Rowdy Talks; Zuzana Svatik
Zuzana Svatik is a Slovak artist mainly working with ceramics. When thinking of ceramics one usually conjures an image of soft, delicate and sometimes quaint art meanwhile Zuzana’s world, a world where punk, feminism and an observation of society as a whole is projected onto said ‘quaint’ pieces, is a perfect juxtaposition that makes you look twice and think more. Here Marta interviews the artist to understand her thought process and what goes into making these original thought provoking pieces.
M: When did you realize you wanted to be an artist and how did you accept yourself as an artist?
Z: I don't think it was a conscious decision, of course there are a lot of aspects. We can say I was excellent at drawing when I was a kid, which led my parents to support my journey, but I don't think that's an answer to me becoming an artist. There are so many factors which connect, there were plenty of kids who were good at drawing but now work in the corporate world so, I mean I don't feel like I can satisfy that question. It's the same as if you ask a mathematician ´why do you do math?´ and they would probably give you the same answer. It's possible that if something so small happened differently I would be a completely different person and I find that magical in a way.
M: So it just kind of happened?
Z: Well, I was doing this after school art course and my teacher thought I was good, so she took me to an art school to look around and I told her I wanted to study graphic design, or something like that. I went there when I was 14 and I was a punk kid just caring about cigarettes and boys and shit and then I met some student in the corridor and she told me it’s the easiest to get into the ceramic department. So I applied there and then when I was thinking about university I thought this was the only thing I could do, and that's why I continued. I have been doing ceramics for about 15 years now. I don't think I woke up one day and decided ‘okay this is what I'm gonna do.’ It just continually happened and I found myself being able to connect myself to the medium in such a way that I kind of became that also.
M: Great! What is the most attractive stage for you, is it the search for references, is it when you develop an idea, the process itself or seeing the finished piece? What do you enjoy the most?
Z: I don't know … Ceramics are very difficult and so it's kinda like you laugh at the whole process and you hate it at the same time, cause so many parts of it are just so unpredictable. If I had to choose one thing it may be when I decide on a specific thing to paint on the object, and then the painting itself is wild, and I don't sleep well, and it's just a mess. The part that I'm most scared of is finishing the project, or the morning after an exhibition opening. You know, I feel so empty when I finish something, I feel like I will never come up with something else.
M: In our store we have got a collection of your ashtrays. We have Birth Of Venus Not, John & Judy, Why The Sad Face and Not Every Day Is A Good Day. Could you tell me how you came up with the titles and why for example Birth Of Venus Not is called that and talk me through the creative process of the ashtrays?
Z: It's kind of a new idea. I came up with it sitting in my studio smoking on the couch and I got so pissed to think that I only had a used can of cucumbers as an ashtray. I was looking at it and felt so unsatisfied with what I was seeing that I just got up and made my first ashtray. You have one of the first pieces, the one with the guy fucking the girl and she hits his eye. It’s maybe the first one I ever painted. People were like, ‘oh my god it’s degrading,’ and, ‘funny how it's on an ashtray where you just dump your cigarette,’ but I thought that was what was most fun about that. You connect with it by using it so directly, not like with a vase where you put flowers in it and it's all pretty, and you have it in the middle of your living room. The ashtray has a different dynamic about it and that really attracts me.
About the motives, you have kinda a wide selection, as I said, you have the first one. You have 5 pieces in total that I made over about 5 months. I like it because I can see what kind of things I was interested in during that time. I find it exciting that it's a collection of different periods of time. The latest ones are John & Judy. I went to a sex store, I go there for inspiration sometimes, and I was working on a big exhibition where I was really aware how the sex business is really changing and how the normal sex stores are completely dying out. I’m interested in how sexuality reflects alot of stuff, not only sex but a wide social layer that you can read through. I went to the sex store and I saw the Blow Up dolls and on the boxes was written ‘Judy-she won’t steal your covers’ and ‘John-he won’t snore in bed.’ I thought it so absurd how they think up these stereotypes, but at the same time I found it so funny - like it's so heavy and so wrong to present it this way!
M: And, The Birth of Venus Not, what's the story behind that one? It's my favorite.
Z: Since Christanity started to have such an impact on society, like hundreds of years ago, there has been 2 types of how a woman could be. It's either this very submissive woman or a prostitute. The evil one and then the holy one; who gives birth and cooks, and I thought then the renaissance came and there were all of these depictions of these bodies, and that’s the joke, and why there is a drawing of the pope, cause I feel they would prefer it if it never really happened, then I used the gold around which is kind of ironic.
