Awaiting Venice Biennale 2024: Nina Ceranic

We met Venice based artist Nina Ceranic in her studio on the island of Giudecca.
by Lara Morrell
Lara Morrell
Nina Ceranic

LM Let’s start with your genesis as an artist and your background..

NC I was born in Serbia in 1992 and, me and my family moved to Italy in 1995, I studied painting at the Academy of Fine Arts in Venice. I’ve been living and working in Venice for 12 years.

At the Academy of Fine Arts there was this community of painters which was quite strong and I was lucky enough to find it. I grew up as an artist in this community, which is still very active and prolific, and that’s how I started and that’s one of the main reasons why I am still here working in Venice.  It’s very much a community based effort I think. So my work started there and it has changed a lot since.

LM What are the recurring themes or motifs in your practice?

NC From the very beginning, I was interested in identity and at the beginning of my work I used to collect a lot of family photographs. It started with my own family photographs, so the fascination started there, probably also because of my background, with this dual cultural influence that I had.

I started collecting those photographs and then I found out that I wasn’t interested in just my own photographs, but it was the photograph that interested me as a sort of memory device, documentation device that had a lot of fallacies in it.

Distortions of memory: that was what interested me, so I started collecting a lot of those and my paintings revolved around these family memories and distorted faces and collages.

So, a lot of different influences that make you who you are growing up and then it shifted towards a more focused point that maybe distilled the whole thing, but it also opened a lot of doors, so it widened it as well, which is: instead of having people, I have items that belong to people.

The narration dropped (of the scene with people) and it shifted towards this portrait of an object. So, I would go on websites where you buy and sell your personal belonging like Facebook marketplace, where people take photographs of their objects, they post them online because they want to sell the objects.

Those photographs in particular fascinate me a lot because they are amateur photographs and they have a very specific purpose. Those people don’t have the eye of a photographer. It’s not a packaged product. It’s very instinctual. Now I collect these and I use them as a starting point for a research into shape, the painting in itself and the identity.

So those three things are connected in something that I’m researching now. So there is the eye, there is the photograph, then there is the painter and then there is what people see in the painting. So these things are the hummus.

LM Can you talk us through a key piece of yours?

NC This painting is from 2022 and it was made during the summer workshop in Antares (VEGA) and it’s emblematic because of many aspects of it that encapsulate my recent work. If you look at it from afar, it has all the kind of characteristics of a photographic image. So, it has that perspective, it’s very centrally framed, it’s very flat and it was painted as you would print: it wasn’t painted as a three dimensional object, but as a sequence of colours. It has that photographic thing that, from afar, it makes you believe that it is real, but it’s really not… and when you get closer, the matter itself reminds you of leather. So, you have this leathery feel that is very strong, so, you need to see that it is leather, but you can also see – because it’s not that clean – that it’s painted. So I want to keep those two things: I want you to sometimes think “Oh my God, it’s real!” … and sometimes it should be “Oh it’s clearly a brushstroke there”.

You see something you recognise, then it stops and then there is something else which you are not really sure of, but the eye always wants to make it a whole so it can stay there. I liked the four squares of the cushions as well, because I could work on it as four different paintings and it would always stay coherent as one. And that’s how I did it, first the four different quarters and then I began doing the whole.

I liked this thing as well *pointing the centre of the couch* and this is something that I really want to work on: that kind of eye, something that sucks you in that blackness; and the creases of the sofa as well, now going back to the object itself, where things go in and never come out. I was just watching the Hitchcock drain where all the blood goes in the end there’s this eye looking at you. So that’s interesting. You can also see some of the same aspects in different works.

What is your relationship like to the city of Venice today?

I started here as an artist. I wasn’t expecting it to grow on me like this, but in the end it did. I got used to the ways of living really, really fast. And once I did, now it’s really difficult to go back to the routines of a regular city, I guess you manage time in a different way and your daily routine, which often is made of empty time or a time that is not really used, here you are really aware and present all the time. On your daily commute you don’t go by the underground or whatever, you walk, you walk everywhere and walking everywhere makes you aware all the time of your surroundings, of the people that you see. It can take your day to different places because you can meet someone on the street, you can decide to hang out with them or they can tell you “There is this thing going on here, you should come!”. A lot of things happen just on your way to work or on your way to the supermarket. Another thing is that the community of artists that live here is definitely something that it’s a big incentive on staying here, we work really well here, of course you have to travel for work, but when you come back, it’s a relief. Everything is slower and everything is at your own pace.

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