A garden oasis and cultural center overlooking the Hudson River

Sculptural Sustainability: An Interview with Ivan Stojakovic

Thais Glazman, a Curatorial Intern at Wave Hill this winter, is enamored with the creative and empowering atmosphere of Wave Hill, and hopes to learn everything she can from its wonderful team and artists.

Each winter, Wave Hill opens Glyndor Gallery as a workspace for New York-area artists. They benefit from intimate exposure to our garden setting, and also reveal part of their working process to visitors through open studios and artist-led workshops.

Ivan Stoyakovic, Super Storm Barrier, 2014.

Ivan Stojakovic, one of Wave Hill’s Winter Workspace 2015 artists, works with live succulent plants in creating his sculptural wall art based on vertical gardening techniques. His work attempts to map and reference areas of the “Urban Wild,” the title of his current body of work, where the elements of nature intersect with urban environments. As his practice deepens, Ivan finds new and innovative ways to create sustainable living sculptures. He has found sanctuary for his artistic practice here at Wave Hill, where he has been working on mapping flood zones within the five boroughs of New York City. I sat down with Ivan to find out more about his relationship to both nature and city, as well as his hometown of Belgrade, Serbia, and its influences on his artwork.

Thais Glazman: You and I have a kind of Soviet connection. My family is from Russia and you are from Serbia. I wanted to find out more about what you believe to be the influence of Serbian-Soviet culture on your identity.

Ivan Stojakovic: Belgrade culturally is not quite Serbian, just like New York is not the United States. I think my identity was formed in Belgrade as a city kid as much as it was formed as a Serbian-Yugoslavian kid. I don’t know how much of a Soviet connection I personally felt. There was a red star on our flag but the country itself was kind of isolated from the Soviet block or the NATO block. It made a living by being in-between. It was based on that balance. When the Soviet Union lost power, the country fell apart.

TG: Do you think that imbalance informed your art-making?

IS:  Yes, it shook me up and made me think beyond the surface. It gave me that push to pursue art as a calling. I always had a creative-inventor-visual kind of interest, both with art, science and nature. But I did not know how it all fit. Certainly that kind of shake-up made me really think about it.

TG: You grew up in a big city like Belgrade but you seem to have such a strong established relationship with nature. Where did that come from?

IS: It came from an obvious love of nature as a child, this fascination that I had with watching insects and plants and just wanting to cross the boundary of known territory. When Yugoslavia was falling apart, the cultural climate was so harsh and not inspiring for me. I’m not the kind of artist who is inspired by the culture of  breakdown. I was inspired by the breakdown but not the culture of it. I was still a student and I had strong opinions, but the artist in me, and the individual creator, was more interested in something else. I found refuge in going further into nature, almost as an escape, but also I found that another world existed, regardless of cultural political breakdowns or successes. Simply, I went on many hikes for many days and nights. What was fascinating was that natural beauty was juxtaposed to the fresh state of being part of a society that was falling apart. In that sense I think that created almost a theme that I’ve never really talked about. I kept exploring that theme of science and nature and the ways in which it is fabricated. The reality that is essential and true in the moment, here and now. My hikes and climbs, though there was a sport component, were always a journey. I still can’t put it into words.

TG: You spoke about the fact that you studied painting in school. Do you consider yourself a painter, even though your present work is more sculpture-based?

IS:   I consider myself more of a sculptural painter. I make wall art, but it’s very sculptural. Even when I was painting, the texture of paint was reaching out. I was sculpting already. I always liked the materiality of the paint. In the way that an artist is considered today, I feel much more like a maker and producer of images and visual experiences. I choose to make wall art because it is a sustainable way to make art.

TG: You say that you want your work to be sustainable. Does this mean you want your work to live and to be kept alive, or is it meant to decay naturally?

IS: Yes, sustainable means can I afford to make it. Can I move it around? A large sculpture that I don’t have the means to transport is not sustainable, like a large house that can’t be kept up. I position my work so that the viewer is confronting nature and facing it head on. The verticality and surface of the wall allows for that. In a way these are maps of environments, territories and topographies. The plants refer to forested areas. I use very hardy plants. In the workshop, I will work together with the participants to plant the areas of the piece that I am working on. They will be working here in the studio with me and will have the freedom to arrange the plants in a design of their choice. In the end, I want the work to be simple, something that can easily function in different places.

TG: At Wave Hill, the idea of the “Urban Wild” prevails, nested comfortably between city and nature. What does this idea of the urban wild mean to you here at Wave Hill and how is it significant to you?

IS:  This residency is extremely significant for me. I came here before to visit many times. I look for these places, these urban wild places. I look for sites where you see Manhattan and the forest. There is something noble and peaceful about this place, especially for New York. The idea of the city is here, nature is here, and the botanicals are here. It is perfect. I’d like to move in [laughs].

On Tuesday, February 10, Stojakovic will lead Vertical Gardening–Interacting with Living Art, a workshop in creating a large-scale, collaborative work of living art. Participants will leave with detailed instructions for designing and creating a vertical succulent garden at home.

Pictured above: Iva Stojakovic, Super Storm Barrier, 2014. Mixed media, live succulent plants and deconstructed composite panel, 30” x 35” x 5”. Courtesy of the artist and Bridgette Mayer Gallery, Philadelphia.


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