36 questions: Is there a scientific guarantee of falling in love?

The City Gallery of the Cultural Center Grad ends the year with Stanko Gagrčin's exhibition "36 Questions", which will be opened on December 16th at 8 pm and deals with human nature and relationships.

December 12, 2019
Author: Aleksandar Stojanović Luci, curator of the City Gallery

The City Gallery of the Cultural Center Grad ends the year with an exhibition by Stanko Gagrčin, which somewhat predicts the future at the end of the decade, by going out into virtual space. However, although he uses new technologies in his work, Gagrčin deals with human nature, human relations - falling in love on the project 36 questions.

Before the opening scheduled for Monday, December 16 at 8 pm, Gagrčin talks about the importance of virtual reality for real life reality and how, by incorporating his original vocation in the design of space through movement through architecture, he wanted to evoke movement through emotional space.

The exhibition "36 Questions" will be open until December 29, every day from 2 pm to 8 pm, but this is not the last exhibition of the jubilee tenth exhibition season, which will continue in the first months of the new decade.

We talked with Stanko about the beginning of his research, the causes and of course the issues themselves. As the author from the field of stage design went behind the camera and deals with film and video art, does he intend to continue in that direction and what is he preparing for us.

I won't ask you 36, but my first question would be why did you decide to realize your exhibition through questions? Who are they for?

At one point, a couple of years ago, through an article in the New York Times, these 36 questions became known to me. When a psychologist tells you, "These questions will make you fall in love at any time" - and then the New York Times confirms it to you, you're definitely intrigued - the fact that there's a "scientific guarantee" that falling in love will happen. The questions are also very universal and touch on various spheres of life, they are designed in such a way that they unquestionably lead to bonding of participants. A lot of participants said that they felt like they had known their partner all their lives after these questions, even though they were connected on a blind date. So the questions are for everyone who is willing to approach it with an open mind. And it is interesting to see which questions have similar answers and which answers are diverse.

You graduated from the Faculty of Technical Sciences, and you finished in video productions, how was that journey?

I am a very visually oriented person and that is what always attracts me in the first place. In high school I was in the field of interior design, in the faculty of Scene Architecture and Design, but I have also had a big dream since the elementary school to work in film. The all-encompassing nature of that medium is what attracts me the most - the fact that it combines so many other arts in itself and that, especially today, it can reach any point on the planet. And considering my background - education in the field of space design and visual arts, when I want to do something in the field of film, I take my other interests with me, and that's how I get to video art and installations. In theoretical and practical terms, it is also exciting for me to explore the possibilities offered by the intersection of all these media with the upcoming medium of virtual reality. It is up to us to explore and invent new ways to tell stories and convey messages and aesthetic experiences. It seems to me that V.R. to be for the film what the film was for the theater.

How did this idea come about? When and how did it develop? How much metamorphosis it experienced until its realization?

This work was my graduate work in undergraduate studies, and it seems to me that my initial idea was just that: I want to cross the possibilities of virtual space with video content. Oliver Grau's book "Virtual Art" has broadened my view of the history of narrative and visual art, that is, the intertwining of these arts with available technology. So from the murals from Pompeii, through the Renaissance chapels, the nineteenth-century rotundas to the VR: the essence remains the same in some sense, but each medium carries with it specific aesthetic possibilities. So, reading that book, I got various ideas, and first as a graduate I wanted to do a work based on one drama, but in a virtual space. However, it was time and production impossible, and then the idea for this project came to me and I immediately decided that I would have to do it. Conceptually, it didn't change, but at one point after graduation, I redesigned the virtual space.

You have incorporated a part of your formal education into this installation. You position these questions in the context of monumental architectural units, which symbolically support the narrative. How does the sacredness of that architecture relate to the content of the question?

In the first version of the space, each video was on one large vertical tower, and we can find this vertical connection with the sky in sacral architecture, from baroque churches to Hagia Sophia. However, I decided on the stairs, because it is visually cleaner, but the process of climbing after each question is very ritualistic for me in its repetitiveness, processuality. And as the questions get closer to the end, the climax they become more intense, intimate and exciting, so the viewer finds himself immersed in the space more and more. So, I would say that in the dramaturgical sense they are harmonized spatially and in content.

