The Symbiosis – A Challenge for Young Artists at the Biennial of the Mediterranean

Author: Marija Hristova

An interview with Ilija Prokopiev, artist from Macedonia, participant at the Biennial of the Mediterranean. What is this event all about? What’s special about it? What does it mean for the young artists? Let’s find out!

The Biennial of Young Artists from Europe and the Mediterranean (BJCEM – began its journey through the cities of this region in 1984 in Barcelona. Its main purpose consisted in promoting the creativity of young artists, both enabling and encouraging international exchange beyond the political and geographical boundaries, as well as creating a place for dialogue between the different cultures around the Mediterranean. And all this – through the art of young authors, which at the time (but isn’t it still!?), put at the margins of the artistic and cultural life.

This year, The 15th Biennial of the Mediterranean launches a new format.  It will not be just one event in one city, but a long journey across the Mediterranean area; with activities in two main cities, Thessaloniki and Rome, and many other events in the surrounding area. Thessaloniki, from October 7 till November 6, 2011, is the host city of visual and applied arts exhibitions, live shows and performances, seminars and conferences, and a food festival. Rome, on the other hand, on November 18 and 19, 2011, will host the young literates, film makers and musicians. At the end of the journey, more than 400 artists aged between 18 -30, from over 30 countries, will have taken part in the activities of this traditional event.

Among them, 26 year-old Ilija Prokopiev, an artist from Macedonia, is promoting his drawings in Thessaloniki. Through our conversation you will find out more about this interesting event, its purpose, concept and the opportunities it gives for young artists.

Ilija has graduated Painting at the Faculty of Fine Arts in Skopje, he is now a postgraduate student on the interdisciplinary culture studies at the Institute of Macedonian Literature. Three solo exhibitions (installation, photographs and drawings) and several group exhibitions in Macedonia and abroad, as well as published essays on art topics are all part of his professional CV. Just recently he received the Award for Best Macedonian Young Artist “Denes”, which brings him a six-week residence in New York. He is one of the five Macedonian artists taking part in this Biennial (only one in Thessaloniki while the other four are representing their works in Rome).

The main theme of this Biennial is “Symbiosis?”  How are your works fitting into this concept?

Ilija: The concept of “Symbiosis?” was reflected in my drawings made in the period between 2010 and 2011. I selected the drawings on the bases of associative reading of the drawn forms. The connection has nothing to do with logical justification; on the contrary, I tried to find the symbiosis through gathering together drawings that don’t have any thematic link, but are formally connected. The portfolio of my works was exhibited by the name Selective Comparison.

What are your impressions of the opening days of the Biennial in Thessaloniki?

Ilija: My experience at the Biennial was very nice because it is a Biennial of young artists from the Mediterranean. This meant establishing connections with colleagues, exchanging experiences, conversations, comparisons… The impressions were various. First of all, the space itself is very interesting. The Biennial was organized in the warehouses of the Port. Those are huge halls with a purpose different than a gallery. Four to five warehouses cleaned and re-defined into cultural spots; that seemed very attractive.

The main activities were mostly in these halls at the Port, but different events were parallelly ongoing across the entire city of Thessaloniki. Furthermore, at the same period, the Thessaloniki Biennial was also held at several locations in the city.

The past few Biennials managed to create specific relation with the host city. So, how was the case with Thessaloniki, with reference to the protests caused by the economic crisis in Greece?

Ilija: Thessaloniki has always been an animated and extremely busy commercial city, so one could not really see the difference that something special is going on in the city. With regards to the economic crisis, probably it was felt. For instance, at the ceremonial opening in front of the City Hall, there were protests of the dustmen. This was a small incident that occurred because of the presence of politicians taking part in the opening ceremony.

What can a young artist really gain from this gathering of artists from different countries and what other opportunities are now open for him/her?

Ilija: The basis of this Biennial is the symbiosis, because it gathers in one spot the various cultures of the Mediterranean basin, but also includes countries from other parts of Europe. With this, the Biennial enriches the meetings, the exchange of experience and the contacts, so the gain is big. Colleagues and audience from different countries have seen my works. You never know who those people might be, and here lies the opportunity: presentation abroad, new exhibitions, and simply the things are starting to happen.

Is it difficult for the young artist to be mobile today, in other words, when we have the feeling that the people and the ideas in today’s world are on the move all the time?

Ilija: We get this feeling probably because of the global internet connection, but, of course, there are obstacles in the actual moving as well. The reasons are, most probably, in the cultural organizations, institutions and, of course, in the money that has to be spent for every good presentation. However, the financing shouldn’t be difficult since foreign galleries and funds are easily accessible today. In any case, the Biennial is very positive solution in this aspect, it opens those opportunities

What other plans and upcoming journeys are listed on your agenda?

Ilija: Next is my participation in the Deadpan Exchange Project (   The project consists of a chain of exchanges that happen in different cities: 7 artists from one country are making an exhibition on which a group of 7 artists from another country are invited to come. They create works as a reaction of the ones seen and are preparing an exhibition in yet another city… and the chain continues. We saw an exhibition of our colleagues from Turkey in the Cultural Center CK in Skopje (which is the organizer of this event from Macedonia) and our works-reactions of that exhibition will be presented on a group exhibition in Vilnius, Lithuania.

After that, I am really looking forward to my stay in New York next spring. I am very happy that I will have the opportunity to live there, to visit the museums, the opera, to speak English, to meet new people, to buy books, maybe exhibit some of my works, and most importantly, to work on new sketches and works. I hope that New York will be inspirational for me.

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