Interview held by: Franka Šimović
As an internationally recognised multimedia artist, author and the founder of the art organisation ARKTIK – Institute for the Future, can you describe in more detail your artistic vision and the ways in which it is associated with veganism as a global movement and your personal choice?
My artistic path, and thus my inspiration and thematic focuses, are completely oriented towards speaking on topics that I consider neglected due to the enormous media saturation. Veganism is one of the topics that I find to be rarely presented and sometimes misrepresented in arts and the media. Conventional ideas such as that a real man needs his daily piece of animal meat, or that the dairy industry does not kill cows, as well as manipulating with the term humane killing, for me is something that needs to be removed, abolished, erased.
What inspires you when choosing titles for your art projects and performances? How did you decide to name the project “Let Them Eat Cake!” and why do you say that “the rooster had crowed”?
I always try to provoke a reaction in the reader or viewer of the announcement with the title of the artwork, whether it is a theatrical performance, a concert or any other type of project. Sometimes the title provokes an emotional reaction, sometimes some other kind of intrigue. Project “Let Them Eat Cake!” was imagined as a video project happening in the kitchens of enthusiasts and artists which should talk about selected global topics, and for me it immediately created an association to the famous saying and the name came about almost instantly. I wanted that extra association with something that people are doing everyday and is ordinary, such as cooking, and activism. In that way the video carries a much stronger message than mere food, just like in the famous saying.
The rooster as a visual identity came after I realised that animals are the ones that have no voice in the human social order, in our anthropocentric world in which we possess and use animals infinitely as if it were an object that belongs to us. That rooster doesn’t raise his voice just for himself and the animal world. He is a symbol of shouting, croaking, also in the name of a number of other topics that destroy human society, empathy, quality of life, and dignity.
Can you tell us more about the mission of your current project “Let Them Eat Cake!”? What is your vision for its future, and what are the obstacles you face?
Project “Let Them Eat Cake!” is one of the sub-projects of the IF Festival – Year-round Festival of Asking Questions organised by the arts organisation ARKTIK – Institute for the Future. In this way, it supports the basic mission and goals of the festival, which are connected throughout the year to a number of international and world days that celebrate various topics globally important for quality of life and social values. The first year we carried it out as a series of video works, and next year we may decide on another format of “croaking” on given topics.
How has your attitude towards animals and carnivore practices changed over the years? Can you share your beginnings in veganism?
I grew up in a family where you ate whatever was served on the table, and the main idea was that one would get sick without animal-based food. I started practicing veganism, which I did not suffer from as the family predicted, as soon as I had my own kitchen and my own money to buy groceries. I don’t believe in the perspective that the transition to veganism is difficult. I did it literally overnight. If you know which plant foods contain protein, which contain probiotics and calcium (the three most common things that omnivores ask where to get from plants) then the transition is really possible overnight. Also, I am against promoting veganism as an expensive game. We really don’t need expensive plant milk or soy products. In fact, most soy on the market is GMO so it’s better to pass on the tofu and similar popular vegan products if they don’t have a “GMO-free” label.
Several of your public performances were related to the topic of animal rights activism, what impact do you think they had on those who witnessed them? What is your attitude towards performance in a public (urban) space versus performance in a theatrical context?
My performance a few years ago in Zagreb on King Tomislav Square during the International protest aimed at shutting down all slaughterhouses was very strong in sound and text and provoked strong emotional reactions among those who were present. Unfortunately, I do not know the reactions of passers-by who were not part of the protest. Protesters on such topics are often ridiculed or waved off by by-passers as if they were just some fools.
A performance in a public space certainly has a completely different target audience than a theatrical performance. Public space allows for contact with anybody, and theatrical space only with those who, it must be admitted, are part of the elitist class, either economically or intellectually, and who thus can allow themselves or afford to go to such events in their lives. Public space therefore has this advantage of allowing art to be imposed on those who do not seek it or do not want it, or both.
At what point did the importance of the intersection of art and activism become crystal clear for you? What does the desire for thoughtful art that has the potential to change society for the better represent to you personally, and what would you say to artists who strictly separate their work from any activist activity?
Ever since the first public works of art, namely the contemporary dance play “Magnolia (or Defiance)” (IMRC) and the multimedia theater play by Montažstroj “Little Man Wants Across the Line”, I realised that art is a powerful tool for sending ideas, thoughts, images, into the world. The thought of doing a play or other work of art that would provoke only short-term fun in the audience disgusted me intensely.
L’art pour l’art for me is a sin at a time when the world is losing its compass from the path to quality and empathic coexistence of people and other beings on this planet. I think it’s the job of artists to leave a lasting impression on the audience, to move thoughts from stagnant points of view, to change the world.
Do you consider your work political? How dangerous is veganism as a movement for established social norms based on discrimination – both non-human species and different people in a society whose existence is seen as undesirable?
Yes, I would say that changing the world through art is at the same time political work. Any expression through art about changing the world, social order, or law for the better is truly a political work of art. I am afraid that veganism is not dangerous for the established social norms of discrimination based on type, race and other. I fear that, in the end, it will be the economy that will decide that humanity will stop slaughtering other beings in the future and that, like cigarettes, there will be a change in eating culture not because humanity became more spiritually and emotionally aware of other beings we share planet with, but because the laws and penalties (direct fines or indirect taxes) will be imposed on them. A strong indication that there will be no true solidarity has long been seen through the fact that feminist initiatives have no problem eating meat and paying for rape of the cows because “they can’t do without their daily portion of cheese”, nor organisations of people with severe disabilities, who are doomed to live in a small space without much going out, sympathise with animals locked all their lives in small cages or pens.
We are witnessing the daily growth of the global vegan movement. In your opinion, what is the activist scene in Croatia like? Is the emergence of art in the sign of activism in public space, urban as well as rural, the most direct way to a wide audience?
The activist vegan scene in Croatia is unfortunately divided into several groups that cannot agree on whether to castrate stray dogs and cats or is that a violation of the freedoms of these animals, which are literally found on the street, forcibly sterilised and locked in apartments. In that way, animals do not live freely under the argument that their apartment is warm and there is food and toys. And since the world is not black and white, there is a gray area where it is difficult to leave an injured animal on the street, not help it and move it from busy urban areas to a better place for them, and this again is not necessarily an apartment created for people.
In general, I would like every kind of activism in Croatia to be much stronger and more frequent. Apart from being a really direct and fastest way to an audience that is not inclined to contemporary thoughtful art, it can also be a media act – much louder than the one behind the curtains of theaters.
How do you see the future of your work? Are you planning more projects related to the fight for animal rights and is there any ultimate goal for you?
Just like in life, there is no ultimate goal, that is, the path is the goal. Art and activism continue to go together hand in hand, in some of our own works of art, as well as in works that we produce for citizens and other artists through public invitations of the art organisation ARKTIK – Institute for the Future.