A CONVERSATION WITH ARTIST ANA PRVACKI
Ana Prvacki removes something from an envelope. She places a small piece of paper on the table in front of me and grins.
“I haven’t shown these to hardly anybody yet,” she tells me.
The paper is a musical score to Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde. Scanning the delicate inking, my eye catches on a detailed drawing of female genitalia hanging between two notes in the third bar. Suddenly, the artwork comes to life. Male and female genitals of various shapes and sizes decorate the page, shooting out from half-notes and dangling from the musical staffs.
“This is an unusual sight-reading experience,” I remark. Ana laughs.
“It’s a porn score!” she exclaims.
At some point between this interaction and the moment she offers me 500 kilos of honey from a storage facility in Serbia, I realize I am smitten with Ana Prvacki. Prvacki's works address daily problems, worries, and fears, transforming social anxiety and exploring the comedic potential of faux pas. Her works have been included in many international exhibitions including dOCUMENTA 13, Sydney Biennial 2007, and the Singapore Biennial 2006. She has developed projects for venues such as the Centre Pompidou, Bloomberg HQ, and the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. In 2008, she adapted At The Tips of Your Fingertips (2007) — a performance in which she (quite literally) launders money — into a long durational work, performing eight hours per day for five days at Artists Space in New York City.
In person, Prvacki is kind, whip-smart, and torrentially enthusiastic. I invite her to video chat with me about her artistic process and we set the date for her birthday, which also happens to be the night before she embarks on a long trip to Singapore. When asked if she’s sure about meeting on what will surely be a busy day, she insists that it is an "auspicious date." The evening of our discussion, Ana transfers her wit and vibrancy through the wires to brighten a thunderous New York City night, demonstrating how a little bit of sweetness can go a long way.
SIENA ORISTAGLIO: I’m curious about the moment that you knew you wanted to be an artist. What drew you to art in the beginning?
ANA PRVACKI: You know, it was never a question for me. My parents are artists, so it wasn’t a question of whether or not I’d be an artist, it was more a question of what kind of an artist I would be. I always joke that my parents told me they would disown me if I didn’t become an artist. People believe it much too often. [Laughs.]
SIENA ORISTAGLIO: They wouldn’t have, though?
ANA PRVACKI: I don’t know, actually. That’s a good point.
SIENA ORISTAGLIO: Maybe there’s a little bit of truth there.
ANA PRVACKI: [Laughs.] Yeah, probably.
SIENA ORISTAGLIO: You’re lucky that this is what you were drawn to. What is your first memory of looking at something you had just done and saying, “I just created an artwork”?
ANA PRVACKI: Well, I was always in my mother’s studio playing with clay. When you work with clay, the leftovers get really hard and dry. She used to do this thing where she’d put me in the bath with warm water with the dry clay to play and soften it, like a full body mask in reverse! I always felt like I was somehow contributing to her art practice. I’ve also been thinking a lot about an event when I was about four or five. My mother’s father was a really amazing, complex character. He was a priest, a theologian, a Marxist, and a poet. I actually have a photo of him right here. The wallet-sized picture.
He was a tragic figure and was tortured and spied on for 40 years. Towards the end of his life, he resigned. He just wanted to pass on. He lived very stoically in this little room with books, eating toast and drinking tea. As a child, I wanted to engage him really, really badly. I started doing this thing where every time he went to the bathroom, I would go into his bedroom and hide toys in his bed. I would put a toy in his pillow and one his comforter and scatter them around. Then I would run out and listen. It was wonderful because I would hear him say, “Oh! Hoo hoo hoo." Like, giggling! It was an act of poking youthfulness out of him and engaging him in a very playful way. I think actually that’s really marked my practice.
SIENA ORISTAGLIO: I can clearly see you as a young child pressing your ear against the door to listen for his response to these hidden toys. I notice that many of your works, there’s a sense of mischief and a poking that happens — a desire to engage people in a surprising way. Do you think the story you just told about your grandfather is an origin story for that kind of work?
ANA PRVACKI: Absolutely. That is the biggest compliment ever because that’s exactly what the intention was and is — to poke the joy, poke the youthfulness, poke the usefulness, poke the play out of life.
SIENA ORISTAGLIO: Were you drawn to performance as a young artist? Your parents are not performers, are they?
