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The Sheffield culture guide written by in-the-know locals

Maja Mihajlovic

That Maja Mihajlovic's work does not quite fit in with any received, formal notion of contemporary art is a pointed hangover from the artist's early days feeling like an outsider in a strange land. Maja was born in France and came to live in England at the age of eight. Her heritage is half-Serbian, half-English, and that most definitely informs her creative practice, which is politicised but highly playful. It is informed by not quite belonging, and cleverly reflects that discomfort. The website for Maja's major collaborative project Take Me To Your Leader is a sensory assault that deliberately harangues its audience, borne of an understandable post-Brexit fury. Collaboration, and devising strategies for it, are key to Maja’s practice.

Maja’s latest work, titled Tweety Pie, is a more subtle yet equally rich exploration of what it might mean to exist in a world in which we are bombarded with a bewildering amount of information and noise. The piece is built around a layered soundscape in which Maja combines any number of recordings including, intriguingly, imitating birdsong.

Update: During lockdown, Maja has released a video of the Tweety Pie project, showing these sounds being played out into the world through a bright yellow adapted gramophone, set up in various locations – everywhere from a supermarket aisle to moorland, a car park to a cave. There is something quite moving about watching this curious looking thing, standing alone and calling out into empty landscapes that will be familiar to many of us in Sheffield and the Peak District, at a time when the outside world is so much quieter than usual. Read more about the project and scroll down for the video (best heard through decent headphones or speakers!)

How would you describe your work?
My work is a thought-process, always changing, so it’s hard to define. It has tended so far to be colour-saturated multimedia sculptural assemblage, with video and sound. I am increasingly interested in sound in relation to the physical world; in all its aspects, actually. It’s become increasingly important for me to use my work to somehow resist and oppose unjust and oppressive systems, actions and ideas; it’s a channel for my distress at the state of things, but also a way to make a space, if possible, for something lighter and truer, something more like joy. My work is a struggle – in various ways.

Tweety Pie

How do you choose the themes you work with?
I don’t. Ideas come with work, and action. They come when I put time into processing my thoughts and feelings using various approaches, including drawing, playing with materials, trying out ideas in audio-visual form, editing those, reading, talking, walking. The closer my ideas are to an urge, or emotion, and the more it makes me smile – or better still, laugh – the more committed I feel to making something and putting it out there.

What's your workspace like?
I am very lucky to share a great studio with my close friend and inspirational fellow artist Lea Torp Nielsen. It’s a melting pot of our ideas and practice – there’s a large work table, shelves for all our stuff, a computer desk and of course the kettle corner and comfy chairs.

What, who or where should be better known in Sheffield?
Regather Works and the Real Junk Food Project [now Food Works Sheffield] – or maybe they already are?

What would you change about the city?
I’m afraid to cycle in Sheffield, so I’d pedestrianise and bike-path the whole city centre within the ring road, and make a massive underground car park and delivery system. I’d make safe and clean bike routes and footpaths from all the suburbs to the centre and to the surrounding countryside. And I’d insist more of the empty buildings were made available and habitable – with daytime access – to homeless people, rather than letting them stand empty for years. All good things can come from that.

This profile is part of a series on artists funded by Making Ways, a programme supported by Sheffield Culture Consortium through Arts Council England to showcase, celebrate and develop the exceptional contemporary visual art produced in the city.

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