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We Shall Overswim | ISIS Arts
We Shall Overswim

We Shall Overswim

We Shall Overswim by Borjana Ventzislavova, was commissioned by ISIS and produced as part of our At Home in Europe project.

During her three month residency at ISIS Arts, Borjana developed We Shall Overswim based on collected stories from people with different national backgrounds and social status living in the North East. Some of them moved for political, economic, religious, or educational reasons, some for love or family.

This multi-channel video installation, identifies different aspects of migration and brings together contemporary nomadic concepts of being 'at home'. It premiered at Berwick Film and Media arts Festival, Berwick upon Tweed, 2008 and has since gone onto be exhibited all over Europe.

We Shall Overswim alludes to the 1960s American protest anthem, We Shall Overcome.

15 screens are dotted around the space each showing headshots of men or woman who appear to be treading water, they are all speaking in different languages, telling a story, each screen with headphones which translates the story into English.

On one screen a woman talks in Spanish recounting the 'adventures' of a 22-year-old woman from Ethiopia who tried to escape political repression in her country. Living in Spain has come with a high price - she lost her husband and her family were tormented by the authorities back in Ethiopia, despite this the woman tells of how wonderful her new home country is, a place where one can freely voice opinion.

A Spanish woman telling the story of the Ethiopian refugee who has accepted Spain as her new home, is moving and shows an element of solidarity between all the migrants in the film who despite there varying reasons for migration still share something in common.

This pattern continues with stories of others being told in French, Swedish, Russian, Polish, Dutch and Italian.

Excerpt from essay on We Shall Overswim by Bernadette Buckley

"The 'migrants' and 'refugees' who populate Ventzislavova's work are complex constructions. They do not tell their 'own' stories, but instead they give us (in any one of a number of European languages) the story of some other 'migrant'. All the complex and irreducible experiences of their lives are thus churned up together. They are literally and metaphorically - translated. And yet they continue to exist somewhere in the (untranslatable) process of to-ing and fro-ing between one place and another, or between one voice and another.

Questions of identity are always posed in relation to space. The dynamics of our movement in space our ability to move, says more about who we are, than words like 'Bulgarian', 'Norwegian', 'Lativian' or even 'European'. The participants/protagonists in Ventzislavova's work have to keep moving to stay afloat. Quite literally, they have to do something to keep their heads above water. Lit only by spotlight, they bob up and down in a weirdly abstract space, surrounded by dark watery sounds. You could say that because of this setting, because of this condition, they are forced into perpetual movement. Alternatively, you could say they they have been activated by the very water that they tread.

Questions of identity are interwoven in time as well as in space.. Ventzislavova's protagonists have several parallel lives/roles to play. They are migrants and storytellers and actors and characters in their own and in someone else's story. Their identities, their lives are not knowable. Or at least, they are only knowable in the passage between telling/told/being/becoming. Their lives float between 'here' and 'somewhere else' - between 'now' and 'then' and 'what might be'. Identity - European or otherwise - is what emerges from this process. It's the remainder between becoming and disappearing. Ultimately, what Ventzislavova's work evokes is not identity per se, but the interconnectedness of different identities - the crossover between different narrative times and spaces - perhaps what Homi K Bhabha called the "insurmountable agonism of the living" (1990:302)."


Borjana Ventzislavova, (b.1976, Sofia, BG), currently based in Sofia and Vienna; graduated visual media art / digital art at the University for applied arts Vienna (by Peter Weibel, Karl Dudesek, Thomas F├╝rstner).

Working in the fields of photography, film/ video, installation, and new media she deals with issues such as identity and marginalization of individuals, as well as different social groups, migration and cohabitation. In the broader sense, the everyday connections and

social relations play a central role in her work. She realized series of collaborative projects together with dezentrale medien and nebudu group. Her works have been exhibited internationally in solo and group shows as well as at media art and film festivals.

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