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Marcelo Brodsky. Amsterdam 1967-1968, from the series The Fire of Ideas, 2016 © Marcelo Brodsky / Rolf Art

Q&A featuring new Artistic Director of Unseen Marina Paulenka

Sep 03, 2019 - Gita Cooper-van Ingen

Tell us about some of your past work and theoretical interests and how you are planning on integrating this into Unseen’s future program? 



I grew up in Croatia, where I have lived all my life. After finishing my MA at the University of Zagreb, I decided to work in the field of independent culture which led me to become president of a non-profit organisation, a curator, a director of a festival, educator, and artist. Most of my research, studies and practical work is rooted in feminist practices and its’ relationship between society and art. I am also fascinated with socio-political topics, current affairs, and the critical potential of artistic production. I want to continue my curatorial practice and ideologies at Unseen, but I also want to develop and learn in a new environment that is outside of my comfort zone.


Can you share some thoughts on Unseen’s future and development? What can we expect?


I believe at this point in time it is too early to say something tangible and concrete about my plans at Unseen – since I have just started. Unseen is in a transition period and my role will be overseeing and providing a new artistic strategy for future years. I see the future for Unseen as a responsible and intelligent entity that through its work, program and production represents an important centre and driving force in which different social practices, art, and the market are encountered.


Jana Sophia Nolle. San Francisco, from the series Living Room, 2017-2018 © Jana Sophia Nolle; Catharine Clark Gallery

You built Organ Vida, which has become a strong voice in Eastern Europe for photography, how will you continue to support photography coming from non-Western (European) countries? 



For non-Western (European) countries, art has developed differently and is understood differently. Unfortunately, due to the lack of focus on these areas, financial security and the support necessary for the development of artists, the focus on art and photography has historically lied with the rest of Europe. I endeavor to put emphasis on cultural international discourse through my work and will try to create new opportunities for artists coming from non-Western countries.



What is your view about the local/global politics within artistic photography? What are the risks and advantages of creating international platforms to exchange our various positions and views, and how can we shape these conversations responsibly and sensitively? 



I think artistic photography can play a vital role, as a communicative and visual tool in stimulating conversations and positive changes when it comes to local and global politics. It is important for photographers and artists to be sensitive to various backgrounds, cultures, and situations and through this, one can build a responsible way to document politics in photography.




How do you curatorially differentiate between your online and offline activities? What are your respective goals in each sphere?


I find it is important to be visible in both the online and offline realm.  Everything we see and watch in 2d via our screens looks the same. For me, the online world is a practical way of researching, disseminating artworks and connecting people; as well as thinking about projects and artworks that exist and are created online, which is extremely interesting especially when we think about online curating etc. but “offline” is ultimately the space in which we live in, and where I can feel the energy,a human perspective and atmosphere all far more personally and deeply which is still a completely different feeling compared to a virtual situation.



Can you share some of your past projects with us and relate them to potential future work with Unseen? 


I would like to continue my curatorial practice in the context of new surroundings that I will be faced when working for Unseen which is not only a fair and festival in September but also is made up of many other elements such as Unseen Magazine, and the digital year-round Unseen Platform.


How can fairs fruitfully respond to gender inequality?

I am very proud of our last central, open call exhibition titled Engaged, Active, Aware: Women Perspectives Now exhibited last year at the Museum of Contemporary Art Zagreb during 10th International Photography Festival Organ Vida. It was awarded with The Lucie Award 2018 for best curatorial concept and the exhibition of the year. Another exhibition that I curated that same year was Vigilance, Struggle, Pride: Through Her Eyes. Both these shows and artworks reflect the representation of a different cultural expression, tackling issues such as identity, family, sexuality, representation of women, politics of the female gaze, self-perception, labor and social rights, as well as victimization of women and children. The exhibitions are about inspiring change and creating alternative spaces that welcome equal opportunities, narratives, and outcomes.


As I previously mentioned, I would like to continue my curatorial practice in the context of new surroundings that I will be faced when working for Unseen which is not only a fair and festival in September but also is made up of many other elements such as Unseen Magazine, and the digital year-round Unseen Platform.


How do you plan on attracting new visitors to the fair and introduce new audiences to photography generally? 


With the fair, we focus on constantly developing our program through creating new exhibitions, educational programs and different multimedia formats that will over time hopefully contribute to a rising number of visitors, and help introduce new audiences. This is reinforced through our already diverse festival program that goes beyond the realm of photography from video works to sound installations to performance art.



Lia Darjes. Stillleben mit Hortensie und Gurken, from the series Tempora Morte, 2016 © Lia Darjes/ Robert Morat Galerie

What is your advice to emerging photographers starting their careers? 


There is (unfortunately) no general how-to guide on how to be successful as an emerging photographer and in my opinion, artistic creativity should not be thought of this way. The process and research itself is a vital part of artistic creativity as well as a certain authenticity in one’s work and experience behind the works. Don’t wait for inspiration to be given to you – pay attention to your surroundings and the world around you – always be connected with others!

Marina Paulenka, Artistic Director UNSEEN


Marina Paulenka, Co-Founder and Artistic Director of the Organ Vida International Photography Festival (Zagreb, Croatia), has been appointed as the new Artistic Director of Unseen as of June 2019. Paulenka founded the Photographic Association Organ Vida in 2009, with the intention of organising events dedicated to photography, exhibitions, and gatherings for artists. This eventually culminated in the Organ Vida International Photography Festival, where Paulenka was Artistic Director for ten years, helping it grow from a locally oriented happening, to a highly regarded global photography event. Paulenka’s contribution to this role resulted in her receiving the Lucie Award for best Curator/Exhibition of the year in 2019. Marina holds an MA in Photography from the University of Zagreb, has taught at the Academy of Dramatic Arts in Zagreb, as well as having served as a jury member, nominator, and portfolio reviewer on numerous projects.