An excerpt from this interview with the curator Dimitrina Sevova was published in Bulgarian in the magazine Intro No. 20, January 2006, pp. 108-113.

Back to Fake

Interview with the curator Dimitrina Sevova about her project Fake

Idea and questions: Vania Valkova

Dimitrina, you've been living in Zurich for three years now. What surprises you about the Bulgarian reality? What is at the moment the greatest BG fake?

The Bulgarian reality has never ceized to surprise me. It is linked to a continuous pararadoxical collective form of existence. A perpetuum mobile of our very own specific "fakes," where allegedly there is a judicial system, but then again there is not. This assessment in my opinion applies more or less directly to every BG system. That is why I'd rather turn your question around: What is not fake in BG? I would be hard pressed to define my favorite fake, or favored fake. Too many are the social fakes both here and there, for me to be able to say: here, this is it! How far you'll afford to go in such a classification will depend on the extent to which you are in the system. This defines both your point of view and your style, i.e., your approach. To what extent you've accepted the rules of this or that system in order to become integrated, to be part of it. Or the other way around, how far do you wish your subversiveness to go, to sabotage the system and correspondingly to what extent do you want to be an outsider, outside the norms and outside this entire beautiful bla bla. Or will you try, after all, to find some sort of compromise, an intermediate form of critical existence combined with a bit of comfort and security. Because today it is not advisable, and outright out of fashion not to be an optimist, not to be social, not to have both feet on the ground. Following the path of such logic, for instance, a Great Fake is to speak of democracy or civil society, while using this platform for your wheeling and dealing big style. Like this former BG politician who recently, as I found out in a long article published about this in a BG magazine, was cruising around with his super chic yacht "Mare" in the Mediterranean coastal waters of exotic little islands of Eastern Greece. On his yacht, he threw a worldly party, having caught on a hook true European princes, diamond magnates, perfect silicone beauties of a respectable age after their newest plastic surgery, bosses of European trusts, etc. In one word, a true VIP society, high life of world class. If you google him a bit, that lad, you understand right away from the native press where the Bulgarian Onassis started out, how he's accumulated his boundless riches that have led him to the lap of luxury. He used his position as a politician in a state position he held, in order to sell the financial assistance provided by the EU in the first years of the 1990s, in consignment with his own company, with a huge profit. But you could object that this is so boring – who has not done it? Yes, this is indeed only one particular example out of an endless stream of cases. A classic! So in short, you could say that the BG politicians are at the top of the ranking! Just look: the Czar as Prime Minister, but that's history already. More interesting now is the farcical figure of Boyko Borisov, representing utterly incompatible opposites, like the mayor super-cop, but also the mobster, the mafia boss; the general of Latino type, the elegant carpet-knight and worldly lion, but also the typical gorilla lacking articulate communication – his heritage from the complexed boyish thrashings at the sports school and the ambitious boy from the people who had arrived from a small provincial nest with an education not exceeding the norms of the patriarchal everyday ways of his own clan, which indeed made him appropriate for this type of career. Well, that's it, chaos pure rules in BG reality. A place in which the oriental luxury of your own home stands opposite to the complete disintegration of the potholed roads and the clogged drains. A piece of untidy, a bit soiled and crumpled world. A piece of world in which there are not really any rules, but that's what makes it cool – outright beautiful. But before we take pride in this fact we should not forget that, as it looks, most places in the world fit that profile. Look what is going on in Paris at the moment! – all of France is on fire, but again partially, it's only the filthy part that's on fire, the part numbed by cheap drugs and crammed in panel ghettos.

How can one define the real, the true in art? How can one create, through art, social reality?