Everything is inspired by Arthur Aaron's psychological research. Why psychology? I notice that young authors often look for inspiration in this area when conducting research for their projects.

I came up with these questions more through social media and clicking on "viral" content than scientific research, but like I said, it's great to have that "confirmation from scientific authority" that something is going to happen and then you get into it with a placebo -effect. By the way, I am not overly interested in psychology as a science, but I like to read various e.g. sociological analyzes of society: I guess we are programmed to believe in something as objective and true when it is shown to us in statistics and figures.

How do you think the audience should approach this installation? Will different people approach it differently or are you targeting some common aspects of psychology and universal emotions as a trigger?

Working on the project and listening to all their conversations, it crossed my mind: "How this will be super informative and interesting for people from 2145, when they accidentally stumble upon this park of mine in their virtual-physical-10G-internet reality!". I want this to always be available online and that it can be a place you come back to when you want to be a little voyeur in the timeless clouds of this space. So I hope that the immensity of virtual space, sky, colors, sounds, will evoke in the viewer a certain "broader" perspective when listening to these conversations about everyday and personal topics.

Are you already developing new projects and in which direction are you going? What are your plans for the future?

I would like to collaborate with playwrights, actors, other video artists, so people, get in touch! Next year, I will realize one project with the help of the Film Center of Serbia, also a virtual video installation, but with the theme of the heritage of Yugoslav popular culture. In addition, I have ideas for one short documentary and one short docu-fiction film. So, I would continue to explore the media of film, video, virtual and visual arts.

We have more and more queer topics in domestic art and media

"Tereza's Sons" by Stanko Gagrčin is a short feature film that provides an insight into the life of queer people in modern Serbia, while looking back at domestic queer pioneers from the 1990s. This achievement will be shown at the upcoming Merlinka Festival in the program unit of the Review of Domestic and Regional Short Films, which will last from 4:30 pm to 10 pm on Sunday, December 12, in the American Hall of the Belgrade Youth Center. On this occasion, director Stanko Gagrčin talked to us about the film and the topics he raises.

Who is Teresa from the title of the movie?

Tereza Strmečki was the mother of Vjeran Miladinović Merlinka, whose autobiographical book is called "Tereza's Son", and the title of this film ("Tereza's Sons") is a direct reference to that, alluding to solidarity and a kind of universality of queer people's experience.

The film deals with the lives of queer people in modern Serbia, but also with the pioneers of the 1990s. How does that older generation view the current situation of LGBT people - how much do they think things are changing?

An interesting difference would be perhaps that back then people approached it from a position of complete inexperience, while today we have a mixture of "traditional, domestic" prejudice, tabloid sensationalism and, with younger generations, American right-wing meme rhetoric from the depths of 4chan (all of those Wojak memes and its variations came into existence there), to which, ironically, most receptive audience is the young "anti-American" and "anti-globalist" international alt-right. Or how conspiracy theories about transgender people that stem from the most conservative American religious circles of the 20th century - are today being spread in Serbia by "radical feminists" that have picked up those ideas from British multi-billionaires. That kind of polarization on these issues probably didn't exist in the 90s Serbia.

How do you see the life of queer people today compared to the nineties?

In my opinion, it is much different. Dating and social life are not reduced to underground cryptic newspaper ads or secret gay beaches and parks as in previous centuries. Today, in larger cities, there are cafes for socializing and night clubs profiled towards the queer population, as well as applications, social networks, forums. There are also organizations dedicated to psychological support, community building, work on improving legislative protection, etc. Global American popular culture, trends on social networks, film art, series have contributed to greater visibility and normalization of the perception of the queer population everywhere, even in our country, and now we have more and more domestic queer topics in art and media. Also, the great thing that my generation and younger people may completely ignore is that HIV infection today is a commonplace chronic disease that is completely under control, such as diabetes, while in the 1990s it was a potential death sentence with a huge social stigma.

