Moving Images Bulgaria-Germany
Moving Images / Moving Bodies
Online screening programme in cooperation with the Goethe-Institut Bulgaria
Curated by Ludwig Seyfarth
As the first portable video camera came on the market in the USA in 1967 and in 1969 in Western Europe, the development of video art also took off. Alongside technical experiments, theatrical performances were documented or, like simple physical activities, often staged solely to be recorded. The boundary between documentation and independent artistic creation thus became fluid, as was also the case with the beginnings of video art in Bulgaria. Here, as in other East European countries, artists first had opportunities to use the video camera on a large scale after the end of the ‘Iron Curtain’.
Today the technical and aesthetic spectrum of the medium has expanded enormously, including through digital manipulation, even in places where the former political borders created differences in technological standards.
Research into the human body and interpersonal relationships remain central themes in video and moving image art. Examples from the current art scene in Bulgaria and Germany confirm this.
The exhibition curated by Ludwig Seyfarth and planned for November 2020 in Sofia with video projections, installations, individual performances by artists and talks and screenings has been postponed until 2021 because of the Corona pandemic.
Instead, a consecutive presentation of selected films by artists from Moving Bodies/Moving Images is presented on www.blinkvideo.de. Artists from Bulgaria and Germany, whose work is related in content, will be shown in pairs over the next weeks.
A programme curated by Kalin Serapionov and Krassimir Terziev from ICA Sofia gives a selected overview of video art in Bulgaria in general. The programme is accompanied by an in-depth essay by Krassimir Terziev as well as by texts on individual films by different authors or the artists themselves.
There will also follow a video programme curated by Julia Sökeland on blinkvideo presenting artists who internationally expand the theme of Moving Images/Moving Bodies.
The paired artists will be:
Evamaria Schaller and Kamen Stoyanov
Stella Geppert and Boryana Petkova
Teboho Edkins and Nadezhda Oleg Lyahova
Kirstin Burckhardt and Sevda Semer (starting 28.01.2021)
Evamaria Schaller made her 2020 video Contra Cadicum Morbum in the historic cellars of the Kunsthaus NRW in Aachen-Kornelimünster. The art-house is a former monastic building whose history reaches back to the Middle Ages. For centuries, it was also a place of pilgrimage for visitors to the relics of St. Cornelius, the patron saint of people with epilepsy.
The title of the video is a late High German spell against epilepsy. The performances taking place in the cellars are a scenic sequence which projects the monastery’s history and the healing power attributed to it ghost-like into the present day.
Kamen Stoyanov’s film Up and Through (2020) evokes the spirit of certain activities that never actually took place. Different actions occur around a planned new hotel whose remains testify to an investment failure in a nature reserve near Bulgaria’s Black Sea coast. These actions recall typical activities carried out in a hotel, such as the cleaning of rooms. They simultaneously quote in part other artists’ earlier historic performances, for example, Tomislav Gotovac’s Cleaning of Public Spaces, an ironic criticism of the Yugoslavian government in Zagreb in 1981.
Using such references, Stoyanovac also questions how to react artistically to political and economic friction. In Up and Through he does this in an almost allegorical manner, while the film Havalamani – New Istanbul Dream, referenced in Shooting Ghosts, contains a direct criticism of the reactionary Erdogan government.
Evamaria Schaller also draws on the history of performance in her work. In Seven Shades Red (2020), she begins to apply lipstick. By the end, her entire head is wrapped bondage-like in red thread. The uncut video in which only the artist’s face can be seen recalls the stark aesthetics of many early video performances. It is also an almost exemplary presentation of the spectrum of expression and meaning of the colour red through the A to Z of different emotional states shown.
Stella Geppert and Boryana Petkova use the medium of video only in connection with other artistic means of expression, with drawing and performance.
The investigation of the human body and the choreography of its movement, as well as the exploration of its somatic and psychic condition, play a central role in Stella Geppert's work. InsideT (collective) is a performance on a white ground in which three dancers follow the energetic and emotionally charged actions of the artist. Their patterns of movement are determined by costumes specially designed by the artist, which become a kind of drawing instrument. Tentacle-like strips hang from head to foot and have carbon rods attached to the ends. The dancers' bodies tumble, swing, turn, fall, touch each other and communicate with each other. Their actions result in traces of carbon on the white ground, which produce a – 'blind' and unconsciously created – complex linear drawing.
Boryana Petkova also subjects the drawing process to strict experimental arrangements or guidelines. From the physical actions carried out mainly by the artist herself, only the drawing hand reaches into the fixed-position camera shot.
In 31.41.07 a sheet of drawing paper hangs from a wooden construction, which swings the paper back and forth so that the drawing hand reaches it only with difficulty. The traces the artist leaves on the paper and the wall are thus a manifestation of the unattainable and cannot be fully controlled.
In 2hands drawing, two hands from different people draw on two off-set walls simultaneously. From the camera's position, they are beside each other, drawing two halves of a circle, which eventually fit together optically.
In Stella Geppert's work, the drawings result from the loss of control that occurs, not least when the performers shift their bodies' centre of gravity. Boryana Petkova, on the other hand, concentrates on the reach of the body and what 'emerges' when it tends to lose control of the hand, which also deprives it of coordination with the eye. Both artists work with the conscious restriction of movement in drawing, which becomes an externally controlled and mostly blindly executed activity. They both thereby succeed in letting the body and movement qualities of a drawing process become an expression of drawing itself.
Although Nadeszhda Oleg Lyahova and Teboho Edkins each produced a video in entirely different cultural contexts, they pose a similar question: how are biographies remembered through images?
Nadeszhda Oleg Lyahova's film A Made-up Story (see also Shooting Ghosts) takes us through an abandoned house in the countryside. The camera focuses first on the partially rotted furniture and equipment, including an old camera, of the previous owner. There are old photos and postcards covered in dust lying around in a drawer. After cleaning them in water, the bleached and dusty outlines of the subjects are visible. The photos show family members, travel pictures, a newly married couple or a man on his death bed. But there are also scenes that appear to follow the official propaganda of socialist Bulgaria. The artist, who does not know the people and their life journeys, ‘invents’ possible stories behind the images and brings them to life. The forgotten biographies behind the forgotten pictures could actually have happened. Preserving lived lives in a collection of photos in an album was a collective ritual in all European or Europe-influenced countries for a long time. Even individual photos found by chance always say something about society as a whole.
Teboho Edkins' film Initiation also begins with a photo that could come from a family album. It shows a white child in the traditional shepherd's dress of Lesotho, where Edkins grew up. It is in fact a photograph of the artist himself as a 6 year old.
The film is the documentation of an intuition ritual in the mountains of Lesotho. Traditionally every young man of the Basotho, the people who constitute most of the population, becomes an adult through this ritual. However, Edkins does not show the months-long ritual itself but at first the younger brother of the initiate who discusses his feelings while waiting, and then the group's return after successfully completing the ritual. The stages of the initiation are private and undocumented in images. Although photo albums are also common in Lesotho, they would only contain the performative staging of the ritual, which Edkins shows at the end of his video. The young men celebrating the successful initiation wear traditional robes but add sunglasses and imitation jewellery, external cultural influences that are penetrating this ritual practised over generations.