Breaking Walls/Building Networks
16-31 January 2010 | Macedonian Museum of Contemporary Art | Thessaloniki, Greece
Walls & Networks
The words “wall” and “network” have become immensely influential though opposite in meaning terms that enjoy wide use in every corner of the European Union. Both are trimmed to carry immediate information about “good” and “evil”; often an accumulation of explanatory notes is asked for whenever the positive and negative connotations need to be reversed. Thus the braking up of a wall is an attractive statement while the braking up of a network is not. The erection of a wall, be it as it may a supporting one, triggers suspicions that somebody’s natural effort might be stopped while the construction of a network “rings the bells” of transparency, choice, free will. A wall becomes something nicer if a crack is located; a network becomes useless when broken up although it is meant to be a two-way street of passage.
Titles of shows like “Breaking Walls. Construction of Networks” follows the trend set by this popular word-order, which is now dominant in the global media space. The belief that networks are capable of transgressing walls is an important notion that is meant to support our social and political sense of optimism. However, the tile acknowledges that fact that we are talking here about networks in the process of construction. A network is automatically understood to signify a collaboration between something “new” and something else that is also “new”. This is not the first showing of Bulgarian art and artists in the spaces of the Macedonian Museum of Contemporary Art in Thessaloniki (by the way, geographically this is the nearest to Sofia active museum of contemporary art). However, the relation established with this show is a new feeling for all participants. The participants are plugged into other networks stretching far out and beyond the region, which they should consider their own; their works speak a language and of issues that lead us far away and do not let themselves to easy boxing into the tight space of South-East Europe. For good or bad the speed of movement available to our time has taken the artists to spaces we can only call global while the artists themselves make important contribution to the global definition of such spaces through their art. The younger artists in this show, the ones whose experiences are very far from covering the whole 20 years since 1989, are simply unable to imagine that the road down to the dreamed for Aegean Sea (which in Bulgaria we still call the “White Sea” after a past long gone), a road that we now call European Corridor number so-and-so, used to terminate after only about 2 hours’ car trip south from Sofia... They could not know that this is where one world used to end and something completely different started beyond the border… That different thing was called “capitalism” – an unknown, mysterious, and seductive world which was the screen where we projected a lot of dreams of political, ideological and in all honesty – economical, that is – standard of life, nature. In those long gone days freedom and abundance were synonymous. Our romantically inclined collective consciousness saw the abundance of oranges and olives in Greece not only as part of the nature’s gifts to the country but also in a strange way – as a signifier of capitalism. We were the closest neighbors and no matter what the propaganda machine on our side of the Iron Curtain were saying, Greece was our most idealized capitalist neighbor.
At long last, after so many years and even millennia (after the Antiquity, the Byzantine and the Ottoman Empires), we are now back together again with Greece in the common political and economical space (that in particular is not so welcomed in view of the 2010 crisis in Greece…- so, watch out neighbor!) of the European Union. But - this is not the time for either euro-optimism or euro-skepticism. I do not want to go into the world financial crisis either although these days it is the lowest common denominator for everything. It’s just that the crossing the border between the two countries became very easy. One would expect that the typical avant-garde of international cultural relations – all those contacts between artists, artists’ groups, art projects and the likes, will become easy as well as numerous. However, in spite of the many transnational collaborative projects (and one can say that contemporary art in Bulgaria is surviving largely due to these) the project with Greece are surprisingly few!
That might be because Bulgarian art most often goes to the neighbors within the framework of official cultural exchange, or maybe because the official and formal institutions are blocking independent collaboration; or it might be because we all want to get to know so much all those people and artists who know nothing about us that we tend to postpone communication with those nearest and dearest to us… The official institutions are slowly dying out, the nation state in its traditional form and shape is getting tired… Networks are the alternative and their construction and nurturing, as the title of the show implies, is the main priority now. That takes time; that asks for voluntary effort; that depends on recognizing the similarities and respect for the differences. The very act of establishing relations is a challenge that seduces us with the promise of diversity and revelation.
