Gravity and Levity

an interview with mark brogan | pdf


Mark Brogan, Gothic Gloss, mixed media, 2001.

Dejan Grba: How and why you decided to make that move to Belgrade, in which you have been living and working since August 2004, and plan to continue for a period of time?

Mark Brogan: Firstly because my girlfriend Leona Dodig decided to come back to live in her hometown. She proposed that idea some six months in advance so I thought that Belgrade could be an interesting place for me to work. Before coming here I was going through a point in my career in which I thoroughly changed the way of working and this new way was, as you might expect, not as successful as I would like it to be in the sense that my earlier work could be read or perceived in a much more interesting way. In such moment, I thought it would be good for me to move from London to a place about which I knew almost nothing, and now I see that at the time I was beginning to run out of inspiration, becoming extremely used to the London scene, the art system and the types of works exhibited there. There were particular types of work I was seeing frequently that I think I was less and less inspired by in the London art scene. Some interesting things were going on there but it was becoming a kind of a pattern and it was getting too easy to get something made at the place where you knew too well how things go and it was becoming like working within the system, which, I think, is not a fantastic place for an artist. I needed something fresh, a new environment and I needed to see how art production is different in another place. And I feel now as inspired to make art as I was when I first began to make art!

What made you so satiated with London art scene?

I lived in East London and I witnessed the birth of the art scene there. I saw the interesting spaces emerge and I saw the new work began to be shown there and that scene gradually becoming cool and hip, which, to some extent, was really exciting to be involved in. But in about five years its momentum naturally slowed as it became more or less institutionalized, with official recognition and support from a lot of the funding bodies and, with three openings a night five days a week in a high season, it all became some kind of extremely saturating white noise.

Besides being an artist, you also have the curatorial experience.

When I left my Fine Art degree, I moved to live to East London which is a neighborhood with a lot of light industry and it was possible to rent some spaces from the industry to live and work there, so with a group of artists and designers I rented one big factory space. Sometimes these people used their working ventures to organize parties and I got involved in that and somehow continued organizing bigger parties and later moved on to organizing classic rave parties with five to ten DJs. This somehow evolved into organizing art events. We would invite around seventy artists and they were requested to bring some small item of their art practice. We would invite a lot of interesting artists, and would organize a big raffle with the artists’ works as prizes, selling raffle tickets to the artists for a £1 each. Everything was organized on the cost basis, with no profit. The raffle helped cover the costs of the event. And the artists proved to be fantastic, magical! Besides all that, I used to cook for the artists and it was all going on in the most basic conditions, it was tasty food, often with jokes, so in every way we encouraged this completely hedonistic environment. These events became quite well known in East London during the late Nineties, and some well known artists started to come and were quite excited about the idea. After that I did a couple of hybrids of party and art event in some clubs, and during all that I was practicing art. It was proposed by a dutch artist that I apply for MA in curating, so I applied and got onto a two year course in curating at Goldsmiths. It was a highly specialized course and they were extremely serious there, with a strong careerist aspect, while I was into organising events that were a mix of art exhibition, party and some sort of opportunity for people to meet and network, and I never approached this practice in a very serious academic way. The course was also very expensive, and I actually took one year of its two year programme. At the time, I was also looking at the artist-curator model and began to understand that in the long run it was a pretty difficult model to actually follow as it generates confusion and frustration in the artist who organizes shows for the others while he wants to be really successful as an artist. Therefore I focused on being purely an artist and I quit the course, and I organized one exhibition after that in East London called Loco for Rococo in autumn 2002. At the time there were many exhibitions in London which showed the works of the same group of artists over and over again, on a very repetitive basis, and I was sick of that and thought that it would be good for local art scene to escape from the ‘usual suspects’ so I decided to organize a group exhibition with artists from America, Holland and Germany. These artists and their works were very interesting to me and the show was successful and well received. For this exhibition, I was involved in a huge amount of work and fundraising and worked full-time as a curator. I had to put my artistic life on hold. It all opened my eyes to the fact that seriously independent freelance curating really involves a large amount of various types of work and responsibilities.

Have you exhibited at the shows you curated?

In London art scene you can often see the shows curated by the artists who also exhibit in them, and who surround their works with the works of better known, well established artists thus creating some kind of stronger context for their own works and position, and such strategies became really shallow and suspect. So, I did not include my works in the exhibition that I curated in order to evade that quasi-promotional or quasi- curatorial aspect.

What about your artistic career?

