Project for the Resident fellows programme II, Visual seminar, October 2003-March 2004
Excuse me, which city is this?
"Ithink that it is at least empirically arguable that our daily life,our psychic experience, our cultural languages, are today dominatedby space."
“Excuse me, which city is this?” is a visual exploration of the world of daily life of a city in the state of crisis (Sofia, Bulgaria). This is an observation of the presence/absence of memory in the spatial practices of the inhabitants of the city. It is an exploration which bears the assumption that space has a major role in the cultural and socio-economical practices and structures.
In “The Production of Space” (1974), Henry Lefebvre studies the (public) space as a (public) product and defines three key concepts in his project – spatial practices (our perceptions), representations of space (our ideas) and spaces of representation (spaces of living – experienced spaces). According to Lefebvre , spatial practices in neo-capitalism transform the close associative link in the observable space between daily reality (the routine of everyday life) and city reality (the roads and networks which connect the separated places for work, private life and leisure. In my exploration I attempt to analyse the current processes of mutation in the social practices and spaces of living in a period of crisis in representations of space.
While the study was taking place, the city was experiencing its fifteenth year of post-communist existence. Until 1989 Sofia was the capital of a ‘prosperpous’ socialist Bulgaria whose citizens met – supposedly happily - the victory of real socialism in the country in the 1980s.
After the collapse of socialism in 1989 a period of transition began to a market-oriented social order. Concomitant with this radical disruption was a series of economic, cultural and political crises followed by corruption and chaos on all levels. Sofia as a capital (and as the last bastion of the surrendering institutions and as the gateway to the ‘endless opportunities’ abroad) suffered a sharp increase of population as a result of the growing unemployment throughout the country and the centralisation of new capital and production spheres. This demographic boom against the backdrop of the total decline of institutions lead to an urban environment that was left entirely to private and individual initiative. As a result the city has been breaking down into fragmented series of spatial organisations each of which follows its own logic, rhythm and rules.
The project explores the processes of atomisation in urban geography, architecture and the logic of production of public space.
Sofia does not exist! It is only a pale abstraction projected by the institutions and it does not succeed in resisting the flow of ‘real life’. What exists is only fragmented places where traumatised memory (or its absence - social amnesia), imagination and the pressure of everyday needs bring about ceaseless mutations, re-discovery and re-definition of urban space.
The focus of interest in this situation is how people use, destroy, change the material environment that surrounds them; how people appropriate spaces and turn them into personal surroundings, or inhabit spaces, which they have in a sense squatted in without being bothered about the accumulations from the past.
Мy observations on, and vision about, urban space are not to be taken as a scientific study. The only value that could be attached to them are the intuitions for an immediate relation to, and experience of, space which specialists in the humanities do not perceive or do not have the time to reflect upon.
While observing the mutations and breakdown of public urban spaces, by video and photographic means I record separate instances - key places - where different aspects of everyday life have crystalised e.g. inhabiting the city and identifying (or the refusal to identify) with the space that is inhabited.
Some of the places are witnesses of an ideological intervention of the past that has survived in the present (for instance, the children’s playground in the Northern Park). Others are evidence of the weightlessness of the present (the illegal market along the banks of the Perlovski canal or the deserted cars in the streets – these can be observed throughout the city). A third type comprises fictional bad scenarious about the future development of the city or the revenge of long-suppressed nature (gigantic mutated dogs as the sole surviving city dwellers) or spaces of simulation inhabited by imaginary citizens (the crowd scenes with the extras in the Boyana Studios)
A Place (a childrens’s playground)
The Northern Park, Nadezhda housing estate
A leisure park in the periphery of the city in a typical working-class neighbourhood. The unique spatial composition is the result of urban planning and the mode of thinking of the socialist and socially-oriented engineer. It is a bizarre concoction of romantically artificial (planned) hillocks and military strategies. The hillocks are well-organised and cut across by canals and ponds which are linked by nostalgic curved footbridges. The highlight of the architectural ensemble are the prop-like tanks, rockets, military airplanes and canons which are arranged as on a battle field. All these items are made of modules manufactured from the same material: metal tubes whose diametre ranges from 20cm to 70 cm, and which are painted in the basic colours – yellow, red and blue. These are ‘devices for children’s play’– one of the fanciful remnants of ideological urban planning, which is still present in the daily life of the city dwellers in this part of Sofia. Amazing is the scale on which people visit the park. Every weekend the playground is filled with families with children unaware of the tragic metaphor they so actively participate in.