That is why I accepted the invitation to collaborate with the closest and a bit removed (Cypress) neighbors within the exhibition project “Breaking Walls – Building Networks” as a factor that can be used to build within space and time. More to the point – networking is something that teaches us how to defeat nationalism and provincialism within our own selves; how to confront today’s entropy of art; how to overcome the inevitable outward migration of young artists; how to preserve the sense of humour when encountering both the global life-style trend as well as the total aggression of the market. I accepted the title of the show as a motto meant to spearhead the creation of a collection of types, species, meanings, means, and symbolic items related to our current notion for what we are, for what is dividing and/or binding us as people, for things we want to talk about and things we want to share. Networks rely on co-habitation, not on comparison and competition; in a network it is not important who is the best but rather how many are in and who is who.
Artists from Bulgaria – that very much means “from Sofia” in this case. However, this is something provisional (though meaning “wisdom” in Greek language…) as there is an artist from Paris there, as well as an artist from London, while many of the rest stay in Sofia for as long as needed to change the clothes in the luggage. The artists from Bulgaria in this show are people of various generations and the difference in age is often larger then the number of years in the life of some of the participants... The participating artists are different in all and this is the pre-condition for them being able to get involved with and to build up networks with open and multi-semantic relations. Obviously the privately motivated and strategically nominated the individual art works as well as the statements pushed out by their authors are open to interpretation, which depends on the context, on the acknowledged links and relations.
The thin irregular form of the line in Pravdoliub Ivanov “Border by Memory” (2006) is shaped by a neon tube with its magically blinking and imperceptible light. In fact this is a “portrait likeness” of the northern border of Bulgaria, which is following the quirky meanderings of the Danube River. This illustration for the relativity of the very notion for a border seen in the human rather then the political context – isn’t it a humble yet grand metaphor for the ghostly nature of memories and from there on – for the transient substance of knowledge?
Bora Petkova is using the ready-made tool – the sign for a “way out”, which has become a typical and universal feature of public buildings the world over. She has positioned her intervening option at the spot where there is indeed a real possibility to get out of the space. However, she has added to the ready-made a hand-written distraction that is transforming the “Exit” (2008) sign into an “exist” statement. The play of words is easily misleading and yet in substance it insinuates that the act of “exiting” is a conscious choice, which is essential for the modern state of human existence.
The two channel video of Krassimir Terziev titled “A Message from Space in my Backyard” (2008-09) is a time-related investigation of one of the oldest human dreams – the travel in outer space. This romantic drive is transformed today into an absurd dystopia – the remnants and the refuse of the technological advances of the human kind are falling back down on Earth, they are literally showering us. Is the implication that all utopian visions are doomed to end up as so many futile efforts?
In the cycle of digital photographs/montages titled “Billboard Heaven” (2005) Luchezar Boyadjiev has manipulated the most recent human obsession – advertisement in urban space. The backdrop is the neo-capitalist visual environment of the city of Sofia and the aggressive rape of public space by private interest, typical for the city. The gaze of the artist is replacing the city with its billboards. It is transforming the city people into an imperfect appendix while transforming reality into a threatening chaos of consumer desires, fulfilled dreams and boxed-in existence.
Kiril Prashkov is turning the tar-filled cracks in the tarmac of Bulgarian highways into an abstract lacework. The cycle “Further” (2007-09) is a case of documentary photography where the camera is positioned high up and is observing “nature” just like a microscope would do. The artist is trying to preserve the sensation of endless variety while avoiding any kind of manipulation of the source image. The very gaze of the author is in fact the instrument of anesthetization that is transforming the samples of road engineering into fine art drawings.
Vikenti Komitski is mounting in intricate gilded frames regular concrete plates used for the sidewalks in Bulgaria during the 1960-1970ies. The primary geometrical shapes in the composition of Untitled (2008) acquire an absurdly overstated importance and representative significance. The combination of materials that are contradictory by default – picked up from the “low” street culture as well as from the “high” museum culture, is ironical both as such and as a comment on the persistent attempts of contemporary art to be a magical power able to overcome all and any kind of contradiction.
