Critique of Pure Image - Between Fake and Quotation

The Program: Theoretical Symposium, Performances and Openair Screening

Curated by Dimitrina Sevova

8 October-8 November 2005

Center for Contemporary Art "Ancient Baths"/"Bania Starinna", Plovdiv, Bulgaria and two further locations in town: billboard at the corner Blvd “6-i septemvri”/Main Street; installations in the main hall of the central train station.

Ladies and Gentlemen, dear guests, dear friends, dear colleagues,


I have the pleasure today, as the curator of this project, together with the organizer, the Art Today Association, to invite you to the Center of Contemporary Art in the “Ancient Baths” in Plovdiv, and welcome you to our new project “Critique of Pure Image – Between Fake and Quotation,” the first edition of the “International Project of High and Low Technics in Contemporary Media Art.” To enjoy and celebrate with us the opening, as well as all other parts of this event – likely the largest international event in the field of contemporary art in the Bulgarian art scene, with an international exhibition and series of performances with 30 participating artists and collectives whose work corresponds with the topic, a theoretical symposium with 18 lectures opening up a space for debate and critical exploration, and an intervention in the urban space with an openair screening of a selection of short movies on the main pedestrian street in Plovdiv. All three parts of the project are equally important and present three diff erent approaches to the topic. I’d like to emphasize that despite its large format, it is not a festival, and it is not its aim to fulfill any representative function.

As so often when artists from the West present their art in the East or vice versa, you may well have a question on the tip of your tongue: What is the context? or: What happens to art when it’s extracted from its original context?

Rather than re-contextualizing, unifying and standardizing, let’s try this time to play with the contexts and the contentions of interpretation. Believe me, it can be extremely cool, and great fun to identify oneself in multiplicity and difference.

While the West can afford a multiplicity of contexts, adopt the exotic and diverse and wrap them up in a universalist structure, the East is characterized by a radical lack of context. Or rather, contexts abound, but they lack a common denominator to unify them, make them comparable.

And yet: Globalization has changed not only the East, but also the West. I dare say that the West has become more oriental, and the East more occidental.

Some of you do not speak Bulgarian – especially among the participants in the project. Others do not speak English, or German. We all know that sometimes meaning gets lost in translation, or we get lost in it. Therefore I’ll explain what I have in mind as carefully as I can. Let me try! Translated to the Bulgarian political, social and cultural context the title of the event may turn out to be difficult to digest. In the minds of parts of the Bulgarian public or some of the cultural institutions, it will sound like a joke. It may not be clear whether it refers to yet another stupid talk show with a shallow sense of humor, yet another hot journalistic reportage about trademark counterfeits or life-threatening cheap booze. It may also sound like part of the promise of some new political formation putting all people back into politics. In any event, it will be recognized as something that has come in from the outside, a strange bird, a sequence of meaningless words like they turn up in advertising and burn themselves in the collective consciousness.

Admittedly, the title articulates a certain element of humor, but rather as its own armor. I’d like to convince you that the title is quite serious, and should not get you laughing and poking fun. The project takes a specific approach to things real. It’s about real life, real places and real facts. And extends to a debate on the real fake. And on how the interdependencies between these phenomena are reflected in a meticulous critical artistic exploration. Of course, this is the kind of event that must be positioned in the research framework of a discursive, thematic and curatorial project, which carefully borrows from and refers to historical sources of a European academic tradition of critical thought.

It also presents a new picture of the development of contemporary culture and correspondingly contemporary art, where critical reflections and social implications are based on a new realism, influenced by a strong collective desire of the society for immediate consumption, in which along with everything else, wars are consumed, and natural disasters, and scandals, and any other incident is welcome.

We have embarked together on a dangerous adventure in search of the projection of the real fake, the real pure image and the truly great quotation, and how these pieces fit together to produce reality.

Because the debate around the original and the copy has lost its sense outside the circles of the old-fashioned elite, of private collectors of objects and museum experts, or functionaries of the offices for the control of trademarks.

