TATTOO COLLECTOR GLOBAL HERITAGE: Oko

OKO X TTTISM magazine, July 2017

Dedicated to tattoos OKO gave an interview to TTTism. You can read the entire piece here, written by Martin Rokicki.

“OKO, a multimedia artist born in Zagreb who currently splits her time between that city and London, has been making tattoos for almost a decade but deliberately resists a vocation as a tattooist. In its informal relationship to and liminal place in her artistic practice, her own tattooing often becomes a “weird extension” of her drawing. This intuitive connection to tattooing—the continued negotiation of its (non)status in relation to her art practice—reflects the style of OKO’s approach to the media she creates as a professional artist. OKO says that the important thing is to “WORK.” That work results in anything from murals and video art to product design and tattoos on her friends, emphasizing problems of translation and transposition that are at play in her practice’s relationship to an urban environment perpetually reshaped by globalization.

An enduring intimacy with the cities of London and Zagreb shapes how OKO understands her public art practice, which consists of both uncommissioned, unauthorized pieces and commissioned pieces of ‘street art.’ She transposes her experiences in either city, living properly in between two cities by making “one city into another.” This integrative strategy bears on OKO’s understanding of and approach to the global circulation and consumption of her artwork. She tells me that producing and exhibiting art in many different cities has given her the impression that a “blended world culture” is developing. As a tattoo collector, the Croatian imagery visible on OKO’s hands and arms goes some way in illustrating the temporal dimension of that blending she describes, anachronistically repurposing motifs decidedly before her time in a gesture very much of (and in) the contemporary moment.

OKO’s sense of a cultural “blending” is interesting because it authorizes and is advanced by her work as an international artist. For example, the transformation of certain cities into international platforms for urban art and culture is concomitant with those cities’ adoption of (once) outsider practices such as graffiti and other illicit public installations into cultural institutions. Accordingly, her relationship to the cities she lives in and those that she exhibits work in is continually transposed, because those urban locations (and the cultural practices that are embedded in them) are continually “blended” or integrated into larger circuits of global circulation and consumption.

While an increasingly blended “world culture” or “world knowledge” enables relays between the cultural contexts of Rio de Janeiro and New York, two places that OKO has exhibited her work, the distinctions between the contexts of the gallery and the public street still appear to OKO as “completely separate worlds.” For her, the fact that her art objects can easily translate from the context of the street to that of the museum does not necessarily change the discrepancy in how those objects will be valued—foregrounding curation as a “game” that decides “what’s worth something and what’s not.” This is complicated again by the relationship between her commissioned and uncommissioned public installations. Both modes of public art are exposed to the arbitrariness of the value assigned to them, vulnerable to the “pure mercy of pedestrians.” However, the commissioned public work of international artists like OKO creates a situation in which the same process of blending that allows the transpositions and translations of a “world culture” also “blends” the public value of street art with its economic value—further expanding the provenance of market value into considerations of public value. This process is visualized quite literally in the many urban art festivals occurring in major cities, where unauthorized public art is covered over by international artists commissioned to create murals.

OKO’s own tattoos are markers of a similar vanishing point between the rigidity of national identity and the porousness of cultural memory. Having traditional Croatian motifs tattooed on her body situates those images in visual economies different from and larger than the customary economies of her home country. On the one hand, this means that ‘Croatian’ imagery is circulated on a much wider scale—OKO lives with her tattoos, wherever she is in the world. On the other hand, OKO’s tattoos are already the markings of a global (and therefore not specifically national) resonance of these images—which is why her tattoos are legible to both an older generation of Croatians who understand the specificity of the motifs and to anyone who inhabits the “blended” culture that OKO describes, by virtue of the placement of those tattoos and their formal qualities.

OKO’s strategy in navigating this threatening and enabling process of global blending is to focus on producing work. For her, categorization—which bears on the geographic and cultural contexts in which she produces work as much as it does on her identity as an artist—is an afterthought. Her artistic strategies do not necessarily attempt to transgress categorization—she tells me that, in this regard, people can and will categorize as they choose—but to focus on creating work prior to the intrusion of categories. Managing the many contexts in which her work is received depends for her on “pure instinct”—a problem of knowing and transposing what fits where: on the street licitly or illicitly, in the museum, on the skin. That intuitive practice shapes her understanding of urbanity as an environmental relationship. She describes urbanity as “something that is alive and around you.” The lifecycle of urbanity leaves OKO hopeful because, even as it comes to describe the commodification and popularization of cultural practices, it also creates the conditions for new things to “rise and grow.”

You can currently see OKO’s work on her official page, on the streets of London and Zagreb, or in the permanent collection of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Zagreb. OKO will add three sculptural pieces to the Museum’s permanent collection in September 2017.”



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