For a while now, I’ve wanted to interview the artist Lana Mesic about her work and her experience in Brazil. Until one day, when I was reading “Why people photograph?” from Robert Adams, I had the idea of doing a serie of interviews with young photographers asking why do they photograph? I am really glad to start it with Lana:
A: You were born in Croatia and live in Netherlands. How do these places influence you as a photographer?
L: I really feel Croatia influenced my imagination and fascinations. It is a place where I draw endless visual and narrative references. Even when the subject matter has (seemingly) nothing to do with Croatia I see how I can trace everything back to it. I first opened my eyes there, that has to mean something! Historical and socio-political situations but also old folk takes, belief in magic and superstition, even the color palette all influenced my visual vocabulary.
In The Netherlands I received my formal training as a photographer. And this helped me to give context to the images I was making. I could place them in a proper discourse and find platforms on which they would be best suited to. The Netherlands is a very fertile ground for photographers. There is much support for us in many ways, shapes and forms and for this I am very grateful.
A: How was your experience at FAAP Residency in Brazil? Can you tell us a little about the work developed “Invisible City”?
L: FAAP was a beautiful, magic but also crazy experience for me. I expected to get some support from the organization, but none was provided and this was a difficulty since I didn’t speak any Portuguese! I had a studio and living space in downtown Sao Paulo and the doormen told me not to go out after 8 PM. Which I off course didn’t listen to. I remember walking down Viaduto de Cha past midnight and feeling absolutely unbreakable. I owned it. Naturally some experiments I wanted to try out simply weren’t possible and I had to adjust my whole approach. However, considering I wanted to use this time to experiment with totally different methodological approaches it worked out. I was forced to do something different, there was no turning back!
The project is largely inspired by the book of Italo Calvino “The Invisible City” in which Marco Polo describes a city to Kublai Khan. In my project I take the role of Marco Polo and describe Sao Paulo to my Kublai. The main question I raised was: is it possible to find a version of paradise in this megalomaniac of a city? And why do we always look for paradise somewhere far, never “here”? This is the crux of the project. Sao Paulo is crazy like this, it will break you down and build you up.. There is a quote (I have no idea whose it is…) that goes something like:
São Paulo is like that – gigantic, immeasurable. A metropolis that never stops. Even if it would stall for only one minute, its immensity wouldn’t let me feel the whole. It is the city that keeps seducing me, and although I try, its constant mutation does not allow me to decipher it.”
My discovery was that the invisible city is not out there but that I was the invisible city. The connections made and broken. Next to photographs I also drew a giant drawing for the period of the residency. I never worked on a drawing for 3 months and it turned out to be a kind of visual map of my inner process. As my knowledge of the city grew so did this drawing. You can see how my inner state reflects in it. At times it was a confronting process but I’m glad with the result. In November I will show this work for the first time and I’m very excited about this.
A: I am completely in love with your work “Anatomy of Forgiveness”. As a documentary photographer, why recreate a moment of forgiveness between perpetrators and their victims in Rwanda?
L: All of my work deals with this human desire to visualize the invisible. I am captivated by things that have no image. For me there is a certain magic in this. Pure alchemicy, creating gold out of rock so to say.
Forgiveness is also a largely invisible process and yet it is a reality. For me it is very exciting to investigate this with photography, it pushes the boundary of the medium and it raises a question “What is documentary” anyway!? Is there such thing as an objective narrative or is all documentary inherently subjective, staged?
By recreating these moments I am showing something that once has happened…which is (according to Roland Barthes) one of the central definitions of photography. At the same time the viewer is aware that these are re-created. It isn’t pretending to be something and I think that it is this subtlety that makes it work.
Next to this, the project aims to question our Western views upon Africa. These moments of forgiveness don’t look “happy” to us. There are no Panam smiles. And yet, they are real. The interview with the couples confirm this. So who are we to judge and question the sincerity of their forgiveness just because to us it doesn’t look this way??
A: I am reading the book “Why people photograph?” from Robert Adams, so I would like to know: Why do you photograph?
L: The answer is already hidden in the previous answers…It is to look for the hidden, magical, unworldly and mysterious… Someone once told me that there is no meaning OF life, there is only meaning IN life. Photography for me is a visual search of meaning in life. It is a way to dig deeper in the epidermis of the sub consciousness. It is an alibi and ticket to places one perhaps otherwise would never go to. And by this I don’t necessarily mean physical places.
But also, to be honest it is just a medium, a tool, a meaning to an end. It is a box that records light. Perhaps for a future project I will ditch it for a pen or a piece of granite. Anything is possible, but for now it is a tool I love to work with and explore its taciturn charms.
To know more Lana Mesic: lanamesic.com. All photos rights by Lana Mesic. Thanks, Fábio Nascimento.