Many colleagues do not want to understand that through the art they are doing they can go beyond the idea that it only needs to sell well or to fit some interior. That they can break through their own bigotry stemming from their philistine upbringing, in order to try to overcome their own aesthetic prejudices or problems relative to the resistance of the material and its taming through primitive experiments. So sad for them! At the same time, so many other things have been done and can be achieved through art, of which one can definitely say that they overcome the borders of the nature of art. But social reality… Social reality is a process, the product of the interaction of rather complex phenomena. It would be presumtuous for art. I don't think this is possible at this point in time. I'd say that rather, it could turn out to be quite dangerous if artists were able to produce social reality. This would be a real nightmare. The history of humanity has seen too many dictators who have looked upon themselves as true creative artists. And too many true creative artists who would be quite aweful dictators. The same applies if you find yourself part of the reality produced by the approach of Stanley Kubrick or Orson Welles, where the usual separation in good and evil is lacking, and all are in the same pot and everything is so ugly and shitty. Or lost in the sitting chair in the room with the huge red furniture by Pipilotti Rist, as a river of your menstrual blood is running down your leg from your skirt. Why not try to identify with Thomas Hirschhorn's suave mannikin with his constant erection, lost in a labyrinth of cardboard and cellotape, covered in barf, sperm and an overdose of Deleuze and Guattari and Foucault. On the other hand, all the authors I just listed, along with their production, from the point of view of a criticism based on art history can be defined as quite realistic, social, political and almost univocally accepted as great authors who create true art. An assessment I agree with, of course. This is significant art, raising questions that are important to society, but let it remain art, while at the same time life in the "true" social reality proves to be much more brutal, radical and full of ugly inequalities. Art, as great and realistic as it may be, is hard pressed to reflect this reality, to recreate it or change it. But it can carefully explore it, can ask questions, can try to force us to become more sensitive towards the problems of society or people around us.

On the other hand for me it is essential to make another step on from there, not to forget, ever, that art is always an illusion. As plausible as it may be, it is nevertheless an illusion. As socially and politically engaged as it may be, as "politically correct", its representative function throws it far off the true work of the social worker or the political activist. If, of course, this protesting art does not destroy itself on this way to self-destruction. Let us remember how the "great" Marcel Duchamp, as an expression of complete subversion dictated by his political convictions, at some point stopped creating art, which of course does not imply that he stopped being an artist. But there is something utterly sad about this extreme anarchist gesture with which he wanted to realize his greatest project, that of the total artist, in which the difference between life and art can be completely lifted. Just imagine how he must have felt, he who had been constantly cranking up ideas, ideas which surely came to obsess him, as he imposed himself, forbidding himself to materialize them. Perhaps though he was sufficiently reassured by the fact that before that, he had assured himself an important place in the museums and the new art history – but I am almost certain that if he had had any clue what wave of stereotypical inspiration on the topic of pissoirs would emanate from his work, he might have saved himself that trouble, too. But on the other hand, despite the flirt, art has always been in contradiction with the political, with political action… This is a dangerous game, I mean for art, because on that territory it cannot but lose. And in this battle there will never be any victory, because it is subjective, vain, deceitful, tending to distort reality, even outright manipulative. But in fact therein lies its strength, in this duality – all these tools, which can sometimes lead to outrageous crimes or injustices in political and social space can turn art from a harmless and pretentious decoration into a dangerous and subversive zone.

Do you consider that an artist, a theorist of art should and is able to take responsibility for pointing out, putting the finger on the social fake?

YES! Of course this is very important for an artist or theorist of art to take responsibility on this level. But I would like to emphasize that this understanding reflects my personal position, which is central to my work as a curator, theorist or artist. A point of view I can of course provide arguments for in a discussion. Arguments I link or extract from a specific approach, which is historically connected to a specific tradition in theoretical knowledge and thinking. From this point of view this is a natural and mandatory requirement in the work of an intellectual and author – regardless of the type of art or science you are involved in. In art history there have always been representatives of both schools, of those who draw on the disdained discourse of "art for art's sake" and of those others who have committed themselves to a more complex dialectic, analysis and responsibility. Let me give a more understandable historical example: Both Monet and Manet, besides living around the same time, took a liking to drawing picnics. It was then very fashionable to dress up in your newest clothes and to go out into nature in order to have a bite to eat with some friends. Today this would correspond to lying around on the meadows in front of Lake Pancherevo dressed from head to heels in this season's collection of Miss Sixty or Diesel, in order to relax in nature, but also to be seen by all. Manet is inspired by the theme and paints his famous scandalous "Luncheon on the Grass" in order to point out, to call up the social fake of the society of his time and the complete decay of morals in puritan France. The central artistic problem he put to himself is of a political and moral nature, but that does not prevent him from being absolutely at the front in terms of his means of expression. Whereas his contemporary Monet is interested by the problem of which direction to organize the layers of paint in, in order to render the light or to maintain the freshness of the color and a host of similar questions related to color and relief. Thus this subject is welcome in his art, too – there is sunshine, but there are trees, too, so that on the meadows there are playful sun speckles, beautiful women, luxurious cloths, reflections and gleams – although these arguments sound all too superficial to me, and Monet remains a hefty old man and a great master.