ANA PRVACKI: They’re not. Well, they are — my father is an incredible story-teller and joke-teller, and they’re both really wonderful characters so I feel like they are. They are eccentric personalities, in a sense. My father is a painter and my mother is a ceramist. And I was very lucky that when I was about ten, I met a fantastic musician, a Serbian flautist called Ljubisa Jovanovic. He came to a party at my parents’ house and he had heard that there was a little girl. I think I had just had my tonsils removed or something, so he took his flute and came into my bedroom and started playing “Orpheus’ Lament,” the Gluck piece. I was transfixed, and that was it. I wanted to be a flautist. But you can’t start playing the flute until your teeth are in, which is a remarkable element, because you can’t rush your mouth — you have to be fully formed. I think this is such an amazing idea for artist, that you get formed in some way and some of it is out of your hands. About a year later, when my teeth came in, I started my lessons. I was a classically trained flautist for a long time.
SIENA ORISTAGLIO: I was just looking again through your recent works and came across "Music Derived Pain Killer" (2008). Can you describe this piece?
ANA PRVACKI: I was preparing for the Sydney Biennial with Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev. She’s really wonderful and challenging in that she always asks you about things that are difficult somehow. One of the things that was somewhat difficult for me was that I stopped playing the flute when I was sixteen and it wasn’t really a choice so there was some sense that there was a necessity to heal that. I was telling her this story that I always remembered, which is that I used to practice a lot, and it’s this very solitary, isolating experience that sometimes lasts for six or seven hours. Once, when I was about thirteen, I put my flute down and I was thinking about what to do next and I saw a puddle on the floor. I got very puzzled by the puddle. [Laughs.] That should have actually been the title of the work.
SIENA ORISTAGLIO: I was going to say that would make a good title.
ANA PRVACKI: I love it. Let me write that down. Yeah, so I looked up and I thought, “Is it raining? Did I wet myself?” Because, you know, that’s part of playing music. Sometimes you just get so aroused or lost that...
SIENA ORISTAGLIO: You’re not aware of your body anymore.
ANA PRVACKI: Yes. Then I realized that actually it was exactly 59 centimeters to the right. It was the discharge that I was producing through playing the music. And because the theme of this exhibition was the idea of revolutions, there was something magical about the fact that you create sound from the depths of your body and then it translates and comes out as this ethereal, immaterial experience, and then solidifies into this gross body. I mean, literally, gross, and gross. I started researching saliva and the idea of licking your wounds, you know, the healing element of saliva, that it’s actually an incredibly powerful anti-pain cure. I wanted to engage in that circle of creating this emotional aspect of music and to then cure yourself of it. A homeopathic gesture. For the work, I installed a funnel on the end of the flute that collected the saliva. I think it works well within the tradition of contemporary art of bottling excrement and air and all that.
SIENA ORISTAGLIO: Yes. [Laughs.] I also wanted to ask you about how you met Marina Abramovic. I know that you worked with her in the past, and I’d be curious to hear about how you met and how you came to be aware of the Institute?
ANA PRVACKI: Well, I became aware of Marina as a child. My dad used to always say, “Art must be beautiful, artist must be beautiful.” I always thought it was a Latin proverb. Then later on when I got to art school, I saw the video and I thought, “Ah. It’s an artwork!” Though it’s kind of a Latin proverb too. [Laughs.] That was an indirect meeting with Marina. But we met formally in person, we were introduced in 2006 by Aaron Moulton, who at the time was the editor of Flash Art, and upon hearing that I was an ex-Yugoslav, he immediately asked me if I knew Marina and I said, “Well, I don’t know her personally but of course I know her.” And he said, “Oh, I should introduce you!” And then I remember we met for tea and it was an incredible moment for me. She’s been so supportive and wonderful.
SIENA ORISTAGLIO: You worked together at a point, correct?
ANA PRVACKI: Yes, Marina was curating a series of durational performances at Artists Space in 2008, and she really wanted me to launder money for eight hours a day for five days. It was kind of a challenge. It was great. I have to say, artists carry a lot of cash. [Laughs] We laundered about $5,000 or something.
SIENA ORISTAGLIO: This was for the piece “At the Tips of your Fingertips,” is that right?
ANA PRVACKI: Yes. It was sort of a reiteration of that work. We even laundered the entire donation box of Artists Space.
SIENA ORISTAGLIO: That’s perfect. Had you performed a long durational work before or was that your first experience?
ANA PRVACKI: It was the first time I performed a long durational piece.
SIENA ORISTAGLIO: What was that like for you?
ANA PRVACKI: It was really amazing. It was like a marathon experience, but it’s also such a different way of experiencing your own work. You can’t escape. I don’t know why I’m thinking of psychoanalysis, but it seems like this kind of situation where you just have to face it. You’re there and you can’t leave.
SIENA ORISTAGLIO: That work had existed in a shorter form and you expanded it to that format, correct?
ANA PRVACKI: Yes.