Before I studied at Goldsmiths, I made a lot of conceptual works which I enjoyed and it was a lot of fun for me. When I entered Goldsmiths I started to paint. In the beginning, it was painting with a lot of conceptual packing around it, and later I began to go more into classical understanding of painting. When I left Goldsmiths, I continued painting and I was painting quite dark scenes. There was, for example, one small painting with one dinosaur eating another one and observing the audience as it was interrupted in its meal. It was painted in quite a simple way. Then I began to be interested in the more conceptual aspect of painting again, and its relation to sculpture, so I developed a process of making objects from enamel paint and these objects looked like black vinyl garbage bags rolled up. I made that type of work for about 3-4 years, and enjoyed it. I developed this process quite well and I showed these works with generally good response, but later I was involved in an exhibition which had a strong ‘Modernist’ agenda about the purity of the material which did not make much sense at all and I really did not like that. That’s when I reached the point of seeing where this kind of work was taking me, what kind of categorization this could involve and, because I certainly do not think I am a Modernist in any sense of the word, I quit that practice. Actually, it happened at the time when I started my curating course so I quit the whole art making for about 1 or 2 years. I wanted to look at the art world in general and to get a deeper understanding of where the art world is at this point of time, and as I looked beyond the UK and to the rest of the world with a more open mind, and started to understand the ‘mechanics’ of the art world. I think that after this period I wiped my mind clean and became interested in the conceptual side of painting and sculpture in a new way, particularly in the painterly experience within the sculptural context, so a lot of my work today is going in that direction. I really try to introduce new things into the work. In Belgrade, for example, I started working on sculpture in a more personal and autobiographical way. And being more open to unpredictable elements and elements suggested by the others.

It is very exciting when the work is unpredictable and when you go beyond what you know, and this element of ‘adventure’ is critical for me, so when it’s absent I know that it’s going to be boring for me to make the work and probably the work itself will be boring. The other aspect is that the work is always like a diary, with a heavy autobiographical element to it, even if in quite formal looking objects, even if that autobiographical message is there mainly for me. When I was in the UK, the æsthetic aspect was predominant and I was quite uncertain about the depth of content, and this aspect is getting more and more important to me so now I am moving from the æsthetic to more personal standpoint in the work, which is more risky and therefore scarier and more frightening. I am actually starting to understand the value of risk and the importance of taking it. In the work I am currently making I am taking that risk of brutalizing the æsthetic element for the sake of the personal. I need the qualities of lightness, violence and beauty, all in the same piece and without choreographing these elements. This, again, is moving my deeply anti-Modernist stance further, as I think that back in London, weather they know it or not, they are deeply Modernist in their thinking. A critic friend from London more or less reiterated this to me last time I visited.

How can anybody talk seriously about essentially Modernist values in the beginning of the 21st century?

Modernist values, in the broadest sense, as I understand them, and I follow Rosalind Krauss in that understanding, are not just about form/content debate and minimalist sculpture, which would now be anachronistic, but they are essentially about the underlying attitude which made Modernism possible, the attitude of rationalization and machismo, of careerism, competing, building the tallest building in the world or scoring points in the art market.

It seems that it’s the symptom of either the cynical use of knowledge or simply the lack of it.

I see how you could think that. Compared to Serbia, most people in England do get very little training and serious education, because the pressure is great to quickly get a job and make money, otherwise they simply can’t survive there, let alone keep an art practice. This can be either cynicism or simply necessity in the most expensive and competitive city in Europe. The education is also extremely expensive, and time is money. There are thousands of artists in London and the competition is intense. The extreme of that attitude is that, for example, some Americans don’t know who Dostojevski was and even Britney Spears didn’t know who John Lennon was because, as she said ‘he was before her time’. Generally, the priority in British art at the moment is not to be a serious artist, but to get famous quickly, in any which way, make as much money as possible and be completely burnt out and retire at the age of 35.

As, in some aspects, reflected in the neo-conservativist agenda?

Yes. If you look at the British society, it’s frightening to see how highly engineered it is. There are lots of artists who are unwilling to take any risks in what they do. When I moved to Serbia I saw how un-engineered this society is.

Maybe you still need the experience to see that Serbian society is generally on the same path, in the same process?

Maybe, but this is the Balkans which is a historically unpredictable area, so I think that even though there might be some desire for this path, you won’t get the same level of social engineering. What you don’t have here, for one thing, is the Protestant work ethic in which, broadly speaking, one lives to work, and which is obviously very conducive to the economy of northern Europe. There are much more ‘red blooded’ works here in Serbia, more emotional works that really move you. Also, many of these artists might not make much money but still they make a lot of interesting works. This attitude inspired me and influenced me a lot, and changed my relation toward my work.

Remont Art Magazine No. 14, Spring, Belgrade, 2006.