For the first time in years, individuals who were determined to put up serious, long-term resistance stood out from this marginalized community. Although the protests failed to achieve their immediate objective of toppling the government, they had some significant effects. One of those effects was that they called into question the common opinion that the representatives of Bulgarian culture, art and science are apathetic and reluctant to engage in the social processes in the country.
As someone who is intimately familiar with the Bulgarian art scene, I can say for certain that at least those working in the field of visual arts often react to the situation through their artworks.
That they remain invisible is, to a large extent, not their problem; it is a problem of the system which used them as service personnel during socialism, and in the last twenty-five years has placed them somewhere at the bottom of the social hierarchy, thus silencing their voices.
The objective of the Art for Change Project is to show at least part of the responses of Bulgarian artists to the social and political environment. It covers the period from the second half of the s to the present, that is, from the nascent democratic changes during the perestroika and throughout the period of the transition, which is still ongoing.
People from different generations may find it strange that I begin with Svetlin Roussev, a figure closely linked to the Bulgarian Communist Party, part of its top echelon, long-standing President of the Union of Bulgarian Artists a structure created to serve the interests of the Party and the statea person who held a series of executive positions and who has been blamed for many of the problems of Bulgarian artists both before and after This is a subject which, of course, merits a separate study.
Within this project, his figure is interesting because of the fact that he eventually became an intersection point of the old status quo and the imminent changes. Inthe Bulgarian city of Ruse began to suffer from air pollution from chlorine emissions at a newly built chemical plant in Giurgiu, a town across the Danube in Romania.
Pollution from chlorine and its toxic compounds exceeded the. InRuse residents began peaceful demonstrations. Their cause was taken up by prominent Bulgarian intellectuals, who founded a Public Committee for Ecological Protection of Ruse in Sofia on 8 March This Committee is seen as the beginning of the radical changes in Bulgaria.
Meanwhile, inSvetlin Roussev created and displayed in public several memorable paintings Self-Portrait, On the Quay, Rousse: The Quay, The Faithand called on other artists to address the subject of Ruse in their works. Those two events are among the few instances where so many Bulgarian artists united to support a concrete cause — and, moreover, at a time when they were fully aware of the risks they were taking.
Those two works are related to the dramatic ideological changes and tragic economic situation in Bulgaria in the. At the beginning of the s, Stoitzov developed his actionist, socially critical actions in the direction of a deeper analysis of the past. He did this through its symbols five-pointed stars, pickaxes, spades in paintings, wood sculptures and watercolours in the style of Eastern Orthodox icons or eastern miniatures.
He did this through ironic sacralization — transforming industrial implements into icons and altars covered with gold leaf, or enlarging the motif to the point where it loses its form, and hence, its concrete message. Sasho Stoitzov was the only Bulgarian artist at the time who found it makes sense to deal with the past and its visual rhetoric.
The changes that took place after also changed the entire system of artistic life in Bulgaria. The totalitarian rule of the Union of Bulgarian Artists, which had total power to determine the themes, aesthetics, and market of art in the country, gradually cracked, and individual players, private art galleries and nongovernmental institutions appeared on the Bulgarian art scene. To the traditionally favoured genres of painting, print, and sculpture, there were added those of happening, performance, object, video, and installation.
Those absolutely novel and hitherto unpracticed genres in Bulgaria, along with the newly developed curatorial practices, gradually shaped what we now call contemporary Bulgarian art.
In the period after the mids, every small step towards breaking up the status quo — organizational and aesthetic — was seen as a rebellion of sorts against the political system. From the present-day perspective, it is very difficult to explain why one action or another back in those days was interpreted as a serious form of opposition. Situations and artworks which now look entirely natural, seemed to us back then like stupendous breakthroughs in the system. Very often, one needs to read between the lines and capture the different nuances in order to understand them.
At a time of total fear and control, one had to use a strongly metaphorical language. On 24 December it was shown in the garden in front of Kristal in Sofia, where a several-hour-long action was held. The idea of this machine is that anyone can create his or her drawing. The idea was to show that anyone can make abstract art in one form or another. Apart from the fact that this was a mobile wooden machine that defied all existing definitions of art at that time, what remains truly remarkable is the setting: this action took place not in any of the UBA exhibition halls, but in a public garden that would become a symbol of the change.
The fact that casual passers-by became participants in. Escape from state control, autonomous organization, free creation of groups and associations, experimentation with novel, until then tacitly prohibited, means of expression — all of these indicate if not a form of social protest, then at least a stage in the development of social awareness. The exhibition was held on the roof terrace at 6 Shipka Street in Sofia the headquarters of the UBAwhere the artist mounted on the parapet a telescope and a plate with the title of the work.
The telescope was pointed to the West, but it was focused on the five-pointed start crowning the Bulgarian Communist Party headquarters in the distance.
The plate was immediately removed, but this artwork has remained as one of the symbols of the transition. To many, Nedko Solakov is one of the most interesting and controversial figures in the transition period. It is no coincidence that this book includes a special interview with him.
That is why in his particular case, the move from the field of painting to the space of installation does not look superficial. Many of his pre paintings hinted at his future development. The Great Excursion, Interactive installation about Bulgarian Turks insound, text, documentary. Easy Banners, Territories, Soil, fabric, wood, metal, size of the place x x cm. Territory, Wooden box, fabric, mud, dry grass, glue, wooden pool, size of closed box x 65 x 30 cm.
Collection Boyana Popova. Transformation Always Takes Time and Energy, Hot plates, pots, tea pots, cables, water, electricity, time, dimensions variable. Already at the very beginning of the changes, the comments of Bulgarian artists were along two lines: one being the break with the past, and the other the grave economic situation Bulgaria soon found itself in. In the first one the artist wove a rug with a temple-like pattern from cutout headlines of Demokratsiya, the daily of the opposition Union of Democratic Forces SDSlaunched in February and seen as a symbol of the hopes for change.
