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20.09.2021

Shapeshifters in Seestadt

Julia Zastava is always full of surprises. She was born in Moscow in 1982, learnt ballet, lived as a punk, studied art and moved to Vienna. And in her drawings, performances, installations and videos we also encounter figures that are hard to define.

Are they people, animals or something completely different? “I’m interested in the hybrid, the expansion of reality,” says the artist, who has recently moved into her studio in Seestadt.

Julia Zastava
Photo: XFyona

A cute bundle of fur lies on the floor of a gallery. One feels an urge to cuddle it. But the roly-poly object is also somehow spooky. Julia Zastava’s art is often called surreal, visitors are fascinated yet also irritated by this alien world that escapes explanation. Strange, eccentric beings seem to change shape, her works are populated by hybrid creatures that are part-human, part-animal. Like shapeshifters in sci-fi films they alter their appearance, their sexuality and their form.

We are complex and unfathomable

Zastava’s aim is to expand reality, but also to challenge our intellectual desire to immediately bring everything under control. She creates worlds that are magical, yet unfathomable. “I believe that we’re more complex than we act in public. I’m fascinated by secret desires,” says Zastava. She started ballet classes at five, was sent to an exclusive school in Moscow and seriously considered becoming a dancer before the school eventually closed down. To the horror of her parents she became a punk, ran around barefoot and even spent some time living on the street.

Photo: Alexi Pelekanos

Photo: Alexi Pelekanos

Dracula in the window

At 15, she decided to apply to university to study art. She recalls that, at the time, she was producing countless erotic drawings without really understanding exactly what she was doing. “My figures are outsiders, they fight against norms, also because I feel that capitalism somehow forces us all to be the same. And yet there’s so much more to try and to discover.”

She became interested in video and, then, sound and performance. “One merges into the next, I don’t want to specialise.” This led to music albums, Zastava performed in the Tanzquartier and, most recently, has been working on a series of drawings entitled Dracula at the Window_extra+.

Photo: Alexi Pelekanos

Table tennis and swimming

And how did she end up in Vienna? “When I drove through I thought to myself that the landscape was lovely.” A typical Zastava answer. But it seems to have been the right decision. She feels good here. She studied contextual painting with Ashley Hans Scheirl and also lived for a time in Berlin. A month or so ago she moved into a studio in Seestadt. “It’s fantastic having so much room. The ideal practice space for my performances. And my keyboard feels great too,” she adds enthusiastically. “There’s a table tennis table really close by. And the lake makes it feel like we’re all on holiday.”

Julia Zastava's favourite places in Vienna:

  • The table tennis court around Beethovenplatz in 1010 - I'm crazy about ping pong.
  • Brigittenauer Brücke - I love the view when I go home after swimming.
  • My studio in Seestadt - the ideal place to lose the sense of time and space and totally throw myself into my work.