SIENA ORISTAGLIO: That’s something we’re really interest in. Not all of the artists we'll be collaborating with will have performed long durational works, so we plan to reach out and say, “What would you do if we asked you to create something for six hours or longer?” In your experience, how did this change your process? Did you prepare in a particular way to perform for that length of time?
It was like a marathon experience, but it’s also such a different way of experiencing your own work. You can’t escape. I don’t know why I’m thinking of psychoanalysis, but it seems like this kind of situation where you just have to face it. You’re there and you can’t leave.
ANA PRVACKI: I did prepare. That was the really wonderful thing that I learned and that really stayed with me. You’re developing at the Institute a certain maintenance and a certain emotional and physical endurance. I think it’s extremely timely because our lives are so accelerated that having that ability to give for such an extended period of time but to also preserve and to rejuvenate through that process is really an interesting idea. Maybe because I’ve been thinking about my grandfather, I’m thinking now about this Catholic idea of suffering to make a point. But it’s also interesting to think of durational work as rejuvenating rather than depleting. Recently, I made a pocket watch for someone who requested it. It’s kind of an amazing story — it’s a pocket watch that belonged to a head of psychoanalysis at UCLA who was experimenting with hypnotherapy in the 1950s. I was given this watch to transform, in a sense. It’s a very simple gesture. It’s a nipple. The idea is exactly that. You look at time and you see nurturing, not depleting.
SIENA ORISTAGLIO: I saw this, and I agree. Marina is performing right now at Serpentine Gallery in London, and we read these chronicles — actually, we ask people to write chronicles at all of our live events — and there is a definite group of responses from people who walk out of a long durational performance and say, “Wow, I feel so alive, so much more awake and conscious of my senses.” I think that kind of experience is very unique. Performance especially can bring that to an audience because it’s such a physical form. That’s one reason why we aim to be a platform for these kinds of experiences, not just for performers but also for audience members as well.
ANA PRVACKI: What was that thing that you said about a “performance spa,” or something like that? I really like that.
SIENA ORISTAGLIO: The “cultural spa”?
ANA PRVACKI: Yes.
SIENA ORISTAGLIO: That’s one way we sometimes frame the Institute to make it clear that there are many ways to experience this kind of work. In modern culture, we tend to be enmeshed in an accelerated pace of life, with so many stimuli coming towards us at all times. The idea is that attending a long durational work has the potential to be a rejuvenating experience because you are entering a different kind of space, one that is void of markers of time and technology-mediated connection. With technology comes an ability to connect at remarkable speeds but there’s also the downside that it can be distracting and overwhelming. Sometimes you need to take space from it.
SIENA ORISTAGLIO: What do you to take care of yourself before you perform?
ANA PRVACKI: Well, I have a rigorous daily practice of “An idea a day keeps the doctor away.” That type of thing. I actually really need to be relaxed to be able to work.
SIENA ORISTAGLIO: That’s a good philosophy. But it's true for you on a physical level, not just a philosophical level.
ANA PRVACKI: Yes — to eat well, to sleep well, to exercise, to get air, to walk, to be present in life. I think it’s of the essence.
SIENA ORISTAGLIO: When you say “an idea a day,” I think of this Japanese inventor named Yoshiro Nakamatsu, who does very bizarre things to come up with ideas. He’ll swim to the bottom of a pool and stay down there until the last possible second. He has a waterproof notebook that he — of course — invented so that he can come up with new ideas on the brink of losing consciousness and then write them in this notebook. Do you have any rituals that help you to come up with your ideas?
ANA PRVACKI: To feel embodied is really important to me, actually, so doing some sort of physical exercise really helps. In my experience, keeping your body lubricated and your mind lubricated is really connected. I’m also thinking, talking to you, about how I ended up doing performance. It was never really something that I consciously decided but it happened through this way of generating daily ideas and trying to communicate them. Every day, I would come up with an idea and find a way to communicate it visually or narratively. That’s when I started performing, but it was more like presenting, pitching the idea.
SIENA ORISTAGLIO: So your performances were the vehicles to express concepts that you came up with?
ANA PRVACKI: Exactly. I had been trained in theater so, of course, you keep in mind the tone of your voice and the positioning of your body and the speed and the dynamic and the light. It all affects how efficiently you communicate the idea.
SIENA ORISTAGLIO: Of your performances, what would you say was the most challenging for you?
ANA PRVACKI: Documenta was really challenging. It was a whole project on etiquette. In a sense, it totally backfired because I became so self-conscious. It was so much etiquette training that I became kind of paralyzed. I realized that each gesture, however banal, means so much.
