Borjana Ventzislavova. When the Child Was a Child
Borjana Ventzislavova’s work is full of references and allusions. Reminiscences of a personal past, but also traces of recollections of a collective memory fed by myths as well as popular culture. The connections the artist draws between her personal experiences and societal developments, between past and present, might also be referred to as networks. These analogical conclusions, which follow not the rules of logic but rather free association, and which also characterize her exhibition WAHKOHTOWIN – Water walk with us in Bildraum 07, represent the opposite of the digital networks of a hypermodern life.
The term wahkohtowin comes from the language of the people of the North American Cree Nation and means, as the artist paraphrases in her show, “everything is related.” It stands for circular systems and exchange processes, for interconnectivity in relationships and natural communities. It also stands for the connection between the part and the whole and for the contingency of life.
There were primarily two biographical experiences in Ventzislavova’s life that were relevant for the exhibition: on the one hand the memories of her teenage years in Bulgaria, marked by the period of upheaval in the former Communist countries; and on the other hand her triggering experiences that were suddenly sparked during an artist residency in Banff (Canada) by various impressions of natural landscapes such as a forest or by signs warning of wild animals: “Be Bear aware”. Ventzislavova was born in 1976 in Sofia and experienced the fall of the Iron Curtain and with it the loss of an idyllic world, which she also alludes to in her neon piece When the child was a child. The work is based on a line by Peter Handke from Wim Wenders’ film Wings of Desire, and in the remembrance of the innocence of the child it also masks a genuine crisis. In the countries referred to by writer Boris Buden as a “Zone of Transition” various political systems and worldviews clashed in the period following 1989. . Uncertainty and uprootedness spread throughout the population. The familiar became sinister, referred to in German as unheimlich. The German term heimlich, meaning “cozy” or “homey,” is etymologically derived from Heim (home), and unheimlich means an alienation from home. When Ventzislavova moved to Vienna in 1996 to study with Peter Weibel at the University for Applied Arts, the alienation from the familiar, from her homeland, manifested itself in reality as well.
The cross-disciplinary approach that the artist pursued during her studies later led to a concentration on photography, installations, moving-image media, text and sound. The artist assembles numerous objets trouvés from Banff – such as a glove, a bear bell, a recording device, an ear and a cigarette butt – within an installative setting, placing the relics from her stay in Canada directly on the wall, displaying them as assemblages in box frames or on consecutively numbered photographs. The latter manner of presentation is reminiscent of the preservation of evidence related to a crime. This touches on another of the exhibition’s anchor points: the American TV show Twin Peaks, created by David Lynch und Mark Frost. This series, broadcast in prime time in Bulgaria at the beginning of the 1990s, blended together the genres of crime drama, mystery and horror film, drawing on elements of soap opera as well. While investigating a murder case, FBI agents stumble upon a maze of sex, drugs, lies and violence concealed behind the idyllic facade of the small town of Twin Peaks. Especially in the series’ second season, supernatural, fantastical elements become increasingly prominent. In her works, the artist juxtaposes the atmosphere of the forest in Banff and the menacing impressions of nature with the surrealistic and ambiguous moods in Twin Peaks.
The landscape as a place of mythological projection is also a theme in Ventzislavova’s film Wahkohtowin, whose scenes are all set near watering places. Like the idea of wahkohtowin, water connects everything. The water leads back to human origins, to the time before birth. As depicted in the film, nature is largely free of civilizing interventions and represents a residual space in which the individual, possibly isolated persons look after themselves. The leitmotiv of jumping rope as a cathartic act contains a ritualization of the story, which implies a cyclical worldview. The protagonists, shrouded in red garments and jumping rope in front of various natural backdrops, stage the dynamic of the trauma and give the wound, the eternal return of what is suppressed, a symbolic visibility. The color red runs through both the film and the exhibition as a recurring theme, culminating in the wallpaper with a red curtain and linking the projection with the real space.
Borjana Ventzislavova’s artistic practice, which in its presentation mixes reality, recollections, fiction and film memory and creates chains of association like in a stream of consciousness, could be likened to the weaving of a net. The film Wahkohtowin concludes with a jingle dress dance by a local female inhabitant in traditional regalia. Surrealism and mysticism, exorcisms and rites, the religious and parareligious practices of indigenous peoples, who are currently gaining an increasing degree of prominence in art, represent an indirect criticism of a rational and mechanistic worldview. This oeuvre consists of more than criticism, however; through the experience of a “child of communism” a personal mythology emerges, one that places the individual within a social field of tension and utilizes art as a strategy for sublimation.