We visit Viviana Druga in her home, a medley maze of wonders, on a sunny September Saturday. Situated on Torstraße, the crux of acknowledged Mitte nouveau riche, a dark and expressive apartment inhabited by an ebullient performance artist, was the last thing we expected to find in this hood.
Viviana knew from the first time she visited her sister in Berlin, that she needed to live here, in this exact apartment. She says the place found here and not the other way around. It was a feeling, a premonition — and it’s now hers.
Her working and living room is filled with relics and her own art. There are gold striped walls, defunct theatre lettering forming the word DISCOTHEK, a disco ball and a wall mural — all remnants from previous tenants that she has kept as traces of the past.
Conversation started flowing from the moment we entered the hallway staircase and her voice guided us up to her door, welcoming us with stories about renovations, her roommates, and herself. We ask Viviana if she has thought about which objects she wanted to show us today. She responds that she wanted to be spontaneous and choose them as we went along.
Her first choice falls on a Romanian shaman mask that she found at a museum in Bucharest three years ago. Originally used in spring rituals to encourage the fertility of the land, this naively fabricated, hand stitched sheep skin mask, with dried white beans as teeth, has been featured in several of Viviana’s performances and is now adorning the door frame into her beloved space.
I have different feelings about it depending on the day, but I think it’s a nice object. First of all, it’s made from an animal. I don’t eat animals, but I can understand the use of an animal and the power it has. I’ve also got another one. It’s not as authentic. It’s funnier and machine-made. It doesn’t have the same personality. I think it’s nice to see the evolution of these masks and how far removed they have gotten from the real authenticity. From the first guy who made one, thinking, “I have this connection with another world and I can bring this to the community through this mask”. And that’s pure. He has a good vibe.
When we ask if she has ever attempted to make her own masks, Viviana laughs wholeheartedly and shows us her version of a shaman mask made from foam, fabric and long blue ‘hair’.
I destroyed it for a photo shoot because I needed the back part of it. It had a really long beard that covered the whole body so I could be naked. [more laughter]
We know nothing of shamanic masks, so we wonder what it takes, or if there are certain features a shaman mask needs to have in order to be categorized as such.
I don’t know, I just did it intuitively. But I think they are quite masculine. They have these very phallic noses.
I have different feelings about it depending on the day, but I think it’s a nice object. First of all, it’s made from an animal. I don’t eat animals, but I can understand the use of an animal and the power it has.
In order to change you have to let go of something else. Sometimes these experiences make you feel like you’re losing your ground but they’re necessary, because without them you can’t gain anything new.
Transformations of a Young Girl
We move to a photograph of a young girl submerged in black water, with only half her profile floating above the surface. It’s a photograph I made part of a series called Transformations of a Young Girl. The series took form at a time when I started to play with the idea that art is magic. That everything I do in the studio, regardless of the medium I use, can reflect in reality. The person I use as my subject can experience something that is beyond the sterile idea of art.
At that point I was moving away from over-conceptualizing things. The girl was coming to my house once a week, during which time she would do whatever she wanted and I would follow her around and photograph it. The idea sparked when I met her randomly. She was twenty and really, really sad. She didn’t know why, but wanted to find out and do something about it. This is the key image of the series from when she decided to color her hair black from blonde. It is sort of a death/rebirth photo, where she wakes up as someone else. It’s very special for me because it can be applied to moments in your life when you need to transform, but in order to change you have to let go of something else. Sometimes these experiences make you feel like you’re losing your ground but they’re necessary, because without them you can’t gain anything new. I have gone through this a few times myself, and it’s pretty hard core! [laughter]
(The project was a collaboration with costume- and set designer, Rose Bertin)
Continuing on the topic of transformation, Viviana goes onto showing us a faded passport photo of a young woman, next to a sheet of photos of herself. She tells us that the old photo is of her mother.
