An interview with the artist Jaro Varga
We are here today with Jaro Varga, a visual artist from Slovakia.
First of all, thank you for your time. I’m very happy because it’s an important occasion for dialogue and comparison among different cultures and experiences.
But let’s talk about you and your art and why may we define you as a visual artist. I mean, why ‘visual’? What is the importance given to the act of seeing and observing in your artworks?
I’m interested in images that are on the fringes of visuality. Even the most non-visual art can be visual and vice versa. In the context of Slovak visual art, non-visual positions have a strong tradition (e.g. White Space in a white space, 1973-82, Filko, Laky, Zavarský). Apparently, I intuitively follow this artistic lineage. During my daily walk from the house to the studio, for several years now I have been purposefully zeroing in on fragments of the street that have eluded me before. I am always discovering new perspectives. Every image that impacts me from the outside activates a multitude of inner images that have been dormant within me. Usually, these are very subtle projections. Visually.
Jaro Varga at Expo Dubai 2020 - Slovakia Pavilion
You are working at Expo Dubai 2020 for and in the Slovakia Pavilion. We’re now watching your pervasive artwork, tell us something about it.
I am creating a monumental yet ephemeral site-specific performative drawn composition on the windows of the Slovak pavilion. The title of the work “We don’t know that we know” is inspired by a phrase by Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek. Žižek thus defined the unconscious knowledge that we both seek and fear. The work that comes to life here is an intuitive climatic manifesto, a mind map, a dystopian landscape, a simulation of growth and multiplication, a marking of outer and inner shadows. In the process of creating, I activate subconscious layers that materialize through drawing. The work is about the journey and not the outcome. I started drawing in 2018 at the hunt kastner Gallery in Prague and continued, for example, at the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Seoul, the Picasso Museum or the Tàpies Foundation in Barcelona, or the Slovak Pavilion at Expo 2020. Each subsequent drawing is a continuation of the previous one.
This artwork is based on conditions. You’re not working in your atelier with a premade canvas and air conditioning. You are here, in a pavilion, with people around, under the Arabic sun, working on windows. How do these conditions influence your work, and do you usually start with the completed design of the artwork in your mind or is it something constantly evolving?
Expo is an exceptional context for art, very different from that of a gallery or museum, let alone a studio. Walking around the grounds, I am overwhelmed by the gigantic number of light installations and projections. Science and technology are being shown off in the most spectacular form. After a while, my senses stop taking in the details. The stunning beauty blurs before my eyes. I have a feeling of fluidity in which I lose any fixed points. I am overflowing with images. The world is cool and I disintegrate into microscopic flying particles within it. This whole thing I have just described is my “artist’s canvas”.
We don't know what we know
I think this is an artwork that lives in different phases. First of all, people may notice it as a mistake in their field of vision. “There is something wrong with that window”. And then people might approach the window, see something and try to understand what it is. And they walk closer. Someone may finally go forth and see that the drawings live in constant dialogue with everything happening inside or outside.
A detailed drawing on glass is like dust that flits between perception and reality. It is visible only when you squint. Everything in the foreground and background of the drawing (the pavilion, the exhibits, the people, the banners) becomes part of it. Several exhibits here are a view through a telescope (e.g. the hydrogen car or space modules), my work is a look through a microscope. It is about the ability/inability to focus, to perceive detail, to immerse oneself in the flickering moment.
Mirrors and glass are used as surfaces, subjects and mediums of a lot of your artworks. Why – and what is the meaning behind these choices?
Transparency is a constitutive moment of the whole work. When I create, I am more interested in the things that are absent than the ones we are surrounded by. I believe that in absence, there is a moment of truth, of revelation, of silence, of oppression. I try to point to the permanent malfunctioning of dominant epistemic systems that displace undesirable voices. Art should, at least partially, dismantle stereotypical narratives and constructs of power. It should act as a mirror and rip off the mask of these systems.
Art, in this period of fragmentation, is fragmented too and has become not only a representation of our world but also a filter through which we imagine, create and experience new arrangements.
Art has become a map without a territory, a drapery without a body, a frame without a picture, a flash without a camera. It has become what it doesn’t want to be – a dead pixel of reality. Mine too, in part.
Relationships: among things, between things and phenomena, among people, between our present and the past, among different situations and realities. A relationship might be the keyword for approaching your artworks and starting to build a connection of sorts with them. I love it!