Interview with Nena Skoko: Treating textiles and fibers

by deborah on 03/22/2010

Contemporary textile artist Nena Skoko has already been presented here on Body Pixel. Ivana blogged about Nena’s work within the presentation of the international project Balkan Fiber Art… BFA was here completely reviewed during 2008/09…

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‘One Month’ from installation Changes exhibited at Fairy-tales by Nena Skoko


I’ve interviewed Nena during October ’09 in Belgrade when we talked about her career, concepts and interests in textile art…

Hi, Nena! When and how began your interest in textile arts?

NS: My interest in textile art started from high school. It was a design school. Pupils at that time called it ‘art school’. Although at first I was interested in entering the gymnasium. At that time I wanted to be a support for my friend who wanted to enter design school and I simply applied for this reason; and it happened that I was first at the entrance examinations (laughs).

I’m a working class child and none in my family has some kind of art background. Both of us looked pretty different from the rest, because those were mostly kids by famous film directors and artists. I didn’t have a ‘pedigree’, that’s for sure.

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Nena Skoko, E-mail handkerchiefs

… and why textile art?

NS: Textile was the closest of all to me. The school offered industrial, graphic design and so. I liked the atmosphere and decided to stay in design school. But the orientation of my school was predominately towards the industrial design in a sense of textile production, printing and so, but not designing from textile.

That was during seventies when textile industry was really strong. Textile industry was the third strongest branch in ex Yugoslavia. But, what is interesting, it wasn’t strongly connected with fashion or art scene, but mostly with manufacturing processes.

Back then, I simply didn’t want to stop my development. I was always interested in textile art more in a sense of comprehensive art. I think textile art also can evolve architecture, space and I could always see between threads how new dimensions are arising while other are disappearing.

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Nena Skoko, Land Art ‘Wind’, 1999, Denmark

Yeah, it can easily transform in many shapes… Was your interest based on objects?

NS: Yes! I saw there a place for myself to intervene, to enlarge or reduce the object I want. It gave me the opportunity to play with. To see things kind of like a thread or fiber drawing, that was really interesting to me, a completely new world for me. By force of inertia I ended up at the Academy of Applied Art. But back then I didn’t know that Art Academy and Academy for Applied Art existed separately, almost like a parallel world.

As time passed I became more aware of what I actually want, what I want to do. I didn’t want to do applied arts because I already knew techniques and manufacturing processes. These fields were becoming more and more open. I wanted to do the things that have sense and concept. This is up to now my preoccupation, I always ask these questions. And then after I graduated circumstantially I went abroad for specializations in Finland, Poland, UK, USA etc; and then things began to open itself.

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‘One Month’ from installation Changes exhibited at Fairy-tales by Nena Skoko

What was like to be in Finland and Poland, for instance? Because they both have strong tradition in textile art? Poland is closer to us because of our Slavic roots… but was it really closer or…?

NS: Yeah! Those experiences were crucial in my work. But for closeness in cultural sense you just mentioned, no. As for textile Poland was for me an exceptional experience, because that residency came after Finland. I’ve spent my residency in Finland at their strongest Faculty for design in Helsinki. But, I’ve managed to find, besides design, textile art. I was very lucky to meet there Kirsti Rantanen, who already had experiences with tapestry. Tapestry started its own growth during the sixties.

At that moment I entered the world of forms in space, practically sculptures. She was sympathetic to my ambitions and experiments with fibres. They gave me the opportunity to learn Finish textile technique of double cloth called takana. Then I combined this technique with some of my own ideas, I simply wanted to deal with the figure in space.

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Drawing ‘Politics’ by Nena Skoko

Naturally, Finland has a strong design aesthetics and tradition in general…

NS: While I was still in Finland, little by little I started to experiment with metallic threads and paper. Then I left for Poland, at time when I started progressively to open myself. Magdalena Abakanowicz was very famous sculptor in Poland in seventies. She has made a breakthrough at the world scene because she was originally a sculptor being aware of space; and she took textiles to treat them completely like a sculpture.

At first her artworks had only a part of textiles, but after a while she started to develop more and more ideas in space. Abakanowitz has showed as that we do not have to be direct but to use objects in space more metaphorically. She simply designed signs in spaces.

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Collage for performance art Destiny of Textile Art

How this did trigger your imagination back then?

NS: I was thrilled and I started to experiment with objects from textile in space. I also decided to use low budget and synthetic materials like nylon stockings. I had a dilemma whether I should stay in Poland for the rest of my life or to come back home.

When I came back, it was at the begging of nineties, everything started to fall apart and I was so confused. But at the other hand, I was introduced to beautiful young people willing to dedicate themselves to art and design. I knew immediately that I really have lots of things to do and I won’t regret the fact for not staying in Poland for the rest of my life. I have spent some time teaching at the state Art Academy but I left after a while.

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Nena Skoko

But you were also in UK for a residency, right?

NS: Yeah, I was invited at Goldsmith University. Contemporary textile art is at Goldsmith University a part of painting department. That’s the closest how I see myself in textile art. It’s deeply connected with the concept, ideas and constant re-thinking. I’m interested in asking questions and finding some answers.

Sometimes I even didn’t use textiles directly, I was doing also short films and animations but the essence of fibre and threads was always present.