Art is always determined, i.e., defined by the dominant discourse. This is why all serious attempts to break through the ruling order of existing hierarchies are always interesting and fascinating. But sometimes, or may I say in most cases, this is outright dangerous. It can cost you a lot of things. Your career for instance. Which as we all know is quite important to the contemporary artist. As our colleague L. Boyadjiev stated in his project Gastartbeiter, your career in some cases turns out to be the only thing you have at your disposal: a handsome and nicely crammed CV and a more or less orderly digital archive printed out on an ink-jet printer in A4 format and placed in polyethylene envelopes, plus a couple of DVD copies and a heap of memories from great exhibitions and significant projects in your baggage. But on the other hand, despite the sometimes jokingly raised worries mentioned above, every intellectual should be in some way sensitive to social questions and be inclined to accept the moral responsibility for what they do. Although if we try to find an adequate way between the political involvement of our ideas and their materialization and our private life and personal ambitions, in most cases we'll find that we are not all that consistent. Meaning that most of us are not going to be so “konsequent”, to use the German word for this, more than a word, a philosophical term denoting the condition of complete correspondence between what we think and what we do.

This project is much rather a public project than a gallery project. What is your understanding of public space? Can you, in short, define the difference between socialist, post-socialist and capitalist public space? You have experienced all three.

This is not a question – this is a provocation that could well lead to an entire book. I will try as far as I can to sketch things here. However parodic such an attempt to compare may seem at first, it seems to me that the socialist and capitalist public space have more traits in common than both taken together with the post-socialist public space. The public space is a quite important sphere both in capitalism and socialism. This is the place where an ideology represents the attributes of its power, its idea of might, etc. All those symbols of power, regardless of what ideology exactly they are connected to. With such total systems in which ideology takes a defining role, the public space turns out to be an important political and ideological project. One of the differences stems from the fact that in socialism the functionality of this space is almost completely ignored in favor of its representative functions. Whereas in capitalism, as the cleverer and more flexible system, the functionality is used as one of the fundamental arguments, for more or less the same goals. But here I would like to emphasize that capitalism as the cleverer system undergoes constant change, modification, adapts to the changing conditions in order to be able to survive. Correspondingly, this can be seen rather easily in the history of urban public spaces. On the one hand, contemporary urbanism has developed as a science in order to fulfill certain needs, and on the other in order to beautify, to materialize the power of a new capitalism in the process of industrialization, to structure the space into an instrument of control – not only the working space needed to be changed with exclusively quick and forceful means, but also the urban environment, and from there the personal space – the idea of the home, the idea of what is public, convincingly and thematically demarcating the place for work from that for entertainment. So with globalization and gentrification, as a consequence of this process we see once again a totally changing map of big cities. While this time the processes do not concern merely the huge city itself; this time even the so-called wild and exotic places are not omitted, which definitely are preferrably kept in their old appearance for the pleasure of the digital objective of tourists or for consumers of bio products. We see how with gentrification, under pressure once more the great capitalist cities change at great speed. How the notion of what is public is changing – today the image strategies are different, so that they can serve the new demands of transnational capital and mega-companies. Anonymizing, standardizing, automating – the buildings are becoming as discreet as possible, while the notion of chic is linked to the harmony between their own function and the function of the materials they are made of. The materials are left in their natural colors, as lurid coloring – color is left as a signal, an additional accessoire, in order to express the greatness of the logo that has to shine in the evening luminously and to be noticed from afar, like at the time the five-pointed star on top of the roof of the Communist Party Building. Everything in the center is being cleaned and cleared – controlled; everything inconvenient and superfluous, non-functional, ugly, stoned, smelling of piss, ragged, etc., is pushed out into the peripheries, shoved into the panel-building ghettos. In the post-socialist public space as a product of a society in transition and of disturbed hierarchies and the lack of these or those norms, subject to a diversity of financial and political interests, of course everything can turn out to be possible. That's precisely why we are witnessing such architectural inepsies or contradictory and planless and chaotic development of the public space in Sofia. The spontaneous destruction of architectural and historical monuments, etc. But little by little the process is coming under control, and one can see how things are starting to fall into place. More serious financial players have started to make their appearance, the investors are coming, followed by the cool architects, then the designers, etc. That is why such post-socialist cities often end up being objects of particular interest for observation and analysis on the part of the researchers and experts of these processes.

