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David Vecchiato interviews Jana Brike about her art and the Winter of Love show



In your artworks the human characters seem frozen in the age of first awareness, when the child becomes a teenager. They apparently have no sex. They are ten years old, more or less, the age you were when Latvia was liberated from the Soviet occupation. When you were nine years old the big event called Baltic Way took place: a human chain of 600 kilometers passing through Tallinn, Vilnius and your city Riga, asked for the independence of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.
Do you remember how those news came to you and what did you think about that?
I love your phrase “first awareness”. 
It’s a true pure feeling. 
Later we start to concoct too much, stirring the same stagnated thoughts in circles, often without questioning if the input data is even true. “First awareness” is a beautiful fresh breathe. 
I never before thought of my characters as being the same age as me during particular events in my country’s history. That’s an interesting point of view.
The Baltic Way as an event with so many people expressing their free will was a strong experience. But I don’t think The Baltic Way should be a singular occurrence, rather a peaceful basic sense of every day – that we are all not just one feckless impotent mass easy to manipulate for the power.
I was in a very elated mood about these news. In some ways this was indeed the time of the “first awareness” for me.

How the history of your country has influenced your artistic choices?
It has taught me not to drag my personal history with me emotionally, but to move on creating my individual world of beauty here and now. 
If I had all the misery of this history on my back emotionally, it would be such a load I would never dance, just crawl in the best case. And from the history I know that today’s misery from a viewpoint of a greater perspective will someday all be just an experience adding a little drop to the consciousness, and nothing more. 
Also, living in a totalitarian regime has given me a particular perspective on what creativity is. I remember it always, that there were people who couldn’t stop expressing their own creative power, their need to manifest their own inner world of free thought whatever the circumstances. Search for the Soviet underground or nonconformist art if you want to see.
At the same time, as you know, part of propaganda machinery was to take a contraposition in relation to the Western culture which complied with the taste of masses to a great extent creating easy to consume products. 
Taking this into consideration, wonderful strong art for arts’ sake was encouraged – theatre, books, movies – that I maybe didn’t “like” as a child, but which affected me strongly and deeply. 
And I knew since a very early age that I want to express myself creatively, too.

Do you think there is a relationship between the young  Jana of those years and the characters of your artworks?
Of course there is. But I definitely do not paint portraits of myself as I was then. I was a child. Now I paint adults being myself an adult, just their flesh is that of a child. This dilemma of the century I just feel right now I can express through a child character .That there is no innocence in them. They question everything and believe in nothing. But they still can trust, still are vulnerable, still love, and maybe more deeply and more honestly than ever.

What is the first memory of your childhood?
I remember myself very well since I’m 2 or so, but I don’t have a clear view regarding the continuity.
I sometimes wonder if time really is that linear. Now and then I have these feelings of déjà vu in such superstrong way that it literally makes my hair stand on end, especially if I’m out of my ordinary surroundings and with people I haven’t met before. And on a few occasions I have grasped that it came from a dream at night, because I clearly remember how the chain of moments, exactly the same to the last single little detail to where I now find myself physically, was evolving further in the dream in the incoherent dream-fashion way. What I, being a person of a very cognitive approach, can derive from it, I don’t know. Maybe there’s some part of me who’s been here – ahead – already, and the rest of me follows physically to live through an already existing memory? I don’t know.

And what’s your favourite fairy tale?
The tales I was read when infant were not adjusted to the mass taste to make a lovely commercial sedative candy for children of how sweet life is towards, let’s say, little girls who are nice and not naughty and marry well, after just a little trouble of defeating the others who are in blame for their misfortunes. My Little Mermaid of my infanthood was not that of Disneyworld, where the original story is changed to a pink candysweet “happily ever after”. I cried and cried my guts out for the Little Mermaid. Her prince was not deceived but just fell in love truly and deeply with another beautiful good girl, and the other mermaids had to exchange their shaved hair for the witch’s magical knife to let the Little Mermaid decide whether she would kill the prince and live, or die herself. And she secretly kissed both the prince and his true love, asleep in embrace together, and she died willingly herself. And there were no “bad guys” to blame. My fairy tales were quite complex ethical dilemmas, too complex even for an adult to solve, understand or accept.
Did I love them? Hmm... I don’t know. But they were very true. Actually I could also reply very shortly: my life is really the fairy tale I love most of all. Because I’m the one responsible for writing it.

