Ira Ferris is Zagreb-born, Sydney-based curator, podcaster, and cultural producer. She is a co-Artistic Director of Artemis Projects working between Australia and Europe. Her curatorial interests are broad but tend to gravitate towards conceptual art practices. Given her background in contemporary dance, she is particularly interested in, and inspired by somaesthetics and the way our bodies navigate and experience the exhibition space. Ira holds MA in Journalism, is a casual arts producer and presenter on Sydney’s Eastside Radio, and hosts her own podcast channel featuring interviews with local and international artists.
Interview with Ira Ferris, Zagreb-born, Sydney-based curator, podcaster, and cultural producer, and Gordana Zikic from Belgrade Artist in Residence. Belgrade
Belgrade, May 2019
If you would like to listen only audio, you can also follow Ira Ferris on Sound cloud
- What is the project you are currently working on?
There are a few ..
One is that I am here on a curating residency so I am using my time in Belgrade to explore the art scene, find out about interesting exhibitions spaces, and propose the work of some of the artists I work with to the local galleries and festivals.
Then there is a project called DANCE CINEMA that I am a part of. It is an online platform for screening dance films and videos. Each video screens on it for a month and is accompanied by an interview with its creator. So while in Belgrade I’m interviewing some of the dance filmmakers which I am really enjoying.
Although we are based in Sydney, DANCE CINEMA is an international platform so we are looking at featuring videos and artists from around the world, so if anyone would like to send us the content, please do…
- How can people send their projects?
There is a submission form on dancecinema.org website. Or you could also email me directly on email@example.com
- You have also been making podcasts with no dance related artists …?
Yes, apart from working with my friend Melissa Ramos on DANCE CINEMA, I also run a thing called ARTEMIS PROJECTS podcast where I feature interviews with artist, curators, art thinkers, … So while in Belgrade, I recorded interviews with some of the artists and cultural producers here such as Dejan Golic from Belgrade RAW, David Pujado from Belgrade Photo Month, Goran Rister from Kvaka, and artists Marija Bjekic and Genevieve Leavold. And the one with you as well.
- How come you are interested in podcasting / interviewing?
Before studying Art History in Sydney and working as a curator, I finished journalism back in Croatia. And I always loved radio as a format. When I come across a good radio interview (or a podcast) it’s almost an aesthetic experience for me. Some people’s ability to express themselves well, to articulate their ideas is wonderful and a form of art in my view.
I also love the idea of giving artists the voice; putting their voice and their ideas out there. The society should really listen to them more…. They often have some profound things to say. So I hope to create a platform for them to do so.
- You are also as far as I understand working on a couple of exhibitions as a curator?
Yes, in June we are exhibiting a project by artist Julia Bavyka in Zagreb, at Galerija VN. The project is called Mladen Stilinovic Study Centre and she started it back in 2016 in Sydney. This will be its fourth iteration and the first one outside of Australia.
Mladen Stilinovic was one of the major Yugoslavian conceptual artists, known for his work as part of Group of Six that also included Vlatko Martek, Sven Stilinovic, etc. He is perhaps best known for his essay In praise of laziness, and a series of photographs called Artist at Work where we see him sleeping – restlessly.
Julia’s and mine work at Galerija VN is called LOST REST and we are looking at contemporary working conditions for artists – often overworked and overtired – using Mladen’s methodology in our approach.
- And the other exhibition?
It’s something that is part of Projekt Spajalica where we pair two artists from ex-Yu countries who have never met but share either a similar thematic interest, or a style, or a medium they work in. The idea is to let them know about each other, provide them with an opportunity to exchange ideas, meet in person, and workshop a collaborative project.
- Do you think your cultural background is influencing your work and in what way?
Ah that is really hard to answer because I was born and raised in Zagreb but I have now been living in Sydney for over a decade and it was in Sydney that I really delved into the exploration of art. So I am not sure what my background in terms of art really is…
But on the other hand there is a particular aesthetic I gravitate too. It has something to do with the density of expression. With delving into it and not hovering on the surface. That’s how people from Ex-Yu are often described. I know that people who come from overseas get shocked with how quick we start talking about deep philosophical issues. No mocking around. No wasting time on small talk. Maybe art here is like that too. And I like that level of density, which at the same time can be humorous and fun but even the humor is dense.
What influences you?
I get inspired by creative minds around me. I love sitting down for a coffee or a wine and bouncing off ideas, thoughts, philosophies with other people. People inspire me.
What are some differences and similarities between Belgrade and Sydney?
I don’t feel very articulate to make any nuanced comparisons but what I can say is that I’m in love with Belgrade’s vibe and I feel creatively very inspired here. I am also really grateful for the generosity of so many people I have met here, including you. There is a sense of freshness, energy, playfulness and comradeship here.
Sydney inspires me too in different ways and there is a different kind of playfulness and free spirit and courageousness there. I love ‘let’s go for it, let’s try it out, let’s play’ attitude that exists there.
So I feel very fortunate to have my brain and my spirit bounce between these two culturally quite different worlds.
- What are the challenges and questions you would like to address about engaging with the art world?
At this time of my life, I am particularly passionate about speaking out about the working conditions for artists. It upsets me that we are working within this ‘gift economy’ where most of the time we give and give, but get little back.
I don’t know, maybe artists should say NO more often.
However, it’s also important to recognize when to say NO/YES and to whom. When to give and to whom, when to take and from whom. The goal is to avoid exploitation without becoming an exploiter. So I am, for instance, happy to put on an exhibition for no money at a place like KC Magacin because they do so much for the arts and this is a way to give back, to participate in their efforts. But being asked to work for free on a show at an established and commercial institution is just not ok.
What role do artists have in society in your opinion?
I think art is a fertile ground for questioning culturally and politically imposed structures that want to present themselves as natural. To think outside of all the boxes and imagine unimaginable.
I also think that art should keep reminding us that process, not product is what matters. To be fine with trying things out, making ‘mistakes’, being vulnerable with not being ‘right’, and open to engaging in dialogues and figuring things out.
Do you think there are enough opportunities that art institutions have for artists (besides exhibitions)?
No but that is in part due to their lack of creative vision so I think that opportunities are something that we need to create for ourselves. I think that apart from being creative in terms of making art, we need to be creative in thinking of how to present our work.
I am not being naive and saying that this is easy, and today’s nunny states make it harder, but sometimes the most interesting ideas come out of limitations, when you are confronted with a barrier.