In her later works, Adelina Popnedeleva has continued to explore the formation of new individuals in the post-socialist society. In the films from her Fresh seriesthe protagonist personifies the transition and the possibility that it may produce figures personifying the desire to accumulate personal capital and all values related to the wish for consumption.
This subject is also examined in the film Margo of Londonwhere the point of view is switched and the situation in Bulgaria is seen through the eyes of someone living abroad.
Among the artists who created metaphors of the times — of the times that were passing away and of those that were yet to come — is Dr. Galentin Gatev. Production Plant in Blagoevgrad where, for a day, all spare parts were produced not from metal but from wood. In The Only Possible Way gallery — cause, mine — effectGatev visualized the absurdity of reality in Bulgaria by taking a piece of real life and exposing it for what it was.
The story is about a truck designed to service the Elatzite open-pit mine that was too big to enter the mine tunnel. To overcome this problem, the artist built a scale model of the truck that was small enough to pass through the tunnel.
A main subject that has remained topical is that of identity. Vassil Simittchiev left his country as a defector. Even upon one of his first visits to Bulgaria, inhe did a performance called Ironing the Bulgarian Flag. The long-standing leader of the Bulgarian Communist Party had been ousted recently, but the system itself would not change so quickly and easily. Simittchev ironed the national flag with the old communist coat of arms before folding it carefully and putting it away forever.
This simple gesture is incredibly dramatic: the gentle act of ironing the flag, displaying veneration and respect for this symbol, is contrasted with the premonition that the flag would be put away in the cellar and erased from memory. Simittchiev often succeeds in achieving ambiguity through an act or an object that appear to be most ordinary.
The sounds turn into an abstract poetry that reaches the mind and heart of the listener faster and deeper than the meaning of the unfamiliar language. In Simittchiev once again returned to Sofia to plough, with a wooden plough drawn by a powerful SUV, a furrow in the field behind the Museum for Contemporary Art — as a powerful symbolic gesture and a reminder that the soil in a country that has been in a state of transition for more than twenty-five years is still waiting for its true turn-over.
In his video Escaping IdentityZankov mounts his photos from various identity documents one on top of the other, until the true face disappears. Tools, Photography, newspaper, glued ink-jet printed papers, triptych frame 85 x cm frame size.
Pravdoliub Ivanov. Black Balloons, Fuck the System, Collection Slava Nakovska end Nedko Solakov. In Luchezar Boyadjiev created an installation out of multiple collages: Fortification of Faith. In them we see a doubled figure of Christ. Three giant business suits, mounted on the wall in the form of a triple crucifixion, tell the story of that time with profound insight and subtext. The problem of the limits of understanding and perception is also explored in his artwork The Kingdom of Wish and Waste A series of artworks related to the Monument to the Soviet Army in Sofia are also informed by the search for national identity.
As early asDiana Popova and Dobrin Peychev published a conceptual project on transforming the Monument to the Soviet Army into a centre for avant-garde art;11 this project was a piece of action art in its own right, albeit in the form of a newspaper publication. LP) artist proposed burying the controversial monument under an earthen mound and turning it into a grave, which future generations would excavate and decide whether they had found a treasure or not.
The project has a second part, Exhibition in a Newspaper, which supplements it. Decorated with expensive mosaics and sculptures, after it was vandalized, its decoration destroyed or stolen, and the building left to the ravages of time. In Nikola Mihov created a project called Forget Your Past, focusing on all monuments of the past as signposts of memory and of our attitude towards history.
Another very controversial monument is the Mausoleum of communist leader Georgi Dimitrov in the centre of Sofia, which was demolished in The fate of this monument was and is the. Collective memory, as seen through this monument, is in the focus of interest of artists such as Vassil Simittchiev, Nedko Solakov, Daniela Kostova, and Ivan Moudov. Kamen Stoyanov used the empty pedestal of the removed statue of Lenin in the city of Ruse for his project Hello, Lenin In A Monument of My Memorywriter Georgi Tenev restored, by means of photo reproductions, commemorative plaques with the names of Bulgarian soldiers and officers who died in the two Balkan Wars and the First World War.
Those plaques were part of a memorial erected in the vicinity of what is today the National Palace of Culture, partially damaged in the air raids on Sofia, and completely removed in the s. Katia Damianova offers a different perspective in her performance European Tonguein which her tongue was pierced with a syringe surmounted by a miniature EU flag. This is one of the few artworks devoted to this traumatic subject for Bulgarian society.
The artist represents the event from the point of view of witnesses of the exodus, in the form of interviews.
He contacts friends, schoolmates, and neighbours in Turkey and in Bulgaria in order to see what has happened to them and how we can talk about that time, which nobody mentions today. By this narrative, Raycho Stanev tries to convey the emotions and feelings not just of the victims but also of all voluntary or involuntary, active or passive witnesses of the process.
Twenty years after this appalling act in contemporary Bulgarian history, we have an opportunity to take a look at the event, at the participants in it, and at ourselves from a distance and from the side.
A broad range of social issues is explored in the works of the 8th of March Group of women-artists. Through a predominantly feminist lens, they deal with a wide variety of themes related to everyday life.
Tanya Abadjieva, Mariela Gemisheva, Nina Kovacheva, Boryana Rossa, Daniela Kostova, and Daniela Sergieva, focus on the problems of and attitudes towards women at different levels of society, using a wide spectrum of instruments — through history, present-day practices, advertising, and the models of the consumer society.
