This year has surely brought changes to many aspects of our lives – and it’s no different when it comes to the Endless Illusion Mix Series. We found ourselves oversaturated with guest mixes not affording artists the spotlight and care they deserve. It made us come to the conclusion that we should set up a new website to give you some deeper insights into our featured artists outside of the musical realm. Really happy to kick off this new format with renaissance musician, photographer, and scientist Marijana Croon from Belgrade, with a newfound home in Cologne. Interviewed by Jonáš Verešpej, they discussed her mitochondria research, lockdowns, and the destruction of centuries-old Italian artwork.
Hi Marijana! Where are you at the moment and what are you up to?
Hi! I am in my kitchen, having my coffee ritual. Just got up.
And what are your today’s plans? Or for this weekend?
There is not much happening in real life. I am using this lockdown to work on my research, so very often I spend weekends casually at work. Apart from that, I will spend most of the time at home with Lucas. And maybe we will have some visits, not to become too introverted in these times!
I’ll get back to the lockdown situation later, but could you tell me a bit about the research you’re doing?
Yes, of course. Or at least I hope I can make it sound reasonable haha. Well, I am a molecular biologist by day (now also by night, since my alter ego job doesn't exist at the moment) :)). I am working in 'mitochondria' research. Do you remember them from school? They are the powerhouses of our cells and they actually create energy for any process in our body and mind. Any exchange between inside and outside can not skip mitochondria, they are the key hubs that use oxygen and food to make some crazy electrochemical trick and provide us with energy boost.
On the other hand, paradoxically, every breath makes us older and closer to our ending. There are many theories why we age and why we are limited in our time of existence and mitochondria play a big part in that. They give us life and take it away. But they are amazing. They even have their own DNA, which you only get only from your mother. That's how they could track the first woman in the past - The mitochondrial Eve. That's just an intro to get your attention. It's what I tell people in bars when they ask me what I do.
That is a very fascinating subject, this give and take principle. I hope the segue I am about to make won't be too far-fetched, haha, but I have always been interested in a very similar flow of energy – when one goes to a club: you go there to get exhausted in one way, but gaining something as well. And it reminds you about the impermanence of everything, which I think is important nowadays, because there is still a huge need for long-lasting or infinite things.
Haha nice exemplification. You need to give in order to get, I think most of the time.
And so what it is you are trying to find out through examining them?
Huh...well, different things. It changes. I worked on a very rare neurological disease caused by a specific mutation in a gene for mitochondrial protein. Then I switched to some more complex networks, like how organs communicate to each other when mayhem is there. All in relation to what happens when your energy machinery is damaged.
Some weeks ago I started working on a new thing. It's really crazy. It's a conserved cellular mechanism where mitochondria release their own genetic material outside and they wreak havoc as if you were infected by a virus, but you are actually not. It's just your body going against yourself. And we still don't know why this is happening. Basically, we are all aware of these situations when we can work against ourselves, we read a lot about a mind-body connection, how this affects us on a physiological level. It is the most difficult to research on and we are still not there. And our bodies are very smart, so you never know if what you think it's working against you is actually working for you, also the other way around.
Do you see any connection between your day job and your now–halted night job? Is there any link between those two seemingly different interests? Or are they supposed to be in contrast to each other somehow?
I do and don't. So, the don't part is related to my escape. Something I need, when I find myself in the black hole of deep thinking. It was my salvage path. I would work till Friday afternoon and in some hours later would be in a club playing all night and forgetting everything. I appreciated those nights in a special sense. It wasn’t just a gig for me. It was an entrance into a completely different sphere where you feel reward immediately. The DJ-ing in that sense is pretty new for me. I used to work in a bar where I would serve nice drinks and be in charge of the music, but then it became more interesting at some point.
The part that is connecting is that I am constantly listening to music while working ( a lot of work is manual when you experiment, let's say meditative in a sense). I have my headphones on most of the time, so I even misheard a fire alarm once and I am half deaf.
Do you remember what track you were listening to when the alarm went off?
I have no idea, it was the day I just handed in my thesis, and I was preparing a photo exhibition, so I really ran the stairs as if it was the worst day to die. In the end, the fire was super small and located in a small area. But I like the drama I created.
You've mentioned that moment when playing music to people in a place became more interesting for you. Could you be more specific about these beginnings? Where and when had this happened?
It was last summer that Alex Tackenberg, a resident DJ of Acephale in Cologne asked me to take over one of his nights there since he had to be somewhere else. I need to emphasize that by that time, I never used a mixer nor CDJs but I said yes to the all-nighter. Haha.
So I asked my boyfriend who’s a musician and a DJ, to show me how to use them. We went to a Callshop Radio (where I now have my monthly show – Imponderabilia) and recorded a set together and he was actually showing me how to use the equipment. I figured I can deal with it, in any case, I feel selection was more important and I did have enough music for a first all-nighter.