Every day, I would come up with an idea and find a way to communicate it visually or narratively. That’s when I started performing, but it was more like presenting, pitching the idea.
SIENA ORISTAGLIO: When you’re working specifically with social pressures or social anxieties, I can imagine that would translate into your own psyche.
ANA PRVACKI: Yes. It becomes so personal. Also, people start telling you things because you’re working with etiquette, so they kind of share, maybe, too much.
SIENA ORISTAGLIO: It seems like you were very open to these moments of people expressing themselves to you. What is your relationship with your audience like? Specifically around etiquette, it must have been a complex relationship.
ANA PRVACKI: It’s sort of like becoming a hostess. And again, how do you condition yourself for that and what are the boundaries of that? Now, I think of Marina performing "Rhythm 0" (1974). Some of the audience became really abusive guests.
SIENA ORISTAGLIO: Yes, you create a space that people come into, and the idea of a hostess is that you are somehow responsible for those people in a way.
ANA PRVACKI: Exactly! It’s terrible! [Laughs.] Talk about the stress.
SIENA ORISTAGLIO: This might seem out of the blue, but maybe because we’re talking about being responsible for an audience, I’m thinking about your experience with beekeeping and how this plays into your artistic practice. We were speaking earlier about your grandfather on one side. Your paternal grandfather was a beekeeper, correct?
ANA PRVACKI: Yes. I grew up with beekeepers and beekeeping and honey everywhere. The bees have been in our family for four generations. My great-great-grandmother brought a queen bee as part of her dowry, instead of a cow or a goat! There are so many elements of this that have rubbed off on my practice. Actually, now that you ask me that — sweetness. Sweetness. Always have a little bit of sweetness. Funnily enough, this relates to the whole philosophy of advertising. You know, the concept of sticky ideas — ideas that just kind of grab you because they’re sweet and soothing and pleasurable. Also, I’ve always been really fascinated by bees because I think they’re such an interesting balance. On one hand, they’re these industrious, disciplined, collective, community-driven producers, but then they’re also these horny little pollinators that just suck on nectar. I think that’s just such a perfect, ideal way to be in life. [Laughs.]
SIENA ORISTAGLIO: They’re good role models, in that sense. I hadn’t thought about it that way.
ANA PRVACKI: People always talk about them as little workers but they’re also little fuckers! [Laughs.]
SIENA ORISTAGLIO: [Laughs.]
ANA PRVACKI: I’m blushing!
SIENA ORISTAGLIO: It’s the etiquette training.
ANA PRVACKI: This is a honeycomb frame that my grandfather made. I wish you could smell it. It smells like bees’ wax. And honey. And dirty bee feet.
SIENA ORISTAGLIO: To tell you a personal story about bees, my father is so petrified of bees that he won’t even eat honey — he thinks that the bees are going to come out of it and sting him somehow. It’s an intense phobia. There’s a story that when I was an infant, he and my mother were sitting at lunch somewhere outdoors and a bee approached the table. My father held me up as a shield to protect himself from the bee.
ANA PRVACKI: I love it. This could be a Gary Larson cartoon!
SIENA ORISTAGLIO: It was the opposite of the paternal instinct. Of course, my mother yelled, “Stephen! Put my child down!” In that moment, it’s like, what are you doing with my baby? But there’s something about bees that can hit this deep place of fear. Maybe it's that they’re unseen or mysterious and can hurt you in a strange way.
ANA PRVACKI: I think that the mythology of bees is extraordinary. A lot of beekeepers believe that if you don’t share with your bees, if you don’t talk to them, someone in your family is going to die. They have all of these superstitions. Sometimes I’d see beekeepers whispering to their bees.
SIENA ORISTAGLIO: What do they tell them? Secrets?
ANA PRVACKI: Yes, they tell secrets, tell news, tell plans. You know, like, if your son is getting married, you’ve got to go and tell the bees! If you don’t tell them…
SIENA ORISTAGLIO: Then maybe he won’t get married. Maybe he’ll die.
I think that the mythology of bees is extraordinary. A lot of beekeepers believe that if you don’t share with your bees, if you don’t talk to them, someone in your family is going to die.
ANA PRVACKI: Exactly. It’s also fascinating because bees have been claimed by everybody. By Napoleon, by the unions, by the Mormons. I think bees tap into so many different things. The bee is also sometimes portrayed in Indian mythology as lord Kama. You know, of the Kama Sutra. It’s so far from the scale of Mount Olympus and Zeus. You have this god riding a tiny bee.
SIENA ORISTAGLIO: Oh, that’s right. I wonder where that came from.
ANA PRVACKI: Maybe it has to do with voyeurism. Kama likes to watch pollination up close.
