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Sonja Jo (b. 1992, Sremska Mitrovica, Serbia) is based in Novi Sad, Serbia, and works in sculpture and installation. In 2018 she graduated in MA Sculpture at the Academy of Arts in Novi Sad. Her works focus on the impact of visual culture in everyday communication, ranging from childhood games, TV commercials to the five-pointed red star. She traces the transformation of these everyday symbols, questioning the two irreconcilable concepts of living, past ideologies and contemporary life. Thus the game of hopscotch is presented as binary code for the generation who use the Internet since a young age and are comfortable with new technologies and social media (Digital childhood, 2015); the TV coffee commercial becomes a B movie, low-budget commercial film, poster and points to a widespread cultural hegemony (Coffee time, 2017); and the red star is imprinted with double-meaning of the cultural heritage of ex-Yugoslavia states and the remnants of the Communist era (Mommy it’s broken, 2016). The ambivalent nature of the past and present and the transformations of meaning in different ideological conditions are recurrent themes in the artist’s works.

Sonja has been actively exhibiting since 2012, including solo exhibitions at SULUV and KCLab (Novi Sad, Serbia), Cultural Center of Vrbas (Vrbas, Serbia), the Museum of Srem (Sremska Mitrovica, Serbia) and group exhibitions at Ostavinska galerija and the Museum of Applied Arts (Belgrade, Serbia), Museum of Contemporary Art Vojvodina (Novi Sad, Serbia) and Kaunas Biennial (Kaunas, Lithuania).

She was the prize-winner of Foundry Stanišić and Academy of Arts in 2016.

How to Get Rid of Your History; 29’46’’

Without Ruins We Cannot See the New World is a project completed during Sonja’s Magic Carpets residency in Kaunas, and is based on the ideological transformations that took place in 1990 in Lithuania, with a particular focus on the history of the former factories in Šančiai. Through the personal stories of former factory workers and their feelings and thoughts about the political and economic turbulences of the time, the artist tends to refer to a critical reading of capitalism and its consequences in former Soviet countries such as Lithuania. The colors of factory wall bricks, as physical witnesses of the regime change and the coexistence of two ideologies, red (Soviet period) and white (Independence period), served as a starting point for the artist. This artwork shows that every political arrangement always focuses on the maintenance and progress of the industry, where the spiritual and moral life of the individual is subordinated to it. As part of the installation, the video How to Get Rid of Your History shows meaningless messages from the presenter, which, along with different narrations, become a weapon of manipulation. The artwork sends the message that the acceptance of historical and contemporary political events is a matter of personal choice.
Credits: How to get rid of your history was commissioned by Kaunas Biennial for Creative Europe Platform “Magic Carpets” using funds provided by the E.U.

Interview

What is the language in common for the young people today?

The common language of young people is primarily visual communication, personal aesthetic expressions and experiences, which now takes place every day through social networks but also through cultural content. I think that the goal is to create a certain system in which some kind of cultural life would function in the future.

What does the process of making one of your pieces look like?

The process is always different, like most of my work. I don't have a theme or technique that I apply or multiply, but according to the topic that interests me, I decide on a certain way of performing. It all starts with the idea and it takes the longest to review and research. I realized some works in a couple of hours, while others took me several months.

Which challenges have you faced while making art as you know it?

A lot of things are challenging, from existential to creative hesitations on a daily basis. So they overcame the most terrible feeling of giving up.

Do you consider yourself an artist, and what does that word mean to you?

I think I am 😊, only I haven't driven like that yet. It is strange for me to present myself as an artist.

What is your escape from reality? Do you even have a need to escape from something?

I don't think I have or maybe I have nothing to do with reality, one of those two.

What does the word innovative mean to you?

For me, innovation is an honest approach to work, it is something instinctive that we recognize in the artists we love. Both such artists and works are recognized as good. While with a wider audience, unfortunately, the trend is recognized as innovation, as when you bring something from abroad that does not exist in your country. Innovation, in my opinion, is an approach to the topic of work, which leads to a certain authenticity, because we are already different in ourselves. Of course, neither innovation nor authenticity today are prerequisites for a quality work of art, which is great.

Do you have a plan for the future? Where can your artistic practice take you?

I don't have it, but what is good is that just dealing with art initiates a certain growth, progress, even though sometimes we don't see it.

What made the biggest influence on you to become what you are today and do what you do now?

My father, who painted as a hobby, was the most influential, he spent a lot of time painting, so I fell in love with art, but I accepted it as a kind of entertainment, he often worked on reproductions by Leonardo Davinci, Dürer, Modigliani and others. Unfortunately, I did not manage to awaken even a part of that painting talent.

 Later, I was most influenced by the fact that I learned that there is "another art" that is not just drawing and painting. And at that moment it was such a relief for me, it was a solution to my torments caused by my objects that I made and observed and considered art, the best feeling was when I saw other people do it. That was the end of elementary school.

How would you describe Serbian (Balkan or European-depends on where you live and work) contemporary cultural scene?

Okay, the most important thing is to get rid of lethargy, to have the desire to exhibit, to organize…

In which way does your creative process shape you or changes you as a person, if it does at all?

I don't know how but it certainly shapes and changes, as each new contact or journey changes us, each work leads to something new as each exhibition or interaction leads to other states and feelings.