M: Thank you for explaining it, I must say it is a little bit controversial, especially on ceramics. On an ashtray to put the Pope and that shell and then to write, The Birth Of Venus Not, I was like ‘Wow Zuzana.’
Z: Of course the motif is historical, but I’m interested in how Christianity, specifically where I’m from (Slovakia), still affects descions being made about women or abortion or the LGBT community. So I feel like even though the motifs come from the past this is still going on and I find that really depressing.
M: Can you tell us a little bit about the music you listen to and the books you’re reading? Your style is so unique, fun and bright, but also scary, punk and a bunch of other stuff. What inspires you?
Z: My taste is very eclectic, I could be listening to punk or other days to Katy Perry on my way to the studio, like, I'm a mess! You see, me and my work are the same, but then in my work I'm quite organized compared to my personal life. I’m doing my PHD so I would say that I’m mostly reading what I have to read for my studies, so a lot of feminism, capitalism, sexuality, pornography. My inspirations come from many places. Like I said I went to a sex store but I also get inspired at party’s, concerts and bars. I can't really say that I'm into politics. I don't follow it everyday but you can't really avoid it, and when I do connect with it really pisses me off. Things that happen to me during the day, I kind of collect, and then after a year or even 5, I decide to use it because the actual situation I saw connects to the topic that I'm dealing with at that moment. What I do is very complex. It's not like I can stop it for a few hours a day. It's going on non stop. Then sometimes I look at my sketchbooks from when I was like 17 and sometimes I'm really embarrassed by the bullshit I see there.
M: Can you tell me about your ultimate goal? You are now in Versailles, is that the ultimate goal of Zuzana? And then to exhibit in Paris?
Z: So I just arrived here and there is a lot expected of me, I have 2 and a half months to produce a collection that I'm satisfied with which is a huge challenge for me.
M: So these are the vases you're doing?
S: I haven't started yet, but they are going to be huge objects. I want to do 1.5 meter pieces or something like that because there is a huge kiln I can use, but right now I'm just nervous cause I don't know exactly what I'm gonna do, so I just keep eating baguettes and drinking wine, I'm not sure it's helping - definitely not my diet, but whatever. I can't say that I have some kind of long term goal. I can't even work on 2 projects at the same time. I'm going to pour myself entirely into this project. Then I will have the exhibition and be completely empty for a month after, and then I will start working on the next one. The long term goal I guess would be that I don't want to get comfortable, I want to challenge myself and I basically just want to keep working. I dont have the desire to sell something huge and buy a yacht even if I had plenty of money right now. I don't know what I would get, probably a bigger kiln for my studio. I just don't care that much.
M: What does Rowdy mean to you?
Z: I would say it's something disturbed, noisy. I wasn't really familiar with your store before you contacted me so I looked it up and talked to you and your colleague and I started to work with you because of the energy you both have. I kinda find Rowdy aligns with parts of my work. I’m super happy my ashtrays are there, I also feel like you are eclectic and punk and that just works for me and that’s why I’m here.
M: Thank you Zuzana, I identify with your work. When I saw it in that Polish magazine, Monitor, I was like ‘Wow, I love that chick!’ I love that you are connecting these two mediums and creating these objects that are controversial and making people think, and that's exactly what you said about not getting comfortable or earning loads of money and that you just want to keep working. How I look at it is that you want to have an impact and think of trying to make other people think something, to stop and look at an object.
Z: I don't know, because I can place my object in a gallery and there will be people that really think about what it means, then there are people that are disgusted by it, and there are people who just walk around. But that's okay you know, I feel like I also don't care for everything I’m seeing and it's up to the viewers whether the piece talks to them. Usually when I see people have negative reactions to what I paint on the object its because they don't want to be confronted with themselves, which they naturally are due to the narrative embedded in my paintings - this is where I feel great work comes from and that's the dynamic I put in so I'm used to negative things being said about my work, that's a part of it. Sometimes it's tough but what can you do? I can't do abstract painting. I die of boredom. I don't do any ‘business’ oriented art. For instance, if someone wants me to make 100 cups, I'm not interested. For me even though I'm working with the medium, the craftsman ship itself is not what satisfies me, I feel like I've been working for many years to be able to do this craft, to have the technique, for me that's not the highest point, what interests me is putting meaning to the object by understanding the craft so well. I would rather work in a cafe than make 100 cups!