SIENA ORISTAGLIO: [Laughs.] So, he’s really in it for the horny aspect of the bees. He doesn’t care about their industriousness.
ANA PRVACKI: Exactly.
SIENA ORISTAGLIO: You mentioned this project that you have with the hypnoerotic watch and now we’re talking about the eroticism of bees. I know you have another project right now that also relates to eroticism. Am I allowed to ask about that?
ANA PRVACKI: Yes. I have been working on a series of erotic porn scores. I am transcribing music pieces that have that kind of erotic effect, particularly I started with Don Giovanni, The Catalogue Aria, and then Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde. I’ve been really fascinated with this idea that Wagner was accused of being pornographic for devising the Tristan chord. The idea was that you’d hear this piece of music and you’d be instantly aroused and put into a state of yearning. It’s kind of an amazing idea. But also really funny! It makes me think of that Monty Python joke. Do you know that one?
SIENA ORISTAGLIO: Which one?
ANA PRVACKI: Monty Python, The Funniest Joke in the World. Oh, it’s so good. Basically, it happens during World War II. In the military, they devise the deadliest joke. The moment you say it, whoever hears it and the person who said it all die from laughter. There’s a scene where a soldier comes out of the ditch and all of his comrades are covering their ears. He yells out this joke and everybody on the other side dies, and he dies too. It seems to me like this idea that if you hear Tristan und Isolde, you’re just like “AHHHHH.” It was extremely controversial at the time. It really has this kind of dynamic of an orgasm to it. Especially parts of the prelude. So, I’ve been re-scoring these types of pieces. It’s been really, really fun. The wonderful thing is that people look at it, and they always ask me, “How do you perform this?”
SIENA ORISTAGLIO: Do you give an answer to that question?
ANA PRVACKI: It depends on how it’s asked. Sometimes it’s just inappropriate. [Laughs.]
I’ve been really fascinated with this idea that Wagner was accused of being pornographic for devising the Tristan chord. The idea was that you’d hear this piece of music and you’d be instantly aroused and put into a state of yearning.
SIENA ORISTAGLIO: It’s funny because we’re talking about the power of this one chord and as you were talking the weather broke out into a thunderstorm here in New York. But you’re across the country, correct? And you’re leaving for travels tomorrow?
ANA PRVACKI: Yes, I’m going to Singapore tomorrow. My home. My other home.
SIENA ORISTAGLIO: Speaking of eroticism in unusual contexts, I’d like to ask you about the “Sexy Taxes” project. Can you describe how that project came to be?
ANA PRVACKI: Nicola Setari, a curator from Brussels, has been working together with the president of the European Commision, José Manuel Barroso, to initiate this series of conversations and debates called, “The New Narratives for Europe.” They invited a group of artists to join a group of philosophers and writers and European Union commissioner diplomats to talk about the future of Europe. I was honored to be a part of it. It was a really amazing group of artists, including Jimmie Durham, Michelangelo Pistoletto, Nedko Solakov, Slavs and Tartars, and Andrea Büttner, among others.
I actually joined halfway through so I followed a lot of the debates via Skype and reading the transcripts. There were two issues that really resonated with me. One was the issue of taxation. Many of the artists and writers were bringing up the problem that so many of the wealthy are evading taxes in Europe and how the arts, especially, are suffering. And then there was the question of how to make Europe sexy, which was such a wonderful question. I thought, well, maybe we need a two-in-one solution. I proposed that we should re-brand taxation. Let’s make paying taxes sexy! Let’s loosen up and re-lubricate the language around taxation to allow for the cash flow to move through. It would improve both the fertility and the economy of Europe! It’s been really interesting. I’ve been talking to a lot of people about it.
SIENA ORISTAGLIO: I think one of my favorite lines from the short video that you made was, “Paying taxes is like having sex with your whole country.”
ANA PRVACKI: I think it’s true! Now that we’ve spoken about bees, I can say this is very much a bee mentality. You know, you say “taxes” and people are terrified. I think it has something to do with really finding the tone. And of course, the target audience for this video is the 1% — the people for whom that money doesn’t really make a difference anyway. I think the way that they relate to this concept is powerful.
SIENA ORISTAGLIO: The video has that sweetness to it that we were talking about. It’s like a spoonful of honey. Maybe that’s the vehicle to communicate this message. "Isn’t that person more handsome now because they’ve paid their taxes?” There’s something about communicating a message with sweetness but also with a point. I see that throughout your work. You always have that part of the bee mentality — the nectar part.
ANA PRVACKI: Yes. I think we need a gently pedagogical approach with a feminine touch. [Laughs.]
