Petra Feriancová (1977) is an internationally known mid-generation artist from the Central and Eastern Europe (CEE), lives and works in Bratislava and Milan. She is known for her scientific yet very sensual installations with natural historical aspects and for her medially varied works based on personal archives. Her solo shows were on view in London, Cluj, Bratislava and also in Spain, Croatia and Italy in the last two years. In 2013, she represented Slovakia and the Czech Republic at the 55th Biennial of Venice. In 2011 she was a resident at ISCP, New York and in 2010, she was awarded the Oskar Cepan Prize for young visual artists. Fanni Magyar interviewed her before the closing of her current exhibition in Budapest.
Fanni Magyar (FM): Your artistic practice focuses on installations and can be characterized by a certain biological approach, mythological references and personal motifs as well. Involving all these layers what would you say about your current exhibition Klaviatura at VILTIN Gallery, Budapest?
Petra Feriancova (PF): The scientific or historical approaches regarding biology and mythology were not intentional. It all came up rather naturally and based on my interest. My grandfather was an ornithologist, so is my aunt, while my father was an architect. One way or another we always deal with our background I think. It quite often bumps up like a kind of main obsession of our life. I am not pushing the image that much or what the image represents. I consider my installations rather systems, created by the connections between its elements and by the encounter with the different knowledge of each visitor.
FM: Surrounded by different images and objects connected to the marine life the most spectacular element of the installation is the long silk curtain waving to the ground depicting repetition of shark eggs.
PF: I accidentally found shark eggs and an aquarium for breeding shark eggs on the seacoast in Croatia this summer. I found breeding quite fascinating in terms of creating life, preserving it and I did some research on the life of sharks. We do not really know the underwater world, which is basically the source of everything. I was very much interested in the prenatal life, how breathing works in the water or inside the womb, or even in an egg. How life is possible through such a sensitive but essential connection with the outside world and within our vulnerable body. Egg has many connotations concerning the fragility of motherhood in terms of biology. I thematized this subject in my solo show titled Becoming Animal this year in London, where butterflies were bred during the exhibition. At this last stage of their life the butterflies do not feed themselves they only lay eggs and die. In case of my current show at VILTIN in Budapest the archetypical symbol of egg provided the opportunity to cover the whole world of unconscious things. One could think all eggs depicted on the silk are identical, but in fact each photograph features a different piece. I intended to show the antagonism of repetition: everything is unique, there is nothing completely identical, not even eggs.
FM: The canonisation of the CEE neo-avantgarde is already an advanced process in art history. You have intensively cooperated with some of the main figures of the Slovakian neo-avant-garde, such as Stano Filko, Péter Bartos, Július Koller and Kvéta Fulierova. Does the international attention towards this generation have an impact on your personal career?
PF: Cooperating with them was not a conscious decision from me. It came from a real passion. Once I got closer to these people I could not let them go, their art is one of the most authentic thing I have ever experienced. Luckily I had the opportunity to get to know these artists who were quite isolated in their older age. Filko was known for his difficult personality but soon after we started to work together we became friends. I adore Tamás Szentjóby’s work as well and although first I was afraid to approach him we talk and write to each other frequently. These collaborations and relations are important regarding my artistic practice. I do admire what they did against the system, against the rules back then. I think the reason why neo-avant-garde has turned to be more and more attractive is that it offers a wide range of traces and possibilities and many ways of perception. For example Július Koller’s retrospective in Vienna and in Bratislava had completely different meanings for the local audiences.
FM: You’ve founded your own publishing label in 2015 and launched a series of books featuring Hungarian and Slovakian neo-avant-garde artists. Where did the idea of starting your own label come from?
PF: First I just wanted to make an informative platform, to create a “permanent collection” by involving only my friends and colleagues. The collection could have been considered as an artwork, based on my personal way of order. That is how I started to produce the first books and later I’ve founded Archivingair Press. Compiling the books offered me more space unlike the very affective genre of the exhibition that focuses on the proper encounter with the visitor. A book can work by itself. It is something you can be alone with. The On Directing Air issues are also based on friendly collaborations with some of the representatives of the neo-avant-garde generation. In these cases it was very important for me to be sort of an archeologist, finding the documentations of some legendary events and actions everybody was walking about but not having been published yet. With the issue on Péter Bartos we were able to reconstruct one of his most important but almost unknown action by collecting photographs and stories from the participants, artist colleagues.
FM: You have curatorial experience, like working in the Sitting Together (Parallel Chronologies of Coincidences in Eastern Europe, 2016-17) project launched by transit.sk. Do you consider yourself a curator as well?
PF: Sometimes it is difficult to define the work areas. In case of Sitting Together the conventional professional boundaries vanished during the working process with Zsuzsa László. I have not even decided yet whether my contribution was rather manipulative, curatorial or more author-like and cooperative. Along with designing the exhibition display for the neo-avant-garde positions I also took part in the organization of the meetings. It was very important that these artists, active in the sixties and seventies, meet and talk with each other. Actually it was quite fun to find out that the older they get the more misanthropic and egoist they become.
FM: Being a mid-generation Slovakian artist how do you see the international opportunities?
PF: My generation is screwed up.We do not live and work under as attractive circumstances as the Socialism appeared to be in the eyes of the West paradoxically. The economic struggle, the limited professional opportunities and the lack of an inspiring art community make the situation even more difficult in Slovakia. On the other hand operating in a difficult situation can actually be very challenging, sometimes even useful and productive. When you have something to say then the place is just not that important, and I think this should be the same in Hungary.
FM: At this stage of your career what would you wish in terms of professional goals?
PF: Last year I was just writing and I’d like to write more in the near future. I am not that conscious in career building. For me it is important to be able to do what I want to do and to be free. There are great artists who are totally in the service of their own career and unfortunately this attitude can be traced in their work as well. I’d rather make mistakes but stay free.
Cover image: Petra Feriancova, Klaviatura, exhibition view, 2018, VILTIN Gallery, Budapest, photo: Dávid Biro