Old masters, new masters, clichés, mechanical matrices, Andy Warhol, Elvis Presley, political campaigns, preservatives and coloring for fast food, which help it become healthy, palatable and authentic in appearance. The model fakes in the biotechnics debate around the authenticity of the visual simulations of the DNA links with their excessive aestheticism, or the artifi cial nature of the computer-based animated presentations of microelements in human biology and physiology, of online games, of reality TV programs like the hugely popular show “Big Brother.”

As a consequence of globalization, the appearance of digital technics, and <Documenta X> 1998 in Kassel, the arts officially announced their new object to be “Politics/Poetics.” Once more art is called upon to fulfill a historical function in society, related to the idea not only of technical, but also of general human progress. The critical refl ections on this process continuously change the terminology of art. It is not only the system of concepts that changes, but the very object of art, pertaining to a decidedly European, humanist tradition in art – life, or nature. With the emergence of digital technics in art, contrary to the initial expectation that virtual cyberworlds would be created, it turned out that the interest was rather directed towards more nature. Towards even more genuineness and authenticity. This changes not only the design of the urban space, but fundamentally the concepts related to this notion. The “desert becomes more desert,” the “village more rural,” the “mountain more mountainous,” the “wrestlers more wrestly,” and the poor become aestheticizedly poor. What does this do to our perception of the global and the local, and where do we find ourselves on a personal level?

And this is where the need for critique arises. I suggest, following the arguments of Kant, and after him Foucault, to use our reason in debating the idea of human progress in contemporary media art: “Kant in fact describes Enlightenment as the moment when humanity is going to put its own reason to use, without subjecting itself to any authority; now it is precisely at this moment that the critique is necessary, since its role is that of defining the conditions under which the use of reason is legitimate in order to determine what can be known, what must be done, and what may be hoped.” – Michel Foucault, What Is Enlightenment?

I propose to use the term “critique” in the historical sense of the critical method used by Kant in order to establish the principles of metaphysical knowledge of the nature of the human being, in which it is not our knowledge that conforms to the things, but they conform to it.

Based on a curatorial selection, the exhibition and the series of performances of individual artists and collectives present authors coming from diff erent disciplines, about whose art one can say that it has spilled over the bounds of the idea of art and its own possibilities. In other words, it has overcome the limits of the nature of art. With the new tools, between narrative, functional and documentary strategies, the artistic practices transform themselves into utopian landscapes or radical cultural and social territories. That’s why I can claim that not only the tools have changed. It’s also the archetype of the contemporary artist that has changed. The contemporary artist successfully moves between the roles of a DJ, a priest, a social worker, a manager of a transnational corporation, a barman, a construction worker, a genetic engineer or leader of a political party. This is one of the arguments why a part of the exhibition has been moved to a billboard in the public urban space, another to squat the electronic advertising panel in the main hall of the central train station. In parallel, there will be a show – a selection of short movies will be presented in an openair screening on the central square of Plovdiv. Of course this breaking out of the gallery space, this intervention in public space, does not go without a risk. It may turn out that the cozy codes of the art context lose their relevance, and the void is filled by the less well-defined codes of the public space. But let’s enjoy! Plovdiv can be just as groovy a place for contemporary art as Sofia, Venice or New York.


Dimitrina Sevova – curator of the project

& the team of the Art Today Association


We thank our sponsors for their kind support in realizing this project:

SDC / Swiss Cultural Programme Bulgaria; Pro Helvetia; Goethe Institut, Sofia; Stiftung “Begegnungsstätte des Landes Sachsen-Anhalt”; Austrian Embassy in Sofia; National Fund “Culture”; Victoria Group Hotels & Resorts; Hotel Maritza; Municipality of Plovdiv Special thanks to all participants for their contributions on all levels and their confi dence in the project, to Lilian Räber for her special support, to Sabina Baumann for her drawing that became the mascot of the project, to Alain Kessi for moral and all-round support, and to Emil Miraztchiev for having the guts to invite me to curate this project.


Dimitrina Sevova is an independent curator, theorist and artist, born 1971 in Varna, Bulgaria, graduated from the National Academy of Arts in Sofia 1997. Based in Zurich, Switzerland since 2002.