London-based Serbian photographer Vasso Vu thrives in the land of in-betweens. Queerness and patriotism, feathers and bladesall meet his distinct worlds that generate not merely an aesthetic encounter, but a reactive message with socio-political potential. His raw visual realities resemble uncanny fairy tales, in which genderless creatures play a game of nightmarish sensuality. Obsessed with mythological half-human/half-animal beings, Vu also explores our ambivalent relationship with other species, goats in particular—“they’re either considered a symbol of purity and vitality or of the devil,” he says. “Kate Bush making donkey noises in Get Out Of My House is also very much a mood.” Combined with Vu’s sharp attention to detail and his distinctive palette, once inside his cosmic universe, there’s hardly a way out. Come in.
Has photography always been a path you wished to follow?
I initially wanted to be a pop star! When I realized there’s a very slim chance of that happening however, I decided to focus on photography and video. I was always painting, so it was kind of just a natural progression I guess.
As a Bulgarian living abroad, I’ve had my fair share of reflection on my Balkan roots. As a Serbian in London, can you relate?
Oh, absolutely! Up until I moved to London, I hadn’t ever really thought about cultural differences between Eastern Europe and Western Europe. I always thought we’re all sort of similar considering we’re all influenced by Western culture to a certain degree. The transition from Serbia to the UK really showed me how much I’m influenced by my roots—both personally and as an artist. Right now, my Spotify is full of, like, Balkan folk music and Byzantine chants. And Madonna.
Where does Eastern European culture stand for you right now, both personally and professionally?
I think I’m in a very contradictory situation. On the one hand, I’m very much in love and influenced by Balkan culture. On the other, however, I’m a queer artist, which I feel is in itself a very rebellious act in Eastern European countries. It has been a struggle to learn how to love and appreciate my country’s culture whilst being rejected by its socio-political system.
Speaking of Europe, what’s up with the EU flag on your genitalia?
I’ve always thought it was a twisted joke that I moved from a country that has spent years and years trying to get into the EU to a country that’s trying to get out of it. Politically engaged art, even though it can be biased, can really stir the pot sometimes. I’ve developed a feeling of obligation for my work to not only serve as a visual experience, but to also have a message or generate a reaction. The EU flag reference is inspired by one of my favorite Balkan artists, Tanja Ostojic, and her iconic piece Untitled / After Courbet, L´origine du monde. She’s the perfect example of how the artist’s body can be used as a weapon against ignorance and, since I do a lot of body modification in my work, I find her endlessly inspiring. Sex will always be an effective catalyst for shock. I recommend you all check out her Looking for a Husband with EU Passport and Personal Space works as well.
There’s also tons of recurring religious motifs throughout your work and social platform accounts.
Although always allowed to have my own beliefs, I was raised very Orthodox. The Orthodox Church has a lot of influence on Serbian society and its people’s value systems. It’s sort of knitted into people’s perceptions of morality and it’s a big reason why they reject queerness so violently too. It was always a big part of my life and most of my family members are quite religious; my great aunt spent the last decade of her life as a nun in a monastery, for instance. Even though the Church’s social and political stance is quite questionable—which I believe is the case with any institutionalized religion—the culture in itself is beautiful. It’s always difficult for me to listen to a church choir and not cry.
Which prompts me to ask you whether opposing emotions and forces play a role in your creative process? I definitely see a conversation between darkness and light in your work.
I’d say opposing forces play the most important role in my work. Me being at an intersection between a queer and a patriot and my non-binary view of the world is what, I think, influences my work the most. I always try to approach grotesqueness with softness, and also, darkness is quite sexy in my opinion!
And what’s up with you, goats and aliens? You seem to take interest in the oppositional yet harmonious depiction of animals alongside otherworldly characters.
Our relationship with animals is so contradictory! We keep them as pets, empathize with them and give them human traits but also fear them, eat their flesh and wear their skin. I’m very much against speciesism and consider all beings equal. Goats have a really broad and deep symbolical meaning in religion. They’re either considered a symbol of purity and vitality, or the devil. A lot of the trans-species characters I portray in my work come from mythology and I’m really obsessed with half-human/half-animal creations. Kate Bush making donkey noises in Get Out Of My House is also very much a mood.
All these creatures seem to inhabit the distinct ‘world within an image’ that your work builds. Does your intuition guide you when you create those worlds or do you plan out everything consciously?
As cringey as it may sound, I see inspiration as this divine thing, so I’d definitely say intuition has a lot to do with it. Although, I have learned to read up on what I’m portraying to understand my references and my work more. A lot of anime and mythology, for instance! I do kind of imagine that all of the characters I create come from the same world—like a gothic Pokémon region or something.