On Thursday, 17 December 2020, an exhibition called ‘Interspaces’ was opened in Oris, House of Architecture in Zagreb, Croatia. The author of this interesting photo exhibition is a Brussels-based photographer and audiovisual director Anja Strelec who created it during the first lockdown in Brussels. Anja felt the need to document and archive this unique moment in history – both people and spaces and the shift towards the new reality.
On the occasion of the exhibition that will be open until the 11th January 2021, we spoke with the artist to learn more about her work.
Why is the exhibition called ‘Interspaces’?
The photos in the exhibition were all captured during the first lockdown in Brussels. It was the beginning of the peculiar moment in time, unique in the history of the world – it’s something in between, between the old and the new and it’s the new reality we’re living in. The term of ‘social distance’ also started to be very common phrase and people became wary about getting closer to each other, both out of fear for their own and respect for other people’s health. There were not as many people in the streets so you could really feel the emptiness of the space and the space between the people. These interspaces, physical and metaphorical, are explored and documented – first the unknown, following life under the lockdown, and then the shift and adaptation towards the new reality.
For me, as a photographer and audiovisual director, it was not only interesting to capture the people through street photography and candid photography, but also to capture the architectural emptiness. In Brussels pre-covid, it was almost impossible to capture places like Schuman, Mont des Arts or Louise without people as they are always bustling business and tourist spots, but now they were empty and looked both beautiful and scary at the same time.
How did it come to this project?
The project just kind of ‘happened’, it was not planned. I just went with the moment, one week after the lockdown I took my camera and went out to take picture as the city was so different from the usual Brussels. I usually do a lot of street and candid photography and I am almost always carrying my camera with me. Taking pictures relaxes me and it is something that I have been doing ever since I was a child. The more photos I took of empty places, empty streets and people adjusting, the more it became interesting for me and little by little, I realised that these photos were telling a story, one that is different from everything we experienced before. I also did a video which is included in the exhibition. It is created from black and white photos with a stop motion technique which emphasises this interruption of the fluidity but also continuation of life. As sound plays an important role in the video, I collaborated with sound artist Iva Galović who also lives in Brussels, she recorded the sounds of the city during the lockdown which were then incorporated in the video.
What was interesting for you to document during the lockdown, was the city different?
Everything was interesting as everything was so much different than what we are used to – people, emotions, architecture, space, movement. The atmosphere was also different and you can feel it in the photos as well. During the first lockdown in Brussels, we were fortunate to have sunny weather so it was some kind of contrast between the positivity of the weather and the grim situation we found ourselves in. Everything was so bright, the sun was shining but the city was empty and the people were a bit scared and confused and you could feel the uncertainty brought by these new times.
How did it come to an exhibition in Zagreb?
The exhibition in Zagreb happened really spontaneously and somehow by chance and I am very happy it did as I am originally from Croatia and already had several exhibitions there. I was in contact with Mr. Antonio Garcia from the Economic and Commercial Office of the Embassy of Belgium in Croatia for another project, we discussed the situation around corona in the world and of course Belgium and Croatia so I mentioned that I was working on this project. He found it very interesting and suggested that we make an exhibition in Zagreb, in Oris House of Architecture.
The exhibition is received very well, I think people are relating to what they see in the exhibition as, even though it is a different city, we are all in the same situation. People want to see what the lockdown looks like in other countries, and Brussels as the centre of Europe is especially interesting. The timing of the exhibition is also special – in Croatia there is kind of a lockdown now so it is basically an exhibition about lockdown within lockdown.
Do you notice any differences between the first and the second lockdown?
Yes, I do notice differences between the first and the second lockdown and it is in human nature and the ability to adapt. While during the first lockdown you could feel this tension of the unknown, during the second lockdown you can really see how people adapted to the new reality as the life needs to continue and can’t be denied.
Are there any other interesting projects you are currently working on?
I have been working as an audiovisual director and photographer in Brussels for several years so I continue to work for Belgian television Bruzz, European Commission, BBC Studioworks and other clients such as UNICEF. I am currently working on several interesting projects and I am also in process of opening an agency ‘Zipper Lab’ for communication and audiovisual production as of January. I also started working on a new documentary on genital mutilation. It is a very difficult topic, one that not many people know about but that is still unfortunately present.
What are your plans for the future?
Besides working further on my audiovisual and photography projects, I would like to develop this project further and have an exhibition in Brussels with my colleague, Lithuanian artist Kristijonas Dirsė, who was also documenting the first lockdown. We plan to have the exhibition in March, to mark the one year of the first Brussels lockdown and are currently preparing the work. We hope to see you there!
About Anja Strelec:
Anja Strelec (born in Varaždin, 1985) is a Croatian director, photographer and audiovisual artist who lives and works in Brussels. In her work, she mostly concentrates on social topics, portraying both individual human stories as well as society as a whole. Her multidisciplinary approach, working with a diversity of visual formats – video, documentary film and street photography – enables multifaceted storytelling.
Anja is a director of several award-winning documentary films shown at international festivals and on TV channels in different countries. She also participated with her work in solo and group exhibitions in Croatia, France, Slovenia, Germany, Greece and Belgium.
After obtaining a Master’s degree in audiovisual and documentary film directing at University of Toulouse Le Mirail, France, Anja has been working for the last ten years as a director and, together with her artistic work, has also held audiovisual and photography workshops in Europe, Africa and Asia, most notably for the European Commission and international organisations.