Katharina Swoboda, Vampiric Infection, 2018. One of three flags

Vampiric Infection

2018. Installation, skull (fiberglass), fake “bones”, 3 prints on rayon (“flags”), each 150 × 290 cm, video

Katharina Swoboda is interested in working across different media. Inside the exhibition room, her video works interact with other forms of knowledge: discourses in cultural theory, performative elements, etc. The figuration of the “vampire” interests her, because “vampires are narrative figures with specific category-crossing work to do” (Haraway). The vampire is an in-between figure between nature and culture, because he belongs to the animalistic but at the same comes to the human realm and imagination. Vampires are figurations of cultural imagination. The vampire is “an imaginary figure so anciently original” (Longinovic) which has been broadly appropriated by popular culture. The vampire is also present in cultural theory, where it becomes an emancipatory figuration to describe creatures out of the social order. Linda Kalof writes, hinting to Donna Haraway, that “vampires transform and cross categories - they are neither good nor bad, they are polluters of the natural, including the purity of lineage, they are mobile, highly ambiguous and invoke reactions of both fear and desire” (Kalof).

Katharina´s investigation started with the so-called “Vampire Graves”, which were discovered in different sites in Bulgaria, most prominently in Sozopol (“Apollonia”) and Sredets (“Deultum”). In Sredets, the “world´s largest vampire funeral”, basically a mass grave of 17 skeletons, was discovered in 2004. So far, nearly 100 vampire skeletons have been found in Bulgaria. They were “nailed” to the ground with iron or heavy bricks placed in their mouths. Following an old pagan exercise, these heavy objects would pin the soul to the earth after death and so “prevent the deceased from rising and going on a Walking Dead-style rampage”, writes The Oberver Online.

In Katharina Swoboda´s installation, a new artefact was created - a ”vampire” skull with a brick in her mouth. The skull was modelled after the artists head. Katharina´s search for vampires in Bulgaria was inspired by a poem by Heiner Müller (1929-1995). The (East) German author discovered his affection for classical antiquity in Bulgaria and subsequently, antique landscapes played an important role in his postmodern theatre work. The poem “Fahrt nach Plovdiv” (“Journey to Plovdiv”) describes Müller´s impression of Plovdiv at that time. An excerpt of the poem:

On three hills, three millenniums

History: hungry corpses. Yesterday

That grabs the future with love of the vampire.


Tomislav Z. Longinović (2011): Vampire Nation. Violence as Cultural Imaginary. Durham and London: Duke University Press, ix

Linda Kalof (2007): Looking at Animals in Human History. London: Reaction Books, 161

Donna Haraway (1997): Modest_WitnessSecond_Millennium.FemaleMan©_Meets_OncoMouse™: Feminism and Technoscience. London, New York: Routledge, 79

Alanna Martinez, Bulgaria to the World: We Have Vampire Graves, Please Visit, Observer Online, 20.7.2016.


Katharina Swoboda, born 1984, Graz, AT. Lives and works between Hamburg, Vienna and Graz.

Katharina’s work is predominantly video-based but she works in photography, installation art and performance art as well. She graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna, and has been a PhD student at the transdiciplinary doctorate programme at University of Fine Arts of Hamburg since 2014. Katharina’s videos have been internationally shown in selected venues in Vienna, Houston, Panamá, London, Budapest and Hamburg. She has received several scholarships, e.g from the Austrian Federal Ministry for Arts and Culture, and has participated in the KAMOV City of Rijeka residency in Croatia and the Nida Art Colony in Lithuania. She is member of the Golden Pixel Cooperative in Vienna. Recent exhibitions include: 2017 Media Art Biennale Wro, Wroclaw, PL; 2017 The Frame that blinds us, APA Gallery Budapest, HU; 2017 BJCEM Young Artist Biennale. Tirana, AL; 2017 (Im)Personal, Manhatten Bridge, NYC; 2017 Black Quarry, Corner College Zürich, CH; 2017 Motel Trogir, Vladimir Nazor Gallery, Zagreb, HR.