Elfie Semotan (born 1941, lives and works in Vienna and Jennersdorf), whose practice spans six decades and encompasses still lifes, landscapes, fashion editorials, and conceptual works, is perhaps best known for her commercial and fashion photography. Characteristic to her photographic approach, no matter the genre, is an elevation of the mundane aspects of everyday life – be it models with ripped tights, plastic flowers and a garden hose on a Texan tree, or a messy sleeping corner in a celebrated artist’s studio. All motifs show her fascination with and celebration of the unspectacular. Elfie Semotan’s scenes are often nonchalantly framed, foregrounding mood and authenticity, breaking with traditional settings and drawing both from quotidian life and art history.
On the occasion of the exhibition No Feeling is Final, Elfie Semotan captured the unique character of the complex and multilayered city of Skopje in a newly commissioned photographic series. The artist set out to look at the urban landscape, an idiosyncratic pastiche created through the city’s numerous re- and de-constructions, a result of its violent man-made and natural disasters throughout history. But Elfie Semotan also has a keen and kind eye for the details, materials, and textures of everyday life, revealing the poetry, sensuality, and charm that can be found within the messiness and chaos that also inhabit Skopje.
Her images portray Skopje’s cultural diversity – from the Ottoman Old Bazaar, to the modernist rebuilding of the city after the 1963 earthquake, to the crude attempt to remake Skopje as a Classicist city it never was during the course of the Skopje 2014 project. Special focus is given to a series of iconic modernist buildings, such as the National Opera and Ballet, the railway station by Kenzō Tange, the Museum of the Republic of Macedonia by Mimoza Nesterova-Tomić, the iconic Telecommunication Center’s main Counter Hall (which burned down in a suspicious fire in 2013), and, of course, the Museum of Contemporary Art Skopje.
Elfie Semotan’s sensitive documentation is an honest and authentic representation of a city with a particularly difficult and complex political and architectural past, yet also a testament to the beauty and richness that distinguish both the urban and cultural contexts of the city, as well as the extraordinary Solidarity Collection of MoCA Skopje.
Interview with Elfie Semotan
1. What were your impressions of Skopje and the Solidarity Collection of MoCA Skopje? What did you find interesting about the collection?
After I read about the history of Skopje, I looked at the city with a more discerning eye and with a certain mindset and disposition, which is a good thing to do with any city. In the case of Skopje, however, I found such an awareness particularly useful – otherwise it is hard to find an explanation for the different faces of the cityscape. I was very curious to visit the city and wanted to discover the traces of the 1960s and 1970s architecture, the historical structures like the city wall, and the later new buildings, too. But also all the disguises and retouching. That makes Skopje incredibly exciting.
The list of donations to the MoCA is impressive. I know Picasso also sent something. When I went to the museum for the first time, I saw a wonderful Calder mobile with red metal elements hanging around all by itself. Fantastic!
2. How do you relate the works you chose from the collection to your own practice?
Skopje is really an exception. Usually, cities are not so diverse. Extremes are, of course, always fascinating, and Skopje has a lot of them to offer – so much that originated at different times and with different intentions stands one next to the other. We walked around for many hours, but Skopje did not tire me. Sometimes I found it grandiose and sometimes downright funny. It is beautiful, it is picturesque, it is absurd. A wonderful terrain for a photographer.
3. What is your view on solidarity in the art world today? Do you think something similar to the MoCA Skopje donations can happen?
I believe that despite all the lack of solidarity in the art world, despite all the craving for prestige and money, there is a sense of belonging to the art world, a solidarity between those who love art, make art, and simply feel comfortable in this world.
I am a very positive person, and I can imagine that something like this can succeed again. Right now, we are learning the lesson once again that we must show solidarity and pay attention to the rest of the world.