croatia and Portland, music shows, exhibitions, workshops, this organising instinct has dwindled.

            Photo courtesy of Dunja Jankovic

            Photo courtesy of Dunja Jankovic

Tell us about your experience working on your own business and as a freelancer.

Discipline and determination are extremely important tools for a freelancer. You have to be your own boss, manager, motivator and executor. This is some multitasking and can often make you crazy. I'm still learning how to relax and let go, when needed.

The biggest challenge is making compromises, but with experience you manage to learn how to steer most of your ideas into the project. And then dealing with tight deadlines that all align in the same month and then learning to fight off discouragement that takes over in the periods of joblessness that can last for months.

What experience or knowledge of running your own business did you have before starting?

None whatsoever. I was actually extremely bad with making or multiplying money. But I had a strong will to learn this new trade and decided firmly I would do it.

Now I am trying to figure out my own ways of running a “business” because the models I’ve seen and tried out are not working out the best for me. It is super hard to carve your own ways, all the ones out are limited. It’s possible but just requires a lot of effort and not loosing the devotion.

I started a screen print shop in an abandoned sardine factory and so far this has been the best move. This huge studio incorporates all of my interests in one space. It’s a huge space, more then 200 square meters. Here I can build installations, screen print, make collages, carve wood, work side by side with my boyfriend who is an artist too and keep feeding the inspiration.

     Photo courtesy of Dunja Jankovic

     Photo courtesy of Dunja Jankovic

I want to focus on trying to find other producers of my ideas. Since I’m not a skilled manufacturer, I feel it makes more sense to find one for my ideas and visions.

By moving from the US to Mali Losinj, Croatia, what impact has it had on your practice?

After 2 years in New York I lived in Portland for 5 years and then I moved back to the island. All of a sudden I had so much time to work on my stuff with no distractions, and for a while it felt like breathing again. It was like moving into the wild. I love to live back in the nature and enjoy the peace while still being connected with the outside world through the internet.

I focused on changes in myself and did a lot of new things like starting a screen print studio, new production, a gallery. I was still organising a festival and residencies, and very soon, I was super busy again!

After a while, the island can get really claustrophobic and people are quite closed minded which can make you run into a wall, morally and creatively. So it’s important to keep moving. I travel a lot. It’s very important in my life... the shift and changing the angles.

Can you tell us about the current Croatian art and design scene?

The Croatian design scene has been super strong in the last decade or so. Probably the strongest amongst all the other art forms since in design there is much more money and importance then in other cultural segments right now. It's worth checking out the Croatian Design Superstore which is gathering a lot of interesting designers that are out there at the moment.

Unfortunately, art and culture in general are very low on the list of priorities in today’s Croatian society and their position keeps dropping lower. A lot of young artists and designers are fleeing the country to search for better opportunities or just a chance to realise their full potential. This doesn’t look like it’s going to get better soon.

What is your experience collaborating with other artists and curators from disciplines outside yours?

In collaborations, if it clicks, it can be extremely fun, inspiring and eye opening. I like to communicate with people from various disciplines, you always get a fresh outlook on the things you do and observe things from various angles.  

What are your long-term goals?

Keep doing what I’m doing. Trying to find more interesting projects where I can experiment and explore with complete freedom.

               Photo courtesy of Dunja Jankovic

               Photo courtesy of Dunja Jankovic