At first glance the “Casting prototype” (2009) by Stefania Batoeva is kin to concrete art and the attempts of this stylish trend in art to liberate the abstract form from any and all semantic associations. However, as is often the case in art – the relations are quite arbitrary. The materials and the forms used by the artist as well as her installation techniques are unequivocally interpreted as contemporary and urban in terms of references. The objects are rather relatives of the unfinished constructions from the socialist past and/or the ruins of the concrete panel blocks of the residential building from the same time – these nowadays neo-romantic remnants of the utopian past.
The two protagonists in the film by Stefan Nikolaev titled “Sick-kiss” (2006) are a young woman and an elderly man. They are constructing their relationship in front of the eyes of the viewer. Slowly, as in a trance, or as in a well worked-out ritual they are being drawn to each other in order to finally touch each other through a cigarette. The cinematographic suspense culminates at the moment when the cigarette of the female character is lighted. The man “lights up” the woman and after a brief moment together they separate as fitting for strangers.
The strange soft toys in the Kalin Serapionov video work titled “Nearly Beautiful” (2003) are not easy to describe. They hit the rose-patterned pillows with surprise and unnerving sound. The artist is skillfully exploiting a number of visual and audio effects. At first the unexpected – the thick thump and the accompanying “cry” or groan; and then the aesthetical contrast between the huge roses on the pillow – an outdated symbol of beauty in the everyday interior design of commodities and toys. The origin of the toys is not so clear though any kid who has been to McDonalds for a child’s menu around 2003-2004 will have no problem identifying… It seems nothing much of anything all that dramatic is taking place… and yet, the artist is pushing and stretching the sensibility of the viewer to the braking point of unease and distress.
These are some of the thoughts and associations that might be triggered by the works of the Bulgarian artists and their works taking part in the show “Breaking Walls. Construction of Networks”. No doubt many other links, emotions and diverse experiences would be revealed if one was to look for the interaction with the works by the Greek and Cypriot artists. This is the substance of networking, re-construction and re-discovering of relations, isn’t it so?
Curator, Director - ICA Sofia
Democracy in The Making > Breaking Walls. Building Networks
[group exhibition] [atlantis]Everything unravels in the basement; where our own course –Via Artis– meets the ancient stone-paved road, part of Via Egnatia – Via Armis.
The stairway leading down to the exhibition space signals the first narrative, the work in progress “Life around” (2009-2010) by Haris Pallas. A series of snap shots taken every five days beginning on September 3, 2009 compose a diary of memories of the accidental and the coincidental. The artist uses this medium to organize his narrative, seen from above or even stepped on, leading up to the basement’s central plateau, where wall, carpeted floor and screen become coherent as flowery underlay.
The wall that Klitsa Antoniou created is constructed with boxes, the interior of which is printed with a repetitive pattern of pink flowers. On the other side of the wall, her video “Experimental Storytelling” (2009) presents with extreme sensitivity personal, historical, social episodes. The artist’s fictional discourse engages with the historically charged context, in order to convey the lasting human agonies around the themes of identity, tradition and the sociopolitical interpretation of the past, as well as the need to hope for the future.
Two concrete, post-animal creatures stand on the flower-decorated carpet installed centrally on the space’s central platform in the work “Dog meets dog on green carpet” (2005) by Melita Couta. In polarized controversy, they define an imaginary sound field, two embattled, menacing bells or impenetrable gates. These two implacable, animal-like hybrids could also be perceived as guardians who protect a passage where anything is possible to occur.
Moving on from the floor to the projection of Kalin Serapionov’s work “Nearly beautiful” (2003), small industrial monsters, with hair-raising screams, commit suicide violently falling on a bed of roses. The irony of domestic happiness and playfulness in the globalized era.