They work on themes that transcend the boundaries of personal as well as national life, and go far beyond the borders of Bulgaria. This conversation has been extended through projects focusing on another grave social issue, that of human trafficking. The problems of emigration became of interest to Bulgarian artists when many of them experienced emigration first-hand. Afterthere was an exodus of artists from Bulgaria.
For various reasons, most of those who were the first to emigrate have partially or completely abandoned their ties to their home country. This is not the case with the next generations. Especially since Bulgaria joined the European Union inthe emigration experience has acquired more different dimensions for artists from the younger generations, who maintain stronger and more permanent ties to their home country.
Often dividing their lives between two home countries and two realities, these young artists explore and compare their experiences. Bulgarian Bar One of the artists who has been most actively and consistently exploring the problems of ecology — now from the point of view of global development — is Samuil Stoyanov.
Basing his works on scientific research, he transforms the artistic gesture into a socially engaged protest. In Bulgarian contemporary art, many of the problems of society are examined through the changes related to the metropolis after In a matter of years, the situation in the country changed drastically.
The economic situation brought a massive influx of people into the capital city, and this radically changed its appearance and character. Sofia has concentrated many of the positive and negative changes of the transition.
It is no coincidence that Bulgarian artists began to study those changes which show, in condensed form, the general movements in the country as a whole. The urban theme became an acid test of social tensions. Interest in it was provoked and coordinated by Visual Seminar. The project included a series of discussions, resident fellows programs, exhibitions and publications dealing with the problems of the rapidly changing metropolis.
In his actions Synchronization and New Piece of ArtKamen Stoyanov did not so much criticize as find a new use for billboards, transforming them into works of art and animating them. The new culture of living after the changes gave rise to the phenomenon of chalga — a music and lifestyle borrowed from neighbouring Balkan countries and developed further in the Bulgarian context, to the point of becoming a phenomenon.
In andthe political situation in Bulgaria triggered strong social tensions which, in turn, provoked the creation of more artworks with a clear political message.
In Ray. The idea for this exhibition came from the civic protests in February that year, and focused on the political, economic, and ecological issues that gave rise to the protests. The artist who literally turned his personal position and experience as a participant in the protests into a work of art is Pravdoliub Ivanov. The slogans he raised during the protests in the centre of Sofia in the summer of became the focus of public attention. In the mids, when the Balkans were an arena of violent conflicts and redistribution of territories, he created several emblematic artworks: Territories and Territoryand Easy Banners It consists of dozens of small electric hotplates connected by an intricate web of cables, laid out on the floor.
Pots and teapots filled with water are simmering on them. The water is in a constant process of evaporation and replacement. The whiffs of steam and the soft sound of boiling water add to the feeling of the infinity of the process of change.
Contemporary Bulgarian artists are well aware that they are still somewhere deep within the maze of the transition. Whether they feel lost there is a question that has no easy answer. Like all their compatriots, they, too, live in a country that has not constructed its unified past and finds it difficult to position itself in the present — which makes its prospects for the future not particularly optimistic.
Irrespective of their personal feelings, attitudes and pessimisms, Bulgarian artists are not indifferent to what is happening around them.
Very often, their works touch on issues that are important to Bulgarian society. We are yet to see whether its sensitivity will stand up to test and trial.
The protests against the Oresharski government were protests in Bulgaria which began in Mayeven prior to the election of prime minister Plamen Oresharski and his cabinet by. The protests started as a reaction against the person of Oresharski and his ministers, as well as against their expected and announced policies.
The protests lasted for a little over a year. Reflections of Conscience. Puls, 23 February in Bulgarian. An Interview by Vladiya Mihaylova. Kultura, 20 March in Bulgarian. It gets its name from a no longer existing restaurant from the time of socialism.
This garden was the venue of some of the first protests against the communist regime in late October and early Novembermore particularly, those of Ecoglasnost, a dissident environmental group that contributed to the overthrow of the regime. The Experiment We Need. Problems of Social Activity in Our Art. A Conversation.
Puls, 1 March ; Mutafov, E. The Mute Audience. Jotted-Down Thoughts on a Painful Problem. Puls, 4 October ; Varzonovtsev, D. Puls, 18 May On Open-Air Studio. Narodna Kultura, 13 March The Action is on for the time being … Kultura, 22 June in Bulgarian. Nedko Solakov. Between Painting and Installation. Problemi na Izkustvoto,No. Techniques of Visuality.
Sofia student online magazine for art and culture, No. Puls, 26 February — 4 March in Bulgarian. Exhibition in a Newspaper. Standart, 30 April in Bulgarian. In the Name of…, PVC sheets, acrylic, text, dimensions variable.
The Triumph of Past, Untitled Protest Noise Trial, Plastic, paint, resign, x x cm, video, 10 min. Dimitar Solakov. Walks, Two-chanel video installation, 8: 22 min. Immigration in Suitcase, Performance and video documentation.
Nina Kovacheva and Valentin Stefanoff. Video, 21 min Valentin Stefanoff. Video, 6. Nestor Kovachev. The Passport, Velislava Gecheva. The Anatomy Lesson, Milko Pavlov. Stasi Soft Memories, Fotoprints and acrylic on wall, x cm. Civil Position, Domestic Ecology, A Boost of Energy Supplies, Sasho Stoitzov. A Hole in the Parquet, Lyuben Kostov. Ecoaction, April Black nylon, wood, cardboard. On a concrete quay, Black sea. Destructive Creation. The Soviet Army Monument, Sofia, Monu-mental, Video, cm.
On the BG Track. A BG Bar, Metal, paint, oak wood In the shape of Bulgariarefrigerator, glasses, nonalcoholic beverages, white permanent felttip pen, texts and drawings over black painted metal; bartender, customers, x x ,5 cm. Border by Memory, How Do You See Bulgaria? They were also the first sharply socially critical works of this type in contemporary Bulgarian art.
