The Futura 89+ series features interviews with artists, writers, activists, architects, filmmakers, scientists and entrepreneurs who were born in or after 1989. In this issue, Hans Ulrich Obrist and Simon Castets interview young artist Darja Bajagić.
In a recent tweet you said, “There are people who believe that things that shouldn’t be there mustn’t be shown.” Do you believe that pornography shouldn’t be there? And if it is there, that it must be shown?
A conservative estimate would be that 80% of my tweets are sourced from elsewhere; that one was taken from a New York Times article, “Messy Humanity, Warts, Dreams and All,” on Ulrich Seidl’s Paradise trilogy. At fuller length, it reads: “Speaking of a scene in Dog Days in which two men torment a women, Mr. Seidl, 60, said by phone from Vienna, ‘There are people who believe that things that shouldn’t be there mustn’t be shown.’” I believe pornography has a place in this world, as does everything else. I appreciate its subversiveness.
You started collecting, and working with, these kinds of images as a teenager, eventually using them for zines. What compelled you to start collecting them?
One of my earliest memories—at six years of age—is of taking photographs of a television screen at my uncle Boris’s house, on which my cousin Raško and I were watching a pornographic film. Later, as a pre-teenager, I was collecting images—both pornographic and not—of girls on the Internet to use as aliases on various social networking websites. I would habitually browse, looking at images of girls—first out of boredom, then curiosity—in my father’s Playboys, and via WebTV chatrooms and forums. This was not an art project—I was just socially awkward. Those images were my friends. The beginning of including these kinds of images into an art practice, it took the form of cut-up, deconstructed collages: juxtaposing a bruised thigh with a pattern from a blanket. I then started recreating the “collages” I was collecting online—“collages“ as in everything, ranging from book covers to website layouts, disparaging celebrity photographs with text overlays from forums —to be juxtaposed with those original “collages” from the printed zines. I would liken the search and collection to hunting.
The image search and collection process is like hunting
Your earlier works were very minimalist paintings. Many of your current works still carry through that minimalist, monochrome aesthetic, but overall, your work has changed quite drastically. What prompted this change? How did the transition unfold?
I do not see them as so different, ultimately—rather, only at a surface level. The black paintings were commenced at Yale, during my very last month in the graduate program. They stemmed from my desire to combine images from my collection with new forms; I’d done the same thing earlier with videos. In the gray paintings, the images had been scattered about, often nearly concealed. The images in the black paintings are more available—partially obscured at times by flaps, but still, more available. During the process, I thought a lot about Ad Reinhardt—his “ultimate” paintings, his satirical cartoons—and Thomas Hirschhorn—his collages, and his texts about his collages. I like that they are always suspicious, are not taken seriously, resist information and facts, are unprofessional, create a truth of their own.…
You have said that you want to present the images as “blank images,” by “forcing the viewer to come to terms with all of that baggage and then ignoring it simultaneously” in order to see the images on a formal level. When you ignore that baggage, what do you see in the images?
I don’t think a surface reading of any one thing is an efficient one. By ignoring the primary reading—the first impact, the “baggage”—one becomes more open to exploring other perspectives and comes to terms with assumptions and beliefs. This is an act of neutralization, or desexualization: it occurs not only in the works’ imagery employed, but in the viewer as well. Seeing the images on a formal level is one way of beginning to set aside, the “baggage” to and see the images from a different perspective. For example, you might consider a prop you’d missed: 1) “a girl is sitting on a bed, simultaneously rubbing herself and reading a book” versus 2) “a girl is sitting on a bed, simultaneously rubbing herself and reading The Fermata by Nicholson Baker” (see Sample XXX Puzzle– Pin-up Land™ Cum-centration, 2013, at 6:20). It’s emancipatory.
There are several recurring motifs, in your work: chess boards, puzzle pieces and crosswords. What is the significance of these images for you?
Chess signifies a back-and-forth between things. The board’s pattern has associations of duality, polarity—ideas still relevant to me. Puzzle pieces signify parts of a greater, unknown “whole.” Crosswords signify that there are spaces to fill—they are left empty: you have to figure it out yourself.
Your recent work also appropriates material such as serial killers’ letters and drawings. How do you see this content relating to the other content? Are this and pornography both representations of “evil”?
No, they are not representations of “evil” because—to quote Alain Badiou—“Evil does not exist except as a judgment made.” I collect serial killers’ ephemera that depict she-devils, pornographic actresses, and other representations of women. It relates to the pornographic images—they both raise questions about conceptions of “good” and “evil” and are forms of collective self-expression—pure, profane, free.
I appreciate the subversiveness of pornography.
You’ve said you “don’t think that women need to be saved.” Can you explain what you mean by this?
This was in response to a question about my “refusal to be an activist about my subject.” I do not want to rehabilitate anyone, or not to rehabilitate anyone. That is not my job.
You avoid being photographed and in the past have reported any tagged photos of you on Facebook. What is it about your own image being captured and shared that you don’t like?
I prefer the focus to be placed on the artworks, including the girls in the artworks—their faces, their gazes. Somehow, they seem more representative of me. There is more of me to see in them than in me.
What kind of social media do you use / not use and why?
I use Instagram, Tumblr and Twitter. I use Instagram to share my own images; Tumblr for news and updates; Twitter for words. I do not use Facebook—it feels too personal and invasive.
Would you follow yourself on Instagram?
I mostly post pictures of awkward, amusing texts (“Call Me! / I’ll Whip Your Ass Purple!”), or semi-gore images from B-horror movie reviews, or cute animals. I am into all this stuff, so yes, I would follow myself!
We are interested in compiling a book of interviews based on banal security questions asked when one sets up an online account. In what year was your father born?
I don’t think a surface reading of any one thing is an efficient one.
What is your mother’s maiden name?
What was the name of your elementary school?
Pakistan International School, and Donley Elementary School.
What is your oldest sibling’s birthday month and year?
I have one sibling, and his name is Filip; his birthday month is November and year is 1978.
What is your favorite color?
For the 89plus Marathon in 2013, you participated digitally through your work The A Project, in which you checked out a book from your university’s library and marked out every appearance of the letter A, keeping a tally along the way. Where does a project like this sit in your oeuvre?
The book was Elogio della menzogna (ed.: Salvatore S. Nigro)—Italian, of 154 marked pages. Online, its “subjects” are listed as “Truthfulness and Falsehood” and “Deception— Early works to 1800.” The cover of the book features the painting Portrait of a Woman of the Hofer Family, dated about 1470 and belonging to the collection of the National Gallery, London; the artist remains unknown, as does the sitter. The description of the painting on the National Gallery’s website reads, “On her headdress is a fly, either a symbol of mortality or a reminder of the artist’s skills of illusion.” I was drawn to this indecipherability, the sense of mystery. The project began as a passive, then active nihilistic endeavor—and a questioning of meaningfulness. I dwelled on this idea: “Thinking is an arbitrary fiction, the false sign of an equally false inner experience.”
Darja Bajagić (Montenegrin, b. 1990) is an artist who lives and works in New York. She is represented by Room East, New York.
Images: Kill Bill: After, 2014; A00, 2014; Devil Girl Stamp, 2014; Come to the Dark Side We Have Cookies!!!, 2014. Courtesy of the artist.