Artist Borjana Ventzislavova is, in a sense, her own subject. Raised in Sophia, and reestablished in Vienna, she is a woman of many worlds, who has made a study of intercultural life and turned it into art.
Arriving in Vienna first as a child, visiting her aunt during the summer holidays to practice her German. “I never wanted to come and live in Vienna, but all paths were leading me here,” she told us. “In the mid ’90s, Sofia was in such chaos, and I was so curious. So there was only one move I could make – abroad.”
After studying Informatics in Sofia, she came to Vienna in 1996, at age 20. Here she discovered Media Art, with Peter Weiberl at the Universität für Angewandte Kunst. She was struck by the different style of education and the more open relations between students, and the students and professors. Here, at an art school, it was much more informal, not the same hierarchy.
But even though she came from a German-speaking high school in Sofia, she had some problems understanding at first, because of the dialect. “Very often I interrupted the professors and asked them to switch to “Hochdeutsch” (standard German), but they couldn’t. They simply can’t do it.” Or perhaps they didn’t think they needed to; But she needed, and felt entitled, to understand. Now years later, she enjoys the dialect and uses it herself.
Following her graduation from the Angewandte, she worked in film/video, installation, photography, and in performative and media art, focusing on the impact of political and social power structures.
“My works deal with identity and mobility, and how individuals can be marginalized,” she said. She looks at different social groups, at migration and cohabitation, and the everyday connections that result.
In one of her most provocative videos – “I deal, you deal, we all deal for the nEU new deal”, she took original video recordings of speeches by well-known politicians, but deep-faked the sound track, creating an “as if” form of public confessions for political missteps. So in the video you can see Sebastian Kurz appearing to apologize for encouraging “stupid nationalism, which claims that a Schnitzel is more authentic than a spring roll,” and promoting a sort of post imperialism at the expense of migrants and refugees.
In this era of the so-called “dark web,” Ventzislavova is using Fake News as a tool to play on the desire of many to see certain politicians being more honest with the public. This is not without risk, and without clear labeling, there is always a danger it could be misused, or even libelous. This is also work that resonates in the air, and opens public discussion.
Her current solo show at the (Bank Austria) Kunstforum Wien is on re-thinking nature, continuing through May 2, as well as a public art project, “In this together,” in St. Pölten though the end of the year.
Today, Ventzislavova see herself as international, someone who carries her “homes” within her. Still, the pull of her real homes is strong, and however much she travels, she always looks forward to coming back to her family and friends in Sofia and Vienna.