A Market (the levels of the river Danube)
The “Black” market along the banks of the Perlovski canal
An illegal (product of individual initiative) market in the central part of the city. Passing through the Stochna gara area on a Saturday you can observe or participate in the “black” market, which takes place in the bed of the Perlovska river. This is a wholly ‘unregulated’ concentration of strange people and goods with vague origin and purpose. Here you can find samples of most inconceivably useless and forgotten objects of human production. Always overcrowded, this market is a place of complex social relationships: despair, ‘free’ labour, memory/ nostalgia/ аmnesia, consumerism (in a mutant shape) and ingenious survival techniques. The market is situated in a rare spatial manner with regard to the city – it is at the centre of a roundabout, below the level of ‘normal’ street traffic and it appears to signify itself as an underground place. Another implication of the location is that passers-by as well as drivers and passengers can see the ‘arena of the spectacle’ from above (like the spectators on the floors of the Colliseum in Rome looking down at the plebeians. The third peculiar spatial feature is the Perlovska river – the canal in whose bed lies the market.
This whole irrational and spectacular spatial arrangement lead me to working out my own system in order to interpret what was happening under my eyes. Somehow I recognised the river Danube in the canal called Perlovska river. Аnd in the Natinal radio broadcasts of the levels of the river Danube in centimetres, which I remember from my childhood, I somehow recognised the figures announced in Bulgarian, Russian and French as levels of commercial transactions/stock exchange indexes taking place at this market.
100 Points in Favour of Art in Urban Space
A collection of 100 photographs of deserted cars in the streets of Sofia
This is probably one of the few common denominators which unify the dispersed urban spaces. Strolling through any part of the city one is confronted by cars without tyres, propped on wooden planks, permanently parked on the sidewalk, in tiny parks among residential buildings or directly on the street. They are witnesses of a mass catastrophe from the recent past. Тhe cars are objects filled with micro stories (containing evidence of owners, time period, geographical location, the current state of society).
They are situated permanently in their places thus shaping the face of city streets. In order to legitimise their presence and appease the concern of my rational part , which demands an explanation at all costs, I recognised in them art works in public space (a hybrid between park sculpture and a gigantic and long-term collective happening).
The City of Dogs (post-urban landscapes)
A series of photomontages – 360 degree photographs
A series of photomontages featuring mutant creatures (heirs of the street dogs) as the only element that unites all the areas and diverse spaces in the city.
The photomontages are 360-degree photographic panoramas from the city centre (the park in front of the National palace of culture) and the city suburbs (housing estates Tolstoy and Druzhba) or of a collage of tourist landmarks, all inhabited by gigantic dogs (their height ranges from around 6 feet to the height of a building of 10-15 storeys). These inhabitants are signs of the revenge of nature (the irrational) on culture (reason), and they awake all the fears generated by the feeling of guilt about the forgotten equilibrium, by the egocentrism and comfort of consumerist existence. The stray dogs are a phenomenon that has taken on hysterical associations in the urban subconscious that have lead to the fabrication of generations of horror films that come true in predictions about disasters or invasions by “the others”.
In the recent past the stray dogs have been the media image for countries like Bulgaria or Romania, distributed in western tabloids and television rports from this part of he world.
Staging a film production
Unlike the previously described works in which I record real urban situations with minimal interference, the situation here is wholly staged.
As I already mentioned, ‘A Film’ is a documentary fiction – imaginary ctizens (a representative mixture of historical periods) inhabit a fictional urban space (sets that have already been used and are half-destroyed). This is a vision about those who have not found their place/time in the city. It is also an analysis/questioning of the authenticity of memory, a gesture of dealing with visual ideas about the past which are to a greater degree associations referring to films, rather than to real documentaries. The aim is to create a product on the verge of reality and fiction with second-hand means (a set and costumes that have already been used, and which have remained in the Boyana studios from past productions)
“A Movie” uses the strategy of appropriation borrowing the economics and logistics of film industry. Essentially, the process is that of directing group scenes in filmmaking. In it the cameras are not directed to the characters of the story (main or supporting) but to the extras. Instead of acting and identifying with the characters, the roles seek to recreate a situation with the help of large numbers of temporarily hired extras. They are the focus of interest in this production - the ordinary non-professional people whose motives for participating are external to the process of filmmaking.
