Dunja Krcek is an Austrian painter, plant dyer, and textile / installation artist currently living in Vienna. I met her at the Brashnar Creative Project in Skopje, Macedonia in September 2018, where we were both artists-in-residence for a month. I was struck by Dunja’s culminating project at the end of the residency: a roomful of paintings, sketches, drawings, and textiles dyed with local plants and berries in Skopje. Every inch of the wall was covered with these colorful objects. Earlier that month, she had walked a few of the residents around town to collect the berries and show us how her dyeing process was done. I wanted to catch up with her about her creative process and current projects – so we wrote to each other over email in July 2019. – Ryan Mihaly
What are you working on now? What is your thought process working on these pieces? What materials are you working with, and what are you inspired by?
This is actually a difficult question for me to answer at the moment. I have the feeling that I am in between processes, due to the fact that I am leaving Vienna and about to travel. I moved out of my studio and everything is packed in boxes. And usually the studio is the place for me where everything happens. It is my orientation point for my thinking, and the materialization of my thoughts. It is the place where everything is concentrated. Not having this place anymore leaves me with a new and weird feeling. I don’t know when and where to follow my impulses. But at the same time it is exciting and I am confronted with new possibilities, perspectives.
But let me tell you a bit more about my working practice. As a painter I always need a space where I can arrange my stuff, even if it is liminal, and then start a choreography between those things, like colour tubes, canvas and brushes. I need to have repetitive tasks as a starting point. For example, the way I change my clothes when entering the studio, making tea, etc. It is like building a structure, having orientation marks. Within this structure I feel comfortable and can concentrate on my process. As it is a very spontaneous way of painting, following the slightest impulse or movement of my hand, I need something firm and steady my mind can rest on.
I usually work with oil colours on canvas, or plywood, and make a lot of fast drawings on paper, lately with ink and colour pencils. Another part of my work are naturally dyed textiles, which I stitch together, making spacious installations. So far, these are two different approaches for me, but I keep thinking about combining them in some way. Maybe creating atmospheres, alternative displays for the paintings. But so far, this is just a thought process.
The last series I have been working on were three canvases of the same size (80 x 60 cm) with different spatial situations. I wanted to create “rooms” where you, as a spectator, could crawl in, towards a backside, which opens up behind the built-up layers. I like to play with different, shifting perspectives, which are in a way synchronized. To me it is like small abstract situations are meeting and forming some sort of narration within one moment. It is hard to tell when this narration may end, because every gesture leads to another response. My inspiration is drawn from a lot of things, but most important for my work are the ambient aspects of an environment, especially light, movements, sounds, architectural elements, the weather and plant life. I am also inspired by literature and poetry. The rhythms of poems especially are becoming a great inspiration for me lately.
You have a gallery show coming up this Friday [July 12, 2019] called “unfinished sympathy.” Can you tell us about this show? Who are you working with?
The idea for this project developed in the beginning of 2019. A dear friend and colleague of mine, Christina Kehrer, told me about this space in the middle of a huge construction site of residential buildings, which is open for artists to use temporarily over the summer. We liked the idea of working together “on the site” for the duration of 2 weeks, creating a space for exchange, reflection and discussion in the middle of nowhere. From our previous talks we realized that literature concerns both of us in our working process as visual artists. So the idea arose to find a platform where we are able to combine this interest with our artistic practice. Very soon our group consisted of 6 members (Anna Schmoll, Anna Demmelbauer, Twan Geissberger, Laura Egger-Karlegger, Christina Kehrer and me) and we gave ourselves the name “writing through material club.”
As a starting point everybody had to bring a piece of work, which was kind of unfinished, or forgotten, or where you wouldn’t know how to proceed. And a book you are inspired by, a passage of text you like, etc. Our days started with long breakfasts and talks next to construction noise. Even though the environment wasn’t calm or inviting, we associated the feeling of being next to the sea. It was like holiday, like a break from everybody’s pattern to succeed and compete. It was all about experimenting and talking about what we need in order to be creative. It was an interesting way of working, switching between reading, going to the book table we set up and coming back to the materials (mostly paper, textile, prints, self-made folding books, etc). The exhibition installed itself very organically as we were working in the exhibition space the whole time. For the opening we wanted to activate the exhibition space by doing a small reading performance. For example one of the artists, Twan Geissberger, had written secret letters to Ali Smith, because she got very inspired by her writing. But a lot of other authors were involved, like Virgina Woolf, Georges Perec, Patrizia Cavalli, Alexander Garcia Düttmann, etc.