Historical Background: The Subtext in the Context In the mids, the first manifestations of the so-called non-conventional forms of art in Bulgaria were more socially active rather than socially critical. Bulgarian artists were mastering new art languages and expressive means, and hence looking for a new type of communication with the public. The need to explain to the accidental passer-by what they were doing drove the artists themselves to clarify their own concepts as they had to verbalize — and, inasmuch as possible, rationalize — their artistic intuition.
An emblematic example in this respect was Sieve of Lightan action staged on the bridges of the Perlovska river in Sofia by Dobrin Peichev and Orlin Dvoryanov. Creating a different decorative construction near each bridge every day, they provoked the public both the knowing and the accidental one to engage in conversations about art and its place in the social environment. The authors have documentary materials of this action. That is because their context is lost today and I sincerely hope it will never come back.
Their critical message is clear to the people who have lived through that period, but it is unfathomable to the next generations — even when it is explained or narrated to them, it remains at the level of mundane facts from the past.
Domestic Ecology consists of an obviously cheap, synthetic imitation of a Persian carpet on which are arranged two kinds of wooden mushrooms, big and small. Those mushrooms were used to mend runs in nylon stockings and tights. At that time nylon stockings and tights were too expensive and scarce to throw away because of one little run.
They were thrown away only if the expert mender who charged ten stotinki per run declared that they were laddered beyond repair. A Boost of Energy Supplies was on old cupboard whose drawers were filled with coal. I remember that in the especially difficult winter periods, the regime relied on coal imports from Poland to ensure electricity supply, at that, for one hour for every three hours without power.
While the population was forced to live with those power cuts, the Kozloduy nuclear power plant was generating enough electricity which, however, was designed for export — according to contracts which, the authorities claimed, needed to be honoured… As the next generations cannot imagine the context, neither can they imagine the courage it took for those artists to display socially critical works in it. For its part, Bulgarian society had become very active and rebellious.
It saw the then-novel art forms as an echo of its rebellion and warmly accepted them even when it did not understand them. In hindsight, I realize that this is exactly what it was. But back then, in the general excitement — which can be felt in the Diary of the exhibition — what seemed.
And they tried to remove it, literally to obliterate it: the brass plate with the title of the work and all sheets of the Diary stuck on a rack in which it was mentioned disappeared overnight.
The telescope was preserved because the artist stored it away every night, installing it again in the morning. The subtext was turning into text.
This, too, was a process similar to the mastering of a new language and way of expression. In both cases, the change was not smooth; it had its extremes, its Само Теб Обичам - Зоран* - Зоран (Vinyl and failures. For by converting the subtext into text, they lost the in-depth meaning. I define them as historical because their context is lost today, and in order to understand their meaning and significance, it needs to be reconstructed, shown or narrated — in a museum or exhibition environment.
And that in this particular case the ideas of communism and democracy depended literally on which way the wind was blowing. But this artwork was very powerful and moving because of the context at that time. For it was about hunger — literally. In the severe crisis at that time, in the context of the general misery and empty shops in Bulgaria, such a piece of cheese was a true luxury. Despite this, I heard only one viewer saying once that it would be better to eat it than to leave it to rot in the showcase… Demonstrative Breakfast by the Plovdiv-based group Edge referred to a similar situation: on a small quay in the seaside town of Balchik.
There the members of the group feasted for several hours on the goods provided by a sponsor, while passers-by looked on. I must note, though, that the states of hunger, misery and destitution rarely have a distinct public social expression in Bulgaria by rule, this happens only in the case of the minoritiesand therefore the artworks that reflect them are few. Fortification of Faith is an installation based on the hypothesis that Christ had a twin-brother.
This provocative work went unnoticed by Bulgarian society at the time, probably because it was preoccupied with more pressing concerns and urgent problems. This work, however, paradoxically predicted the split of the Holy Synod of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church into two competing factions several years later. But since the installation was purchased by a foreign collector, we cannot check its topicality and impact in a more recent context in Bulgaria.
I am reminded of this work every time the Bulgarian Orthodox Church decides to make its presence felt in the public sphere and sets out to censor cultural and artistic events — most of which, incidentally, lack the qualities of Fortification of Faith and cause only short-lived scandals. That is probably because the Church continues to be marginal against the background of the severe political and economic problems periodically escalating into crises in Bulgaria.
Symbols in Focus The issues that moved Bulgarian society immediately after 10 November were related to the end of the regime, the end of communism, the end of socialism, the change of system. The conspicuous signs, symbols and monuments. The statues of Lenin and Georgi Dimitrov disappeared from town squares, hammers and sickles were erased, and the red star crowning the Communist Party headquarters was removed.
The monuments to the Soviet army remained in place, though. And they have periodically become the focus of social energy at times of crisis — usually at the end of an unsuccessful government of the Bulgarian Socialist Party, which is accused of serving Russian political and economic interests. The idea of the Edge group about the Alyosha Soviet Army Memorial in Plovdiv a giant ferroconcrete statue of a Soviet soldier on top of one of the hills in the city was among the most interesting in that period.
Instead of removing the statue, the group proposed that it be replicated in a light material, with the replicas subsequently placed on top of the other hills in Plovdiv.
It was too ambitious and large-scale for the time. It is not impossible, though, that at some point in the future it may be realized in practice — as a grand project of the local government, for instance. And it is precisely with a view to its possible future realization that I will share here the planned ending for the thus-conceived action, which I learned about years later: after remaining on the hills for some time, the figures are dismantled and flown away in a flurry by helicopters, one of which also carries away the original.
