In approach to the upcoming international festival of illustrations 36 Mountains, which takes place from the 2nd to the 4th of September in Gallery Bačva of the HDLU, we spoke with its founder and artistic director, painter and illustrator Jelena Bando.
We talked about Jelena’s artistic work, her life in Berlin and Paris, and her return to Zagreb, as well as her relationship with the neighbourhood in which she found her current home — the dynamic surrounding of Martićeva Street. Naturally, she talked to us about the festival whose second edition which will exhibit most authors than ever, both Croatian and foreign.
Jelena is a painter and illustrator — she graduated at the Academy of Fine Arts in Zagreb in 2012 and attended studies and residences in Germany (Wurzburg, Berlin) and France (Paris). She presented her work at twelve individual exhibitions in Croatia, Germany, Sweden and France, as well as more than thirty collective exhibitions in her homeland and abroad. She received two awards for her drawings and graphics (SKC Gallery, Belgrade; 15th Biennial of Drawing, Beograd). We began with introducing ourselves to Jelena’s recent exhibition Encounters in Disappearance, which took place at Gallery VN in May this year.
BK: How has your work formed taking into account the cities in which you lived?
JB: By drawing and painting, much of my focus is on my surroundings and the people around me. Of course, not necessarily around me — e.g. the last cycle that I finished concerned my life in France, but there are many ‘small’ pieces that I create at home instead of in the studio that are inspired by the local environment. It’s a series of small diaries that arise looking out through the window, but I do not create them directly by pulling out scenes from everyday life, but rather first I come up with a specific theme that is not necessarily going on here, but my living space can affect it. For Gallery VN, I created a paper in the form of large drawings with the theme from the north and south of Africa and South America and Mongolia. I was interested in their stories that I researched through books and on the Internet, whose elements I transposed through my vision. My work usually occurs as a compound of two poles — research-based and intimate work.
My first longer experience abroad took place thanks to a study trip as a part of the Erasmus programme at the University of Wurzburg at the Department of Communication Design, and then I spent a year in Berlin. Then I went to Paris, where I was able to get a job as a guide for tourists at the Louvre, where I took them around the museum and talked to them about the works of art. Of course, in English, which encouraged me to enroll in a French language school. Most of the people I met at school were from Africa, hence where came my interest for that continent and its culture.
Thanks to language learning and staying in school, I met a bunch of people and I started to be interested in many things with which I had not been in contact with before, in terms of different cultures, influences… As I did not learn to read and write French, but only to speak to some extent, I took on all the literature when I got back home and that was actually when started really researching these topics. Now I’m actually dealing with memories of my life there, and the central theme could be called a world between reality and imagination. I poured what I was absorbed in during my stay in France into my work, in a way which seemed stimulating.
BK: Comparisons of the lifestyle at ‘home’ and ‘out there’ are unavoidable. What are the connections, and what are the differences between the cities in which you have lived?
JB: Both Berlin and Zagreb are similar with that ‘neighbourhood feel’. Currently, my boyfriend and I function in this part of town — Kvaternik Square, Martićeva Street and its surroundings, but that’s how I lived in Berlin, too — I had my neighbourhood where I lived and worked, where I knew almost everything, so creating my own environment. On the other hand, Paris is quite aggressive, there is no such familiarity because the city really huge. At the end of my stay there I was already quite fed up, and when I came back to Zagreb I felt relief. In Paris I was a Croat with an address in France and as a Croatian artist, I wasn’t interesting enough just because I lived and worked there. Speaking from personal experience, as Croatian citizens, I think it’s much better who call to exhibit there. At least it’s easier for me that way. However, abroad I learned a lot and returned to Zagreb completely purified and continued to work at full speed.
BK: How do you see neighbourhood where you live? What are its benefits?
JB: Before I moved out, I never experienced this quarter as an especially ‘crazy’ place. After I came back, I often visited a friend here, and I always came down by foot from Mlinovi (where I lived with my parents), down through Draškovićeva Street. Then, I slowly realized that this is a great place — before I only went to the neighbourhood to visit the Džamija, for exhibitions and similar events. Too often, I bypassed this part of town. Other than that, a few years ago, there wasn’t content like there is today — bike shops and mountaineer equipment, even many bakeries… Bakeries livened up the district (laughs)! Also, since I’d been gone for a while, all of the new happenings suddenly struck me. The ‘wow’ effect hit me!