Who are the artists that have influenced your artistic training? Not only visual artists, I mean even writers, musicians and filmmakers...
I am a part of the postmodern visual space, I accept that. It means a lot of complex hypertexts and cross-references, and allusions, and quotes, and quotes of the quotes. I love the books of Murakami, like Kafka on the shore, he shows how profound that interchange can be. One can read the book as a separate piece of literature of course, but to understand the singular book to a deeper degree and comprehend how organically it interweaves into the common contemporary space, one needs to be rather educated in the past and present literature, music, art and culture of many countries. 
If I must remember my very first artistic impulses, one of my first contacts with visual art and maybe semantically the strongest was through my extremely devotedly catholic granny when I was just a few years old. To save me from fainting of boredom in her church ceremonies, she gave me her bible to play with, which was full of colorful postcards of all kinds of catholic saints. She made me think that they couldn’t have been paintings as no earthly human could have painted “the real Virgin Mary” and of course they couldn’t have been photos, too. So I came up with my own explanation that these faces of incredible otherworldly beauty have just materialized on these little pieces of paper with no explanation one can talk about. When a few years later I got to know that these are reproductions of real paintings of artists from renaissance and romanticism, it was such a shock and actually seemed even less credible. But then I decided the versions are not contradictory, and if a human can have such insane skills, he must have employed either fairy magic or some devilry indeed. Maybe I still think so about some artists (smile). There are many individual creations that touch me and give me a material to feel and think about. I’ll give one. 
I love The Neverending Story book. The movie was lovely, but the book is really extraordinary and brilliant. A beautiful parable about the incredibly diverse world of imagination which becomes sick without active, conscious, loving and creative mutual interaction with the world of physical form and starts producing just emptiness and lies for it; and a parable about the individual world – both physical and imaginary as two indissolubly connected – of every single one of us being an important integral part of a vast multidimensional neverending story of us all.

As in many contemporary figurative artists, like Mark Ryden or Marc Quinn and others, even in your artworks nature is dominant. In your art humans are fully integrated into nature, they commit acts not regulated by forms of shame or by civil society, also death and sex appear mechanical. Sometimes their bodies are one thing with vegetable elements.
How do you interpret this common representation of reality in your art and in a lot of contemporary art?
Inside the nature I place the “human” but with all its imperfections and not as a human canon. There is no shame in any individual act, the motivation of which is creativity and love in the very widest and deepest sense of the word. The acts committed following the rules of a particular so called civil society are often considerably more shameful.
I spent a great deal of my own childhood running alone in woods, learning plants and herbs, observing butterflies and bugs, watching stars and sundawns, listening birdsongs and learning animal footprints and so on. It has been a big and important part of my cognitive investigation of what this world is, and has a lot of memories of deeply and individually felt happiness, as I really took nobody with me in my play. I still go to the country a lot, and walking in woods straying away from the beaten path is really one of my favorite things to do. I did have a lot of these nature elements in my previous work with more serious, kind of threatening feel.
Now I feel they are more playful, more ethereal. 
The reason why I have nature in my work is definitely not a didactic reference to the decay of the contemporary society and no nostalgia about leaving the nature, as I haven’t left anything. It just is a powerful prism through which I individually feel the world with all my senses.
Do other artists feel about it the same way as I do? I really have no idea. But I think everyone has their own issues even if they seem to overlap sometimes.

Regarding the creatures who live in the world you paint, do they have some kind of faith?
“Faith” is a complicated ambiguous word. 
They definitely do not have the faith like the body of dogma of a particular religion. Maybe every of my creatures has a faith in its own individual creative powers to make its own world through every feeling, thought, belief and action where they are gods of creation with a power to turn it into a sight of beauty or destruction depending on choices of their own free will.

