Miha Ĺ trukelj, who represented Slovenia at the 53rd Venice Biennale, created a two-story site-specific charcoal wall drawing for the exhibition Invisible Cities. Entitled “Melting Pot,” Strukelj’s piece combines several images of urban landscapes into one work. His ghostly, fleeting impressions leave viewers to fill in the rest, exploring both how the image and the city are constructed and perceived. We sat down to chat with him about his work for the show and his sources of inspiration.
How has it been working at MASS MoCA?
So far so good! I like it a lot actually. When I came to North Adams for the first time, I was really impressed by the museum. I really liked it and I thought â€śwow,â€ť because I like these old abandoned infrastructures and old factories, and I think this museum works perfectly. I said to myself, â€śOh I would really love to work in such a museumâ€ť but I thought â€śIâ€™m so far from that, Iâ€™ll never come here.â€ť And then just one year later, I got an email from Susan [curator at MASS MoCA] asking if I would want to do a project and I said, â€śof course!â€ť You never know. Iâ€™ll just keep saying that to myself from now on.
And you got your start in painting and drawing, is that right?
Yeah, Iâ€™m actually primarily a painter. I finished my studies specializing in painting. In Slovenia, our academy has more traditional training, so the drawing is very much part of it. After school, when I was very much into painting after the academy, drawing became more and more an important part of my painting. For example I did a painting in a few layers, and the first part of the process was just a grid on the canvas and the outline of the imageâ€”pretty much the same process as it is in the site-specific works with the wall drawings. I use the grid as a base and then the outline of the image for basically every work.
How has your style evolved and how did you become interested in urban planning and architecture?
Immediately when I finished academy I started working with self-portraits, and they were made from CT scans. So I took the CT scans and used them as a reference for paintings, and I titled them as self-portraits. And then when I was more involved in this high-tech digital imaging, I combined images from computer games simulating wars, and actual photographs of smart bombs bombarding places like Iraq or Belgrade. But the reason Iâ€™m saying this is because itâ€™s always about this grid system, and the outline of the imageâ€”itâ€™s always the same process. And then I came to cityscapes, so I was using my own photographs I had taken in different cities, and I would discard the colors and put them in low resolution, and then make a simple black and white print, draw a grid on it, and use them as references for paintings. So this is how I came to the cityscapes. These first steps of paintings became more and more structuredâ€”much more information, much more detail. When I was drawing the first layer, when I finished it I always thought â€śthis looks nice,â€ť and I would leave it in its first stage.Â Thatâ€™s how I came to drawing, and then did drawing separately from painting. So it started with pencil and paper, then the next stage was drawing on tracing paperâ€”several layers to get this illusion of perspective and 3-D space, and then in the last stage I came to wall drawings. I was a bit fed up with just installing paintings on the wall, I thought, â€śI have to do something with the space as well,â€ť and this was one option. So I usually do exhibitions with everything together, because thereâ€™s so much connectedâ€”paintings, drawings and wall drawings; it works as a whole, as one complete work.
I noticed you included the physical cables from the room in this drawing, and I was wondering, has the architecture of the museum or the room changed your initial ideas for the piece?
It did to some extent, for sure. When Susan showed me this space for the firs time, I immediately noticed the ceiling structure and thought this would be great to work with. I use a lot of masking tape in the wall drawing, and the wooden structures usually work very well with the masking tape and kind of continues into the ceiling. And I was pretty sure I would use string, and attach some strings to the ceiling structure. But I didnâ€™t know that I would actually try to simulate cables coming out from the wall and attach them to the ceiling structure as I did here. This came about during the process, with kind of me improvising. And I really like it, because I think that this structure is even more involved in the artwork. And the shadows [from the cables], they also came into the actual work afterwardsâ€”theyâ€™re so much present and luckily they work so well. So for now, everything is kind of in the right place.
What new ideas or projects are you excited about going forward?
Well, I always get new ideas with each site-specific work. Thereâ€™s not another upcoming project as big as this one for now, but Iâ€™m sure it will come. Iâ€™m a city person; Iâ€™m interested in this human position within the cities, within the architecture, which is always there even though itâ€™s changing.Â The people are constantly moving; moving in and out.
Kind of like a museum.
Exactly. Â This is also why on the wall drawing, it’s strictly architectural and there are some empty areas within it, which are written as dislocated humans. So the idea is to create some possible spaces where humans could be, where they could actually existâ€”or where they actually were in the original photograph. I didnâ€™t include them so I just leave the empty spaces. And I usually put the humans on some smaller objects and put them outside the wall drawing.
Did you base this cityscape on any particular city, or is it largely from your imagination?
The final cityscape is imaginary, but itâ€™s imaginary because itâ€™s from different cities and different locations throughout the world. So I kind of created my own cityscape. And it varies from New York, to my hometown in Slovenia, to Dublin and Vienna and Manama in Bahrain. But when putting the photographs together on the computer, sometimes it works so well you couldnâ€™t believe it. Itâ€™s a lot of fun.
By Cora Sugarman