So I asked Lucas to join me on that Thursday night, to feel more secure. And it went great! Literally, from that point, I played at parties at least 2-3 times per month. And most of the time in a duo with Lucas (Croon). Soon after, Salon des Amateurs in Düsseldorf was another home. Lucas was organising a lot of parties there and in the beginning, he would let me do warm-up sets before the main acts. That’s why I still feel the most comfortable in the 80-100 bpm range :))
We evolved as we were playing together, Lucas is a mastermind of mixing and transmitting good vibes and I was more of a nerd who digged for music while at work. But at some point playing together made us both better. People would usually hear us in Salon, or some places in Cologne, mostly Acephale. We played a lot of open-airs, also Berlin, Munich and my homeplace Belgrade
So now that the Salon and almost every other club in the world is closed, how has your relationship with music changed? Do you now spend even more time digging? Do you miss playing in a club? Have the bpm you're looking for changed?
In March when it all stopped I kinda felt blocked for some time. Somehow, I really stopped with everything. Like a hibernation. I spent a month in Dusseldorf and completely switched day for night. Lucas suggested we start making some music together, he has a very well equipped studio in the basement of his building. So even though I stopped digging and listening to music, I started learning about making it. I do have a very classical musical education, I used to play piano. But this world of making electronic music is pretty different. And I still have no clear idea about it. But we made 4-5 tracks together during the first months of lockdown, playing with different genres. Only one is released by now on some compilation. But it's the first one we made and the one we liked the least.
The digging thing came back quickly, especially when I started another monthly radio show for Retreat Radio from Malmö. I love radio shows. I have equipment at home and enjoy making mixes a lot. So far I always said yes when someone asked.
I do miss playing in clubs, I miss adrenaline, I miss coming up with new stuff and sharing them with people, but for me it was also just a start. Pretty intensive one and then it stopped suddenly. At one point it was too much partying, so I am also appreciating this break. But yes, I am looking forward to when everything will be back or at least in some way back. I can imagine that at some point people will be fed up with everything and partying will be a way of revolution.
It is very nice that you’ve been able to transform this new ‘free’ time into a creative energy with your partner. It seems you have a nurturing and supportive relationship! Have you lured him into your molecular-level interests as well?
Yes, that is wonderful! And a lot of fun too. I do like to share some popular science with Lucas or try to explain in a simple way what I do. And he tends to ask me about my things. I do like storytelling and also to discuss things with people of different interests. I think the rich times of renaissance is what we need back, where art, science and philosophy come closer again.
I agree that the party might be a very effective driving force for a revolution, the thing I am afraid of is that there might not be a very well articulated vision of the future, as is the case for party after hours :) Don't get me wrong, I know there is a lot of potential, it's just that it can easily end up being an energy expended for vague and fuzzy reasons.
Uff, I am very familiar with the topic of revolutions going wrong concerning where I come from.
Being a migrant myself, I am curious about your relationship with your country. Dealing with new environments, fitting in, is a particularly difficult thing, as well as finding your way back home. Why did you move to Germany?
I moved to Cologne at the end of 2013 for my doctoral studies, got a good scholarship and found a great mentor. As every new start, mine was also challenging. It was also my least favourite time to leave Belgrade, but the situation there was not allowing me to work in my field, since there is no funding for it. And I was not well off in the sense I could afford just living without working.
I did struggle mostly with the language, I still don't speak very fluently to be honest. And of course with a different mentality. I felt I was doing everything wrongly in the beginning, but with time I just accepted the fact that people here really feel obliged internally to point your mistakes out, and not just for your own sake. It's all good now, haha. I met amazing people here, but when I talk about the start where I only observed humans in a new place, I do admit I felt that people had different priorities here.
I still feel very connected with where I come from and have pretty tight bonds with my Yugos. Belgrade is such a special place with lovely and creative people, unexpected, spontaneous, dirty, impolite, broken, funny, resilient, seducing, tacky, with the worst politicians, rich in history, full of spirits, underground, manic-depressive... However, no other city in this world has such a big admiration and space in my heart.
How do you approach your two different radio shows, or other mixes when asked to do them? Is there a difference in your selection? Was there anything in particular you wanted to achieve with the mix for Endless Illusion?
Callshop Radio was really an experiment for me, because I was actually learning every time I played there. And it's also going live with video streaming. And my main genre was always dark, downtempo, idm style. Very rarely crossing 100 bpm. Before I started my ‘Deflections’ show on Retreat Radio, I already got myself some equipment at home, so all the mixes were made comfortably from my living room, where I decided to go a bit more energetic and fast, but then at some point I also went back to my safe zone. I grew up in Belgrade where I also went clubbing for the first time and I think I am very influenced by darker sounds, which are usually present in my sets.
