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Tracing the Connections

An afternoon with Jovana Djuric, Excavateur of Life

by Genevieve Kim

May 29, 2018


We invite roaming artists, muralists and painters to reimagine the stairwells of The Assemblage Houses using the medium that best represents them. In our artist series, we sit down with these creatives to learn about their artistic process, rituals and inspiration.

Take the Stairs. Explore the Art.
The Assemblage Houses are filled with color and creative expression thanks to the roaming artists, muralists and painters who bring them to life. We invite collaborators to reimagine blank spaces, from the stairwells to the outdoor terraces, using the medium that best represents them.

My first encounter with artist and jewelry designer Jovana Djuric took me down a rabbit hole of questions and curiosities. Intrigued by the shapes of her accessories and the plumed black hat that accented the intensity of her posture, my synapses fired off in front of her. Her eyes revealing new nexuses connecting ideas of out there with here.

Our second meeting came at a cacao circle — a Mayan tradition of drinking cacao prior to inner healing work — where participants were asked to introduce their superpowers to the group. Confidently, Djuric said: “I see far and wide.” I didn’t understand exactly what that meant.

Then I saw The Assemblage NoMad stairwell.

Djuric immigrated to New York City from Serbia thirteen years ago, and her work is a conversation in archaeology, an excavation of traces in time and space, a practice of poetry. It celebrates the intangible pulses of life. And to the source of this creative aspiration I went — a one-on-one conversation with the artist, designer, collector, poet and so much more (including fellow member of The Assemblage); a woman of polymathic wisdom.

Genevieve Kim: Tell me about your work.

Jovana Djuric: My work in general is a kind of lifelong exploration, embedding myself into the space around me. Engagement is about leaving trace. What’s your imprint, what is your immediate imprint on the space around you? Whether that happens with a brush, water and ink, or with a carving tool, or a touch, I’m always cognizant of the physical connection that I’m making.

For The Assemblage specifically, my work is about pathways — the paths that we take and the paths that we make. Traces we leave as we burrow through our life and experience in other people, relationships, and our own heart and mind. It’s about my life — being cognizant about the journey composed of impulses of joy and connections.

The drawings that I created at The Assemblage, I call them diagrams. They’re traces of the journey in which you bounce from one connection to another.

GK: Such a beautiful framework. How did you arrive at this thought process?

JD: I came into this thinking when I was super young and had this deep sense that things are connected. Everything from micro to macro is the same. I see no difference between a two-person relationship or a nation-to-nation relationship.

GK: Would you say that nature has been your primary inspiration to understanding this idea of oneness, or are there other sources?

JD: What inspires me about nature is the flow, the rhythms of nature. The more abstracted kind of mechanism between growth and decay. That’s definitely been a big inspiration for me.

I stumbled upon Sartre when I was a teenager. His idea — this one sentence where he said that, “Even if you are in chains, you are free because you have a free mind,” and in that moment I realized that no matter what your container or what your circumstances are, the beauty and the movement of your inner self is boundless. That’s been a really big inspiration for me as well.

GK: Have you noticed any differences in your inspiration after being in New York versus Serbia?

JD: I’ve been in New York for seventeen years. This is where I manifest. In Serbia, I was collecting and suffering. Here I started actualizing. The idea of pain as a predominant force [evolved] into ideas of potential much later — and it’s not due to capitalism. Ideas of joy are the underlying and only force that I want to recognize in the universe.

GK: I heard suffering. What was that?

JD: For me, it was being in the eighth grade and the country going to civil war. I realized that everything that my family and country was building up for was not going to actualize. People’s lives were crumbling and structures were changing. It was hard. It was confusing.

GK: How did the war affect you on a personal level?

JD: As somebody that doesn’t believe in borders or boundaries, I realized that I’m still a part of a system, and to some extent that I need to observe it as well. It made me depressed. It made me doubt that there is a future.

GK: What did you do with that doubt?

JD: I enrolled in three universities. This was always my response when in times of crisis: study. I went to three different schools. I studied Art History. I studied Sculpture and I studied Theory of Images.

As I was studying, my frustration grew by [my professors’] limited understanding of what the future could be. I didn’t want to acknowledge limitations, and what I was experiencing was a limit in the scope of knowledge being presented to me. That propelled me to leave my country more than anything else.

GK: What did you do here in New York when you first arrived?

JD: The only way that I could leave the country at the time was to pay money to be a part of an au pair program.

GK: You were doing this all by yourself?

JD: Yeah. I came here all by myself.

GK: Did you know anybody?

JD: No. I remember walking the streets of New York City and knowing zero people. I would just walk and walk. I just wanted to walk the streets of New York City and be present.

GK: What did you do from au pair to going to school to now? What do you think it is that got you to where you are right now?

JD: I had relationships. I worked in corporate America from 9am to 2am and then coming back to work again at 9am. I created art, had a bunch of shows. Had beautiful times and challenging ones. But I think the thread through it all, and what will take me to different places no matter how vertical or horizontal things move, is curiosity. There is wonder in so many things.

How somebody made something, or how something is made. Who made it? Then you wonder where this somebody comes from, the circumstances that brought him/her there. There’s something to excavate, to dig up, to say, “Oh my God! That’s an amazing connection!” I love that.

Some tools of Jovana Djuric’s trade.

Some tools of Jovana Djuric’s trade.

GK: So what’s your next project? What are you excited about?

JD: Well I’m really excited about this project that I did here [at The Assemblage] because it’s still becoming. In my work, I make objects, but I’m really more interested in journey than in arrival. I don’t like finishing books. I like the unfinished story idea.

This is the first time, maybe because it’s the staircase, being a little bit ephemeral to the whole peripheral to the whole building, he [art in stairwell] can have this secret life of his own that maybe doesn’t have to be fully planned and finished. It allows me to have a more dispersed and porous relationship with it and to come to peace with the fact that it can be left alone for a second. I want it to speak to me and take me places, equally as I am taking it places.

GK: Sometimes the best ingredient is time.

JD: Yeah.

GK: If you had a student, right now, or if you had a friend whose kid was just starting out as an artist, what would you say?

JD: The first thing that came to mind is respect the process, but that’s maybe too hard and too specific. I would say that things evolve and reveal themselves over time. Look for the signs.

GK: If you weren’t doing what you’re doing right now, what would you be doing?

JD: I think I would just be sitting and meditating. I’ve always been so driven, but the more I do, the less I need to do. I just want to be. And that being doesn’t ask me to do anything.

GK: Have you developed any rituals?

JD: Well I often say hello to my house.

GK: Does your house speak back to you?

JD: It has this fuzzy vibration. It loves me back. I have this sense of respect of the space. I look around and see all the things I’ve collected and all the decisions that are there, already made and waiting to be made. I greet all of them.

GK: You talked a lot about collecting in our conversation. What three words would you use to describe your collection so far?

JD: My collection tingles and sparkles and vibrates. It has a life of its own.

GK: How are you making an impact on the world?

JD: With my kindness. I’m kind on the subway, as I walk down the street, in a grocery store, with friends. I have a glitch here and there, but that’s to be expected.

I really resonate with Gandhi’s “Be the change”. I think the most beautiful impactful things are in the simplest, most penetrating things that are around us. So you be the change. That is the gateway into the depths of self. First it’s you, then it’s emitting kindness, then it’s emitting nurture, and then it’s dancing to call the rain to come.

GK: Who or what have been your teachers?

JD: I didn’t allow many people to be my teachers, or it just wasn’t part of my early story. But now, my friends are my teachers. People that are on the same path with me, somewhere in front of me, somebody in the back, they are my teachers.