What does an artist-in-residence do when coronavirus forces their gallery to close? Maja Zećo knows only too well…
Maja, who became Aberdeen Art Gallery’s first-ever artist-in-residence earlier this year, had the challenge of celebrating the venue’s artworks when the gallery was closed earlier this year due to Covid-19 and she was unable to explore the gallery’s artworks in person.
“I was supposed to have my studio in Aberdeen Art Gallery but unfortunately, the building was closed for a long time during this pandemic,” said Maja.
“We decided it would be better if I worked from my space at The Anatomy Rooms studio facility managed by local organisation All in Ideas.”
So what does an artist-in-residence actually do?
“Each art residency is unique in offering artists time and support in developing their practice and research,” said Maja.
“My residency with Aberdeen Art Gallery offers me a precious insight into ways how the art organisation works behind the scenes, which is something that not many artists get a chance to experience.
“I combine activities of writing, making props, editing videos, recording sounds, working on my talks and presentations. I regularly share my progress on social media.
“I aim to integrate artwork development and engagement while drawing on modernist pieces from the gallery’s collection.”
Aberdeen Art Gallery’s works of art inspired Maja’s creative projects
Instead of showcasing her work in the city centre gallery, the sound and performance artist put on a range of attention-grabbing performances on north-east beaches and parks.
Maja, who is from Bosnia and Herzegovina, was mainly inspired by two artworks on display at the Schoolhill attraction – Meditation by Barbara Hepworth and Eastre, Hymn to the Sun by JD Fergusson.
She said: “Fergusson’s brass bust Eástre held my attention ever since I visited the venue for the very first time. Visually stunning, it represents a Saxon goddess of spring and it is believed to be a portrait of the artist’s partner – dancer Margaret Morris.
“In my work, I reimagine the story of the goddess as a metaphor of migration, where myths of this powerful figure travelled from across Europe and the Middle East.
“The golden costume is inspired by these stories while drawing from the modernist aesthetic. The artwork consists of the costume, live performances, and moving image work.”
Maja also took inspiration from one of Barbara Hepworth’s most abstract works of art.
She said: “The work inspired my research of the material culture of modernism and the ways I could explore it through ephemeral media of performance and sound.
“Through video, I aimed to capture my search for silence in the current context of the pandemic.”
Even though she is grateful she was able to create art during the ongoing coronavirus crisis, Maja hopes she will be able to exhibit and perform her work live in front of local audiences.
She said: “Besides logistical challenges of filming and performing in a socially distanced way, working digitally is not always as satisfying as meeting the audience live.
“I still hope that these works will be exhibited physically one day and that I would be able to perform in front of the public.”
The importance of artists-in-residence
While this is the first time Aberdeen Art Gallery had an artist-in-residence, Maja, whose residency ends at the end of this month, believes the role is important in many ways.
She said: “Artists can create new links between the public and the institution by attracting different demographics or sharing work in process.
“There is also something remarkable in the museum opening its doors to an emerging contemporary artist.
“There is a transfer of knowledge between curators, artists and our audience – children and adults from various walks of life.”
Aberdeen has potential and talent but needs self-esteem
When asked to describe the art and cultural landscape in Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire, Maja said that while Aberdeen had “potential and talent”, the city needed more “self-esteem to embrace a diversity of approaches”.
She added: “I’ve heard many times that some themes are more suitable for Glasgow or London, but there is no reason to turn away from what a range of contemporary art practice can offer here in the north-east.
“We can and we should work locally but with a global perspective. The challenges we face in 2021, such as the pandemic and climate change teach us that.”
And for that reason, Maja is thrilled the British Art Show – one of the largest touring exhibitions of contemporary art in the UK – will open in Aberdeen this summer.
Organised every five years and now in its ninth edition, British Art Show 9 will bring innovative modern art produced in the UK to four cities, with Aberdeen being the only Scottish city on the art show’s tour.
Locals will be able to see the exhibition in Aberdeen Art Gallery from July 10 to October 10 before it travels to Wolverhampton Art Gallery in January 2022.
Maja said: “I am excited about the British Art Show coming to Aberdeen.
“I hope I will get the chance to meet some of the artists and experience the work in person.”