The Monument to the Soviet Army in Sofia has also been the subject of art projects since the very beginning of the s. The project provides for removing the sculptures and reliefs and storing them in the basement of the monument, and incorporating the pedestals and the surrounding space into the building of a future centre for avant-garde and modern art. Since I wrote the text of the project, I chose its title only because of the good-sounding acronym in Bulgarian. Otherwise the need for a centre for the new forms in Bulgarian art was being discussed already since the end of Another project, proposed by Lyuben Kostov inis more symbolic rather than practical.
Called 9 Collages on a Common Grave as a Metaphor, it provides for the gradual disappearance of the monument under a huge earthen mound surrounded by a low wooden fence protecting the green areas. But it will continue to be present, with. In the summer ofhowever, the situation changed. When the removal of the monument by the municipal authorities seemed to be pending, it was immediately covered in graffiti.
Amidst this usual urban visual folklore, the figures in the reliefs stood out — with their faces, hair and hands spray-painted in natural colours, along with parts of their clothes and weapons. At the time, this was not a particularly rebellious gesture — it was, rather, a sign of the desacralization of the monument. Its pending removal had also eliminated the last remains of respect for it. I thought at the time that painted in this way, the figures had paradoxically returned sculpture as a whole to its original, authentic form — insofar as it was painted in a similar way in antiquity.
Back then I did not have a camera but a friend told me he had taken photos, so I stopped worrying, knowing that the event had been documented. Later, however, I forgot who that particular friend was and spent years looking for photos from the event; I even wrote to the photo archives department of the BTA Bulgarian News Agency. Then several months ago, someone happened to post photos on Facebook.
These photos are important because they mark the moment of approximation and, later, of fusion of artistic and civic activity — this time no longer on the occasion of, but upon the monument itself. And once again as an anticipation of the impending political and economic crisis in Bulgarian society, in the summer of the western relief of the Monument to the Soviet Army woke up spray-painted.
This was announced as an art action of the anonymous group Destructive Creation. Also interesting, by the way, is the development of the Creative Destruction group: keeping its anonymity, it went on to realize several projects in the urban environment by participating in the first Sofia Contemporary festival and winning a tender conducted by the Sofia Municipality.
Meanwhile, the Monument to the Soviet Army continued to be an object of activism — but now of civic, not of artistic, activism. Its makeovers acquired a distinctly political, and not just national, character — an action with balaclavas in support of the Russian group Pussy Riot, spray-painting the monument in the colours of the Ukrainian national flag as a show of solidarity with the protesters in Kiev…. Kunst in Everywhere, Two-channel dia projection, dimensions variable.
Bulgaria: A View from Within and Without It is telling that the subject of Bulgaria and its place in the world appeared distinctly only in the new century. The reason probably is that Bulgarian society and artists were preoccupied with domestic issues — because of the succession of crises in the s, Bulgaria was bound to look to the West in expectation of help and in a feverish search for models that could be borrowed and applied in the structure of institutions and the state.
It was not until the end of the decade, when the first steps towards European Union accession were taken, that Bulgaria, figuratively speaking, raised its head and began contemplating its place in the world.
Thus, the video also references one of the main characteristics of the s in Bulgaria — emigration, driven by a series of heavy political and economic crises. The bar itself, whose form and physical contours follow those of the Bulgarian state, allows the visitor to have a drink, comfortably leaning on one part of it or another. Inevitably thinking, meanwhile, about Bulgaria and its past and present.
But even without this concrete context, this work will touch every Bulgarian to one extent or another. And that is because every Bulgarian will immediately recognize, and could also draw this border, as well as the other three, from memory himself or herself — sufficiently distinctly, regardless of his or her skills.
Insofar as every person in the world can reproduce — at least approximately — the borders of his or her country. The reactions following the moment of recognition may be mixed, but they are bound to gravitate around patriotism. This view was and is also critical, even though it was moderately so at that time.
As our eyes move down the chart, the map decreases in size, multiplies, and rotates in all directions, turning into several indistinguishable dots at the bottom. It tests our vision outlook, view both from without and from within, subjectively as much as objectively. In any case, I believe contemporary Bulgarian art grasped the public change in the vision of the country — from self-examination and search for a place in the world to self-comparison in relation to the others in the world. From the late s onwards, Bulgarian artists rapidly mastered new expressive means and practices that did not have a tradition in this country.
On the other hand, the lack of education and even of information about what was happening in the world. One exception in this respect was Luchezar Boyadjiev, whose stay in New York and first-hand introduction to the American art scene proved to be very productive for the development of the Bulgarian art scene in the early s. In the course of this development, the idea of creating a museum for contemporary art in Bulgaria appeared and evolved just as logically.
Initially, the museum was envisioned more as a centre of and showcase for the new art forms. Back then they were not accepted and did not fit into the traditional institutional infrastructure. In practice, even the Club of the Eternally Young Artist, being officially part of the Union of Bulgarian Artists, conducted its exhibitions and initiatives in constant frictions with the latter.
This coincided with the period in which the spontaneously formed groups of the late s and early s, including the Club of the Eternally Young Artist, fell apart and were eventually replaced by new associations with strategic goals — creating an infrastructure for contemporary art in Bulgaria and closing the gap between the Bulgarian and the international art scene — such as the Institute of Contemporary Art ICA — Sofia and the Plovdivbased Art Today At the same time, this artwork strongly highlighted the absence of such an institution in Bulgaria.
And, furthermore, not just of an institution for contemporary art. A young man. What is scandalous is not this, though. This artwork is historical, but continues to be topical.
At least until museums in Bulgaria continue to be primarily keepers of a past culture without being participants in the creation of the contemporary one. Meanwhile, a new generation of contemporary artists appeared and won a place on the Bulgarian art scene.
