Mare Karina is now landing in sunny Puglia to open a showroom that speaks of art, design, fashion and bitcoin

by Jessica Stella
August 2, 2022
Jessica Stella
Mare Karina

Mare Karina was founded in 2021, a hybrid of artist studio, gallery and agency founded by Marta Barina and Jure Kastelic.
Kastelic is an artist and Bitcoin researcher. Barina is a contemporary art producer, working for established artists and previously for international commercial galleries in London. Mare Karina opens a new group show at the historic former tobacco factory in Taurisano, Apulia, during summer 2022.

To begin with, we would like to know how the Mare Karina project was born and what it is about, what its principles and philosophies are. What prompted you to create a hybrid of art studio, gallery and agency and how do these three things work together?

Over the last decade we’ve been working in different galleries and organisations in London and back home. We shaped our skills and ideas within the industry, seeing the relationships between artists, galleries, festivals and everything in between. After the C19 shock we were motivated to work together, putting some new ideas into practice. We escaped to the Canaries and rented a big apartment, which was very economical since there were no tourists on the island. While hunkered down, we worked on our first exhibition titled ESC (escape). It consisted of Jure’s paintings exhibited in the apartment we used as a home, studio and gallery. Beside the immediate neighbours, we relied on our online presence to promote our exhibition and organised 1-to-1 facetime tours, where we could speak more in depth about the exhibition and start some really valuable conversations that led to other projects we’ve done since. We were pleasantly surprised by the craving for positive content during the global lockdowns. We filled up eight hours of tours for each day of the exhibition and sold the majority of the works. We learned that as an artist and art producer, we can apply some of the ideas to other artists and venues we work with, and just generally try to better the situation of an individual artist/artisan relationship by lowering the standard industry margins, avoiding costs of rent in expensive cities, and collaborate with creative people in a very decentralised matter. As a hybrid between an artist studio, gallery and agency we can keep our geographic neutrality, organise nomadic projects highlighting unique regions, and promote the quality of living outside of big cities. What this means more specifically is that Jure keeps a painting studio wherever we live and Marta works with another artist studio remotely. We organise artist residencies, studio visits, and write and tutor about the basics of bitcoin. We involve the artists and artisans we like and also produce our own products either in collaboration or on our own. We showcase the whole range to our online and IRL public and offer the works for sale.


Jure Kastelic, Safe haven, 2022, acrylic on canvas, 200 x 160 cm Courtesy Mare Karina

One of the goals of your project is to highlight the positive function of technology and bitcoins in the service of art. Can you explain how technology, bitcoins, and contemporary art coexist and feed into each other? 

Because of the size of our 2-person team, our mode of working has always been very digital. We are habitually looking ahead to what tools would accelerate the menial operations we are less excited about and concentrate on the content of our production, which we love to do. This includes looking at Bitcoin. We see it as a long term savings account (4+ years) and a programmable money that we generally align with its philosophical, ethical and moral features. For example, we see some of the immediate benefits of saving in Bitcoin, like a longer outlook for the future, taking less consumerist decisions, true asset ownership and audiences that have an appreciation for collecting and understanding of scarcity. Contemporary art is just one of the industries these ideas can be applied to in their own best way. We’ve applied them first to ourselves as private individuals, then to Mare Karina as a studio. By informing and utilising Bitcoin we hope to progress the understanding of incentives and highlight the positive impacts of this technology on the acceleration of green energy production, access to banking for the unbanked, promoting conservation instead of the polluting consumerism and bettering one’s life whatever their situation.

More specifically, Mare Karina offers Bitcoin cashback to incentivise the onboarding of interested clients. Each buyer of Jure’s painting would receive a percentage of the payment back in Bitcoin. In case they need help, we would guide them step by step to set up digital wallets and also offer guidance on the basics of Bitcoin with a curated link or 1 to 1 calls. Over time they would see the benefits of keeping some of their money in Bitcoin and return as happy customers. Jure also does public talks. He recently participated in one titled “WTF is an NFT” held during Miart by Artsted. We see some of the implications of NFTs interesting for the future, and are also thinking bullishly about hardware like full nodes, which we are launching at Mare Karina Showroom in collaboration with 6:AM Glassworks. Our aim is to make these topics and heavy lingo more approachable and less scary, so please do reach out to us if you’re interested and don’t know where to start.


Let’s talk about your showroom located inside a former tobacco factory in Taurisano (Apulia) and the group exhibition you are organizing. What led you to open a showroom in Apulia and why Taurisano, despite the fact that your roots are in Slovenia and Veneto? How does this rural factory fit in with the philosophy of Mare Karina?

