We talk to the creative about fantasy, human biology becoming obsolete, and his dream to direct a space opera with Grimes starring Kim Kardashian
From digital artists to photographers, body sculptors and hair stylists to make-up and nail artists, in our Spotlight series, we profile the creatives tearing up the rulebook in their respective industries.
“Transforming the human body and pushing the limits of its form has always been super fascinating to me,” says photographer Vasso Vu on the impulse that drives him to create the otherworldly, genderless creatures that populate his heightened universe. Dreamlike, and at times nightmarish, his work combines elements of sci-fi and the alien with inspiration drawn from his readings of trans-speciesism and Slavic folklore to create a world that is compelling in its strangeness and unsettling in its sensuality.
Growing up in a small town in Serbia, rumoured to be home to the largest number of cults in Eastern Europe, Vu started photographing when he was a teenager and his passion grew from there. Now based in London, he has shot a wide-ranging roster of artists from Marina Abramović to Munroe Bergdorf, although it is the musicians like Brooke Candy that he feels particularly drawn to – a result of his chromesthesia.
An escape from reality, Vu’s work is particularly resonant in our troubled times when a yearning towards fantasy overtakes our collective imaginations. “Living in this time where climate change, diseases, and socio-political issues are destroying the world is making humans gravitate more and more towards fantasy and abstraction,” he says. “Think of tween girls fangirling over TikTok boys with neon hair and painted bruises on their faces. There’s something really futuristic about that!”
Here we chat to Vu about how he perceives beauty, biology becoming obsolete, and his dream to direct a space opera with Grimes starring Kim Kardashian.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself and where you grew up? How has your background shaped who you are as a person?
Vasso Vu: My name is Vasso and I am a 22-year-old London based image-maker and director. I was born and raised in Subotica, Serbia. It’s a really small town on the northern Serbian-Hungarian border that’s really culturally rich and very goth. It’s the birthplace of some of my favorite artists and home of the only witch house band in the Balkans. Someone told me it apparently has the largest number of cults in Eastern Europe? To be confirmed.
Do you remember the first time you were conscious of your appearance?
Vasso Vu: When I was six, I really wanted to look like Yami Yugi from Yu-Gi-Oh! I still kind of do though.
Growing up, what informed your understanding of beauty and identity and the way you presented yourself visually?
Vasso Vu: I played a lot of video games and listened to a lot of music growing up. Missy Elliott and t.A.T.u. were the first two CDs my mom ever bought me. When I would play pretend games with my friends, I’d always be either Lara Croft or Yoshimitsu from Tekken. I also remember watching the McQueen Plato’s Atlantis runway stream and losing my mind.
When did you first become interested in photography?
Vasso Vu: I started off with painting and my parents would send me to various art classes and art camps. Coincidentally one of the art camps had Photoshop lessons. When I was around 13, my friend who was also a painter bought a DSLR camera and got really into photography so I started doing it too just to impress her. For the first couple of years, 99 per cent of my portfolio was just portraits of her. Since I was already dabbling in Photoshop some of my first work was quite surrealist (clones, levitating bodies, etc.)
Why are you a photographer? What made you want to become one?
Vasso Vu: I’m bad at everything else! To be honest, it never really felt like a choice. Visual art was always just kind of a thing in my life. I was gonna be a water polo player and was training competitive swimming for years but that lost its appeal after a while.
How did you actually get into it? Where did you hone your craft?
Vasso Vu: Since my family didn’t have a lot when I was growing up, I had to borrow equipment from friends and would just shoot with what I could get my hands on at the time. I’m a nerd when it comes to tech, so I studied every piece of equipment I used. My parents didn’t want to buy me a camera until I knew how to shoot on film, develop the photos, and scan them for post. Looking back, that’s actually pretty intense! I also went to art school for like a year before I dropped out to move to London.
Can you tell us a bit about your creative process – from initial idea to final image?
Vasso Vu: I art direct, shoot, and retouch all of my work. Most of the time it’s very intuitive. I have chromesthesia, so very often my references are more musical than visual, which is why it can sometimes be difficult for me to make mood boards. It’s also why I love working with musicians so much. When I’m bored, I sketch a lot and the drawings I make often become photographs. There’s three sketchbooks worth of work that has yet to happen. I spend more time conceptualising and working in post-production than shooting. Even though I love the dynamics of a photoshoot, I feel like most of the magic happens when I start editing.
Is beauty something you try to capture in your work or something that you reject?
Vasso Vu: All artists chase beauty! Perceptions might vary but we’re all kind of aiming at this heightened visual experience. I definitely think my idea of beauty keeps changing the older I get though.
The way you portray the body is often otherworldly and sometimes even monstrous. Where does this come from?
Vasso Vu: I was reading a lot about trans-speciesism and Slavic folklore so a lot of it comes from that. Transforming the human body and pushing the limits of its form has always been super fascinating to me. The further we evolve as humans and move towards silicon-based life or other forms of sentience the more our biology becomes obsolete. This creates a playground of themes for artists to experiment with. It’s fun!
What is your dream project to work on?
Vasso Vu: I’d love to direct a space opera with Grimes starring Kim Kardashian, soundtracked by Caroline Shaw. Would love to work with Kanye West and Tierra Whack. Photograph Pamela Anderson! I think I’d make a dope Versace campaign. The list goes on!
How do you think the industry has evolved since you first started out?
Vasso Vu: The attention span of the average consumer is getting progressively shorter which in return makes the industry overproduce. As a result of this, I think there are fewer exciting things happening at the moment but I’m hoping that will change. Instagram has been a big game changer and has become a platform where you can discover a lot of really exciting talent yet, conversely, has proven to be a very limiting platform for a lot of artists including myself.
How do you think our understanding of beauty has shifted with the evolution of technology?
Vasso Vu: It’s getting more and more abstract. Living in this time where climate change, diseases and socio-political issues are destroying the world is making humans gravitate more and more towards fantasy and abstraction, which in result is opening our minds to different variations of beauty. Think of tween girls fangirling over TikTok boys with neon hair and painted bruises on their faces. There’s something really futuristic about that!
What are you currently working on?
Vasso Vu: I’m working on my first solo exhibition in London! I have a lot of work I’m sitting on and a lot of work I’m making at the moment so it seems like the right time and way to showcase it. I’m also working on some musical projects that I’m really excited about.
Who would you like to shine a spotlight on next?
Vasso Vu: My dear friend and partner in crime Danielle Goldman!
What advice would you give to young artists hoping to get into the industry?
Vasso Vu: Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want. Learn your software, read your contracts carefully, and have fun!
What is the future of beauty?
Vasso Vu: I’ve been reading a lot of articles with beauty tips on how to camouflage from facial recognition tech. I feel like that’s the future of beauty – hair, make-up, and surveillance.