What, besides your friends, connects you to the Bulgarian art scene?

Not only my friends connect me to the Bulgarian art scene, but my enemies, too. I am connected both through positive and negative aspects of this artistic context. Because I am a product of this context, of this scene, or rather, I am a typical product of the lack of such an art scene. Not only of the lack of a context for contemporary art in Bulgaria, but also of the bad atmosphere, the timelessness and provincial complexes and passions of this environment. I am also affected by the sequels of the bad and inadequate education I received at the Sofia Art Academy, with the huge blanks I had to and continue to fill in, trying to catch up, and all this takes so much time which I could have invested in a break or in work. I am connected also through the deep scars from the bitings I took in the numerous local artistic fights and machinations, both from so-called friends and from enemies. But I am connected also through very nice things, like the upswing of this same Bulgarian scene around the end of the 90s and the first years of the century. It was wild! Just remember how many new authors made their appearance at once, how many strong and completely adequate projects happened in this same scene, even quite adequate to the international artistic processes: a truly radical and politically engaged exhibition space XXL, the only commercial gallery for really contemporary art ATA in Sofia, the alternative exhibition space TED in Varna, the international project for new technologies and electronic culture "Communication Front" in Plovdiv, the "Video Archeology" festival, the exhibitions of the women artists' Group 8th March, somewhat before all this Iara and Co.'s "Institute for Contemporary Art" came about, the Annual Exhibitions of the biggest player at the time, the Soros Center for Contemporary Art, or the annual exhibitions of Section 13, or Keva, Interspace, Art Today in Plovdiv with their exhibition space in the "Ancient Baths", the "Elektrik BG" mailing list, etc. This was a phenomenal situation for the contemporary Bulgarian culture. Just remember how many people we were who met around the same time in the mid-90s at the Art Academy in Sofia, who later got involved quite seriously and professionally in creating this same Bulgarian art scene, like Kalin, Svilen, Houben, Tushev, Kossio, Tania, Krassimir, Petko, Boriana, Zornica, Krassimir/Rassim, Boris, Ilina, Zhivka, Daniela, you, I, and others. If I missed someone, it is not out of bad feelings, I cannot think of all of them just now, they are too many, all of them authors who had seriously decided to work with contemporary art. Unfortunately there was no one around who could have given significance to all this on a sufficient theoretical level; there was no adequate criticism, no adequate state or private institutions to make use of this process. As in most cases, no one had the foggiest idea. Later some went away in different directions, others stayed and continue the battle on the ground. I would be very happy to hear that the situation has somehow changed over the past three years. That there is a breath of fresh air, that it has become easier for our colleagues, that money can be found for this work, that there are active institutions, that even the Ministry of Culture and the state have started to care about local contemporary art, or that suddenly not extraterrestrials, but some of the bigger and decisive commercial galleries in this business have opened a space in Bulgaria, and the people in Sofia are waiting in long lines in front of the National Gallery in order to see an exhibition of Nedko Solakov, just like I had to wait to buy a ticket for one of his newest exhibitions here at Kunsthaus in Zurich, how Bulgarian businessmen have become true patrons and connoisseurs of art, and the newly arisen middle class once in a while buys something small, like a copy of an author's DVD or a digital print of a Moudov, Ivanov, Zankov or some other. That is when you'll be able to say, consistent with your own political correctness, if of course you are sufficiently young and cool: Stop! This whole thing is not down my alley, hey, this is the art system! Be alternative!