SIENA ORISTAGLIO: The feminine touch goes a long way. You mentioned the “stickiness” of an idea earlier as it’s talked about in advertising, and the other day you and I discussed “durational impact.” This is the idea that in an artwork, you can associate two things in a way that really sticks in the psyche of your audience. In the case of "At the Tips of Your Fingertips," this would be money and freshness. In the case of "Sexy Taxes," it would be paying taxes and sexiness. I like the idea of associating two things that wouldn’t normally be associated in a way that gives it stickiness. The way that we might describe that is a “durational impact” — to have a lasting impact on the people who experience the work.
ANA PRVACKI: I think that we can change the world with that! The durational impact.
SIENA ORISTAGLIO: It’s potentially so powerful when an artist uses this as a tool for social change. There are ways that large corporations use this same tool for nefarious purposes.
ANA PRVACKI: They do! They do! Throughout history. There’s that amazing documentary, "The Century of the Self," that talks about Edward Bernays, who was the nephew of Freud, who came to America and became the head PR person that changed advertising and got women to smoke and make instant cakes.
SIENA ORISTAGLIO: Yes, I guess that concept is in the underbelly of all advertising in a sense — making these associations between two things, the product and a concept or a feeling. I’m fascinated with how you transform that and wield that tool through your performances. What are you working on now on a daily basis?
I think we need a gently pedagogical approach with a feminine touch.
ANA PRVACKI: Well, I’m completing the porn scoring process. I’m also working on a new commission for Redcat Gallery here in L.A. I’m also collaborating with Raimundas Malasauskas. He actually made a durational work at the Pompidou. He curated a work that lasted for a week called “The Repetition Island.” He had, I think, ten different performers and artists doing a whole-day series of events. It was actually wonderful — I spent a week in the Pompidou, never leaving the Pompidou. Every evening would end with a Hypnotic Show.
SIENA ORISTAGLIO: What does that mean?
ANA PRVACKI: Collective hypnosis. He and Marcos Luytens devised this artwork where everybody’s hypnotized and artists are commissioned to create artworks that exist only in a deep state of hypnosis.
SIENA ORISTAGLIO: For some reason, I actually have an association between bees and hypnosis. I don’t know where that comes from.
ANA PRVACKI: The sound.
SIENA ORISTAGLIO: Maybe it’s that. The drone. I once took a course with an entomologist who studied insects in the context of humanity, as in, “How do we as a culture relate to various insects?” I was fascinated when I found out that you had this experience with beekeeping, so that’s why I keep returning to it. I could ask you so many questions about it, but that’s for another day.
ANA PRVACKI: I would love that. We should do a bee symposium.
SIENA ORISTAGLIO: A long durational bee symposium.
ANA PRVACKI: I actually just had some honey in my cocktail. That’s earth milk on the bottom.
SIENA ORISTAGLIO: What is this cocktail?
ANA PRVACKI: Well, I was invited by Absolut to create a cocktail for them. I was talking to a friend about travel and life and how we loose our sense of where we are and then I had this idea for a cocktail that instead of an olive has a compass on top of it. I devised it with an amazing Persian alchemist and physician. It’s infused in French clay, which is at the bottom. I am completely obsessed with French clay — I call it the earth milk. They source it from deep in the earth’s core and it’s medicinal grade. It is very re-mineralizing and healing. With the combination of the vodka being infused in the clay, you have the earth and then you have the root — the potato — and then it has a little bit of honey and ten drops of a secret distilled elixir that he made. Some of the ingredients are saffron, melissa, angelica, frankincense, myrrh. Actually, oils that have been used in Christianity, Judaism, and Buddhism. It’s a combination of the ground and the sky, kissing.
SIENA ORISTAGLIO: Can you hear this thunder by the way? Speaking of the sky kissing the earth.
ANA PRVACKI: Yes. I love it.
ANA PRVACKI: Also, it’s like the ceramist’s daughter…
SIENA ORISTAGLIO: I was just going to say that your mother’s influence must have be there when you concocted it.
ANA PRVACKI: With the earth milk, it’s back to that idea of nurturing. I think there’s something poetic about this idea of reorienting or finding yourself through drinking. You know, the compass was actually invented by the Chinese for divination and for geomancy before it was used for navigation. So, this cocktail is called “Divination and Navigation.” I love this idea that somehow, in this really symbolic way, but also in a physical way, there’s a point where you align yourself with the ground, with the core of the earth, and you’re balanced.
SIENA ORISTAGLIO: It's interesting that compasses were used as a mystical tool before they were used as a mathematical tool. Part of what we’re doing at the Institute is bringing artists and scientists and people of different fields to collaborate on projects. We’re always trying to connect people. If I see someone that I think would be perfect for you to speak with, I’m going to tell you. You have to tell me if you’re interested or not.
