Alisei Apollonio: In your works there seems to be a very strong relationship with music and poetry. What kind of resonance do you see between all these forms of art?
Damir Očko: Working with different media and crossing the borders of each media over time, I started to understand how everything that moves through time behaves according to the same principles. Poetry, film, music, performance, the rules are translatable. Eventually the space of the film is the space in which all timelines make sense.
What is the relationship between words and drawing in your work?
Text is essential to my work. It gives the context, reason and clarity to the somewhat ambiguous nature of the image. Even if the text is often ambiguous as well, it moves the work in a right direction.
Indeed, Surrealist and Dada artists famously wrote poetry which was often ambiguous or seemingly non-sensical. For them it was a way to express their discontent with violence, war and nationalism… would you say (also given your biographical background) that you endeavour to work along the same lines?
I didn’t always work on the same lines, however I often used to practice writing with similar methods. For the latest projects I decided to move closely to the idea of using the non-sense as the mechanism to critically reflect the current state of the political speech and reality. So I looked back at Dada as a form of resistance to the oppressive and reductive state and tried to compare the experiences with our current political reality.
What is the relationship between your works on paper and your video works?
I like to think that they [the works on paper] are more than just an addendum to the videos. I have different categories I work with. ‘Scores’ are a major part of my practice, but I also work with collages which offer expansion for me. They usually start with a relation to the video, but tend to explore the ideas that video cannot. Collage also offers me an opportunity to practice the kind of editing with various materials. It is a physical film too.
I don’t. It is not about achieving more or less. It is about solving different problems with different materials. Work on paper is instant, spontaneous, easy. Video requires planning, time and a lot more restrain then work on paper. I like to think through both.
Often in your works one can perceive a certain sense of violence which is inflicted on or erases the human body (such as the blot of ink concealing the person in Year Sundried featured in this exhibition). Is this something that informs your practice at all?
It does. I am interested in relations between objects and materials that do not go lightly together. By experimenting with the displacements or violent exchanges I feel I am able to embed the political in my collages.
Your biography is often mentioned as a significant key to your work: the fact that you were born in Yugoslavia during a time of upheaval. But even going beyond the sense of physical and political violence that is clearly part of your work – I wonder, what about the sense of absence and/or alienation of being born in a country that does not exist anymore? Is this something that you feel and, if you do, does this find its way into your work?
Well, I don’t have nostalgic relationship with what was in the past, nor do I think of Yugoslavia as a state that doesn’t exist anymore. It is simply a different state now. I was born and raised in Croatia, which then was part of Yugoslavia. Now it is part of EU. Constellations change. I do however remember the war very clearly as it was happening during my most formative years. There is something that resonates between the violent and the empathy I got from that experience, and it resonates in my work too.
You state that you strive to embed the political in your works. Do you believe that art has the faculty to bring about social change, or maybe that it takes on a different, more subtle, but still political role?
Well, yes. Not only art, but all the human activities that are conscious of the political reality have the ability to change it. Even so slightly.
What is the importance of memory in your work?
Actually, the works you are showing are part of a series I made after a rather traumatic year following my participation at the Croatian National Pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 2015. They belong to the group called Calendar. I tried to reinvent myself and to use color as the therapy.
Working on a spatial set up – such as calendar – as a device for structuring temporality, it became clear that the work is not only about erasing trauma but also about remembering it.