To them I would add a number of art critics and curators who joined in the very intense activities and debates on contemporary art in the s. So did the emigration of many artists from different generations, who chose to live and pursue a career in a more advanced and favourable environment.
In Bulgaria, making a career as an artist continued to be difficult, chaotic, dependent upon the above-mentioned art associations of a new type and several private art galleries. The lack of state support for contemporary art was largely made up for by the Soros Center for the Arts. It is no coincidence that in the mids we used to joke that the Soros Center was playing the role of a ministry of culture. The Soros Center organized several large-scale annual exhibitions focused on contemporary art — beginning with N-Forms.
Reconstructions and Interpretations — until the end of the s, contributing significantly to the promotion of this art in Bulgaria. Last but not least, those exhibitions were important as a means of acquiring experience in the conception and conduct of this type of events. After the worst economic and political crisis in Bulgaria inthere came a period of calming down, stabilization, and progress.
At the beginning of the new century, the Export-Import exhibitionSofia City Art Gallery examined the state of the Bulgarian art scene and highlighted its specific features. In addition to the artists who had left the country, many of those who remained had a strange dual existence: they lived and worked in Bulgaria, but exhibited and sold their works abroad. Export-Import brought together and showed works of Bulgarian artists which the Bulgarian public had not seen before.
Thus, it once. Which means that the works of two generations of Bulgarian artists are not represented at the national art museum.
I must note that the Sofia City Art Gallery — in its capacity as a municipal museum — has done everything within its possibilities to make up for this lost memory. In it established a Contemporary Art and Photography Collection, which is constantly expanded through donations and purchases. Yet in itself, the museum for contemporary art was and is necessary in order to legitimate this art in the eyes of the Bulgarian public — of specialists and non-specialists alike. This attitude is still largely in place today, too.
It is telling, for instance, that when at the end of the National Art Gallery at last received funding from the Ministry of Culture for new acquisitions, it purchased not just classic works but also recently created installations, objects, and videos. In a highprofile promotional campaign — billboards, posters, postcards, invitations, and the like — the artist announced the ceremonious opening of a Museum for Contemporary Art at the Poduyane Railway Station in Sofia.
Someone told me at the time that Svetlin Roussev had played a joke. The purpose of the action was to remind the public that Bulgaria is the only country in Europe, and even in the Balkans, which does not have a museum for contemporary art. In practice, there is no museum for contemporary art in Bulgaria — and this is obvious to the specialized public but difficult to explain to the general public.
And since the name has already been applied to a building, the hope that Bulgaria will have a true contemporary museum for contemporary art is being postponed for an ever more distant and indefinite future. The Protests and Contemporary Art Three waves of long-lasting protests have marked public life in Bulgaria in the last quarter of a century: in, and A significant number of contemporary artists took part in all of them, but the civic and artistic forms in which they did so differed widely.
For its part, the Bulgarian public also noticed, marked, and evaluated the artistic forms of the protests in different ways. Including with regard to the extent to which they were properly artistic or amateurish and even kitschy.
In a sense, those three waves of protests may be viewed also as three stages of interaction between civic and artistic activity. At the beginning of the s Bulgarian artists made this distinction quite clearly. This prompted the Club of the Eternally Young Artist to take a decision that the artists who were taking part in such events were doing so in a personal capacity and did not represent the Club in any way.
But the election campaign happenings were of course a post-protest or, rather, an interprotest phenomenon in that period. This distinction was manifested almost in metaphorical form in the summer of In the final analysis, it turned out that the beach itself was the artwork — in its capacity as a permanent performance staged by a variable cast throughout the summer. That is also when someone came up with the joke that the tent encampment was like a campsite whose beach, however, was on the rooftop of the gallery at 6 Shipka Street.
But before I discuss the protests, I will briefly note the wave of protests in Parades and concerts were their main distinctive feature — as an indication of their growing self-organization. There were also more artistic actions than in the previous wave, and they became a natural part of the general protest. At that, without negative connotations — not yet. The term denoted an enrichment of the expressive means of the protests, where artistic flair, the sense of humour, the carnival in the most general sense of the wordwere becoming an ever more organic part of the united civic action.
I will risk sharing a personal observation which I cannot prove here — because its confirmation or negation requires an in-depth study of the archives by interdisciplinary experts. It is clear that the protests began as a revolt, as a civic demand for change addressed at the people in power. At the beginning, this demand was spontaneous and did not presuppose any artistic action; the latter came at a later stage. The appearance of artistic elements in both the first and the second wave of protests signaled a turning point — this was the moment at which the protesters no longer turned to the power-holders in anger, they no longer demanded anything from them — they merely demonstrated their contempt, mocking and writing off the people in power.
The protesters showed them they were doomed. And indeed, the latter would fall from power soon after. The protest wave of the summer of was different, though. It involved artistic actions almost from the outset, but the government did not resign until more than a year later. And once again, many Bulgarian artists took part in the protests as citizens.
Some of them created art in the course of the protests, others created art for the protests, and still others created both. In fact, this last applies to a single person: Pravdoliub Ivanov. He was the only artist who had managed to make himself a slogan on the very first day of the protests.
The fast exchange on Facebook included people of different professions into the sphere of culture, and they interacted in both LP) virtual and the real world. Thus, I only occasionally managed to understand exactly which. Dozens of people took up and interpreted this slogan in their own way over the next weeks and months.
The video refers to a summer evening when the protesters threw black balloons at the parliament building surrounded by metal barriers and police officers. This was a peaceful gesture demonstrating that the situation had become intolerable, unbearable, that a limit had been reached.
