Interview with Selena Savic, part 1: On architecture and people

by deborah on 09/3/2011

Selena Savic is one the main forces responsible for organizing the Make Me Festival / Napravi me! jointly with Zene na delu/Women at Work organization. During the festival she led the workshop DIY solar cells. Selena is an artist and architect combining concepts of public spaces, open sourcing, new media, sound, programming and DIY.

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Selena Savic leading Solar workshop @Make Me Festival
Belgrade, June 2011, photo by Gordan Savicic (cc)


She graduated from Architecture at the Faculty of Architecture, University of Belgrade in 2006 and from a master in Media Design at the Piet Zwart Institute in Rotterdam, the Netherlands in 2010. She works with different contemporary media, tackling critical issues about cities, media and systems in general. She was part of many group exhibitions and festivals, showing her work in Belgrade, Berlin, Barcelona, Kopenhagen, Rotterdam, Stockholm, The Hague and Vienna, amongst others. Currently preparing to move in Zurich to continue her PhD connected with public spaces. (bio taken from Napravi Me!)

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Selena Savic: Idealni grad (c)

Hi Selena! Basically, you are an architect who simply heavily stumbled on art and new media?

SS: Yeah, I studied architecture, but since my childhood, I have always been surrounded by artists. My father is a composer and he worked at the Student Cultural Centre in Belgrade. So, I grew up with all these faces around me. Hence, I got the impression that it’s quite logical to continue on this line. When I was a kid I thought I would be a painter. Then, one day I decided to study architecture, because this is something you can learn, and do painting, or some kind of art on a side.

I now think it was a good decision, but then I didn’t have enough time to do other things I wanted. The main problem with studying architecture and doing art on a side is the fact that you don’t follow the same challenges. I had great time hanging around SKC, participating some exhibitions, but after all I was always the one who had to go home to finish work for architecture. So, that’s a little bit different style of living.

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Selena Savic: Infaces (c)

Have you ever worked as an architect?

SS: After I graduated I spent some time, a year or so, working as an urban planner in the office of my old mentor. I’m still interested in this field, in public spaces and urban environments. I was very interested in programming the city, while I was studying architecture. I thought urban planning can be looked at as some kind of a script, at least this old-fashioned planning we were doing, where you’re most of the time trying to predict and enforce necessary capacities.

Back then, we did some research in people’s participation in planning, making questionnaires etc. I thought that was a very limited way to diversify planning decisions. After that I worked on normal plans, maps with colours and numbers. Development potentials and scenarios. After that I said to myself: now it’s enough, let’s study art!

I went to Holland to study a master in ArtScience. I thought I’m going to study art and learn how to employ scientific methods and experiments, technology in art. But I was a bit disappointed in the resources the school offered and the learning support.

Selena Savic: Interview With A Shell (c)

I can understand it now, because they were probably adapted to students that are trying to build their lives there, studying for 4 years or more. But I hadn’t come to stay in Holland forever. I feel like I belong everywhere, so I don’t like the feeling of belonging to Holland. I don’t feel like I belong to Serbia either. Why would I have to belong somewhere?

I had a feeling that I have to sacrifice a lot in such a situation when you have a limited residency permit, and legally you are in strange situation as a foreign (non-EU) student – you have to prove you have a lot of money and you cannot work… I didn’t manage to do much in one year at ArtScience, and I felt I was getting lost.

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Selena Savic: It’s Meant For The Blind… (c)

Then you went off from the school…

SS: Yeah, I went off to Rotterdam in order to study Media design at the Piet Zwart Institute. There we were doing what I really liked – some sort of activism, mixed with programming, critical of technology, culture, society… Of course, it’s a niche, this world around V2_ or Transmediale, or Piet Zwat, you know. But for me it seemed to be much more open and inspiring. I felt more comfortable in this niche. I graduated there last summer.

Then I asked myself what should I do? I was looking for residencies and festivals, but also for PhD programmes. Recently I got to do a PhD in architecture in Switzerland. This is going to be a research in architecture and the presence of technology in space. How technology determines public spaces in the city, behaviour and what are people doing?

The social aspect of architecture and the role of technology in the construction and mediation of common, social space. How you can make something that is sort of invisible architecture, immaterial architecture, better. This is a well researched theme, but for me it has never been demystified in a way or in a way I see it. So, I will try to explain it in the next three years.

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Selena Savic: It’s Meant For The Blind… (c)

How does this reflect to your own work?

SS: I was mainly doing work that comes down to some kind of intervention in these (public) spaces. I did some sound interventions and walks. I recorded and played sounds. I made videos and sound installations, in Belgrade. Later, I worked on online and offline works that deal with the question of choice, if you have it or not. Also, who is ‘asked’ and who has simply to confirm choices made available by other parties.

But this questioning is an influence from the Rotterdam’s school, right?

SS: Yes, but I came there totally prepared. I already had this little ‘worm’ digging in my thoughts. It was exactly the right moment to learn about these things.

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Selena Savic: Memories (c)

Your work has been presented at the V2_ Institute of the Unstable Media in Amsterdam, too… What was the occasion? What do you think about V2_?

SS: Well, it’s a very cool name (laughs). Many times on this “new” media art scene, you meet this attitude: it doesn’t matter if it doesn’t work, what matters is the idea. I partially agree with that too. But V2_ has a quite high level of production, and they care a lot about the fact that artworks have to work.

They also have quite a diverse programme. Every year V2_ is making a selection of graduate students from art and design academies in Europe (mostly Netherlands, UK and Germany). My presentation took place within the Test Lab Invisible Cities, where I showed my final work “Eat It”.

The work dealt with the concept of business (more specifically hyper market business) influences on the urban space. How the public space is being made around different corporate and public interests and where are they clashing.

Through criticism of business oriented decision making, where the interest for expansion regulates the space by simplifying it, grouping big players together, I tried to de-construct and present the mechanisms behind. I’ve noticed that there is a raster of decreasing diversity and increasing geometry, in this capitalistic model, if we can put it this way.

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Selena Savic: Yes To All (c)

How does it look like to be in this context in Belgrade now, regarding the city and the public spaces?

SS: This is it! This is where it happens in the most obvious way and where I actually noticed it first. They understood me in Rotterdam too. But here, in Belgrade it happens a lot that capital is reshaping the public space. People don’t talk a lot about it here, it doesn’t directly affect their lives. But the current city policy is extremely liberal-capitalistic, like the politics of the country; corruption is dressed in donor’s clothes and there are big decisions made without any chance of citizens participation.

Now, here in Belgrade, I am dealing with the space on a more global level, in a sense of the general relation between the public spaces and inhabitants, especially in the situation where alternatives are running out. It happens almost everywhere, that there is less and less alternatives to the mainstream, they are getting lost, or grouped together.

There are more and more people on Earth, there are so many global problems as a consequence of that. But people here in Serbia are thinking more about the local issues. And these issues are very often results of all these global currents.

 Jump here into the second part of the interview with Selena Savic: DIY Solar for public spaces