How did you come up with the format of a feature film - what is documentary and what is feature?

I am very attracted to the aesthetics of "rawness", amateur film, because it gives "truthfulness" to the film. The big explosion of reality television formats is based, among other things, on the viewers' perception that what we are watching is "true", "real" and "documentary". The same is true of the popularity of YouTubers, vloggers and influencers - apart from the fact that their video content is considered a true reflection of their lives, they have shown that films/videos shot on ordinary phone and without the entire film crew and linear dramaturgy can be more exciting, cathartic and attention-grabbing than some professional but hermetic series or film. On the other hand, I like the hyper-stylization and surrealism of music video formats. So I spontaneously came up with this hybrid format of art film, creating what I would love to see myself. Specifically in the film "Teresa's Sons", the scenes in the nightclub were completely directed, while in the rest I set / directed the context, the situation, in which the protagonists had the freedom to play and say what they want. For example, the scene in the apartment is a completely spontaneous conversation, and the rehearsal scene in the theater is also spontaneous in the sense that they really tried that text of the monodrama for the first time, but the reason for the rehearsal - the play - is imaginary, it never really happened.

You are active in different art fields, in the world of visual arts, performance… how did all these different experiences define your film expression?

Absolutely! I think it's very apparent, my focus is on visual experience that relies more on associative, experiential, personal interpretation than on dramaturgy, character psychology, plots (what I would like to change in the future, playwrights / screenwriters, let me know!) . Each approach has its pros and cons, what is perhaps the most valuable thing that education in the field of spatial design and architecture has brought me is to approach every creative process as a design process of "problem solving". I always try to analyze everything, rationalize, and divide my motives, ideas and images into basic elements and then "solve the project task". Or to make an analogy from fine arts - I put them together in a big "mosaic". What perhaps sets me apart the most from someone who has studied drama schools is the do-it-yourself approach where I don't hesitate to do a lot of things myself (that there is no budget for) and that I can learn on YouTube - camera, editing, design lights, scenes, costumes.

What are your further film plans, and do they move within the framework of LGBT activism? How important is activism itself to you in relation to film art as such?

Yes, these topics are probably the most inspiring and, above all, personal to me, and I would like to continue to deal with them through film and video / digital art. I am aware that every smallest act of activism has the power to move things at least a little, especially a comprehensive aesthetic product such as a film. Of course, one should be careful not to turn your art into a political pamphlet which you achieve if you always try to improve yourself in this field, to approach film or video as a craft, skill, and always keep learning. Every aspect of life is politics, so as an LGBT + person you definitely bring various parts of yourself into your work.

People are the same everywhere, but the circumstances are different
December 18th 2021

Interview by Vanja Marjanović

After finishing his studies at the Faculty of Technical Sciences, in the field of stage architecture, technique and design, Stanko Gagrčin from Novi Sad continued to work in various related arts. He turned his knowledge and interests into several short films, one of which, "Tereza's Sons", was recently shown to Novi Sad and Belgrade audiences.

"Last weekend, as part of the 'Merlinka' festival, my new film 'Tereza's Sons' was shown, which was seen by the audience in the hall of the Cultural Center in Novi Sad and in the Belgrade's Dom Omladine. It is a film showing the life of Alex Elektra, a transgender girl from Belgrade and follows the day in her life. The film is semi-documentary, but half of it is fiction and the two things overlap. It was completed this summer and published on the YouTube channel Klinika, but it also has its own festival life", Stanko said at the beginning of the ORADIO interview.

Although transgender people are fully accepted and included in all walks of life around the world, it is still a taboo topic in our country. Why is it so?

That's a big question. I wanted to make a contribution with this film, so that transgender people would be portrayed like everyone else. All people in the world have the right to their feelings, to their life and to see what their everyday life is like, for everything to function normally.

How hard was it for you to get in touch and convince them to make a movie?