For a while we were joking that we should always say out loud what we want to do, doing kind of a reverse jinx by putting some pressure on ourselves to make it happen. It was always our wish to move somewhere sunnier, with a culture that appreciates the quality of life that we could align ourselves with. After some time and research, we came up with a plan to move to Puglia and activate a historic old tobacco factory in Taurisano with a showroom full of creatives we wanted to work with. We met Artas through a friend and found a common language, the connection to the place and an ambition to activate their beautiful building, which has an important local history of entrepreneurship and progressive ideas. We found out about their cultivation and marketing of agricultural products such as figs, tobacco, oil, wine, and also the technological innovations maximising their self-sufficiency such as the use of the first dynamo in the region. We also noted social innovations such as the possibility of offering subsidised contracts to workers and breastfeeding rooms inside the factory. The history of this building echoed with us and further informed the mode of our own labour.

Puglia has a vibrant programme of contemporary art with Palai Project, Progetto, Kora, Italics taking place in Monopoli this year, and new residency programmes popping up. There’s also a general craving for all kinds of public events throughout the year. After living in a big city for so long, it feels like a pleasant change that gives us additional energy to keep expanding our activities as Mare Karina. 


For the group exhibition that will open on 6 August and run until 11 September, you have brought together more than twenty artists and artisans to exhibit their works: what is the fil rouge that binds them? What was the curatorial vision that made you choose these artists and craftsmen?

Marta was thinking about how to expand beyond conservative gallery exhibitions and bind different artistic processes in a showroom without hierarchies between arts and crafts practices. She wanted to combine art, design, fashion and technology in a space, which would reflect our general idea of thinking globally and acting locally. We worked with a selection of Factory Market members: young Italian makers and creatives that are tied by the idea of respecting the environment, working conditions and the concept of “made in Italy”. We hosted some of them in our residency programme where they reflected on their Puglia experience through their works, methods and resources. Silvia Albani for example made a line of clothing that was produced with cyanotype technique, using the sunlight to imprint the photographs she took during the residency in Taurisano. Margherita Chinchio made jewellery by melting together found objects and polished them into rings, keychains and necklaces. We invited a pugliese, Nicola Zanzonico, who created shirts and skirts stitched together from repurposed second hand fabrics sourced locally in flea markets and second hand shops. Micaela Sciarretta (Pelo Rugs) collected discarded threads from textile factories in Salento and made a beautiful handmade carpet. This thread of hyper-locality was repeated also through Marta’s collaboration with Irene Ragusa to create Mare Karina’s own signature fragrance combining the characteristic scents of Puglia: olive trees, tobacco tones, fig leaves, and citrus. We will present it for the first time together with Serena Confalonieri’s glass diffusers that draw inspiration from the historical research of the area during Byzantine and Roman periods. We deliberately looked for hyper-local partnerships such as with DA A, a metal design brand from Lecce, and Fratelli Parisi, the legendary illuminarie artisans from Taurisano. We are very excited to work with such internationally recognised brands from Puglia. We also invited two British painters, Joe Bloom and Alice Walter, who will show their works in Puglia for the first time. Bloom drew his inspiration from the art residency in Sicily this year, while Walter’s colourful works evoke an alchemical energy among all three painters in the showroom. Beside Jure’s paintings, he also collaborated with 6:AM Glassworks, a leading glass agency in Venice, to produce a glass sculpture encasing a Bitcoin node. Jure worked also with Milan based Artsted, who sponsored the installation of augmented reality sculptures intertwined into NFTs. 

Our goal was to invite like-minded creatives that are mindful of craftsmanship and sustainable resources, but also have an updated contemporary spirit informed by international currents. 

Pelo Rugs Courtesy Factory Market & Mare Karina

Are you already thinking about future projects? If so, can you give us a sneak peek? 

During this project we developed new ideas about organising art residencies and creating new opportunities for other artists and artisans from the national and international scene with the same appreciation for the Mediterranean. This is something we will expand on next year. With the Showroom we also launched a new online exhibition page on our website, which we will further develop with each iteration. We also want to keep expanding our collaborations and keep making our own products that enhance our independent identity in the marketplace. Our goal is also to keep creating content that is exciting, maximalist, unique and wholesome, bringing young and established creatives outside the cities and into local realities. Our next step is also to get married, and then keep on digging deeper into what Mare Karina wants to become.

Alice Walter, Childs Play, 2022, mixed media, 16 cm x 32 cm Courtesy Mare Karina

Can you recommend 3 songs for the My Art Guides Spotify playlist?

  • Italove by Emmanuelle
  • Blue Pedro by Bullion
  • Rich Spirit by Kendrick Lamar


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