Born in 1970 in Kladovo, Serbia / Lives in Nashville, USA
Jens Hoffmann (JH): Your work for the 12th Istanbul Biennial utilizes a found archive of holiday travel slides from the 1960s. How did you find them? What do they represent to you? To me they feel quite outdated—from an era when people still used proper film cameras on trips and would show the pictures in home slide shows once back from their journeys.
Vesna Pavlovic (VP): Slides were a popular mode of recording travel from the 1960s to the 1980s. This coincided with a period of American freedom of mobility and travel to the world’s exotic locations. The technology itself was a product of the American consumer economy, and it came at a time of projection of American power. The American tourist with his or her camera is itself an iconic image. The archive I worked with was produced by a single family in Nashville, Tennessee, and I obtained it from a local institutional collection as it was about to be discarded. I can imagine the family’s ambivalence in parting with these beautiful images—feelings of sentimentality competing with the practical difficulties related to bulky, obsolete technology. I was also interested in slides as a “first level” of representation: a direct positive, an object, and a source of surprise for friends and family back home.
JH: Mass tourism has been around since the days of Thomas Cook and became a big part of the global economy during the 20th century. During the late 1960s there was a campaign against resort tourism in exotic countries, with the slogan “Holidays in someone else’s misery.” Do you think your slides are documenting this “misery”?
VP: While the tourist in my slides has engaged with local communities from a complex position of privilege, the subject in my work is the tourist—not the locals, who may be represented in the images as objects of the tourist’s consumption. I am also concerned with tourists’ production of nostalgia: for the images, for the medium, and for the era of American privilege that may be passing.
JH: How far can you go with these comparisons between outdated technology and the fading power of a nation?
VP: In one of our recent conversations you mentioned a “particular biçimi view of an American family traveling around the world and a critique of tourism as one seemingly innocent form of an American position toward the world.” My installation consists of 400 private snapshots intersected with blank white slides. The blank screens encourage viewers to take a critical position, both toward the images and toward the tourist activity.
JH: What does the figure of the tourist represent to you?
VP: Tourists are both consumers of places and producers of images. Their archives represent a mediation of cultural experiences. A tourist has both framed a multitude of places and been framed by them. What is left in the end are images that are fading, along with those framed experiences. My reenactment of a slideshow is suggestive of this loss.