A place that I want to single out in the neighbourhood — the Cinema Club Zagreb, of course! I hung out there throughout high school, although I did not go to any of the nearby schools in Križanićeva Street, but in the XVIII Gymnasium. However, my group of friends from school went down to the café in KKZ’s basement all the time. I guess we did not like the atmosphere at Šalata, with Papaya and similar ‘fancy’ places. During the day we were there, and at night at Močvara, KSET, Spunk… We were, shall we say, the ‘alternative’ generation. After high school, for a long time I didn’t even think of KKZ, but recently I’ve been coming again often with friends! Several of my friends works in the digital agency 404 on the Victims of Fascism Square, and they like KKZ a lot because there are a lot of them the company, and there there is plenty of room… Then, in the neighbourhood there are not many such cafés. So, again every Friday, we’re in KKZ all together! In short, life here is a kind of renewal of hanging out on benches, KKZ… Now I’m reliving everything that I once experienced.
BK: Can you briefly introduce the festival 36 Mountains from its beginning until today?
JB: The manifestation 36 Mountains was a traveling exhibition before it became a festival, with openings in Zagreb, Ljubljana and Paris. However, it turned out that it was better to organize an illustration festival here in Zagreb than an exhibition abroad, and with an open call for exponents. The festival includes an event with different types of programmes, anything can take place, while the exhibition is still only — an exhibition. In addition, I felt that Zagreb lacks precisely a festival of illustration, as here and elsewhere in Croatia, many young authors are engaged with this medium, so I wanted us all to be more connected, and I myself wanted to get to know them all. Also, the competition is not only intended for illustrators, anyone who draws can apply, and the name 36 Mountains was chosen to help us promote the whole story. Young people want to work in this field, young people do work in this field, so then, let us create a platform so it’s easier to represent everyone! llustration is associated with many different types of creative expression. Authors are free to refer to everything that interests them and use whatever techniques they want, which makes it an ideal medium of visual communication.
BK: How is the second edition of the festival different from the first? What are the novelties?
JB: What mostly characterizes the festival remained the same, and it is a medium through which artists are exhibited — a sketchbook made in Japanese style, like an extendable accordion. Everything else is new, from the area of the festival, the number of artists participating in the festival and the size of the project. When I look back, I see a big improvement from a small initiative to this year’s serious organization. The main exhibition is held in the Bačva Gallery of the HDLU, the opening is on the 2nd of September at 19 h. This year, 36 artists who were selected through the contest and another who were 10 invited will exhibit, which is almost twice more than last year. On the second day of the festival, we’ll talk with the artists about a lot of interesting topics, and some of the interviewees are OKO, Vedran Klemens, Jacob Feltsen, Tena Letica Tkalčević and Nina Mršnik. There is also an entertainment programme in front of the Džamija with our DJ’s and a lounge area to enjoy. Also, visitors will be able to see the Mountain installation by Ivan Lušičić LIIK, and a surprise which I wouldn’t like to talk about before the opening.
In any case, I have to say that regardless of the major changes, my favorite part of the organization is still receiving sketchbooks that come to my address in many ways. When I open them again and again, I’m surprised by the creativity of people using this perhaps ungrateful format. I’m happy when I see how much it means to them and how much effort they put into it, so I would also like to this opportunity to thank everyone, including those who have signed up to this year’s competition, but were not selected.
BK: How did the collaboration with Jägermeister for the competition ‘Tell your Jägermeister store’ come to be, and how will the works of the three winning illustrators (Klarxy, Vuković i Udovičić) be used in the further promotion of the brand?
JB: I have successfully collaborated with Jägermeister on another project, and by chance we started together in this. I liked what we clicked from the beginning and that and we found lots of ideas for collaboration. I can say that, among others, their sponsorship of the festival contributed to the growth of which I spoke in my previous answer. Also, Jägermeister will decide how they will continue to use the award-winning works, and we from the organization are proud that the artists have found another way of promotion, giving companies, on the other hand, a possible incentive to cooperate with the artists.
BK: Are Croatian illustrators collectively present on the international scene? Are they recognized as part of the common domicile scene? If not, how to achieve this?
JB: I think that there’s still a matter of individual successes of some of our illustrators, who there are many of indeed. One way to achieve recognition of the scene is the platform of the festival, whose aim is to develop a scene, develop cooperation among artists, connect young people with already established artists, and to give them the opportunity to exhibit together with their role models. Due to our small scene, we’re trying to give the opportunity to young artists from the region, so in that sense, the festival has become a meeting place for artists from neighbouring countries, which certainly develops cooperation between them and gives them the chance to meet, further develop mutually and create a scene.
Find out more about Jelena’s work here.