The video shows the dark aesthetic of that moment: we see the police officers standing still in black uniforms against the light background of the National Assembly building, with the black balloons slowly drifting among them along the yellow paving stones, piling up in some places at the whims of the wind. The video is recorded in slow motion, with several seconds stretched out to a minute.
And perhaps the most disturbing result of this stretching out of time is the sound of the protests: the beat of the drums has become a threatening roar, the vuvuzelas merge into a higher dramatic note, above which the whistles howl and wail. The overall feeling is that of a majestic opera based on an ancient Greek tragedy. No wonder if it indeed turns out to be such in the future. For the protests can only bring about a change, but exactly where, and to what, this change would lead no one can tell — least of all, the protesters themselves….
To begin with, because the provocative character of contemporary art presupposes dialogue rather than contemplation. Hence its engagement, but also its freedom in the context — to reflect, participate, provoke, generalize, and predict the processes in it.
And to do this in ever more unpredictable at least, for me forms. Figaro, Change of the Symbol, Photography, collage. The Spirit of Time, Installation, dimensions variable. Hello Lenin, Collection Gaudenz B. Ruf, collection Slava Nakovska and Nedko Solakov. Monuments of Incomplete Transition: Mausoleum Stop, Replacement, Project sketch for the Mausoleum of Georgi Dimitrov, Project for the Mausoleum of Georgi Dimitrov, Sofia, Assault, Untitled, Forget Your Past, Forget Your Past The Bulgarian Case1 This essay is dedicated to a seemingly abstract matter.
Yet, an examination of that matter should answer a pressing critical necessity. Its concrete aim is to examine the modalities of interaction between political, critical and esthetical theory and practice, not only in what concerns the inter-subjective relations and group social dynamics, but also on the level of deep structural correlations and transformations.
That is why it will emphasize more particularly the discourses of the political in their relation to the esthetical practices of the transformation, not only and not in such an extent in a supposed mimetic or allegorical modus, as much as from the point of view of the structural and conceptual transformation, leading in the end to a new, transformed understanding of the esthetical practice not only as social praxis, but also as a political action — or of the very esthetical action as political.
Self- Representation Of Community. Its self-alienation has reached such a degree that it can experience its own destruction as an aesthetic pleasure of the first order. This is the situation of politics which Fascism is rendering aesthetic. Communism responds by politicizing art. Harry Zohn. At least from Stalin on, communism aims at the formation of a total body of the political community — the body of people.
Such is the fundamental feature of the communist logic of representation. At the same time this task, as well as the entire line of aestheticisation of politics are undoubtedly part of the millenary tradition of the ontopolitical project of the Occident: the project for forming an ideal political body upon an ideal preexisting model. The people of communist state is formed, incarnated body whose transcendent and penetrating it spirit is the Communist Party.
The Party constitutes the body of people from inside as a body of State. In that sense the body of people functions through a fusional eroticism, it is a self-satisfying masturbational body, exemplifying the metaphysical phallogocentric structure — a self-penetrating perverse body. In their attempt for figuration of the body of people, totalitarian projects were undoubtedly guided from the attempt for re-sacralization of political community.
However, this does not mean that communist regime in particular represent a lapse into the archaic ritualistic thinking; on the contrary it promoted a new type of sacred, as it was argued by Groys4, related precisely to the archetypal political idea of esthetical forming of the body politic. Its political esthetics is entirely inscribed in the framework of Modernity, which has established the esthetical regime as a universal horizon of social-political existence and in which in fact appears the contemporary form of politics.
Communism did not succeed abolishing the state, and its people-withoutstate remained unborn. People lost itself because the order of representation which was producing it, collapsed. It collapsed because the order of representation centered and supported by the figure of the ideal people could not support anymore the resistance of the unrepresented, unthinkable — unimaginable — body of the immanent people here and now.
The vision of the purely immanent community, of the final in some way millenarist community of communism, turned to be, on its own turn, a transcendental construct, a product of the regime of representation.
At the end this ideal communal body remained nothing more than a mechanic reproduction on posters and screens, a self-referential image. Communism, who had in its origins the vision of community and of communal body, of common and organic body of people — body, which was supposed to make the final step beyond the ontopolitical esthetics of representation, finally turned to be a super-represented body, a body, resulting of a regime of superrepresentation5.
Thus the organics aspiring to the annihilation of the order of representation turned to be a corner stone of representation itself — its boundary figure, which, at the very limit, as a limit, that is as a frame, guarantees the possibility of representation. A Trojan horse of the Eternal Return of representation. The Bulgarian Transition Let us consider in a more detailed way the structural moments of the Bulgarian transition.
As a result of the blockade of the Bulgarian parliament from the people on the 14th of December Article 1 was annulated. The topology of this event was quite a symbolic one. In that way a new political power, a constituting power, suspending the existing order, appeared to the political scene. The revocation of Article 1 disconnected the juridical fusion of Party and State, on which the communist regime was based.
It opened the way to the creation of new constitution, that is, to a new foundational moment. At the same time, even if Article 1 was annulled, the transition obviously — if we consider the state of affairs of the 90s — was not successful, that is it was not completed.
The possible explanations for this failure are multiple. Anyhow, our task here is rather to step beyond the empirical sociopoiltical and economical factors and to try to address this question in the light of the fundamental logic of politics, or logic of sovereignty.
Thus, founding violence did not manifest, so it was not sublimated as an inherent moment of the new order. But at the same time the people — the sovereign political body — carried the constituting potential.
Thus, people became not an active subject but a passive object of the violence of state. This cleavage caused the bad infinity of the sacrificial crisis — the eternal return of the idea of split between constituting sovereign and constituted sovereign, and consequently the failure of representation.
Thus the non-sublimated in the people violence developed as an anti-state violence. Because of that the attempts to provoke a new radical rupture and new foundation remained the only possible reaction of people for almost a decade.
