Ivan Vladislavić interviewed by Katie Kitamura for Bomb
I am fascinated by how the political system gets reflected in the physical space and how the space, in turn, shapes the kinds of social relations that are possible. These concerns are central to Portrait with Keys. In the transition period, when South Africa began to change rapidly, it was very hard to understand the big processes and to see exactly what was happening. You knew that there had been a huge shift in the political order, that a new dispensation had been negotiated and so on. But what effect it would actually have on the society was difficult to gauge, because you could not easily grasp those big abstract processes. For me, a way of understanding what was happening was to look quite closely at the immediate surroundings. It seemed to me that you could understand large, complex processes by looking at what was going on in your neighborhood. So that was when I began to document things—Portrait with Keys is a sort of documentary fiction, or documentary nonfiction. Documentary something or other. Let's say I began to document, in a more conscious way, these small shifts in the environment as a way of trying to understand how the society was changing.