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Mirjana Vrbaški (b.1978 in Montreal) is a Serbian lens-based artist. After obtaining a BA in Literature in Canada, Vrbaški turned to photography, graduating from the Royal Academy of Art in The Hague (2010). Her ongoing series Verses of Emptiness has received and been nominated for, among other, the Renaissance Photography Prize (UK), the Taylor Wessing Photographic Prize at the National Portrait Gallery (UK), Hellerau Portrait Prize (DE), Vattenfall Fotopreis (DE), National Portrait Prize (NL) and LensCulture Portrait Prize (NL). Vrbaški has participated in international exhibitions at institutions such as Fotomuseum Den Haag (NL), Transformer Station Cleveland (USA), and Museum Kranenburgh (NL). She is represented in international private and public collections, including The National Portrait Gallery, Fries Museum and Transformer Station Cleveland. She lives and works in Berlin.
The practice of Mirjana Vrbaški is rooted in the exploration of the photograph as a physical environment rather than a narrative. In both her portraits and landscape work, the primary focus lies on the potential of the photograph to serve as a site; more specifically, a site for meditation — an environment conducive to the observation of internal territories, be they the artist’s or the viewer’s, and an exchange between the artist and the viewer on a frequency ‘below’ the rational mind.
In Verses of Emptiness, a series of imposing, large-scale portraits of women (2009-ongoing), Vrbaški and her model isolate themselves in the photo studio, working in silence and penetrative concentration so as to ’peel away’ the model’s surface layers. Placing her model against a neutral, contextless backdrop and consequently ’sculpting’ her inward into herself, Vrbaški reduces her portraits to a minimum of visual elements, until a more essential and strangely unsettling layer is exposed. Austere, unembellished and otherworldly, the portrayed women are like cups about to overflow: they offer a glimpse into their vast interiority yet continue to evade categorization.
In ‘7/8’ — Vrbaški’s first venture into landscape photography — radical reduction of visual elements characteristic of her portraits is replaced by a natural chaos. Immersing herself in entangled forests of the Dalmatian coast and capturing them as they pulse — calm yet haunting — under the scorching midday sun, Vrbaški embraces all detail impartially. Democratic to both the translucent, seductive qualities of a forest as well as its dark, impenetrable character, ‘7/8’ is a dialogue with the metaphysical aspects of this environment and above all, with its ability to fuse chaos and harmony into an all-encompassing whole. Although non-political, ‘7/8’ is a metaphoric ode to the filigree layers of Vrbaški's Yugoslav identity, its richly diverse character, as well as its complexity that refuses to be untangled. Hence also the title, borrowed from the ‘asymmetrical’ odd-time rhythm, widely represented in the traditional music of southern former Yugoslavia.
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ON VERSES OF EMPTINESS:
Interview with Joerg Colberg:
Goodrum, Sarah. A New/old Ethics of the Photographic Portrait: Mirjana Vrbaski’s “Verses of Emptiness”. AfterImage Journal of Media Arts and Cultural Criticism, Vol. 40
Brunner, Eva. Mirjana Vrbaski “Verses of Emptiness”. Brennpunkt Magazin für Fotografie
Download Brennpunkt.pdf (German)
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