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VICE Magazine
Artist Sara Debevec talks about what it is like to be an alternative artist outside of Serbia

by Aleksandar Stosic

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Belgrade born, performance artist and writer, Sara Debevec has performed in alternative art spaces all over the world including London, Berlin and New York.  She showcased her work in prestigious arts festivals such as Glastonbury, Bestival and Latitude.  Today she talks to Vice Magazine about her experiences.


There is an awful lot of immersive theatre around at the moment, particularly if you live within reach of cities like London, New York and Tokyo. As part of the alternative theater, which seeks to offer a somewhat different experience to traditional theater performance, immersive theater is more interactive and reflects the interests and needs of a large group of fans engaged in alternative art, which has no place in the mainstream media.

This is a form of art, which allows audience members to engage with the performers and consequently be immersed in the show. Adding to this experience, immersive theater productions usually take place outside of the theater, in galleries, abandoned buildings, basements, underground tunnels… anywhere actually. At the heart of this brave new world of art is one of our young performance artists Sara Debevec, who frequently performs on various stages of this artistic underground, in a world that was discovered by chance and irreversibly crept into her skin.


Sara Debevec spent most of her life outside of Serbia.  When she was only two years old, she moved to Warsaw where she finished elementary and high school.  After that she studied Sociology BA and a masters in Urban Studies in London. Not knowing where to go next, she started working in events marketing and quickly lost interest in the corporate world. Seeing she had to support herself somehow, she continued her 9 to 5 job while delving into the world of performing arts through weekly circus arts cabaret classes at The Roundhouse in London, led by artist and show woman Marisa Carnesky. Little did she know that artist Marisa Carnesky was to irreversibly change the course of her life. Carnesky introduced her to magical world of performance art where anything can be created against all odds and where everything is possible. At that same same time, Sara Debevec was living in Camden, one of London’s most iconic areas and the center of avant garde subcultures, which opened up a new world of possibilities for her. A world, which she sensed was inside of her; a world that celebrates the individual in their primal state and original form; a world completely opposite to the stereotypical one, which imposes obligations.

During this time, Sara realised her first solo cabaret show, which completely opened her appetite for the art form of "circus" cabaret eventually taking her on a trip around the world, through a new wave of alternative art and thereby gaining world artistic recognition.


Her talent was soon confirmed in London as after less than three months she received a so-called VIP  Artist Pass, and began to present her performances, at various festivals such as Glastonbury, Bestival and Latitude in England.


Sara, then in her early twenties, runs into Robert Smith, lead member of the cult band The Cure and she realizes that this is the kind of world she wants to live in and that making art is her calling. Corporate world of liberal capitalism is still a reality of her everyday life, alternative art, however, Sara's state of mind. She spends hours and days convincing her family members that she does not feel comfortable in her day job as a marketing and community manager and that as the youngest member in a family of architects, engineers and scientists, she wishes to dive into the world of art.

In the mean time Sara started to write poetry and began working in a field which we can call the future of theatre. Something that is referred to as immersive theatre. Still her beginnings are connected to Marisa Carnesky and “circus” cabaret, through which she got a leading role in Tarot Village, which was based on interactive tarot card readings performed in a model village filled with magic and mystery. In this performance, the audience were able to experience personal tarot card readings and talk with each of the three cards they were dealt. In this village, the cards were "waiting" for their customers as geishas.

Sara worked with Marisa to develop her character of the card “Justice” which waited for her audience in a small school, strictly explaining to them how they should behave in the future.


VICE: But what is it that Sara exactly does on stages in London, Berlin, Budapest, Istanbul and New York?


Sara Debevec: During my performances, you can rarely see my face. Most of the time, I am wearing a mask of an animal – says Sara in her interview for VICE Serbia. She stresses that it is a way to, through a metaphor, point to the dark side of life and the world around us.


-I have already performed as a wolf, a horse, a slug, a cockroach, a fly and a moth.


Why choose these animals in particular, do they carry an emotional significance for you. What is it that you want to convey to the audience through these animals?


