We interviewed the graphic designer of the East Slovak Gallery and one of the most inventive visual artists of Košice, Jozef Tušan, in his cosy office. The conversation ranged from his work for state-run and independent cultural institutions, and his visual-musical project BIOS, to inspiration from medieval graphics, the creation of posters and the Lazy Dog zine.

You work as a graphic designer at the East Slovak Gallery. What does this job entail?

In short, it means that if the gallery needs any kind of graphic output, they come to me and I try to deliver what’s required. That might mean graphic support on the internet or any printed materials. Visuals for exhibitions also fall under my remit, as well as the typography for exhibition texts, gallery publications, and banners outside the gallery.

Your latest exhibition focuses on the work of Anna Lesznai. You have also worked on the exhibition of Elemír Halász-Hradil, as well as on exhibitions of many contemporary top artists. What is the difference between working on an exhibition of a master from Košice and working on an exhibition of a living artist?

Frankly, I find it easier to work with non-living authors than living ones. I don’t like to be someone who only implements a preconceived idea of the exhibitor. But most of the time the artist gives me enough freedom and during consultations I feel that I have their trust. It varies from exhibition to exhibition, but whatever exhibition I’m doing I always look at it first, read the curatorial text, get a general feel for it, make some suggestions and pass them on to a competent person. I generally enjoy working at the East Slovak Gallery because I have freedom here and I almost never have major conflicts with the curator or the artist of the exhibition.

Is there a particular exhibition for which you liked creating the visual identity the most?

I definitely have a nostalgic relationship with the exhibitions I did when I first came here and I was still full of enthusiasm. That’s not to say I’m unenthusiastic now, but nostalgia has a lot to account for. I enjoy processing every exhibition I’m involved with. It’s also because I work in a team that I feel comfortable being a part of. I don’t want to talk about what’s been successful and what’s been less so, but with some of the exhibitions I’ve been extremely happy. I’ll answer you the way bands tend to: “The last album is always the best”, so the best is Anna Lesznai. I enjoyed preparing this exhibition and we had a really fruitful collaboration with its curator Štefánia Ďuricová with whom we are currently preparing the catalogue for the exhibition. Lesznai is not a well-known artist but her work appeals to me because it is illustrative, playful, and decorative.

How are bulletins and publications for the East Slovak Gallery produced?

At the beginning I get reproductions and texts. With the curator, we go over his or her idea, format, type of paper, and discuss which text goes with which reproduction, or which works to accentuate. Then I create the publication on the computer, which is then consulted, corrected and sent to print. In addition to catalogues, we usually make exhibition guides for children and families. They are basically workbooks that serve as a tool for our educators for various creative activities. We have a studio on the ground floor of the gallery used for creative workshops where we try to introduce the exhibition to children in a playful and understandable way. It is part of the accompanying programmes created for every exhibition, so no one can make excuses for not having anything to do in the gallery or not understanding something (laughs).

One of the cornerstones of your work is the creation of posters. Why do you like posters?

It’s a neat fusion of thought, illustration, art, typography and rules I may – or may not – break, all locked into one format that I’m trying to grapple with as best I can. I enjoy the process of making a poster perhaps more than the actual result. Every poster has an awful lot of unused material and files, a by-product of that creation process.

You have created posters for Moonride, but also for the Úsmev Cinema, A4 Cultural Centre, Tabačka and many other institutions and platforms. Are there any projects that have stuck in your memory?

I have also made posters for the Bratislava-based Fuga and its project Plnka. It was an interesting format that gave space to more experimental genres. It was backed by Forum Absurdum and Juraj Hoppan, who gave me full trust and communication with him was great. We were able to solve everything via e-mail or occasionally a phone call. The music promoted by the project was more unconventional, so I had space to try new things. I would also like to mention the Pecha Kucha format, where Mišo Hudák also gave me a free hand. Sometimes it came out better, sometimes worse, but that’s what I enjoyed about it.

Is there a difference in working for an independent cultural centre and a state institution?

It’s always about people so I don’t think so. I would rather compare an artist and a musician. When you work in a gallery, sooner or later you come across an artist whose vanity you have to fight a bit. With musicians, it’s never happened that somebody has written to me and said no, do this, or do this differently. It’s probably because musicians, in addition to perhaps (but not always) having less insight into the visual arts, have a higher frequency of gigs than exhibition artists and are used to leave things in the hands of the organiser.

How are your posters created?

Sometimes, but not all the time, I sketch something in pencil and then continue drawing with the mouse on the computer. I never got used to using a tablet. Sometimes I play with the photocopier and scanner, which provide a bit of playfulness and chance compared to using a computer program.