ANA PRVACKI: I would love that!
SIENA ORISTAGLIO: What is your experience with collaborating? Have you ever had an artistic collaboration that you found really rewarding?
ANA PRVACKI: I have worked with some amazing curators and great people — cellist Leslie Tan and the T'and quartet, producer Jake DeVito, art director Shane Valentino, and my husband, artist Sam Durant, to name a few. Collaboration is complex and happens in many ways.
SIENA ORISTAGLIO: I’m thinking about what you said about long durational work, how you feel like you’re trapped with the idea, in some sense, and that you have to really commit to it and face it. Collaboration can feel like that except there’s another person involved that you’re then trapped with too. You have to find a way to organize and get your thoughts into alignment and create something.
ANA PRVACKI: Yes, collaboration can be tricky for me. I’m an only child so I feel like that might have something to do with it. I’m perfectly happy in my studio by myself. When I was a kid, my parents used to think, “Who is Ana in the room with?” I’d be there laughing and they would wonder who I was with. But I admire so many musicians that I would love to work on collaborative projects with.
SIENA ORISTAGLIO: If you could collaborate with any living musician, who would you chose to work with?
ANA PRVACKI: Well, one would be the amazing conductor and pianist Daniel Barenboim, who started The West-Eastern Divan Orchestra with Edward Said. And the other one would be Martha Argerich. She’s an Argentinian pianist. I would love to work with her. Or Jessye Norman! Doing Wagner.
SIENA ORISTAGLIO: What about a musician who’s no longer living?
ANA PRVACKI: I think Erik Satie at the moment. I’ve been thinking a lot about "Vexations." I’m really fascinated by that work. It’s a known fact that you’re supposed to repeat it 840 times, but I just read a really interesting biography about him. Apparently, he was going through a really terrible break-up, and afterwards he wrote "Vexations." The idea had to do with playing with memory — changing patterns but at the same time being looped into them and not being able to escape them. For a pianist, it’s impossible to commit Vexations to memory, even if you play it 840 times. Because of the chords, there’s something that happens that makes it impossible to remember. Whenever you play it, you have to play it like you’re playing it for the first time.
I’m perfectly happy in my studio by myself. When I was a kid, my parents used to think, “Who is Ana in the room with?” I’d be there laughing and they would wonder who I was with.
SIENA ORISTAGLIO: We’ve researched that work at the Institute because it’s a durational process and it’s really interesting as an immaterial work that has this ritual quality. I wasn’t aware of that aspect of it, though.
ANA PRVACKI: Yes. It’s a very short score. I actually have the original scan of it from the Harvard Library. He composed, in a sense, a booby trap. He creates this pattern that’s impossible to rely on. For musicians, it’s kind of an extraordinary experience.
SIENA ORISTAGLIO: Well, it’s a feat in and of itself to create something that is impossible to remember so that you have to repeat this process as though you’ve never done it before. I’ll have to read that biography.
ANA PRVACKI: I think it was written in the 1890s. I learned that he did this whole project with the advertising world. He was extraordinary and impure in the most wonderful way.
SIENA ORISTAGLIO: What did he do in the advertising world?
ANA PRVACKI: He was commissioned by a big publisher of fashion magazines and he wrote a series of musical pieces about pleasure, entertainment, and art or something like that. He was extraordinary. He was very much connected to the fashion world, which is really interesting too. He did all of these things with the daughter of Lanvin in the 1920s. It’s an amazing book.
SIENA ORISTAGLIO: When I look at your works, in addition to what I described earlier as a mischievous quality, there’s also this sense of curiosity that I see — this desire to probe. I’m curious about your relationship with curiosity. Does your process involve reading a lot and gathering information and then reprocessing that somehow?
ANA PRVACKI: Absolutely. There is no single style or theme of my work, in the sense that I am not interested in one specific issue. I feel very fortunate that my interests are very varied. You know, I’m interested in money, I’m interested in bees, I’m interested in honey, I’m interested in magnets, I’m interested in eroticism, I’m interested in music. I’m thinking — [Laughs.]
SIENA ORISTAGLIO: Are you blushing again? What are you laughing about?
ANA PRVACKI: I was thinking actually maybe there are themes. Money, honey, milk, time, sex, eroticism, music, magnets.
SIENA ORISTAGLIO: It’s so much fun to speak with you about your work on this stormy evening in New York City. I also happen to know that it’s your birthday today. Happy birthday!