I have always somehow liked animals more than people. I feel that by impersonating an animal, I am running away from the gender polarization between men and women. Gender, for me does not exist as a social category; I focus on human sadness that is most universal. In addition to this, animals play major roles in stories for children to teach them how to be good and moral people. I think there is a lot we still need to learn, and why not through animal stories like before?


It is important to point out that the stories she writes for her performances are, in fact her life stories, some details of her experiences, ordinary daily observations or major tragedies she is going through.


-I'm talking about my life, really. I feel like I can better envision my emotions and problems through metaphors.


In her first performance, Sara was a wild horse


-My inspiration for the wild horse had elements of burlesque, since I wore a provocative, tight, black, latex costume. I wanted to play with the vision of a sexy woman in latex suit and I decided to perform as a sexy horse! After a short introductory dance, I began slowly to unzip my latex costume. However, rather than showing my body or breasts, I revealed horse fur that was protruding

from under my latex costume.

The story of the wild horse is a story that most of us can recognize because according to Sara’s idea, no matter how attractive the horse is, his rider will betray him/her (the artist named him Bob) and choose a different, better suited horse, while our protagonist is left without a cowboy to ride him/her.


-Of course the horse kills both Bob and his new horse in the end.


Through these modern world fables, Sara describes the hardships of growing up. Now nearing thirty, the performance artist, remembers how she oftentimes felt conformist because certain situations required that from her.


For example, Cold Mollusc or Snail without a shell, was a performance about growing up far away from home, which again, Sara does not remember apart from returning to her home country once a year during summer vacation. And that wasn’t very interesting for her either, since she admits, she never had many friends back home. But let us return to Poland.


-Living in Warsaw, I had to adapt to a new environment, a new culture and people. This made me feel that I was surrounded by individuals with roots- and I saw them in my fantasies as snails with shells on their backs. Meanwhile I felt like I had lost a home and was “naked”, without a shell on my back and I am trying to make sense of it all in this new environment.  Sara tries to describe her memories while she sips on a cup of coffee in her apartment in Los Angeles, where she currently resides.


-Snails don’t like me because I’m not like them. Meanwhile I feel doubly excluded by a second social group since slugs don’t like me either as they think I am pretentious and I left my home on purpose so that I could look like them.


Conformism is a way of being. It is often seen as a mere survival method for the lost and "poor" individual. But we have all certainly, at least once been in a situation in which we just had to blend into a mainstream vision in order  not to stick out from the acceptable norm of the society we live in. Sara Debevec, through her story of the homeless snail, explicitly shows the tragedy of an individual in relation to the tsunami of a conservative society unprepared to accept an individual out of the ordinary.


The French philosopher Voltaire had long observed that "our miserable species are so made that those who walk the fine packed trail always throw stones at those who suggest new ways." So Sara parallels the snail without a shell so sharply. At the same time she does not cause offense but points to the metastasis the of global society of the 21st century. Contrary to conformism is insurgency, breaking stereotypes of behavior of the majority and consequently pointing to the possibility of a different understanding of social norms. 


Last year Sara received an offer to participate in a three-month art residency in Salem Art Works in New York, after which she rented an apartment in Brooklyn where she made her first American performances. 


- In New York, I was inspired by cockroaches, because they are everywhere and it is very difficult to find an apartment that isn’t infested by cockroaches. At the beginning I was very much disgusted by them, but eventually I realized I can use this opportunity to analyze them… and watch their behavior.  I began to admire their skills and just how fast, strong, cautious and sturdy they are. From this initial premise, I came up with a new performance idea.


You saw yourself as a cockroach, irrelevant in the world you live in?


 - An interesting parallel in the whole story is, that I was surrounded by cockroaches in the apartment in Brooklyn, during one of the most difficult moments in my life - when my sister Tamara passed away. One day, my new roommate decided to coat the entire flat in cockroach poison; placing it in different corners of the apartment. The next day when the poor cockroaches began to die, I woke up with a blocked nose and red swollen eyes - I got an allergic reaction to cockroach poison! So it occurred to me that my next performance will explore endurance and struggle for life that we all have to face, sooner or later.