Moving from the screen to the wall again, Vikenti Komitski randomly selects worn out side walk slabs and frames them like mirrors in silver gilded wooden museum-type frames (“Untitled”, 2008). The slabs used for sidewalks become monumentalized, a context-charged sediment of aesthetics for the unknown rambler.
Next to this work, a painting installation by Vasilis Zografos (“Untitled, 2010). In the installation’s painting, grey colors are used to depict the side view of a bust which is fumbled by a hand covered in surgical glove. Next to it, a small shelf holds the timeless symbols of power – a crown and cross. A comment on the possibilities of painting to convey anything that can be molded and represented as power – the force and the dynamics of the image are present, hard to become perceived mentally or discursively.
On the wall once more, a neon boundary, a luminous sign in the work “Border by memory” (2006) by Pravdoliub Ivanov. What constitutes a border by memory? What unites and what divides a streamer of light? What could be a luminous or enlightened border?
In Stefan Nikolaev’s video “Sickkiss” (2006) –title which can be read both ways with slight alterations to its meaning– a spark is lit through distance. A possibility for mute inflammation, an eroticism covered by smoke creating the possibility for anyone to enjoy, alone, what the Other conveys.
Luchezar Boyadjiev’s photo installation “Billboard Heaven - Sofia” (2005) presents one chapter of the artist’s on-going photo series; 19 inkjet prints on paper, which describe and comment the reception of pop culture by the urban environment and the visual changes that occur within the globalized conditions.
Right across this photo installation, a two-channel video installation by Krassimir Terziev titled “A message from space in my backyard” (2008-2009); urban environment is not the centre of attention this time, but outer space and the landscape changes caused by the accumulation of space debris. The work engages with the question of expanding our possibilities to the stratosphere, calling attention to a threatening collateral loan, where rubbish created by man reappears from the heavens.
In Effie Halivopoulou’s work “Transgenic Trauma” (2007), it is again from high above that light is symbolically shed to a monumental book bearing several inscriptions, as if the possibility of communication through writing becomes inseminated. In the background, a video projection shows the biological condition inseminated in terrifying manner.
Bora Petkova interferes in the writing of an emergency exit sign in her work “Exist” (2009). The sign is modified in order to unravel issues related to the question of existence and its exposure.
Eight prints – infinite patterns hung on the wall; as if the number 8 has lied down. Kiril Prashkov’s “Further” series of digital prints (2007-2009) shows rather ambiguous patterns –details in close up or panoramic views from afar? The serpentine trails become a disquieting, irregular network which offers points of communication or chaos.
In Yiannos Economou’s video “Pyrkos” (2006), the poetic narrations by the people of Pyrkos village in Cyprus contribute to highlight the feeling of anxiety caused by the exclusion imposed by the island’s division. Land becomes island, eliminating the possibilities for overland gateway.
In TwoFourTwo’s (Constantinos Kounnis and Costas Mantzalos) installation “Threesomes” (2009) three photo portraits are encased by two wooden crates. Each of them features two different portraits imprinted on one single background, this way convulsing or distorting their features and making their gender ambiguous. Comments on identity related issues: similar to a post-human iconostasis.
In front of this installation, Stefania Batoeva’s “Casting Prototype” (2007-2009); a free standing skeleton made of concrete, wood and metal, a miniature of a seven-storey monument, including the pedestal, a model for an arrogant construction, or a torture device.
Next to it, Foteini Kariotaki’s wall consists of 15 light boxes which incarcerate memories, similar to elements taken from the workshop of Hephaestus or Faust; precious or dangerous instruments.
Yorgo Manis’ in situ installation “Echoes” (2010) is an intervention installed on the remnants of the ancient Via Egnatia; it bridges, with its zigzag motion, any given points, like the pillars of a bridge. Ways to create connections, regardless of time or space.
…18 ways to overcome boundaries, to break the walls through endless correlations, visual or contextual ones, which create multiple narratives within one cohesive network.
Lydia Chatziiakovou, Thalea Stefanidou