Hrvoje ( pronounced "hair-vo-yay" ) Slovenc is an out Croatian-American photographer whose life has taken some interesting turnsfrom studying biochemistry to obtaining an MFA in photography from Yale University School of Art.
Locally, his work is on display in "Traversing the Past: Adam Golfer, Diana Matar, Hrvoje Slovenc" at the Museum of Contemporary Photography. In this exhibit, the artists trace their family stories to histories of political turmoil, violence and displacement.
Windy City Times: You went from studying biochemistry to photography. How did that happen?
Hrvoje Slovenc: The way I think is pretty scientific; I like statistics and numbers, and I like having things organized in a very particular wayand I think the way I photograph kind of reflects that. So I guess I still have a little bit of that scientific brain that's present in my work.
WCT: Is there a particular photographer who influenced you?
HS: You know what? That'a very interesting question, because the photographers [who] I really, really admire have works that have nothing in common with my work. One I really admire is Garry Winogrand, who is a street photographer; his photographs are so full of life. My photographs tend to be a little cold at first glance. I have to keep reminding myself to bring some life into them.
Also, even if there's an empty scene, something has to be done in the right moment and time. I may be too honest here, but a few years ago I did an S&M projectand one [item] involved a man who peed on his wife, and that was their scene. He had an extension that he would pee through; I put that extension on the wall and I was waiting for a drop of pee to fall from that tubeand I caught it in mid-air. That's something I take from photographythings have to be done at the right time.
WCT: So how did you connect with the Museum of Contemporary Photography?
HS: When I was an undergraduate, more than 10 years ago, you were able to send your portfolio to the museumand that's what I did. I burned a CD with some of my pictures, and I sent the CD to them. I didn't hear back for almost a year; then, I got an email from [current Deputy Director and Chief Curator] Karen Irvine that she'd like to include some of my work in a group show that happened almost 10 years ago.
I got in touch with the museum and Karen. The project that was shown was "Partners in Crime," which were re-creations of wedding photos of same-sex couples who had been living together for a long time [at www.mocp.org/detail.php, and getting them that shot the couple could never get because same-sex marriage was still illegal. The photographs have a stiffness that's more of social commentary than anything else.
WCT: You're a member of the LGBT community. Does that expressly come through in any of your photographs [aside from "Partners in Crime']?
HS: To be honest, I had been drawn to photographing things I didn't fully understand. Even though I was part of the LGBTQA community, I didn't know it. I wasn't really out, and I never really had a community. When I came to New York ... I'm not really interested in bars and clubs, so I didn't really have a community. However, ["Partners in Crime"] was a way for me to engage myself with the community.
WCT: And you feel pretty included now?
HS: This is just one of 60 labels that I have. [Laughs] I don't like group mentality; I think it goes against my nature. There's something off-putting about it. Group mentality makes me think of people saying, "We are better than [someone else]." So I don't like calling myself Croatian, because, what the hell does that mean? I don't like calling myself a Yalie [Yale alumnus]. I don't like labelling myself.
But [in the end], I embrace inclusion because I'm so happy with where I am. Wherever you go, you feel some sort of connection with the LGBTQ communitywhether it's early life struggles, or whatever. You feel that you belong.
WCT: I remember talking with an artist a few years ago who said all life is artwhether it involves brushing your teeth or working in the office. I'm curious about your thoughts on that.
HS: There is something to be said about that. In order for one to be an artistwhatever the definition of that isI think they need to be obsessed. There is no other way. You have to think about it 24/7. So, in that case, any kind of ritualwhether it's brushing teeth or drinking coffeethere is [a level of] obsession; you have to have it or do it. I enjoy the obsessions that people have; I don't find them odd.
Any kind of ritual could be artistic, for sure. If we had, for example, [performance artist] Marina Abramovic brushing her teeth in MoMA, no one would doubt that it was art. It would become a symbol of daily routine; it's in the context.
WCT: I know art is open to interpretation, but is there any one thing you want people to gather from your photographs?
HS: Yes. I know that the work I show in the museum could be potentially harder to understand, especially as they can point to particular things the average person is not familiar with. What I'd like the viewer to see is that I am presenting space and geographical location that is polluted with violence. It's not just violence against people; it's also violence against free will, against the landscape, against geographical borders. I want people to feel that there is something wrong there.
"Traversing the Past: Adam Golfer, Diana Matar, Hrvoje Slovenc" will be on display at the Museum of Contemporary Photography, 600 S. Michigan Ave., through Sunday, April 1. See MoCP.org .