Briefly describe the work you do.
I imitate the spirit of the things that interest me, by drawing or performing. Drawn to luscious organic structures, from cellular membranes to galactic clusters, I create manneristic ink drawings where each line is the trace of an attempt to wriggle into the bustling character of these things, like a skin.
I also stage fictional interviews which I record by video or by sound, and in which I play the role of interviewee. Like the drawings, these are improvised. I tell stories from the perspective of an invented persona, becoming a Frankenstein’s collage of accents, mannerisms and gestures that I pick up from personalities around me.
A jealousy for the power of the other is what drives me, and improvised empathetic imitation is my way of coping with this desire.
Tell us about your background and how that has had an influence on your work and on you as an artist.
I first saw Mulan when I was eight years old. Struck by her irresistible power and otherness, I got hold of my father’s camera and took a photo of myself shortly afterwards. With a plastic sword in hand positioned offensively across my face, and a ferocious, direct glare, something about the pose seems slightly out of place for a young child. Whenever I look at this photo now I am reminded of what a reality produced itself for me when I allowed myself to imitate the object of my admiration with utmost earnestness. Ever since, I have been talking to the mirror and lying to strangers, in a living attempt to rid myself of the shame of copying – so that I now allow and even encourage influences to permeate my practice.
The concept of the artist studio has a broad range of meanings in contemporary practice. Artists may spend much of their time in the actual studio, or they may spend very little time in it. Tell us about your individual studio practice and how it differs from or is the same as traditional notions of “being in the studio.”
My ideal studio is a bubble in which I am cut off from the world. Filled with plenty of light, it is a place in which all things I love can culminate and confront me. I might keep a list of “one thousand things Katarina likes” on one wall, and might let a nostalgic Serbian pop song from 1967 resound in the space. One day I might come along and dance in it, and wonder how the world can not know of my joy at that moment. Another day I might lie across a table, and pass the time wrapping myself around its legs. I might stare into a mirror until I start crying, or tell a story to nobody. I need such a place, but I find I construct them nomadically, wherever I go. Art can happen in a studio. But it can also happen at a party, or in bed when you are sick with the flu.
What roles do you find yourself playing that you may not have envisioned yourself in when you first started making art?
The more I pursue art the more I am surprised at my newfound sense of entitlement to do it. Growing up, art was something I always had to ‘steal away’ and do in solitude, or while nobody was looking. Now that I identify myself as an artist, it is almost like having a permit to take silly things seriously. I let fall time in the belief that there is integrity in nurturing the private curiosities that I tremble to speak of openly. I now see myself as someone who fumbles about chasing glaring ambiguities that have no name, yet seem to me so global and persistent.
When do you find is the best time to make art? Do you set aside a specific time everyday or do you have to work whenever time allows?
Sometimes I set about things with a strategic vigor and sense of direction. Other times, I feel hopelessly vulnerable and making art becomes a spontaneous consolation lottery, where engaging in it either offers me solace or throws me into further uncertainty. Example: once I was standing by a partitioning wall between my parents’ bathroom and landing. I was about to go downstairs but my father began Skyping with my grandfather, a difficult man of great talent, with whom I have developed a very sour relationship. Standing in the landing, I was reluctant to move, yet ashamed that I was avoiding my own family like this. Looking into a mirror in the bathroom, I began to embrace, and then kiss the partitioning wall, which seemed to have human proportions. It was one of those unexplained private activities. I took out a mobile and started to film myself kissing the wall. Now that clip has detached itself from me and become something I consider to be a work in its own right (Others Will Love Me, 2014).
How has your work changed in the past five years? How is it the same?
It has mostly changed in the media I use, from drawing to collage, writing to photography, performance to improvising stories, until the present, as I consider making interactive web pages and podcasts. What remains consistent however, is a drive to imitate powerful expressions by latching onto their respective superficial traits – in effect copying things I am jealous of.
How have people such as family, friends, writers, philosophers, other artists or even pop icons had an impact on the work you do?
Pieces of behavior and personal expression relentlessly enter my vocabulary of mimicry. I love surrounding myself with impressive personalities, be they fictitious or real. Cyrano de Bergerac and his undying panache, or Barbarella’s babeness. The humanity in a single gesture by Pina Bausch. My mother’s articulate English in a slight and sharp Slavic note. The passionate glare of my friend as she holds a trembling teacup. It is the impossibility of these things, heavy enough with care to move the earth, yet shedding so effortlessly from these individuals, that awakens my jealousy and desire to do my work.
Have you ever been pulled in the direction of a pursuit other than being an artist? What are your other interests?
Like many artists I know, I want to be everything. An actress, a programmer, an ecologist, a fencer. My practice is probably a result of this indecisiveness.
Katarina Rankovic was born in 1994 in Leeds, UK to Serbian parents. At twelve she moved with her family to Bergen, Norway, where she spent her adolscence working in a studio provided to her by the council. Meanwhile she completed an International Baccalaureate at Bergen Katedralskole, while also working as a Language and Engagement Coordinator for NGO TakingItGlobal’s environmental initiative Tread Lightly, whom she also delegated at the 2011 United Nations DPI Conference on Sustainability.
With a long-standing concern for the environment, and issues relating to gender and identity, her art and writing became a primary means of reflecting on these interests. Katarina has participated in and co-curated numerous UK exhibitions, and she is now studying for her BA in Fine Art at Wimbledon College of Art, University of the Arts London.
All images copyright of the artist and used with their permission.