You are a painter, but also work with textiles and dyes. How does painting influence your textile work? Are your dyes and textiles as important as oils and acrylics?
I was interested in producing my own colours, using what the environment I am living in offers. So I started to work with plant-based dyes. I soon found out, that the better medium for this is textiles rather than paper or primed canvas. Searching for and collecting the plants is to me a kind of mapping my urban environment. It changes your perspective on the city. Suddenly you are aware of trees around the corner you had never seen before. Also my knowledge about plants, what they are used for, if they are edible, etc., increased. Concerning the colours, it is really exciting to observe how a colour develops, because you can never get the same result. It depends on how much pigment a plant has, and this is influenced by season, sun, placement, etc.
This method of gaining colours sharpens my awareness of how complex it is to produce pigments. I like the slowness of the process. It is different to the ready colours out of the tube you buy in the store. It led me to think and research more about the history of colour as material. There are so many aspects coming together (political and cultural aspects as well).
In painting as in working with textiles I am always concerned with colour relations. How a colour works next to another colour, and how this leads to a narration of colours, a unique environment for this particular moment. I have one quote I really like, which explains really well what I mean:
“In painting… color is relational. A color is seldom experienced autonomously; we always see one color against another, and those two against a third, and so on. There are dozens of other factors that influence our perception of color, such as value (how light or dark something is) and saturation (how dense color seems) but what counts most is the intervals between colors, precisely chosen. The way colors work in contiguity, creates a powerful chain of response from eye to brain. Just think about putting together an outfit. Does pink ‘go’ with gray…?”(David Salle, How to See, p. 16-17).
I know you have a big trip coming up, and have done some other artist residencies in the past. How important is travel to your art?
Yes, I decided to do an 8-month journey without using any airplanes, traveling from Europe to Asia. I will go with my partner Tobi and we are crossing through Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Russia, Mongolia, China, Taiwan and maybe Japan. We wanted to try out how it feels like to live without a permanent residence for a while and how it will influence our artistic practice.
To me it is important to be on the move, engaging with a different pace of life, getting to know other ways of living. It changes your perspective to the place you are calling your home. Last September I was part of an artist residency in Skopje, Macedonia. It was my first residency experience and I still keep thinking about it, realizing how it influenced me in such a positive way. Especially in finding my working routine. It is great to have the opportunity to just concentrate on your practice, going with the different flows you’re confronted with every day. I’m looking forward to how my next trip will influence me, what medium I am going to use while I am on the road.
What is your favorite time of day to work?
This can change from day to day. The best thing for me is when I have the freedom to observe my inner rhythm and just start working whenever I feel an impulse. In reality this is usually never the case, so sometimes I like the mornings when I feel the urge to just get things out there, and on other days evenings work better for me, when outside everything is getting calmer. To me cooking lunch is really important, so for practical reasons I go to the studio after I finished eating. Then I can concentrate better!
What do you like to listen to when you work?
The radio. Easy listening stuff – during the day. In the evenings I choose my music more consciously – mostly electronic music.
How do you deal with creative block? What do you do when you feel “stuck”?
I try to work through it. Just continue until something new comes out. Or I go for long walks. Walking helps me a lot with any kind of block.
Dunja Krcek‘s paintings, drawings, films, textiles, and installations have been shown across Austria, Portugal, and Macedonia. She is a graduate of the University of Applied Arts, Vienna. To see and read more about her work, please visit her website.
Ryan Mihaly is a poet and musician. He recently graduated from the MFA program at Naropa University where he was an Anne Waldman/Anselm Hollo fellow. His work has appeared in or is forthcoming from: 3:AM Magazine, DIAGRAM, Opossum, Posit, Asymptote, The Massachusetts Review, and in Ilan Stavans’ anthology On Self-Translation: Meditations on Language. He was a resident at Greywood Arts in 2018.