In the last years I’ve been studying how I change. The photo of me was taken when I moved into this place. The one of my mother when she was around 30, around 1975. It is very special to me. It’s a different person, but in a way it’s also me. I get a little … pheeeew… when I look at this photo… because she doesn’t live anymore. To see all these things, features and qualities, from this person that doesn’t exist any longer, materialize in you. It’s crazy!
She was a fantastic woman with such incredible vision. But I didn’t realize this when I was a child, and I rejected everything connected to the metaphysical. I was afraid of it because I was seeing things. But now it all makes sense.
Picking out a frilly burgundy dress that once belonged to her mom, she holds it up and swooshes it in front of her body whilst keeping her stare locked on it. This was my mother’s. She had a lot of stuff like this. She would wear red high heels with this dress, and fake leopard. I was in awe! My mom inspired the art that I do. She used to paint when she was younger, it was a hidden dream she didn’t pursue because she didn’t have time. She became the director of a bank — by accident, and had to let go of her artistic expression.
To see all these things, features and qualities, from this person that doesn’t exist any longer, materialize in you. It’s crazy!
Getting a book from a dark corner in her room, she holds it preciously in her hands. I have been reading this book. It’s pretty special. It’s one that really inspired my artistic development. I was with Brandon (her boyfriend) at O Tennenbaum (bar in Neukölln) and we were talking this musician and artist. He told me I had to get this book read it, so I went home and immediately ordered it online, and this was 2 years ago. I’ve been reading ever since — I never stop reading it. It’s about Alejandro Jodorowski’s psychologic therapy and how he uses art as healing, and how you can transform yourself through it. It all made sense because I was just starting my new series and everything came together. I will never go anywhere without this book!
I rejected everything connected to the metaphysical. I was afraid of it because I was seeing things. But now it all makes sense.
[Pausing reflectively for a few seconds]
The last item I wanted to show you, I don’t have in my possession anymore. I found it when I was traveling from Marrakech to Merzuga. The trip was ten hours by Jeep and we stopped in the Atlas mountains, and there it was, this white elongated crystal. I did a performance with it in the desert, me and two other friends. It was in April after a crazy transformative winter when I went into the desert to cleanse myself and get away from everything. This crystal is very special to me, and it’s very strong. I used it in another performance at the Mindpirates that involved a car, and I left it there where I thought I couldn’t lose it, but then I completely forgot about it. Maybe it was meant to leave me at that time? Now the crystal is gone, locked in a garage and I can’t get to it. [haha]
Before we leave, Viviana gives us a cue into her latest project; tarot cards which she has re-appropriated into photographic montages. Being exhibited in November, they have not yet been released and are super-secret. She lets us each pick one, in turn, to preview on her laptop screen, while the others keep their backs to the screen, leaving much more to be desired, and our minds filled with wonderment for the future of the magical being that is Viviana Druga.
Photos by Rita Braz of Analogue Stories.
Viviana Druga is a Berlin-based artist who uses performance and photography as her main forms of expression. She was born in Transylvania/Romania and until the age of 12, would spend all summers in the mountains, playing with her sister by the river – where her first little landscape installations happened. Before she left Romania in 2008 she was predominantly interested in the social side of art, performing activist art actions in Bucharest such as infiltrating the international biennial, photographing herself with the president on the street while being dressed like a guerrilla, and convincing people to pose in their swimsuits in winter at a busy intersection where an off-limits park had been constructed. Since she moved to Berlin, she has been investigating the personal, poetic side of performing, the new dimensions of reality and capturing that reality through photography – using art as a magical activity that can help the subject / audience discover new dimensions of oneself.
In her newest project 22 +1, Viviana explores her passion for staged photographs through a recreation of the Tarot of Marseille. Along with fashion and costume designer Tata Christiane (http://www.tatachristiane.com) she has transformed the designs of the 22 Tarot cards into stunning images using real people. These will be shown, accompanied by a performance, at the Kunsthaus Somos, Berlin-Neukölln (Kottbuser Damm 95, 10976 Berlin)
Viviana in a performance, wearing an agate necklace signifying her immense love for partner Brandon.