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Nena Skoko, Video Installation ‘The Space is not Guilty’, 2006

Do you find your works to be more interdisciplinary oriented?

NS: I think this interdisciplinarity follows all things that are happening in our societies, it can not be divided from this. Using many different media in expressing myself makes me more comfortable in a small community in which I live. This confidence is the most important thing and it motivates you to move forward in your work.

I truly believe in everything I do, and I don’t care if some ‘face’ doesn’t understand it. I was lucky enough that my work has been recognized abroad and by the international scene.

You’re the founder of art organization Punctum?

NS: Yes, this is my small island at home. A place where I can work and search for spaces where I can show to people what I actually do with textile art. This is also the way to get some funds for production of such work.

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Installation ‘Little things that mean life’ by Nena Skoko

What were your experiences in USA?

NS: In New York I had the opportunity to elaborate more my work. That was a definite turnover, because even till then I was experimenting more with paper art. I was interested in what actually newspapers are saying to us? What kind of information we are getting? How these things can manipulate with people and so. What appealed me was the word ‘weaving’ in a sense of written text. I just connected these things.

In those moments I was very interested in making my own paper. I already started this in Finland. In America I’ve made artwork ‘Statistical data about clothing one American and one Serbian girl’. I wanted to challenge results of statistical researches.

How much actual information about some situation or person is provided through statistics? Maybe these numbers are actually meaningless to us. We have to make a lot of comparisons in order to get some meaningful connections between all these numbers. Is it crucial for an argument? This is what I had in my focus then.

Nena_Skoko_10.jpgNena Skoko, Ants – A line between order and chaos

I see, America is slightly different oriented when it’s about culture and funding, Europeans are used to the term cultural policy and so… while Americans are more ‘foundation’ oriented…

NS: In America I saw for the first time how people work within art organizations and I decided to try something similar back home. Then I had an organization called Rerna (Oven) and we organized exhibitions, workshops and similar things I previously saw in New York. We also had a workshop with one Butoh dancer.

We have made lots of collaborations with Rerna and now with Punctum, because we wanted to show new things that are happening in art. Of course, we want to educate young people to express themselves. Now we are doing workshops in smaller towns in Serbia, because not every young person has an opportunity to travel to Belgrade for workshop and education. We had great feedback.

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Cat is turning around you by Nena Skoko

Can you tell me more about Balkan Fiber Art?

NS: Yeah, that’s one of the latest projects. I was inspired by the Nordic Fiber Art textile colony in which I have previously participated. It’s an environmental and space based project from Denmark and Finland. One of the organizers is also Finish respectable contemporary textile artist Silja Puranen. Since we all know each other very well, I simply decided to make similar project in Serbia – Balkan Fiber Art with international and regional textile artists.

We had artists from Slovenia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Holland, Turkey, Poland and Serbia. Yeah, we also had Milos Tomic at Balkan Fibre Art, because the way he sees graphic aspects in textile design is truly amazing. So, this is not only a female colony (laughs).

I want Balkan Fiber Art to show contemporary textile art, to gather people that have something new to say about this medium.

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Installation ‘Little things that mean life’ by Nena Skoko

It was very successful from what I saw and read… Now you have the opportunity to organize it continuously…

NS: Definitely, we will develop it and, as a follow up, we have made in 2008/09 a new project ‘Renovation Art-servis’. In 2009 we had a guest from Croatia, Ivana Podnar. This year I want to expand the project in order to work more with found objects. I realized that organizing a workshop that actively includes participants and citizens is really good for both sides. You can get immediate respond by people who are not in touch with contemporary art, or it’s something really far away from their lives and experiences.

Is this your targeted public?

NS: This is for people that rarely visit galleries. If a gallery has a show-window that’s great, at least they can take a sneak peak. TV stations usually make small reviews on openings and premiers; and people feel comfortable in their warm homes watching from sofa something about some new exhibition in their neighbourhood. They have information, but they don’t have consummation.

For us creators, it’s okay to have at least such contact. But for me as artist this contact is not enough. I need more and workshops simply open these fields of different contacts with the audience. It’s nice when people approach you and ask you what and why you are doing. This is also the way to create some financial support. Of course, you have to work all the time.

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Covering by Nena Skoko

Since you teach at university, what are students like today in this context?

NS: They are much closer to the ‘money making’ system, of there is no dibs; there is no sense of making art. But I think they have creativity as all generations before them. Maybe it’s simply the question of this Zeitgeist. Maybe we need to exchange the views…

Who knows? Maybe I can make them enough intriguing for my point of view, and maybe they can show me some other aspects in which I’m not so sure. Maybe I’m seeing only in my way, based on my own personal experience. But the range of reality perception is much wider. This is always interesting and we might not know the results of it right now.

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Definition performance art by Nena Skoko

My students want to go abroad in order to work in the field of design. What I’m trying to teach them is to have a need to come back one day. If these things are going to function as constant mobility, not as staying in one place; then all these things are totally meaningful and it could develop in very interesting form. Then you have this spiral of movements and swing.

Not a single generation is the same in the time chain. And within every generation there are people more interested in conceptual approaches and those interested in other forms.

Not everyone sees textile art and clothing in the same way. It’s much more layered with meaningful things. I think it’s very important to constantly ask question what is this I’m dealing with?

Nena, Thanks a lot!