Obscura Journal Contributor Kristyna Archer recently interviewed artist Josip Artuković in preparation for the first ever Foundry Commission drop, where five artists were awarded the opportunity to envision and work on a new project of their choosing. The first generation of artists received mentorship and curatorial assistance throughout the process. Artuković discusses Tea Soaked Madeleines, a series of twenty five images created for the commission and the project’s relationship to Proust, August Sander, and the depiction of textures inflicted by inherited traumas.
Josip Artuković's vibrant enthusiasm for photography radiates out of the Contemporary Photography channel in the Obscura Discord. He’s a tried and true educator, not looking to impose his own assumptions or preferences of the medium, but purely providing information and context to form your own opinions and push the conversation forward. When I had the chance to interview the man behind the thoughtful Discord channel, I was excited for the opportunity to dig deeper, reveal his personal relationship with photography, and understand the intention behind his work. Here we discuss Artuković’s Foundry Commission on behalf of Obscura, learn more about his process, and his intention behind his photography. Artuković set the stage for the context behind these images:
”Referencing Proust's ‘episode of the madeleine,’ with the project title, Tea Soaked Madeleines, it sets out to explore the emotional history of my family in order to trace the abstract line that threads generations. In that context, as stimuli of involuntary memories, mundane objects acquire symbolic significance.” - Josip Artuković
KA: First and foremost, I’d love to set the stage for your unique insights and foundational photography perspective of the world. Describe your upbringing, where you’ve lived, what inspired you then and now, what made you tick?
JA: Thank you for doing this interview Kristyna. I grew up in continental East Croatia, in the countryside. From a young age, I felt an affinity for images. While in church every Sunday as a kid, I observed religious paintings and scrutinized their meaning, asking questions like, "Why are the figures represented in such a specific way?" and, "What do their poses signify?" Those first conscious experiences of strong interest and affection for pictures have laid the foundation for my aesthetic and thematic output as an artist.
KA: You have an extremely active #contemporaryphotography channel in our Obscura Discord where you provide much education and historical contexts for the community. When was photography introduced to you and how did you fall in love with the medium?
JA: Cinema is my other huge passion and I ended up in photography by actually looking for a way into filmmaking, cinematography in particular. I wanted to learn how to handle a still frame first, so I enrolled in a photography course in a college in Dublin (IE). Education on the theory and the history of the medium was a very important part of the studies, and as such, it was pretty thorough. So suddenly I discovered all these historical and cultural layers the medium of photography has which I wasn't aware of before. I realized that photography is so much more than just an image. All that new knowledge about this complex language with sociological and philosophical implications was satiating my intellectual cravings and I found myself deep in the rabbit hole not wanting to come out.
KA: Who and what are your biggest influences? I know the work of August Sander has had a huge impact on how you compose, can you share more about your connection with Sander’s work?
JA: Whenever I'm learning about something, I'm trying to dig deep to reach the core of a thing and understand its essence. It usually means going back through history and observing the very roots of art and craft, when it was in its infancy, raw and pure. I think that August Sander was the one that deeply resonated with my artistic aspirations. I like monumental aesthetics — well-formed frames with classical compositions — so right at first instance, Sander's portraits grabbed my attention with their visual quality. In the second and third instances, the way his People of the 20th Century reflects the essence and the nature of the medium of photography, and defines the art of the craft for everything that came after, made him my champion photographer. His work instructs me on how to achieve the "photographic" and how to let the medium be what it wants to be. After August Sander, from the history cannon, Richard Avedon's white-background portraits influenced me the most while significant contemporary influences are Alec Soth, and for this project specifically, young European photographers Elena Helfrecht, Ana Zibelnik, and Marten Lange.
KA: I see this collection being ‘weathered works’ revolving around skin and texture, impermanent, baked in harsh lighting. There’s an unsettling feeling, amidst disturbed faces and limbs and hands floating in a void. Who are your subjects, and what, or who do they represent?
JA: Subjects in the photographs are the members of my closest family. When taking such a close look, I was trying to find the past engraved on their beings. Some memories are passed through generations and they consequently shape the reality of those who didn't experience them first hand, so in order to define and understand my own reality, I'm trying to trace those kinds of memories. With that in mind, people represent their family lines behind them while mundane objects and orchestrated scenes serve as metaphorical depictions of the structure of memory. The sense of the weathered you mentioned probably comes from the depiction of the way subjects feel about being exposed to those involuntary forces — inherited traumas — for the length of their lives.
KA: This collection for Foundry is in black and white, but not all of your work is. How does stripping the work down to be devoid of color, focused on the compositions, inform the work? What is the intention behind this choice?
JA: Without colour as a distraction, b&w photography makes us focus on textures which is where the sense of this work lies. For the work, it's not important what colours the subjects are, but what texture do they have, how does the texture feel, and what it is the result of. Also, with its implications of past, memory and even old family albums, I find b&w simply more suitable for the subject matter.
KA: The textures in this body of work are woven tapestries between nature and human. The raw imperfections in this series is what makes it so beautiful. What is this tension or connection you are making between human nature, and perhaps immortality?
JA: Woven tapestry is just the right illustration. In his essay about Proust's novel In Search of Lost Time, to which the title of my work is referenced, Walter Benjamin describes the author's writing style as a "weaving pattern" dictated by the structure of memory and never-ending action of remembering. So the tension between men and immortality posits itself right there — a man is mortal, but his experience of being a man is immortal. It is given to him by his ancestor and it will be passed on to his descendant while he is trying to fight for free will. From an appearance of life we can read its dynamic just by pointing a camera towards it, all the present tensions are captured.
KA: Photography being time-based and time-bound, with the constraints of this commission, how do you tackle a complex and layered story within the timeframe? Is there a timelessness you look for to resonate? How do you use time as an element in your work?
JA: The time constraint imposed by the commission actually worked for my benefit. I already had certain pictures in my mind and I knew where I would have to go to find the other ones, so this time limit forced me to get on foot and be productive. Under the alert, my mind generated new images and the designated amount of 25 photographs was quickly met. It all played out well for this type of project because the story was preconceived but if I was doing a documentary project then I would need to let time unfold the story in front of me.
KA: What is your process like? When do you discern that the story is starting to form? How do you know you’ve got it, or when the project is done?
JA: As was the case with this work, so far I always had preconceived ideas and images before starting taking photographs. When embarking on a project I first go after those, but then surprises happen in between, something I come across inspires me or I try something just for the sake of trying it and it turns out to be the right picture for the sequence. The moment I feel a project is actually directing me instead of vice versa, I'm pretty convinced the story is taking its own shape. Once the relationship turns its ends again, it's usually a signal that I extracted most of the juices.
KA: How do you see the trajectory of your personal photographic journey fitting into this NFT world?
JA: I find the coincidence of getting involved in the NFT world a blessing, and exactly the right thing that had to happen to me. With now solidly working infrastructures built by generous and hard-working people, including the Obscura team, the NFT photography scene allowed me to learn, grow and do these kinds of projects I wouldn't otherwise. After completing college, my passion, actually my hope of being an active photographer was cooling down a bit but the development of events had put me back up straight.
KA: What are you most excited about as an Obscurian?
JA: Definitely just being a part of such an important and forward-looking community is already exciting enough, let alone having a chance to play a part in the movement by sharing passion and knowledge with other participants.
To view the full collection of Josip Artuković’s Obscura Foundry Commission Tea Soaked Madeleines:
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