ANA PRVACKI: Thank you. I feel it is very auspicious to speak with you on my birthday, and an honor. My daughter came to wake me up this morning and I said, “You know, it’s my birthday today.” And she said, “How old?” and I said, “Thirty-eight.” And she said, “Well, how much is that?” And I said, “Well, you’re five.” And I started counting from five to thirty-eight. And she said, “That’s terrible! You’re so old!” [Laughs.]
SIENA ORISTAGLIO: I bet that made you feel very special.
ANA PRVACKI: It was wonderful.
SIENA ORISTAGLIO: Is that your daughter’s teepee in the background?
ANA PRVACKI: Yes — and on the left, here, is my grandfather, and then my drawings, and then this is actually a work that was inspired by my grandfather’s bees. It was shown at Bloomberg. This was the “Post Apis” (2011) work, where actually I got a Bloomberg terminal and programmed it, because I thought, “How do you explain to people who are not directly or passionately involved with bees about the gravity of colony collapse disorder?” I thought that finance would be a good way to do it, especially in the context of Bloomberg.
So I got Bloomberg to give me one of their terminals and we programmed it in such a way that on one side you had all the latest news about bees and honey and on the other side you had the statistics and finances of various stock exchanges that deal directly with pollination, from Moët Hennessy LVMH to Chiquita Banana — companies that depend on bees and pollination for their growth.
SIENA ORISTAGLIO: Many of your works act as a communicative tool for social and political change. I like how your work can help people to see a problem in a different light or become aware of how it impacts them on a personal level. That piece seems like a powerful way to reach the Bloomberg audience. What was the response like?
I thought, “How do you explain to people who are not directly or passionately involved with bees about the gravity of colony collapse disorder?” […] So I got Bloomberg to give me one of their terminals and we programmed it in such a way that on one side you had all the latest news about bees and honey and on the other side you had the statistics and finances of various stock exchanges that deal directly with pollination.
ANA PRVACKI: It was fascinating because the work was speaking a language they could understand. This was designed and placed within the cafe at Bloomberg and we had all of this honey available so people would come and bring their tea and put the honey into it and look through the materials. A lot of them didn’t know what it was until they started playing with the terminal. Then also I had this beekeeper activist, Chris Harp come in and do afternoon workshops in honey-tasting and beekeeping lectures. He is extraordinary — he was one of the main crusaders who made beekeeping on rooftops in New York City legal. We had the honey in the window and there were different jars with different kinds of honey and it looked so nice with the sun coming through them.
SIENA ORISTAGLIO: Is it true that you have a stockpile of honey in storage?
ANA PRVACKI: Yes. 500 kilos, one ton of honey. It is just sitting there. I would love to offer it as a gift to the Institute, if you would consider it!
SIENA ORISTAGLIO: Yes! We’ll have to talk about it! What an unusual gift!
ANA PRVACKI: It’s a funny thing because I became completely obsessed with this honey. When my grandfather passed away, I found out I had inherited all of this honey. I was on my way to Italy and I was quite pregnant and I remember thinking, “Oh, this is so important! This is like liquid gold. My daughter’s children might never taste honey in their lifetime.” Later, I had lunch with some friends and some journalists and I was talking about how I wanted to put honey in safe boxes all around the world. You know how people put jewelry in a safe box? The idea was to have a safe box in London, in Singapore, in Paris, in New York, and in L.A. that each contains ten kilos of honey, so when there’s no more honey in the world, we can go to the bank with a teaspoon and get honey. The wonderful thing was that the next day, this article came out talking about the "Post Apis" (2011) work and it said, “But really, the most interesting thing about this artist is that she has a honey banking system all over the world!” It was one of those things that just happens and you can't plan it better.
SIENA ORISTAGLIO: [Laughs.] So you’re the artist with the honey banking system.
ANA PRVACKI: Exactly. I have honey all over the world.
SIENA ORISTAGLIO: Well, I love speaking with you. I hope this is the beginning of a longer conversation. We love it when people send us long durational works that they know of. You’re a dream collaborator because you send us these emails, and you also sent me that piece about how music changes our perception of time. Please don’t stop that, even when you’re in Singapore.
ANA PRVACKI: Oh, not at all. You’ll probably hear from me even more.
SIENA ORISTAGLIO: Perfect.
She has developed projects for venues and institutions such as the Hammer Museum (Los Angeles), Centre Pompidou (Paris), Castello di Rivoli Museo d'Arte Contemporanea (Turin), Smart Museum of Art (Chicago), Bloomberg HQ (NYC), Art in General (NYC), Artists Space (NYC), Umoca (Salt Lake City) and the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum (Boston). She is currently in residency at CCA Singapore. Her website can be found here.