Sara says that it is difficult to explain in a few sentences what performance art is. For her, a performance is dancing, acting, cabaret.


-I see performance art as, an idea and energy that an individual presents in the form of movement, sound and words – with a sense of space and time – sort of like a 3 dimensional image that can be experienced.


Although she entered the world of performance art through cabaret performances, this Belgrade born artist quickly started presenting her solo work in prestigious cultural centres and galleries. Currently residing in the United States, this solo artist is receiving numerous invitations to collaborate with various galleries and theatres.


-When I collaborate with other artists and directors, it’s usually on an immersive theatre productions.


That's what The Guardian recently published a great article about, they called immersive theatre the future "Big Thing" in art?


-It’s already a big deal in large cities around the world,


What does that mean, can you bring this art form a little closer to us?


Interactive Performance is conceived as one big movie set filled with performance artists. The audience, which comes on the set, has the freedom to go wherever he/she wants because the performance takes place at the same time in different places. This is a very interesting art form since the audience is itself part of the show.


Is it common for these kinds of performances to last for days non stop?


For example, last year, I played a lead role in the interactive theatre production "The Shells" in Berlin. On the seventh floor of the art building Green House, in a 500m2 space.


Directors Kirsten Brandt and Jos Porath, built the entire small town based on the famous series by David Lynch - Twin Peaks in which there is a small store, a famous Diner, home of Laura Palmer; Bobby Briggs’s house, a hotel,a  medical room and a nightclub. The two came to one of my performances in London and asked if I would like to participate in their interactive theatre. They said they wanted me to collaborate with them to create a character based in the night club, in their Twin Peaks.


Sara liked this idea and says that the entire experience was very unique, especially since the entire show lasted all day and night for two whole weeks.

Since the space was huge, the audience were able to stay the night in Twin Peaks. One young man, who loved the show so much and spent a week in our town, was given an apron and in the end got a job at the famous diner.


Sara currently resides in Los Angeles, where she is preparing for her next performance "Fish Tanks" to be held in the famous LA theatre" Highways Performance Space,” designed primarily for experimental art and performance.

Ilustrovana Politika

Conquering the world with her art

by Tamara Bakic

Click here for online version












Sara Debevec’s work can be described as an “artistic onomatopeia”  Up until now she has performed as a wolf, a horse, a slug, a cockroach, a fly and a moth…


Belgrade born Sara Debevec has in the past posed for Ilustrovana Politika as a model. She received a string of compliments for wonderfully executed work. You could see that she does everything with extreme commitment.  Today, not yet 30 years old, Sara is one of the young artists representing our country all over the world. Sara Debevec is a performance artist and writer and she has already performed for renowned audiences in three different continents – Europe, Asia and the US.


Her artistic concept as unique and extraordinary and it takes an interesting avant-garde step towards the depths of a new art form. The idea with which Sara performs can be somewhat described as an artistic onomatopeia,” with an aim to tell stories of human struggles through animal characteristics, animal costumes and masks. This Orwellian attempt to, in her own way, describe the world in which we live in has distinguished her as a unique and highly creative artist. She has already performed as a wolf, a horse, a slug, a cockroach, a fly and a moth.


Methodologically, when it comes to her performances, Sara is responsible for everything; from stage design and costumes to choreography and spoken word.  Movements become sounds and lights turn into emotions when Sara takes her audiences into her world of memories, life experiences and magical realism.


- For a long time, I didn’t know what I would like to do as a profession. I decided to study Sociology in London where I later, by chance, signed up for a course in avant-garde cabaret in a cultural center in London, The Roundhouse.  It is there that I met performance artist Marisa Carnesky, who I started to collaborate with. Working with her, opened many doors for me and I realized that we can get to know, understand and create the world we live in through art – says Sara Debevec.

Shortly after graduating from college, Sara began performing at prestigious art venues, art festivals, well - known art institutions and gallery spaces.  Although she played leading roles in international productions, Sara prefers to create her stories by herself and perform as a solo performance artist.