I saw that one of my Callshop mixes was shared on Endless Illusion SoundCloud so when Láďa asked me about the mix, I figured I would keep the theme - or do what I usually do. Make a slow voice intro and then go into some slow trance, breaks, leftfield, idm and wherever it goes.
There has been a lot of discussion about the possible pros of the lockdown for the electronic music industry. Time for reconfiguration of things that need one is something I deemed good, but I am not sure if it's happening. Do you see any improvements being made? Do you think that in its core the scene will be different in any way once the pandemic is over?
I think that we are dealing with very challenging circumstances, especially musicians and other artists that really require the away-from-keyboard audience. But to look on a bright side, it's often once in a lifetime situation/period during which we also have the chance to stop and reconfigure in many directions. Some people don't work this way, I know. I was struggling myself for a couple of months to find a motivation for this slow-paced life. But yes, it really depends on a musician individually, if one is able to create without these external stimuli. I think it's a good chance to find a focus. You don't need to learn a new language, just use time to work on what you usually love to do and make it good.
I don't think that the scene will change significantly. Some people might find cooking or else more interesting in the meantime, some will work on some new projects, some will still create music. It's like always. And everybody will look forward to play in front of an audience again.
This was the very last party in the Salon before the lockdown. Even though it reopened at some point, there was a ‘Tanzverbot’, meaning any movement to the rhythm of music was forbidden.
The picture you’ve sent leads me to your photographic practice. I was checking your photos on your tumblr and instagram the other day, and I think you have a very observant eye and also, it seems, a soft spot for sculptures or sculpture-like objects among other things.
What is photography to you and why those sculptures?
Thank you. I have a very long relationship with photography, but things have changed for me in 2014 when I started shooting film only. When I moved to Cologne from Belgrade, I needed some time to get settled and adjust my Slavic desires to the new, pretty different environment, haha. I met a guy at a party and next time we met for coffee we decided to start a sharing space, which he used as a music studio and I had a dark room where I would do prints and experiment with my stuff. Literally another lab. I always needed creative deflection from my real work. That's also where the name for my Retreat Radio show originates.
I did travel a lot in the first years of being in Germany and used that time to shoot a lot. My main motives were people, everyday peculiarities and that series with statues has a special background. Hahaha. I was on a road trip in Italy with one of my best friends and we spent one night in a wonderful villa in the middle of nowhere, somewhere nearby Venice. Was a very good deal. Anyway, we did have some wine that night and we wanted to do some photo shooting. The villa had a beautiful yard, full with statues, most of them beheaded. So my friend steps out on one pedestal and starts posing for me, hugging an already beheaded statue. In the matter of seconds I saw trouble coming, the statue started falling down and everything was recorded on a video camera from the villa.
Next day we had a very long talk with Carabinieri and the manager and it was all like a B-side comedy or a hidden camera. I won't go for very long, but we found out that the statue was 300 years old and that we might have to pay 100k euro for the damage. The letter never came, it's been 2 years now, we hope they don't read this and get reminded. So, that's why we shoot some more statue photos, to keep the memory. I planned an exhibition named "Life and death of a statue", but it still hasn't happened.
Crime scene pics.
Wow, what a story. You have certainly captured a very rare moment of that statue. It is also kind of funny when you think about it. You have captured a very fleeting moment of a thing which is by nature very permanent, but is a freezed moment in a way as well. I always thought photography and sculpture have very much in common actually.
Why is it important for you to shoot analog? Are there any particular photographers you admire or follow their work?
I do like many different directions in photography, but what’s always catching my attention is street photography from earlier times, people, good portraits, spontaneous and not staged photography. Here I can mention people like Martin Parr, Lartigue, Willy Ronis, Raymond Depardon, Nan Goldin, Daido Moriyama, Ren Hang...
Shooting film is just different. From a psychological point of view, it makes you more limited, but opens you more in a way that you need to focus really and be in the moment. From an aesthetic point of view, digital will never replace chemical processes, even though the newest cameras have those analog profiles now, it’s still not the same. The various films, processes, for me it’s a special deal. You can add the grain in photoshop, but the chemical grain is still 100 steps above that. I also like to use cameras in a manual mode with not so many options. I think one can take good photos with good ideas and a curious eye, no matter if it’s film or digital. But it’s just a choice. As some people prefer playing vinyl only. It’s about the feel, it’s about holding a record, seeing it’s cover, having a collection or a physical feeling of something. It’s just a preference that is closer to yourself.
Marijana was interviewed by Jonáš Verešpej.
*The conversation took place on facebook messenger between 10:12 a.m. on Friday (Nov. 20) and 18:58 p.m. on Sunday (Nov. 22), 2020.
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