cflow journal - issue 2013-2

Creative Assemblages – When aesthetics meet the economy or what do they have in Common?

Borjana Ventzislavova

American Dream Acting

2-channel video, 60 min looped, 2012.

Pierre Koenig’s house, the famous Case Study House #22 in Hollywood – site of countless photo shoots and film sets – is considered the epitome of California “cool” thanks not least to Julius Shulman’s 1960 photographs. In Borjana Ventzislavova’s video American Dream Acting the house serves as a playground of another kind: a stage set for actresses and actors who are meant to feel at home for the span of a single day. We quickly recognize, however, that this is not the case.

In five episodes, each dedicated to a character – Monika, Rossen, Michael, Srinivasa, and Kristine – American Dream Acting deals with the dream of acting in Hollywood / Los Angeles as a story of migration, assimilation, and alienation in the course of a single day. The actors, however, play themselves in “real life”, while this is deliberately unmasked as a facet of a performance, a pure construct. Nevertheless, “the real must be fictionalized in order to be thought.” (Jacques Rancière) This process of fictionalization progresses fluidly, not in one direction, but constantly alternating between documentary and fiction. The ambiguity of the drama is literally inscribed in the image, with the split-screen showing the protagonists from two slightly different angles, alternating between close-up and mid-range shots. While they narrate in one half, the other manifests the artist’s interest in the person, their facial expressions, gestures, and behavior in and toward space. The camera functions as an agent in search of potential, a spontaneous expression of feeling, naturalness, that these stories of uprooting and the dream of the ideal good life render authentically and empathetically comprehensible.

For Ventzislavova, it’s about this longing, which is inseparably linked to the preservation of an illusion, of the American dream. But she ventures even further, asking what happens between fantasy and real life, and why. Where do collective imagination, wishful thinking, different life plans, and technologies clash with the self? One of these points of intersection is the struggle for a visa and a work permit, whose necessity disrupts the dream sooner or later. Great cunning is required, or one of three options that Michael lists off: “Win the lottery, be exceptional at something, or get married.” Either live and work illegally, or go back to your homeland. “You’ve got to remember the original idea,” says Rossen, who studied directing years ago at the Film Academy in Sofia. But in a city that easily forgets or “has a false memory” (Norman Klein), what does that mean?

Text: Claudia Slaner (excerpt from her essay “Living and Acting in L.A.: The Fictional Documentaries of Borjana Ventzislavova,” in: bäckerstrasse4 – plattform für junge kunst (eds.), Borjana Ventzislavova / Case Study, edition dispositiv, Vienna, 2012. The title of the essay refers to William Friedkin’s Film To Live and Die in L.A., USA, 1985.)