In Winter of Love human characters seem to stay apart. In the new artworks there is more space for nature, and for dolls from XIX century. So, is possible a winter of love without humans...but what kind of love people can find in these new artworks?
I have actually avoided using the word “love” in intimate relationship with people for all my life till quite recently. Really. I guess I have observed what kind of emotion is called by this name since I was very young, and I saw so many people acting like spoiled foolish possessive children in a toy-store. In the feeling we call “love”, how much of it is just out-of-control agitation of our own mind, emotions and body, and how much we really want to draw closer to the individual core of being of another human with respect and awareness, to accept and treasure it as it is, and help to realize its own true individual creative potential?
At the same time love is so playful in its enormous creative power. Human beings mutually in love, free like in youth when we don’t yet apply the intellectual control over our feelings – such humans will have a smile all over their faces and walk in dance steps with no audible music. Love is a smile, a play, a laughter, and this body of work of mine is somewhat less serious-faced than other have been.
Why “winter”? I live in a country where seasons changes are very tangible, and all the nature manifests itself in a cyclic form, and that’s how I see life. Spring is each year’s childhood, summer is adolescence and fall is old age. Winter is enlightened death, inception and insanely powerful potency of embryo all in one. I like “winter” as a symbol most. There is so much of meditative inner silence in winter, much rest and anticipation of the growth and blossoming to the full potential in the next spring. I could have called it “Inception of the Love”, too.
Making formal New Year’s Resolution lists is of course a silly ornamental measure to take. But in some ways I cannot help nursing my wishes for the next year and the future when the winter comes, and sending them out winged with my will, so wintertime time IS like inception of the love for me.

Who’s that doll who often lives in your artworks? What does it means for you?
Partly the meaning is in the way I understand what I am. I did have religiously catholic upbringing as a child, as I said. I naturally visualized everything I was told, as children usually do, but I couldn’t imagine my “soul” as a thing “trapped” in my body, because I visualized it so vast, larger than the world. I rather saw my body living inside the “soul” as a dear plaything. A beautiful dear doll to play with in the world of the physical form. I still visualize it like that. There’s also a personal reference to the helpless feeling of being a doll in hands of the fatal destiny, instead of just becoming the lord of the own individual creative destiny. But of course it can have a lot of other meanings too, I’m not creating my art to convey an unambiguous didactic moral. It always makes me truly happy when people who have felt a strong positive or negative resonance to my work just honestly look into themselves and write to tell me what that work has meant to them. Your perception is as creative and sometimes more aware than my creating. If it’s a free and honest perception and not just tidying every feeling into boxes of mental clichés. 
Oh I so much long for this type of personal and productive art criticism.

In this period, where the Capitalism is devoured by the same financial system that has generated, looking at your artworks in which the human stands aside, we could have the idea that you lost your faith in humanity. That’s true? Or do you believe in a rebirth?
Yes, on the surface I don’t deal with “person versus society” issues much in my artworks. I know the beauty starts with my own world, and that’s where I start with my art.
I have a lot of incredible faith in humanity, but I don’t have faith in moralities behind the society systems. I suspect I’ll be seeing through upswing and break-up of not just one system, as you say. Everyone is clever to say society must do, be, think or act this or that, but we see in the history how every nice sounding slogan – prosperity, freedom, American dream, Christian love or communistic equality and collaboration – turn just from one cage of dogma into another cage of dogma, each very suitable for demagogy and manipulation with masses for the power. Do we really need to search for new slogans for the “good of society”? I’m somehow questioning that.
My creatures are just little playful dancing gods of individual creativity and not a part of society which functions through self-imposed rule of moral, economical, intellectual and political cannibalism where one has to gnaw the throat of the neighbor to get upwards in hierarchy, and even the best of us define who we are in relation to those who are above in ranks, and of course mostly to those who are below. Well, what do my little humans care about that, they just ARE.
Cyclic rebirth exists in the nature all the time, if we just care to look around. I do believe in the Neverending story.


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Jana Brike
  Winter Of Love - Jana Brike solo show
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Dal 15 dicembre 2012 al 12 gennaio 2013 Mondopop presenta WINTER OF LOVE, la prima personale italiana di Jana Brike. Alla CASA DELLA CULTURA  - Villa de Sanctis, via Casilina 665, Roma


From 15th of December 2012 to 12th of January 2013 Mondopop presents WINTER OF LOVE, a Jana Brike solo show. @ CASA DELLA CULTURA (Culture's House) - Villa De Sanctis, via Casilina 665, Rome


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