Snezana Saraswati Petrovic’s current show, “Collateral Damage” is on view at MOAH:CEDAR through August 18. The immersive installation speaks of the harm humans do to nature unintentionally. In this Q&A Snezana shares her connection to nature, her first impressions of the Prime Desert Woodland Preserve, and why art matters.
Q: Snezana, when did you first become interested in looking at nature from the perspective of an artist?
A: This is hard question. I believe that we are the nature. We might be separated superficially by the urban boundaries, but we all experience the day/night rhythms and respond to changes in weather. The most of art production is happening in the cities. The disconnection with the nature is resulting in the need to create arts. While in art school I learned about Andrew Goldsworthy works, his “collaboration with nature” and Earthworks art. I came to realization that I was doing the same since my childhood.
I was occasionally spending summer at my grandparent’s property that was secluded and not accessible by the cars. I would go into the forest where the path would take you down to the roads collecting on the way the leaves, twigs, corn “hair,” grass, rocks and wild snail shells. On the pathway to where my parents would eventually climb up on the weekends to see me, I was making dolls, “things” with unknown and mystical purpose while placing them inside of marked spaces that now, I see it as some form of shrines.
I always felt to be a part or one with the nature and not separate from it. Artist are in some ways echoing an image of a Creator, while creating instead of imitating. This was a common stance in Renaissance. Titian painting “St. Sebastian” was described as “the hand that emulates the hand of the Creator” or “la mano imitratice de la man creatrice”. Life, nature, creation are all one. Artist is just a vessel. I think I knew this since my childhood days sitting in the forest and creating by the rhythm of the spring water and winds.
Q: Have you always been drawn to nature?
A: Yes, and in unexpected ways. I grew up in an urban environment surrounded by bricks and concrete with occasional trees and parks. My US friends refer to Belgrade, the city of my youth, as “low budget New York” with over one million population. In this high concentration of people, cars, and buildings, magic happened every early spring when the trees blossomed. The white petals and light green leaf cheered up the gray streets and in early summer this all turns into the saturated scent of linden trees blossoms and deep green shadows.
I wanted to experience more of this verve and tingling energy and as a child I asked to spend summers at my grandparent’s property that was not in use for decades.
Beside my walks through the forests while hearing inner music and stories, I was talking to the trees, spring water, and winds. I would spend half of a day laying on the top of the walnut tree learning how to be a branch and moving with the wind.
This experience is something that I was trying to evoke in my recent installation at MOAH Cedar with a focus on the oceans, balancing the dry desert hot weather with coolness of the blues and serenity that water brings.
Q: You recently visited the Prime Desert Woodland Preserve. What were your thoughts?
A: I was visiting on the early morning the preserve, before installing my work at MOAH. It is place of contemplation and beauty. The morning breeze, the bright but not hot sun, intensified the green and vigor of Joshua trees. I was hiking happy, knowing that bikes, noise, any wheels are banned from this space. Similarly to this preserve, the idea of having community-based conservancy is of the essence in my current piece ”Collateral Damage” at MOAH Cedar. The Prime Desert Woodland Preserve exemplifies the idea of grass-root community care for the nature. It also shows that determination, care and respect for our habitat can rejuvenate and flourish.
By having more examples like this perhaps, there is hope for the Earth?
Q: Do you feel that you saw the Preserve differently through the eyes of an artist? How?
A: We all have ability to connect to nature as we are nature. An artist way of seeing it is perhaps, ”larger then life”? The experience of walking down the Preserve’s path of sand and small rocks, while listening to your own footsteps, hearing birds and buzz of life can inspire an artist to create. I can imagine that feeling of rejuvenation and cleansing might be shared experience with everyone else.
I contemplated for a long time Pablo Picasso’s statement that “Through art we express our conception of what nature is not.” I could not find any evidence in my practice for it. Artists do have unique perspectives individually, even from each other, but we are the creators. Nature is of the same essence. Creating in disconnect from the nature may be the reason for Picasso’s statement? Hegel was of the opinion that art “cannot stand in competition with nature…and if it tries it looks like a worm trying to crawl after an elephant.”
My position is the middle ground.
My morning inner dialogues in Prime Desert Woodland Preserve reassured me that my choice of topic in my MOAH CEDAR exhibition is of relevance to the current moment and all of us.
Q: Why does art matter?
A: In this time and age, globally and nationally, art might be the only voice of serenity and wisdom.
Art heals, encourages us to be better humans, proposes questions and helps us find the answers. Art is necessity of humanity since the dawn of civilization. The return of tattoos and graffiti art shows the need to visually communicate and express our existence, even without art training or knowledge of art history.
I agree with statement by John F. Kennedy: "We must never forget that art is not a form of propaganda; it is a form of truth."
Q: Your exhibition at MOAH:CEDAR is stunning. Do you know what your next project will be?
A: I will have to continue with different incarnations of this project and in multiple locations. The dedication of saving and preserving our habitat and humanity is life-long project. After my yogic studies in India and upon receiving my spiritual name Saraswati (Indian goddess of knowledge and art), I was not very clear on my goals. The “Collateral Damage” installation clarified the direction to me as an artist that brings the knowledge of science and art to the benefit of all.
Q: What is your artistic background?
A: I have BFA degree in painting and scenography from University of Belgrade, Yugoslavia. The five years program embodied the Renaissance artistic training where the artist emulates the nature and works of Master of Art, while discovering unique perspective in the process of growth. I was trained to replicate any style of drawing or painting from Durrer to Van Gogh to Picasso.
My first job in LA was making the exact replicas of Van Gogh such as “Night Café,” “Starry Night” and Picasso’s “Portrait of a Harlequin,” for the galleries abroad represented by Platinum American Express
My MFA is from the University of California, Irvine with double emphasis in video/digital arts and theater design. I continue to wear multiple hats as studio artist, designer and emerita art professor.
My video/installation practice is inspiring my theater design practice and vice versa. I am recipient of numerous awards both in US and Europe, such as “Golden Arena” for Production Design in feature movie “Harms Case” or “Ovation 2010, Los Angeles” for the costume design in Large Theatre category. I was awarded UC Regents Grant and National Endowment for the Arts.
I have exhibited my work nationally and internationally in Amsterdam, Singapore, Tokyo, Prague, Los Angeles and Belgrade, at the venues such as Los Angeles MOCA and Stedijilk Museum, Amsterdam.