Raised in a tornado | A conversation with Julia Zastava

The Russian multimedia artist working with drawings, videos, installations and performances about her past, her art and herself. Julia Zastava’s solo show Wobbling Middle Age Elf Exhibition is to see at Galerie aKonzept from 6th June to 13th July 2019.

“Moscow was a tornado in the 90s”, Julia Zastava says. When she talks about her past, her art and herself, she sometimes seems a bit like her art works: comparable to a mysterious riddle. On the one hand, many details become visible, and on the other hand, open questions remain in people’s minds.

Born there in Moscow in November 1982, Julia Zastava studied ballet, finished it at 13, and became punk. That was 1995, right in the center of the tornado. It was those two really wild years for her after a very strict childhood, where she only was training, visiting conservatory for classical concerts, and reading.By 15 she already got all her punk experience and slowly started drawing. “A lot of erotic scenes, hmm …,” Julia remembers, “… and I thought maybe to go study animation, because there was no contemporary art school in Russia at that time, so all was very conservative. And then my grandma heard of this University, which was private and more pioneering than other schools. So at sixteen I entered it, but they closed the animation department in a year, so I had to switch to multimedia, movie director.”


Portrait of Julia Zastava, Courtesy the artist

At 23, right after Julia received her diploma from University, she had her first solo exhibition at the cultural center, DOM, in Moscow. She presented a series of drawings accompanied by a friend’s music. After that she continued working with drawings, videos and installations. In 2015 she was mentioned in DAZED magazine for being at the forefront of Moscow’s art scene.

“I never had censorship in my family”

Is such a talent based on family and background? In any case, this provides a solid basis for a free way of thinking and a special kind of perception. “I grew up around this collection of art that my great grandfather was gifted by his artist friends. My grandfather was a journalist and passionate photographer. He used to stage portraits of his wife and my mom in special scenes, mostly in the woods – amazing shots. My mom wanted me to become a ballet dancer, but by the time I turned 7, I wanted to be a pianist. She accepted it and rented me a piano. I taught myself how to play because there was no time for music school. Meanwhile, we watched a lot of horror movies. We watched like thousands on VHS with all this zombie crap and porn scenes – I never had censorship in my family.”


CRISPY, 42 x 30 cm, pencils, acryl, markers on cardboard, 2019

Julia left Moscow to continue her artistic journey. In 2012 she moved to Vienna where she studied at the Academy of Fine Arts, contextual painting department and got introduced to the performance scene. In summer 2018 after graduating, she moved again to live and work in Berlin, the city she loves. It is the first city on earth, she says, where she feels at home and curious.

To the question, what she as an artist is expecting from Berlin, she answers: “I expect Berlin to shape my language. I hope it will get more sharp, poky but generous.” The connection to the cities where she used to live earlier has eased. Times have changed. “I haven’t been back to Moscow in two years because of all of these waves of arrests. I still visit Vienna often, mostly because of my friends. I am not very inspired to work there.” But Julia’s next target, or rather dream, is not geographical. That runs itself, she adds. She hopes to find people in Berlin to create a performance or theater company to stage their own pieces.

“All of my art practice is more a sort of channeling”

Despite the numerous comic and cartoon quotes in her artworks, and that her current practice is often attached to keywords for processes of transitions, questions of narration, ideas of the uncanny, or of trauma, sexuality and magic, Julia opposes being put in the “Alice in Wonderland” corner: Rather, she cites Richard Brautigan, an American author considered one of the main representatives of the American West Coast underground of the 1960s and 1970s as a major source of inspiration. “I am into outsider art, poetry, music, all transcendental experiences and social stories. Discovering myself or rather expanding my consciousness is a continuous trip without taboos. I do a lot of different practices. But these practices are more a sort of channeling than an act of self discovery.”


No title, 42 x 30 cm, pencils, watercolor, acryl, phosphorescent paint on cardboard, 2019

Through her artworks, Julia aims to critique that which we don’t really know or desire to know, but we just agree to believe, mainly related to thoughts around existence. While searching for inspiration and creating her works she usually reads a lot and goes to concerts – preferably techno or rave parties. “I think really well when I can dance for hours. Plus it helps that I work with different media – drawings, videos, performance – a good switch not to get bored.”


IN A TRANCE OF DEEP BOREDOM, 42 x 30 cm, pencils on cardboard, 2019

After finishing an artwork, Julia is not bound to it. She has no problems letting her works go. It is actually to the contrary: “I love when my artworks are gone. I never think about who is buying and doing what with it, to tell the truth. I am happy for empty space, not even only physical, but also contextual. I work very rapidly and am happy to sell it to make room for new work.”

“I am happy for an empty space not even only physical, but also contextual”

What remains is a mystery in some parts. And the artist is not eager to present solutions to the public, the viewers of her artworks. Julia Zastava’s aim is to evoke her most beloved topics in the mind of the spectators: misrepresentations, deformations and contortions. Any advice that Julia would give to the artlovers on how to deal with the disappointment of not receiving suggestions of solutions to their irritations? “I think it’s more about positioning zones of pleasure. I am not getting irritated if there is no suggestion for a solution. For me, the puzzle in itself is mesmerizing. That’s maybe a difference between Russians and Germans, where A does not necessarily lead to B, but instead leads to a lot of detours and passages. Exactly that’s what interests me.”

Text by Stephanie Schneider, M.A.

Julia Zastava
Wobbling Middle Age Elf Exhibition

Galerie aKonzept
Schröderstraße 7
10115 Berlin-Mitte


Opening 6 June 2019, Exhibition period 6 June – 4 July 2019 | Wed – Fri 3 – 6 pm, Sat 2 – 7 pm

This post is also available in: English

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