The project stages a "real film production" with shaping a production team, release of a call for extras, casting of the candidates and organisation of a full shooting day. The stage is a film set, built and used by previously shot italian film production in "Boyana" Film Centre (the main infrastructure facility in local film industry). The extras are dressed with a stage costumes from the specialised wardrove of "Boyana" Film Centre (a collection of historical costumes left from film productions in the past decades). In 10 A.M. the group of 50 extras is lead to the film set and left there to wait for further instructions and a signal for the start of the "action". Such a moment never comes. Three cameras from different angles follow the behaviour of the people, during all the long hours of waiting. This process goes on for 5 hours. Then the group is dismissеd without further explanations. The dual channel DVD Installation "A MOVIE" shows this sequence of time, while all these people are waiting and do nothing, but only wander around on the edge between fiction and reality.
The possible directions for an analysis in the filed of film industry lie in several parallel planes. First, this is an exploration of a recycled cinematic image (containing zero levels of drama), it looks at the conventions of film industry and at the economy of the internal system of filmmaking. Second, by completely discarding the dramatic content (the scenario which is expected) together with the frivolous use of representations of all sorts of historical, cultural and social contexts in the costumes, the focus is shifted to the tension between the expectation things to ‘fit’ into the frame of normality, and the reality of ‘nothing happens’ or ‘there is something wrong here’.
Significant is also the place where the project is happening – Boyana Studios – as an infrastructural unit of Bulgarian filmmaking as well as using the costumes available at the studios from past Bulgarian film productions.
A Place (a playground)
The Northern Park in Nadezhda housing estate
Single-channel video installation, 08:30 min., Pal, Stereo, DVD player, 25" TV screen.
A Market (the levels of the river Danube)
The "Black" market along the banks of the Perlovski canal
Single-channel video installation, 10:48 min., Pal, Stereo, DVD player, 25" TV screen.
100Points in Favour of Art in UrbanSpace
Collection of 100 photographs of deserted cars in the streets ofSofia
Slide show for internet environment (part of http://www.cityscales.net)
TheCity of Dogs(Post-urbanlandscapes)
Aseries of photomontages– 360 degreephotographs,
4 х 150/20 сm. Colour inkjet print on paper // 360-degree panoramas for internet environment (part of http://www.cityscales.net)
Dual-channel video installation, 2х27 min., Pal, Stereo, 2 DVD players, 2 video projectors, projection measures 2х 200/350cm.
Website of the project offering an outside perspective from the distance of the virtual viewer. Exhibiting the local in a global environment.
The web platform uses a map of Sofia as a navigation structure divided into 16 quadrants. Entering any of them activates different visual spatial narratives.
This creates a sort of cinematographic experience that can be decsribed as docu-fiction.
The observations are wholly personal and therefore do not claim to be comprehensive, final evaluative.
Communication campaign/back in public space
• intervention in public space– screeningsin the Metromedia network in all metro stations on13 April- 9May 2004from1400to2100.
For six hours every day series of short videos (max. 60 min.) werescreened among the advertisements broadcasted on the screens of"Metromedia" in all subway stations in the city.
• exhibition at the АTAcentre/Institute of Contemporary Art
13 April – 7 May 2004
• websiteof the project: www.cityscales.net
The Resident Fellows Program is the product of a partnership between the ICA-Sofia and CAS-Sofia activities and programs on a more theoretical level. It will be organised by the Centre for Advanced Studies Sofia in accordance with the ICA. Within a given year, CAS hosts four resident fellows from Bulgaria for a period of six months each. They come from the fields of contemporary visual arts, other artistic areas, or academia and are selected by the Experts' Unit of the Visual Seminar based on their submitted applications and the application/selection procedures appropriate in such cases. The resident fellows have a stipend and reside in Sofia for the period of their fellowships while working on a specific artistic or research project related both to the topic of the “Visual Seminar” project and to the other activities of CAS. The finalized projects are presented in public in Sofia and discussed by the Forum of Visual Culture (see Module 1).
The idea of cooperation between academics and artists is based on the familiar experience of the Centers for Advanced Study in Europe and USA. Their established practice involves the artists’ participation in the intellectual community of researchers gathered for other research projects of the Centers for Advanced Study. They engage in, and contribute to, the debates and the heuristic atmosphere of the Centers and develop their own artistic projects based on this experience.
Such fellows would be selected by a special procedure appropriate in such cases.