Dear citizens of Philadelphia,
I am looking for volunteers who are willing to pose for a portrait, sitting and communicating.Time spent: 1–3 hours.
My goal is to create a story about the city of Philadelphia, its past and its presence, through the stories which you are willing to tell me about yourself and your life within the city. I will be making a line drawing while we talk and will also record our conversation.
Both may be on display at ICA Philadelphia June 4–22, 2014, as part of the ICA@50celebration.
If you are willing to participate and have time between April 10 and April 24, please get in touch by sending a picture of yourself to my email and include your contact details.
Jadranka and I are down in the corner of ICA’s auditorium, away from the museum’s bustle. Except for us, the big room is empty. I fiddle with my notepad as she watches me from behind her portable easel. The bright red eye of her recorder stares steadily at the ceiling.
“Have you always worked at ICA?” Jadranka asks.
“Um…” I say.
Jadranka Kosorcic is in from Munich for a week, making portraits for her contribution to ICA’s fiftieth anniversary exhibition, ICA@50. Originally I asked if I could sit in on one of her sessions—which she calls Blind Dates—but she demurred, saying it would disrupt the intimacy of the encounter. I was welcome, however, to sit for her myself and write about that. So here I am.
The first Blind Date took place in 1995, in Jadranka’s hometown of Split, Croatia. Nearly five hundred people contacted her about participating. “They sent me little pictures and written notes,” she says, and she chose the ones that seemed the most promising. The original idea was to do nude portraits, but the body quickly became less important to her than the personality.
At first the idea of asking questions was just to keep the sitters engaged. Conversation, she says, helps “keep the tension in the person…so their mind doesn’t wander to some other place.” She started out asking simple questions, but the talk quickly went deeper. “It’s the only time you’ll meet this person in your life,” she explains. The intimacy of the exchanges led her to compare them to psychoanalysis; to confession.
Jadranka works slowly, making marks with her charcoal. From talking with people, listening to what they say, and noting their gestures, she makes what she calls a kind of Dolby surround-sound portrait. “3-D,” she says.“ But not in a sculptural way…The other is always a mirror for the self,” she says. “We all go through the same things, more or less. I try to find a sliver of myself in each one.”
She pauses, changes the batteries in her recorder, takes a drink of water, then gets back to work. I try not to watch her watching me. She works slowly, slowly asking questions as she goes.
What kind of books do I write? (Novels, largely about women’s lives.)
Do I think there’s a separation between life and art? (I do; she’s less sure.)
What is Passover? (I’d said I was cooking matzoh ball soup; she knew what matzoh was, having attended a friend’s seder in high school.)
In return, I ask my own questions, which Jadranka answers willingly, telling me about her rigid Catholic upbringing in Croatia. She was twenty-four when her mother died of cancer. She had a long black dress for the funeral, but—because it had flowers embroidered at the hem—her grandmother wouldn’t let her wear it. She had to wear a short, flower-free black dress instead, the memory of which still bothers her. “It seemed less respectful.”
She asks about the origin of the name of the Miranda blog, and I tell her about the pet snake I used to have, after whom the blog was named.
“Would you pick up a snake if you saw it in the wild?” she asks.
I describe the field trip I went on for a herpetology class once, when I was seven months pregnant, crossing muddy fields and lifting rocks to find and grab newborn snakes.
She tells me about being chased by a big green snake on an island in Italy, and about the small poisonous striped snakes that come down out of the trees in Croatia.
I tell her the plot of my latest novel, and she tells me about her rent controlled apartment in Munich, about how she has lived in London, Berlin, New York City. She says her family thinks she’s “mad”—“weird”—for being still unmarried at her age, without children, traveling from place to place. I tell her how—
But whatever I was going to say, I don’t say it after all. The sitting is over. It’s been an hour, which is all the time I have.
I’m sorry to go. The portrait is only half done. The conversation—intimate, winding, full of surprising twists and sudden plunges—has barely begun.
Jadranka Kosorcic, organized by Associate Curator Anthony Elms, will be on view Wednesday, June 4 – Sunday, June 22, 2014 at ICA.