That was not a problem at all, this kind of milieu are the people I am surrounded by every day, and the performers were friends of my friends. I had some ideas for the film, I contacted Alex, she was thrilled, so that part went pretty easily. All these topics are close to me personally, so that part was easily resolved.

The whole approach to the film is interesting, editing, directing, camera, everything is seen in one breath. How did you do that?

A lot of people told me they didn't get bored, even though the movie lasts about eight minutes (laughs). I am glad about that, especially when I look at myself and my generation, our attention is very short, "perhaps around ten seconds". That is why I paid special attention to editing, and I am personally inspired by such forms. On one hand, extremely raw, short, documentary, something similar to vlogs, and on the other hand, something stylized and surreal, as is common practice in music videos. I spontaneously came up with something I would love to see. All this can be characterized in terms of genre as a documentary, experimental film or as a short film, which is basically a matter of semantics.

For now, at least as far as the film is concerned, you are dealing with short form. Is it your decision or is it just a feature film too expensive and too complicated to realize?

There are both. Definitely, a feature film needs a serious budget, so this came to me as a kind of exercise and practice, but also to build my own language and expression in a manageable form that I can make without any budget. I hope that longer forms will come naturally, when my capacities grow.

How multidisciplinary does an artist have to be today?

I also wonder, that is, what is better. The fact is that today, due to the availability of various media that we all deal with, we are essentially dealing with various disciplines anyway. It used to be a problem to find, for example, a camera, it was heavy, bulky, and today we all have cameras in our pockets. It is a similar thing with microphones, and in addition to all that, we have online tutorials on how to edit, how to record, how to set up the light, we can learn everything ourselves. And that has contributed to people advancing in various disciplines. Sometimes those disciplines are similar, and sometimes it happens that people in unrelated disciplines are successful. And which is better, smarter, should one focus on one or more? I ask myself that, because I also did some virtual installations, which can be consumed as video games, or via the VR headset. Although it can be defined as art in digital media, it still touches on other industries that are not necessarily so closely related to art. Those industries might include different people, other occupations, so I don't know how to answer this questions for myself either. Whether to focus on one or do it all...

You still come from a slightly different sphere, you finished stage design, how much does that correlate with the film?

That's right, I studied Scene Design and Architecture at the Faculty of Technical Sciences in Novi Sad, and the idea of ​​those studies is to think about a "scene" in the broadest sense of the word, so for theater, film, video games, contemporary and fine arts... So, the same kind of thinking is applied to everything that can be a seen as a scene - both in the spatial and temporal sense.

Why 36 (questions)?

It was a clever American who came up with this scientific procedure. He defined 36 questions, with which one can fall in love with anyone. My Bachelor diploma work inspired with this study, so I connected some 18 couples on blind dates. I paired them up and then filmed them going through those 36 questions. Then I put the obtained video material into a virtual space, game basically, but it can also be seen as a virtual memorial park dedicated to the moment they spent together. So, when one day, in the future, we live in a semi-virtual reality, I imagine that it will be one of the destinations you travel to with just one click. But spoiler alert, related to the falling in love part - no one fell in love. There was some chemistry, but I realized that perhaps a crucial factor for falling in love is the will to do so.

What is the future of people who complete stage design or perhaps more generally, artists in general?

From my generation, only one person, a colleague, works in the profession. So I don’t know how much to be optimistic specifically about my profession. But in general, I think the internet has transformed our lives a lot. As for artists in general, I am optimistic: democratization on a global level is present, everyone can learn what they want, maybe even do what they want at home. It is something that has made a big change in the world of art and in that sense I am optimistic. I am glad that the regional connection of my generation is happening on various cultural scenes. The recent developments of domestic popular music is especially interesting, I think that the quality of music, but also video and film production has increased astronomically.

What are your plans for the next period?

I am planning another short film and a couple of virtual installations, which will be based on dramatic texts, so it will be another hybrid format of digital art. One of those installations will be in the gallery of the Cultural Center of Belgrade, in 2023.