Postcommunist Community. At the limit where people lost itself as a potential of the constituting power and at the same time as an esthetical figurated body, it was replaced by a new, double and schizophrenic regime of existence : 1. At the same time, the economy of the symbolic transition could not be perfect by definition.
If communism manifests ideology as sublimation of the constituting power, which comprises as its immanent feature the orgiastic erotic experience, that is the experience of the political as pure pleasure, than post-communism, which means first of all the fall of the grand ideology, would imply a possibility for actualization of this constituting force, the experience of political as pure pleasure. And that was, indeed, the beginning. The protesting and resisting bodies in a shared enthusiasm, in a shared rhythm, traced the contours of an utterly political body in the very experiencing of its activity, of its fr action and friction.
Hence, what is a political body, which transgresses the political order? What is the orgiastic body of crowd, which lacks the sacred mystery of ritual? Undoubtedly, it is an obscure rival of the sacred body of people. If the eroticism of the latter is sublimated in the fusion and the erasure of borders, in the formation of an absolute esthetical body, the former represents a pure erotic power resisting any sublimation.
What is the representation of a body which transgresses the structures of representation? Bluetooth Graffiti, Interactive project for mobile phones.
Memory Picture, Variable Physical Status, Own Space Outdoor 4, Action infront the Sofia Court House, Sofia. Part from Own Space Outdoor ongoingPhotographic investigation and series of videos. Bulgaria paper flags with wooden handle-stick manufactured by handtext in Bulgarian and English, perforation, two-side color print. Bright Future, Installation in public space, the frontal facade of the National Palace of Culture, Sofia, Daniela Kostova end Miryana Todorova.
Plastic orderly bin and cards for donations, manifesto, performance. The Mausoleum of Georgi Dimitrov, Comintern leader and first Bulgarian communist prime-ministermay be considered as attempt for localizing in sacred topos the thing of ideology, its sublime unimaginable core. If communism is the final manifestation of modern ideological regime — the regime of ideological organization of society, then post-communism will be the era of post-ideology par excellence.
The exposure of this sublime void means disintegration of the ideological tissue. Of course this eschatological moment could not be durable: as pure fiction it is timeless. Ten years later similar drama was enacted around another symbolic monument of the communist politesthetic: The Monument Of The Soviet Army.
It would be significant and undoubtedly instructing to examine the repetitions and the differences between the polit-esthetic tragicomedy around the Mausoleum building and the melodrama around the Monument. This would respectively mean to open new page of political-esthetical forms of representation and to view the rhetoric, the discourses, the visual and especially the performative esthetic of protests of the last two years.
The political subjects — i. The people crossed the Mausoleum square again, reminding of their sovereign presence.
But this is already — supposedly! This work which is without doubt a critical apostrophe of the confusion of public and private space, of the mixing of economical and political quasi-esthetical codes, symptomatically appeared in the space of the most-radical symbolic confusion — transgression and reversion.
Few years later a group of curators tried to tie the symbol of the symbolic chaos of political transition — the missing Mausoleum — directly with symbol of the failure of the organized aesthetic self- representation of Bulgarian contemporary art: the stubbornly not-happening Bulgarian pavilion at the Venice Biennale. The Initiative Bulgarian Pavilion by the idea of Dessislava Dimova and Svetlana Kuymdjieva which was accomplished in in the form of contest for pavilionmausoleum project and the suggested ideas were in a sense symptomatic for the political-esthetical imagination and discourses of the transition.
On the other side were suggested actions interventions, performances weakening the banal, retrograde categories, by proposing more complicated theses, and respectively — adequate and original techniques and material choices: i. Political Action, Esthetical Action All those artistic actions manifest a new idea of the relation between politics and esthetics, described by Benjamin, namely of the aesthetic as action.
At the end of this essay, I will propose instead of epilogue a final paradigmatic example. The conceptual action in question is not reactive; it is a reflexive action. The map, that you have probably already seen, is made from point of view of a person standing with his back to the Mausoleum.
This is the privileged point of view, because it is governed by the mummy itself, if we imagine it rising. Is this. This question is posed to all those who are still capable of imagining sovereignty as such critical-esthetical gesture. Boris Groys, Anne von der Heiden et Peter Weibel, Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag,a result of research made in the frames of the coordinated by Boris Groys project The Postcommunist Condition, in view of the themes of the exhibition and the volume Art For Social Change and in the radically changed ten years later situation.
As Boris Groys has argued in Gesamtkunstwerk Stalin, this esthetical regime of the political reaches its ultimate embodiment in the Stalinist State. Taken without its monarch and the articulation of the whole which is the indispensable and direct concomitant of monarchy, the people is a formless mass and no longer a state.
Knox, pp. Never Enough, A Monument of My Memory, Action on the facade of the Sofia City Art Gallery. Georgi Tenev Writing on the Wall What follows are two personal observations, real-life memories of events in Sofia in the s — visual, radical, enigmatic.
Of forms of individual expression that were novel and creatively free. They were done just for the sake of being done, without rules and explanations.
Said text was written in blue chalk, at a height of cm and in letters 20 cm in height. The text was photographed and erased. One leaflet was written with a ballpoint pen — text handwritten in block letters, and the other was a carbon copy of the first.
Visiting the site, the following was established. On a mailbox on the fence in front of No. Terter St, at aroundwe found materials with hostile content. The letters were approximately cm in height. After photographing the latter, we erased it.
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Licence To Roam. They then exchanged a few quick passes, af Stepover FC. The Republic of Borduria, the Kingdom of Syldavia: if you grew up obsessed with the adventures of Tintin, like me my granddad even taped the tv-series on
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