For On the threshold of the Fine Art Academy the cycle of interviews that ArteMorbida dedicates to young artists who have recently graduated / undergraduated, I met Nikola Filipovic who last year obtained the Master’s Degree in Decoration for Architecture at the Academy of Fine Arts in Bologna, having however already active exhibitions, participations and awards (awarded IV at the Valcellina Award 2021 and winner of the Tramanda Young Fiber Artist Award 2019) also in the international context. His artistic research rooted in the autobiographical dimension arrives at existential and current issues finding his expressive language in the textile medium that verges in a multiplicity of techniques and experiments. His works, full of references and citations, combine an apparent formal simplicity with a wealth of symbols and signs with complex and articulated semantics.
PORTRAIT ph.credit Ghazal Kohandel
Is art a means to investigate your history, your memory, to understand where you come from and the world around you?
With my art I try to understand where I come from and where I belong. I see it as a way to process my memories and make it easier for me to understand the world around me. For me, art has always been a kind of adaptation mechanism, I use it to process my feelings and memories. When I first moved to Italy to study at the Academy of Fine Arts, art gave me a completely different perspective on my childhood and the complicated period my country was going through at that time. My parents did a great job protecting me from most of the things I couldn’t understand as a child.
Embroidery is your language, an expressive mode in which, as for words, each stitch leaves an indelible trace. But it is also a choice of breaking with the tradition that relegated it to an artisanal technique for exclusive domestic and female use. So what is embroidery for you and what are the reasons behind this choice?
For me, embroidery is a language. When you want to undo a stitch, you have to cut it and remove the thread, but no matter how hard you try you will never be able to remove all the holes left there by a needle. In a way it’s the same with words, once you say something and want to take it back, it’s almost impossible because someone could always remember, just like the fabric remembers all the little holes.
When people who don’t know me see my work, they usually think the author is a woman. And usually follows the question, did your grandmother teach you to embroider? Actually none of my grandmothers ever took an interest in embroidery, they found it a waste of time. I was curious to try it out, so I went online and followed the tutorials.
I’ve also found a huge number of modern examples of embroidery as a form of feminist resistance online, so I find it a great medium for making affirmations and telling different kinds of stories. Embroidery is a very slow process and I find it very relaxing. For me it is a kind of meditation, and I find it very enjoyable as a technique because it gives me a kind of precision that I could not manage with different techniques, and using it as a statement against forms of patriarchy is an added value.
What the wind brings, 2018, hand embroidery, 6 modules cm.30×30, ph.credit Nikola Filipovic
In LE MAL DU PAYS you tackle the theme of the roots that you substantially identify with the family, the affections rather than the physical place of a particular country. Can you tell us about this work and the reflection from which it was born?
The title of this work comes from a composition by Franz Liszt. The piece in question is “Le mal du pays”, eighth piece of the collection “Années de pèlerinage”. I first heard about this song while reading Haruki Murakami’s “The Colorless Tazaki Tsukuru and His Years of Pilgrimage”, where he explained the detailed meaning of the words “Le mal du pays”.It is usually translated from French as “nostalgia” or “melancholy”. The main idea was to create some sort of personal flag that reflected my emotions regarding the idea of my origin.
The history of my country is very complicated and I only started to understand it better when I moved away from there. At the age of 12 I had already lived in 3 different countries without ever leaving my childhood home. When I finally left, the main part that was missing was my family. This work represents my idea of the family as a personal flag, using symmetry to reflect the same number of members addressing both sides of my family, which I consider the only constant in my life, regardless of the name of the place where we live.The work is printed using the sublimation transfer process on the material used to make the flags. The red color of the plant element is identical to that of the national flag of Montenegro which symbolizes the territory. All the figures are hand embroidered using black thread which has many symbolic values in our country, linked to family life and tradition. The work is carried out in the canonical proportion of the flag, 3×2 m, which according to Montenegrin law is the standard size of the flag.
Le mal du pays, 2019, print on fabric, hand embroidery, cm.300×200, ph.credit Nikola Filipovic
Le mal du pays, 2019, print on fabric, hand embroidery, cm.300×200, ph.credit Nikola Filipovic
Le mal du pays, detail, 2019, print on fabric, hand embroidery, cm.300×200, ph.credit Nikola Filipovic
The perception of reality is often changeable depending on the perspective or point of view from which it is observed and / or lived. And reality itself is constantly changing. What is change – a recurring theme in your works?