How did your BIOS project with Boris Sirka come about?

I did VJ-ing at FUTU (Faculty of Arts of the Technical University in Košice) under the pseudonym VJ-Laska. I did mostly electro-clash and dnb events. At school I was flirting with video art so it was close to my heart. I discovered the first VJ-ing software and I presented my first set in Prešov at Wave – Centre of Independent Culture. After school we used to meet in Košice at Boris Sirka’s flat, and one day we said we could create a metal DJ set together with “dark” VJ-ing. Boris was mixing Tool and similar bands he likes. He had a lot of fun doing it, and I had a lot of fun doing the live projections to his music. At first it was just a living room kind of thing. After his exhibition, I believe it was at V. Löffler’s Museum, we were given a space to perform in front of people in Tabačka and that’s where it all started. We worked that way for about a year until I thought of getting involved musically as well, because I’m a self-taught guitarist. I first borrowed a bass from a friend, then I borrowed a guitar, then I bought a guitar, and both Boris and I eventually bought more gear and started playing a kind of improvisational audio ping pong, accompanied by pre-made videos. We are still involved in this, even though we have dropped the projection.

How did you create your projections?

I took short videos from the internet, movies, pictures, my own graphics and videos which I mixed and animated using software. Sometimes I mixed the result several times. I tried to make the projection a bit scary, a bit epileptic but it was mainly supposed to be a reaction to the music.

What music influenced you and why?

Music influenced me as a teenager in my rejection of the world, and it still influences me when I’m creating, when I’m playing in BIOS. I have my own specific collection of music that I like. When I play it I have it in my head, I’m in a specific kind of mental state, but I also respond to Boris and I enjoy the whole mix. It’s hard to explain.

It really appeals to me when the music I listen to is unpredictable and, regardless of genre, when something surprises me it makes me very happy. I have the same thing with visual art. It’s that feeling when something disturbs me or puts me in a state where I don’t know what to think of it and I don’t know if it’s terribly bad or terribly good.

I noticed that a lot of FUTU graduates are fond of experimentation and often get influenced by the process of creation itself. Is this also the case with you?

Definitely. Whether I’m listening to something, creating visually or musically, it’s curiosity that motivates me. I’m curious and I perceive it as an unexplored landscape. I explore and get surprised and, even though it can often turn out badly, it’s worth the risk. It’s exciting.

For a long time you have been creating linocuts inspired by medieval engravings. What do these engravings mean to you?

I once borrowed a book called Česká lidová grafika (Czech Folkloric Prints) from the library and was fascinated by how ordinary people recorded stories from their lives in woodcuts. I found it greatly authentic, and in some ways detached and a little eerie and mysterious – like looking at black and white documents from the last century. I realised that the subjects they were depicting weren’t that different from the ones we depict in the present day. I don’t think we’ve changed that much since the Middle Ages, and having more comfort doesn’t make us better people. I wanted to convey that mystery, brutality, authenticity and primitive nature to contemporary situations and deliberately ignore new forms. I enjoy bringing these things together and, as a former punk, primitivism is very close to my heart (laughs). I often pick motifs from my life and try to play with them. They’re kind of my diaries with a little bit of exaggeration. In addition, there is the element of “meditation” in the manual production of graphics as such.

What is a Lazy Dog zine?

The name Lazy Dog originated from the pangram The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog. A pangram is a test sentence in typography that contains all the letters of the alphabet, and in which the functionality of a typeface is tested. In Slovak, a pangram is, for example, the sentence: Kŕdeľ ďatľov učí koňa žrať kôru (A flock of woodpeckers teaches a horse to eat bark). I took the phrase Lazy Dog from there because the zine was originally conceived to showcase my typographic experiments, and it also works as a parody of my tendencies towards laziness. I started doing the zine right after college, when I figured I was keener to present myself in a cheap samizdat magazine than in the institution of a gallery. Pure primitivism (laughs).

In the East Slovak Gallery you can find the issue that came out a few years later. I printed and bound it myself on an old photocopier, which dirties every page, so each piece is unique. In this zine I also wanted to leave a trace of that “medieval” design and move it into digital illustration.

How do you fit within the Košice art scene? Why did you stay here?

Because I feel it makes sense to stay here. I perceive the Košice art scene also through my friends because I know many people from school and I am still getting to know new people. Besides the fact that I have a background here, the city’s size and dynamism are enough to make me happy.

Invisible Mag is supported using public funding by Slovak Arts Council. The Slovak Arts Council is the main partner of the project.

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