The View from Marble Hill: Hrvoje Slovenc

One of the photographs in Hrvoje Slovenc’s exhibition Marble Hill captures a man, naked from the waist up, reclining against a soft heap of red floral linens. His hands are arranged delicately about his face. It’s a familiar pose, evocative of Renaissance nudes and especially of that famous sketching scene from Titanic. Except this subject is male, and he’s graying, and perhaps even balding, and his pose is neither coy nor seductive. And yet, there is something undeniably tender about this image.

Visually lush and compositionally rigorous, Slovenc’s photography transforms ordinary spaces and intimate worlds into theatrical environments that highlight the performative nature of everyday life. His images investigate questions surrounding fantasy and reality, privacy, gender roles, and cultural values, creating tension even between artwork and audience. Slovenc, who holds an MFA in Photography from the Yale University School of Fine Art, is currently exhibiting at Galerija Marisall and the Museum of Contemporary Art (MSU) in Zagreb. Here, he tells us a bit more about his recent work.

Hrvoje Slovenc

Portrait #5


You have a background in biochemistry. How did you find your way into photography?

I enrolled into the college of food technology and biotechnology. At the same time, I started having some artistic aspirations. After graduation, I realized that I was actively avoiding finding a “real” job. Science was great, and it did interest me (and it still does), but I just didn’t see myself dedicating my life to it. Months and year had passed, and the time had come when I realized if I didn’t act on this artistic bug I had, I never would.

So my best friend and I found the cheapest two-year college with a strong visual arts department we could find on-line, we sent our applications, got accepted, packed our suitcases and left for New York. That first semester I took quite a few art courses, but photography immediately grabbed me. After developing my first black and white film and print, there was no question in my mind that this is what I would do for the rest of my life.

How has your move from Croatia to the U.S. informed your work?

Looking back, after spending almost 11 years in the U.S., I realize my work is all about my inability to fully understand this strange world I found myself in. Maybe it has nothing to do with my move to the U.S.; maybe it has everything to do with me learning to distinguish the act of looking and the act of seeing (and maybe it’s the combination of both), but through the camera lens I started noticing things I’ve never noticed before. In short, I felt as if I found myself in this odd reality TV show in which we all, consciously or subconsciously, just jumped from one pattern of behavior to another. Everything seemed scripted, and that fascinated me. That fine line between scripted/constructed and real is what my work is all about.

Untitled IX (Peanut Butter and Jelly)

Untitled IX (Peanut Butter and Jelly)

Marble Hill is spread across two venues in Zagreb. Can you explain the relationship between these two sets of photographs? 

Marble Hill consists of four chapters. In addition to the black and white photographs [at Galerija Marisall] and the large-scale portraits presented as photo wallpapers [at MSU], I include the chapters “Home Theater” and “Harry Black.” All four chapters, in their own way, describe this imaginary world I create: “Home Theater” deals with domestic spaces that are presented as sets for a movie or a play; “Harry Black” deals with an illusion of intimacy created between two complete strangers; the black and white chapter, called “Marble Hill,” recreates a real event (one of the interiors I photographed for “Home Theater” burned to the ground) and is presented in the form of the photographs that resemble stills from this strange surrealist movie. . . ; and finally in the portraits chapter I turn my camera towards my friends and family.

I wanted to create images in which my models fail to fully realize the rolls they should play in the intimacy of their bedrooms spaces: they should be relaxed, seductive and intimate, but they’re just not.

Tell us a bit about your subjects – both interior spaces and people. How do you choose them?

I am fascinated with the idea of a life as a form of theater, particularly in the ways domestic spaces have been acted in and acted upon. I naturally gravitate towards a specific aesthetic that I see as a typical Midwestern Americana with an Eastern European flavor to it. I can’t really explain it – I know it has something to do with patterns and tchotchkes. When I see a space or a person, I instantly know that that’s what I want.

Untitled XIII (Chinese Waterfall)

Untitled XIII (Chinese Waterfall)

The photographs in the series “Home Theater” are actually diptychs and triptychs. Why divide these photographs into multiple panels?

Because all of the interiors shown in “Home Theater” are domestic spaces in which sadomasochistic sex acts have been taking place, to me it mattered to physically divide performance from traditional domestic spaces. Since all of the interiors are photographed to look as artificial as they possibly could, me presenting them as a singular photograph would just make them look even more artificial. I wanted to walk the line between believability and fantasy, for the viewer not to be sure if these spaces were real or constructed.

To what extent does your work engage with historical painting and photography?

Everything I do is somehow anchored in the history of art. The idea of absolute originality, as a product of romanticism, doesn’t interest me at all. I’m not trying to invent something or show things that have never been shown before. What I am interested in are the new combinations of historic art forms and subject matters, as well as the unexpected sequencing of the images that would move my work away from the obvious narrative.

Hrvoje Slovenc is represented in by Michael Mazzeo in NYC, and Helac Fine Art in NYC and Berlin.

Written by: Elaine Ritchel (@elaineritchel)

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