City Magazine

S Ofingera: Interview with Sara Debevec

by Isidora Spasic

Click here for online version







Photo by Brandon Lake

Sara Debevec is an artist that works in the performance art medium. She has performed all over the world, in galleries and alternative art spaces from New York and London to Berlin and Istanbul. During her performances, you can rarely see her face as it is usually covered with a mask of an animal. Until now, she has performed as a horse, a snail, a fish, a cockroach, a fly and a moth. Through her animal performances, Sara engages the audience in themes such as homelessness, pollution, conformism and death. Today we are talking about  stilettos, fashion designers and hologram clothing.


What three clothing items will you be sure to wear this fall?

My simple long black coat, my golden Vans shoes and my ankle length, black trousers.

What is it that you would never wear that everyone should have in their closet?

Stilettos! I do not like stilettos, because I don’t like it when my feet hurt. I can wear boots or shoes with high heels sometimes but I don’t have to.

Do you think you're a fashion victim and if so, what is your fashion fetish?

I am not a fashion victim. I do not follow fashion and do not spend a lot of time choosing clothes. I like classic, simple cuts. I want to feel comfortable in the clothes that I am wearing. I think that oftentimes simple cuts and colors, made with high-quality fabrics, with good shoes and a hat, are the way to go. I do not like complicated outfits because most of my creativity is expressed through art. When I make animal costumes for my performances,  texture and reflexivity of the materials is important. Therefore,  I often combine "papier-mâché", say, with leather. Paper is fantastic! If I could get dressed in paper, I would wear paper!

Who is your style icon?

I love the style of Lykke Li, because I appreciate Scandinavian minimal aesthetics. I like how she combines simple trousers, a white shirt and black leather loafers with interesting rings and chains.

If a famous designer or brand asked you to represent their brand, what brand or designer would you like it to be?

I would collaborate with Acne Studios, but I also really like COS, Weekday and And Other Stories. From famous designers, I would like to work with Alexander Wang and Isabel Marant.


If you had a time machine, which fashion period would you return to and why?

If I had to go back, I'd go to the sixties to be a hippie, to wear long dresses, have feathers in my hair and walk barefoot everywhere. But, I want to see what awaits us. I think that soon holograms will  replace our clothing and we will simply be able to download hologram clothes that will automatically fit us.  I would be very happy then because I don't like shopping for clothes and I panic whenever I go to a shopping center. For me shopping centers are like a time vacuum or a black hole, so I always buy things in passing, when something catches my eye.


You are organizing a fancy party. What is the theme of the party and who from the living or dead is invited?

Last week I presented my work at Pittsburgh University and I used this opportunity to visit the wonderful Museum of Andy Warhol. They had a demonstration of his EPI (Exploding Plastic Inevitable) rooms.  He made a number of films in his “factory” in New York, which he then projected onto the walls of the EPI rooms creating an immersive sound and light environment involving numerous collaborators. In the 60s, Velvet Underground performed live in the space. I think thats a very interesting concept. I would do something like that with a space that has access to a roof. Surely I would get The Felice Brothers to perform and as far as the guests go, probably  there would be more of the dead than the living.

What do you sleep in?

A t shirt and shorts

What are you working on at the moment?

I am currently preparing a desert  performance inspired by coyotes and wolves. I'm getting ready to go to a wolf sanctuary, located near Los Angeles, where I will explore these wonderful wild creatures. At the same time I am preparing a video performance for an exhibition at a gallery in Santa Monica, and I am trying to get the city of Long Beach to let me paint on their buildings and utility boxes, in order to create a sociological representation of homelesness as there are many homeless people around the area.


Now you ask me something.

If you could possess a famous piece of art, what would it be and where would you place it?

Since I am  an "all or nothing" type of person with horderskim impulse, it would be hard to decide on only one. Toulouse-Lautrec would come into consideration, as well as, Basquiat, Lichtenstein, Freud, Bacon, Hopper, Saudek, Witkin, as well as ladies such as Sophie Calle, Francesca Woodman and Nan Goldin. I remember I was astonished when I saw Gèricault "Raft of the Medusa", so let that be my final choice. Greed is a nasty thing!

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