I met curator Zvonimir Dobrović in Houston earlier this year at Lone Star Explosion: Houston International Performance Art Biennale. We happened to fly in around the same time and were to be picked up by the same volunteer driver. Fittingly, the airport was the backdrop of our first encounter. A prolific international curator, Zvonimir is moving, traveling, producing, more than he is still. Right now, Zvonimir and a Croatian artist Bruno Isaković are at the beginning of a US tour- the DC leg of which I am extremely pleased to be presenting with Furthermore on Wednesday, July 9. In addition to Bruno, there will be performances by local artists John Moletress, Pussy Noir, and Kunj. Check out the facebook event here. Zvonimir took some time out to answer my questions about the tour, the Queer New York International Arts Festival, his curating practice, and Bruno's performance work.
Zvonimir Dobrović: The tour started yesterday (July 2nd) with a show at SOMArts in San Francisco and we are very happy with the reactions from people. We have had some very interesting conversations after the show and are hoping to be back in SF soon with other projects. We have some great artists friends here like Annie Sprinkle, Keith Hennessy, Guilermo Gomez Pena and it is always a pleasure to see them and to meet new people. As a curator I have worked with them before and usually I work very quickly so even a brief chat often leads me to great projects, especially with people like I mentioned. I have some sort of a rule that if you cannot make an agreement in 15 minutes or a few emails, it is probably not going to happen. That has saved me a lot of time that I could direct to other things. Patience is obviously something I have yet to master, haha.
EA: Last year you did a similar event at Defibrillator in Chicago, an offshoot of Queer New York. What prompted that expansion? Did you learn anything from that visit that you're putting towards this tour?
ZD: Queer New York started in 2012 and that first festival went really well. There was a chance of doing something with Joseph Ravens from Chicago the following year with a few artists and we co-presented artists from Poland, Croatia and Brazil over two or three days. That is where the idea got started that we want to continue doing a mini-festival edition in Chicago, but also in other cities around the US. And that is what led me to imagine this tour to SF, Chicago, DC, Baltimore and NYC, which we are using to form partnerships with local venues and communities with the idea of doing bigger projects in the future. It may sound like a strange idea that someone from the Balkans would organize a queer festival in New York but I was shocked to find out that there was no international queer festival in New York. That only confirmed what I was sensing anyway in the performing arts world, that queer as such has not been so appreciated by the curators running major venues. Somewhere along the way queer arts became invisible, or invisible, because curators stopped seeing it beyond the traditional queer aesthetic. That is what we are going to change with Queer New York, just like we have been doing with Queer Zagreb.
EA: I understand that Queer New York International Arts Festival is itself an offshoot of your Queer Zagreb Festival. Can you tell me about how Queer Zagreb got started, and how it has changed over the years?
ZD: Queer Zagreb started 12 years ago and it has grown to be a major event for international arts in Croatia and the Balkans. Now it is not a festival anymore, as it outgrew the format. Queer Zagreb is a Season now with over 100 events each year in different cities in Croatia. When we started, it was quite challenging at times, not only because of funding, but because of widespread homophobia in the country. Of course, there will always be some homophobia, and we always have to fight it, but at that time specifically the system itself was homophobic and there were no protections against hate crimes or hate speech. So, the first few years have been tough but the overall response to the festival has been great and the situation in Croatia changed drastically over the years. There are now many organizations doing queer work and it is such a pleasure to see that.
EA: Do you find a major difference in presenting queer work in different parts of the world?
ZD: There is now so much interest in making queer festivals around the world, which is a nice change to witness also. When Queer Zagreb started, there were mainly film festivals in each city, and now it seems that people are more open for queer performance, theater and dance. I will continue doing Queer New York but there are also now plans to do Queer Sao Paulo this October, as well as Queer Berlin next year. And of course, we will see what this tour we are on now brings, but it would be so wonderful to do queer festivals across the US. What is important is that queer depends on geography in a way, and that is why it is important to do international queer festivals, cause the way we see and treat ourselves from a queer perspective is different in different parts of the world, and all of these ways are authentic and should be seen.
EA: How did you come to curating in the first place?
ZD: As a student still I was working for a major theater festival in Croatia, and then I got to travel a lot and see many many shows each year. The idea slowly came that I would like to do a festival of my own and since I already had so many connections and networks it was not as difficult as I thought. However, curating may be fun and it should be, but curating is also a lot about sifting through a bunch of shows to find something that makes sense to support and to follow. Always changing my own perspective and being able to travel and see numerous shows and meeting many artists each year is what allows me to be challenged and interested in curating still. When I feel I lost that drive I will do something else, cause there is nothing more disgusting than a lazy curator.
EA: Why did you choose Bruno for this tour, when did you start working together? And, can you talk about his practice a bit?
ZD: I started working with Bruno a little over a year ago, one of my other festivals I run in Croatia (Perforations Festival) produced his work, and then we organized a few artistic research residencies for him. Now I know that we were meant to meet and imagine all these things that opened up since and that connected us privately as well as professionally. In that sense we were both very lucky I suppose. Bruno is one of the busiest dancers and choreographers in Croatia now, he spent seven years in the Netherlands studying dance and since coming back to Croatia he has been working non-stop as people recognized his talent and dedication. What I like about his practice is that he tries to challenge the very idea of dance, movement, space and I appreciate the way he can be focused in his work and tries to explore and go beyond the expected. I am very excited to see him do all the projects he already has lined up, he is creating a new duet for Queer New York and a big piece for ten people based on Denuded, the show we are touring now.
EA: We're really looking forward to having you here in DC at Furthermore- what's after that for you?
ZD: We are so excited to perform in DC. I have spent a lot of time in DC as I was there three summers as Kennedy Center fellow. Ever since coming to DC the first time, I knew I wanted to queer the town up a bit so am very grateful to Furthermore and you Eames of course for making this possible. After DC we are going to New York for a few days and then continue the tour in Spain where Bruno has four performances and then London. We will be back in the States early August to end of September, then the Queer Festival in Brazil in October, another festival in Zagreb on "body / sound" in October / November that Bruno is actually curating and then a six week tour of Asia till early January 2015. A lot is going on, but adrenalin is the best drug. Next to love.
EA: Agreed! Thanks so much for taking the time to answer my questions. Safe travels and we'll see you next week!