Well, if I have learned anything in the last year it is that we all have to learn to live with constant changes, adapt and make the most of the given situation. I like change, in the last two years I have lived in Montenegro, Italy and Poland, I like to move and often change the surrounding environment. I think it pushes me out of my comfort zone and allows me to see things from a different point of view.
The more I grow, the more my opinions and my likes and dislikes change about many things. When I was a kid I was a picky type, and my mom always told me that when I got older I would change my mind, so I just need to keep trying new things.Now one of my favorite things to eat is broccoli, my biggest childhood nightmare. What I’ve learned from this, aside from the fact that I should listen to my mom more often, is that I can’t control change, that’s usually exactly what inspires me and drives me to create something new.
You often use eco-sustainable and recycled materials. Technical, ethical or content choice?
We are living in the era of climate change, we could probably already start calling it the climate emergency. I think that all artists and designers, especially those of the new generation, should consider this aspect when creating their new work.We cannot afford not to use recyclable materials anymore, I am aware that this is not always possible but when it is I always prefer eco-sustainable options. I work mainly with used fabrics, because I like to think that they have a story of their own, a fragment of memory, which becomes part of my final work.
Language within the language, do the colors of the threads you use also convey symbolic meanings?
My work is very illustrative and colors have a huge impact on that. I always like to think of my work as a narrative as it tells a story, so choosing colors is one of my favorite things to do. In “Le mal du pays”, the red color I used is the same shade of red on the Montenegrin flag, it has a close symbolic meaning for me and my country of origin.
Lately I have been working only in the monochromatic way, using only the blue color as in my work “The Theory of Youth”. Blue is a color that I find very fascinating because it is a bit difficult to find in nature, also using just one shade makes me work differently and makes me focus a lot more on the drawing technique.
The Theory of youth, 2020, print on fabric, 3 elements, cm.140×190, ph.credit Nikola Filipovic
What is the genesis of your works? What are your sources of inspiration and how do you proceed from the idea to the finished work?
I don’t have a specific order in the things I do. I usually sit down and start drawing as much as possible. I always think in advance about the technical aspects of the work, I love researching forms and color combinations. I am not a very organized person, so there is always a lot to erase, redo and start over. This is an aspect that I am working on myself. I also struggle with procastination, I think it’s one of my worst flaws, especially when it comes to some of the finer aspects of the job, I always finish things I find funny first, then it takes me days to delve into a few details, just because I don’t like that part of the process so much. My main inspiration comes from my childhood memories and from my friends and family, the people around me.
What are – if any – the artists or movements that have influenced you or that you feel most akin to your research?
The first person that comes to mind is definitely Louise Bourgeois. Especially his textile work. I like the topics he elaborates through his works, family, sexuality, the body, death and the unconscious. When I first saw his works live, I was so fascinated by them, I couldn’t look away. He often said that these themes relate to the events of his childhood, which he considered a therapeutic process, and since I read those words they have stuck with me.
The other person whose job I love is definitely Fernando Botero. Not yet found a single work of his that I don’t like. I think they have universal appeal, being centered on characters and situations, both public and private, that people everywhere on Earth can recognize. There is something so funny and satirical about his work that attracts me strongly.
And finally Vojo Stanic, is probably one of the most important Montenegrin painters. When I was a child my parents took me to one of his exhibitions and I fell in love with his work. The topics of cafes, the sea or home are often mixed with surreal details or imaginative relationships of characters and objects, which made me dream of becoming an artist one day.
What project are you working on right now? And is there one in particular that you would like to give substance to in the future?
Lately I’ve been working mainly with wool. I am experimenting with combinations of felt and embroidery. For me wool is a very interesting fiber, and I would like to know more about its properties, I would also like to start using only locally produced wool.My other passion is technology, so I am currently taking some digital art courses, and I hope to be able to create successful projects by combining my two interests, textile arts and technology. At the moment I am working on a site specific project for the Medieval Civic Museum of Bologna. It’s unlike anything I’ve done so far in both size and technique, so I hope it’s a success.
What the water gave us, 2018, hand embroidery, 6 modules cm.30×30, ph.credit Ghazal Kohandel